Many people – those with an educational background stemming from the subcontinent and others alike – are unaware of what exactly is meant by being affiliated to Deoband, or what being a Deobandi actually means.
In light of a concise chapter penned by Qārī Muḥammad Ṭayyib رحمه الله in his book Tārīkh ‘Ulamāe Deoband, I would like to address this issue, in this piece. I ask Allāh to grant me the ability to give justice to this task.
The ‘Ulamā of Deoband affiliate themselves to the Ahl-As-Sunnah wal Jamā‘ah; the guided sect that believes in the Islām established through - in order - the Qur’ān, the commentary and explanation of which is the sunnah, ijmā‘ (scholarly consensus) and qiyās (logical reasoning). Therefore, to differentiate between Deobandīyyah and the Ahl-As-Sunnah wal Jamā‘ah by saying they are different sects, is firstly completely wrong, and secondly a statement brimming with ignorance.
In understanding Islām, priority is given to that which has been narrated from the Prophet ﷺ (naql and riwāyah), and the saying and explanations of the early pious scholars (Salaf) from the Ṣaḥābah, Tābi‘ūn and those that came after them and passed away on Īmān رضي الله عنهم جميعا, whilst remaining within the confines of their principles and understanding.
The ‘Ulamā of Deoband believe that this cannot be achieved by mere research, i.e. studying books, browsing the internet and through the use of other media. An integral part of understanding Islām is spending valuable time in the company of scholars; through their tutorage and spiritual upbringing a person will begin to understand Islām. Gradually, he/she will develop an insight into the Qur’ān and Sunnah, which will then enhance. This, together with intelligence and wit, will result in the true understanding of Islām.
Although the ‘Ulamā of Deoband take great pride in following the fiqh of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah رحمه الله making them Ḥanafīs, their main emphasis is on taqlīd (sticking to one of the four schools of thought in matters of fiqh). As for their attitude to Ḥanafī fiqh, they defend it vehemently, following the footsteps of many great scholars of the past who did the same, the likes of Abū Ja‘far Aṭ-Ṭaḥāwī, Imām Badr-Ad-Dīn Al-‘Aynī, Mullā ‘Alī Al-Qārī, Shāh Walīullāh Ad-Dihlawī رحمهم الله and many others.
Their methodology and logic behind Ḥanafī fiqh is that the objective of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ is kept at the fore, and each narration related to it is pieced around it, in a way that it resembles the links of a chain. This is why at times of apparent contradiction between two given narrations, a unique principle is to endeavour to explain each narration in a way that it is applicable in the life of a Muslim, together with keeping to the understood objective of the Messenger ﷺ. Until a weak narration is not classified by the scholars as being unreliable for use in fiqh (qābil-al-iḥtijāj), an earnest effort will be made to fit it into practicality and not left on side-line. The advantage of this methodology is that through it, contradiction is rarely sensed in the sources of the Sharī‘ah. Where there appears to be one, it is understood to be down to the defective human intellect being unable to fit it into the bigger picture.
The ‘Ulamā of Deoband distance and disassociate themselves from the baseless customs and traditions of the Ṣūfīs; albeit tazkiyah (soul purification) through Taṣawwuf are deemed to be necessary. This is why the methodology has succeeded in decorating its affiliates with Dīnī knowledge together with the purification of the inner self, so much so that where there was in-depth knowledge of Dīn, there was also humility and humbleness; where there was stature there was also independence from the creation, self-imposed poverty and reliance on Allāh; where there was the desire to stay aloof and secluded from the people, there was also the spirit of da‘wah (propagation), ta‘līm (teaching the masses) and also the spirit of jihād and so on. In summary, moderation in every aspect of Dīn should be a distinctive quality of the followers of this methodology.
Together with the above, it demands appreciation from an expert in any given field of knowledge of another, i.e. from a muḥaddith towards a faqīh, mufassir etc. It demands that each be respectful to one another, and each be given their due credit and rights with moderation, as each is worthy of reverence. This is why it is also against its methodology to exaggerate in praise or criticism and one of the groups of scholars, out of extreme passion towards one and not the other, and trespassing the limits of the Sharī‘ah in doing so.
In brief, a potent mixture of ‘ilm (knowledge of Dīn) and ḥusn-al-khuluq (good characteristics) has remained and should remain a distinguishing trait of this group. Farsightedness, bigheartedness and consistency in serving the Dīn of Allāh, the people and the country should be its motto. From among all these however, throughout its history, the most importance has by far been given to ta‘līm (Dīnī education), because all other departments depend upon correct and authentic knowledge to remain efficient.
In conclusion, any sound, unbiased person will be able to opine that the methodology of the ‘Ulamā of Deoband is not in any way different to that of the Ahl-As-Sunnah wal Jamā‘ah. Together with this, those who claim to subscribe to this methodology should pause and reflect whether their behaviour and conduct conform to the principles set down by the elders of Deoband.
May Allāh grant me firstly, and thereafter all readers the correct understanding, and make us worthy of His Pleasure. Āmīn