Affiliation to “Deoband” and Sectarianism


Question:

Is one guilty of sectarianism for labeling themselves “Deobandi”?

Answer:

The affiliation to Deoband has two meanings:
  1. To have studied in Darul Ulum Deoband or any of its many affiliate schools. Darul Ulum Deoband has branches all throughout the world, so those who have studied in Deoband itself or one of its many, many offshoots can be called “Deobandi” in terms of an affiliation to a religious school of education, and having his asanid go through the prominent musnids of Deoband and their seniors; just like a person may be called “Azhari” or “Qayrawani” for having studied at these schools. There is no sectarianism, blameworthy or otherwise, in this affiliation at all.
  2. To admire, and adopt the ideologies and outlook of, Hazrat Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotawi, their colleagues, prominent students, and their prominent students, the likes of Maulana Muhammad Ya’qub Nanotawi, Shaykh al-Hind, Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi, Allamah Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Maulana Husayn Ahmad Madani, Allamah Shabbir Ahmad al-Uthmani, Mufti Muhammad Shafi, Maulana Idris Kandhlewi, Allamah Zafar Ahmad Uthmani, Maulana Zakariyya Kandhlewi etc.; with the belief that they represent the correct maslak, amongst other schools of thought in the subcontinent.
To ascribe oneself to “Deoband” based on the latter meaning does have sectarian connotations. Whether one should keep this affiliation or not will depend on the context one finds himself in. In a neutral environment, for one who admires and adopts the outlook of the Akabir of Deoband, they should not label themselves “Deobandi“, as the Akabir of Deoband did not introduce anything new from mainstream Sunni Hanafi thought. Instead they should view the Akabir of Deoband simply as a continuation of the great legacy that has been passed down for centuries, and leave out the affiliation “Deobandi”. To label oneself “Deobandi” in such a context may amount to blameworthy sectarianism.

However, in an environment where the bid’ahs in aqidah and practice which the Akabir of Deoband combated – like the belief that Rasulullah (sallalahu alayhi wasallam) is not a human being but a physical light that became incarnate in a human form, or the belief that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was given knowledge of literally every iota of creation from its inception to the final hour, or that he was given knowledge of the hour, or the belief that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was given all-encompassing powers over the universe, or that he hears and sees everything in creation, or the practices of istighatha (calling out to dead saints for help at the time of distress), urs, building over graves and other innovations – are prevalent and people claiming to be Sunni Hanafis adopt such misguided beliefs and practices, then an individual who admires and adopts the outlook of the Akabir of Deoband should wear the label “Deobandi” to distinguish himself from Sunni Hanafis who engage in such innovations. While this is a sectarian affiliation, it is not a blameworthy form of sectarianism, but a praiseworthy form. It is just like the scholars of the Salaf referred to themselves as Ahl al-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jama’ah to distinguish themselves from the Shi’ah, Mu’tazila and other misguided groups; or referred to themselves as “Ash’ari” or “Maturidi” to distinguish themselves from the Mu’tazila, Mujassima, or other misguided groups.

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