Moderation of the ‘Ulamā’ of Deoband

By Dr. ‘Allāmah Khālid Maḥmūd
Translated by Prof. Murtaz Ḥusayn F. Qurayshī

In the understanding and explaining of religion the ‘Ulamā’ of Deoband are neither convinced of that method which may be altogether severed from the past because it is not a continuous relation – it is a new path, nor are they convinced of this extreme that under the force of custom and convention and conformance to the ancestors every heretic innovation may be introduced into Islām. Actions denied of continuity and continuity that may not reach uninterruptedly up to the “best of decades” cannot be the actions of Islām. However, these gentlemen are fully convinced of and committed to that conformance that has continued in the name of Islāmic fiqh (jurisprudence) emanating from the head-spring of the Qur’ān and the Ḥadīth. The Qur’ān decries conformance to the ancestors simply for the reason that those ancestors might be devoid of the light of intelligence and guidance: “What, Even though their fathers were wholly unintelligent and had no guidance” (Qur’ān, 2:170). Conformance to the Imāms of the past and the Fuqahā’ (jurisprudents) of Islām who were enlightened with the light of knowledge and guidance is not only not blameable but is also the real thing to be desired, and we have been taught that we pray to the Lord of Honour in each prayer to make us walk on the path of not only the prophets but also the truthful ones, the martyrs and the righteous because this alone is the straight path.

اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ

Show as the straight path, the path of those whom You have bestowed favour. (Qur’ān, 1:5-6)

Due to this moderate tack the ‘Ulamā’ of Deoband remained safe from religious unrestrainedness and self-opinion and the darknesses of polytheism and innovation too could not draw them into their net. By their actions and thoughts the continuity of Islām was maintained as well as no discontinuous view and action could enter Islām in the name of religion. These respectable men went an kindling the lamps of Islām by the continuity of knowledge and action, and, looking at the history of Deoband, we can assert that Islām is really a live religion which is continuous from their time up to the felicitous period of the noble Companions (Allāh be pleased with them all).

According to the ‘Ulamā’ of Deoband, the class of eminent saints (Awliyā’) and great Ṣūfīs constitute or command the position of its animus for the Ummah whose inner life which is the real life is connected with it. Hence the ‘Ulamā’ of Deoband consider love and reverence for them necessary for the protection of Imān (belief), but overestimating them due to this love and reverence they do not deify (treat as a god) them. To revere them they consider legally necessary but they do not misconstrue it as worship so that they (the ‘Ulamā’) may make them or their graves the object of prostration and genuflexion or circumambulation and oblation or for making vows and sacrifice. The fact is that the same august ‘Ulamā’ are the true successors of Shaykh Sayyid ‘Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī, Sayyid Amad Rifā‘ī, Shaykh ‘Alī Hujwīrī, Khwājah Mu‘īn al-Dīn Chishtī, Imām Rabbānī Mujaddid Alf al-Thānī and Imām Shāh Walī Allāh Dihlawī, and, through their graces, are the persons who fill the colour of conformance to the Sunnah in their life-sketches. The spiritual grace of these gentlemen is not due to spiritual spells for captivating (people) but has been established through acts of Sunnah, and these gentleman maintain regular connection with Chishtī, Suhrawardī, Naqshbandi and Qadri affiliations. Rather, if it is seen justly, now this path of sagacity and self-purgation is populated by the people of this very tack. In both the affairs of knowledge and action these gentlemen maintain the authoritative (i.e. proceeding from the chain of competent authorities) aspect. In the prevention of innovators also these gentlemen remained in the forefront because no authoritative aspect of the innovative actions was extant anywhere; and this refutation too is not new, for Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī Mujaddid Alf al-Thānī also used to refute innovations in the same style. He says that;

“It is indispensable to be on one’s guard from the very name and action of innovation. Even the smell of spiritualism cannot reach the brain of its seeker if he does not abstain from even good innovations even as one abstains from the evil innovations. And this thing has today become very difficult: a whole world is sinking into the sea of innovation and people are taking rest in the darknesses of innovation. Who has had the courage to speak for the eradication of innovation and open his tongue for the revival of the Sunnah? At present many Mawlwīs are giving currency to innovations and are busy in obliterating the Sunnah practices, considering the current innovations to be public usuage, they are issuing fatāwā (verdicts) of their legitimacy, rather of their approbation, and thus are showing the people the path of innovation.”

Mujaddid Alf al-Thānī had wished for divine ‘Ulamā’ as to where they were who would open their tongues for the revival of the Sunnah and speak against innovations. This wish of his has been fulfilled by the family of Shāh Walī Allāh Dihlawī and the renaissance of its movement in the shape of the respectable eiders of Deoband. “So, it is Allāh’s obligation”!

Rizvi, Sayyid Mahboob (1980). History of the Dar al-’Ulum Deoband, Volume 1. Deoband: Idara-e Ihtemam. p. 347-9.

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