Some people assume that the majority of Muslims in the world live in the Middle East. This is an easy mistake to make since Mecca is in Saudi Arabia, and the famous Al Azhar University/Seminary is in Cairo, Egypt. Mecca is the spiritual capital of Islam since the pilgrimage takes place on an annual basis in that city. Cairo, on the other hand, is the intellectual capital of Islam because of the presence of Al Azhar University/Seminary. Al Azhar Seminary is the most prestigious Muslim seminary in the world. It has been going nonstop for more than one thousand years. Al Azhar has many branches, and the number of students studying at any given time is about 90,000. It is true that the Arab world is the heart of Islam, but most Muslims live in Southeast Asia, in countries such as Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
We often hear of ISIL, al Qaeda, the Sunnis and the Shiites in the Middle East, but what about the kind of Islam that is spreading in Southeast Asia, mainly through Deobandi Islam? Here are some bullet points summarizing the Deobandi movement:
It is a revivalist movement within Sunni Islam.
It is centered in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
It has reached the United Kingdom, and it has a presence in South Africa.
The name derives from the name of a city in India—Deoband—where there is a seminary named Darul Uloom.
The movement was inspired by the scholar Shah Waliullah Dehlawi (1703-1762), and was founded in 1867.
It was a reaction to British colonialism, which was believed to be corrupting the Islamic religion. It was also a reaction to Christian missions. Hasan al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, which started in 1928 in Egypt, also started the Muslim Brotherhood partly as a reaction to British colonialism and Protestant missions in Egypt.
The Darul Uloom seminary has an anti-imperialist ideology.
They also believe that Hinduism has a corrupting influence on Islam.
Darul Uloom in Deoband gradually became the second-largest focal point of Islamic teaching and research after Al Azhar University/Seminary in Cairo.
Students of Darul Uloom come from all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, China and Malaysia. Graduates have gone back to their countries and opened up thousands of madrasas throughout Southeast Asia, especially in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. (The word madrasa is Arabic for school. For my high school in Lebanon, I went to a private madrasa. In Southeast Asia, the word madrasa has come to mean Qur’anic school).
Deobandis are referred to as “Wahhabis” by their opponents. This is not accurate, but they do share many of the Wahhabis beliefs. The Wahabbi movement was started by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab in Saudi Arabia, before modern Saudi Arabia came into existence.
In India, about 20% of Indian Muslims identify as Deobandi.
Some 20% of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims consider themselves Deobandi.
According to Heritage Online, nearly 65% of the seminaries in Pakistan are run by Deobandis.
The Deobandi movement in Pakistan was a major recipient of funding from Saudi Arabia, as a counterbalance to the influence of Iran.
Deobandi Islam gave birth to the Taliban. Although Al Qaeda was deeply influenced by Osama bin Laden (a Saudi) and Ayman Zawahiri (an Egyptian)—who were influenced by the Egyptian Sayid Qutb and others—the clothes they wear are Southeast Asian. That is a Deobandi influence through the Taliban.
According to a 2007 investigation by The Times, about 600 of Britain’s nearly 1,500 mosques were influenced by a kind of Islam that loathes Western values and preaches contempt for Jews, Christians and Hindus.
According to the same report, 17 of the 26 Islamic seminaries in Britain follow the ultra-conservative Deobandi teachings, and 80% of trained scholars were trained in these seminaries.
1. Most of the Muslims who live in Britain come from Southeast Asian countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The kind of Islam that some of those immigrants brought with them might be Deobandi Islam.
2. There are always unintended consequences that come when countries that grew outside their borders and expand to regions beyond their borders. Some Muslims fundamentalists cite Paul Kennedy’s in how he addressed this subject in his book:The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: The imperial overreach leads to the downfall of empires.”
3. Some Deobandi Muslims in Britain learned how to use democracy to their advantage by openly criticizing what they did not like. They propagated a confrontational and fanatical kind of Islam, and knew how to go to the edge without getting arrested.
4. European countries need to know how to give opportunities to immigrants, which will help in the assimilation process and lead to their success in life.
5. Since Al Qaeda and ISIL have had a monopoly over the headline news, we need to continue to remind ourselves that most Muslims live in South East Asia and not in the Arab world.
There are an abundance of videos on Deobandi Islam. The best one that I know of is a BBC-produced series.