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Darul Uloom Deoband: The Indian Ideological Source of the Taliban


By Researchers from Kabul Centre and IDSA

In mid-November, researchers from Kabul visited the spiritual centre of the Taliban, the Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, India. Their goal was to find out what the leaders in India think about what their followers are doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  By Sharon Chadha and Waliullah Rahmani.

The Taliban learned their interpretation of Islam while studying at Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan. Mullah Omar, for example, the leader of the Taliban, attended the Deobandi Darul Uloom Haqqania madrasa in Akora Khattak, in Peshawar, Pakistan.  So many Taliban leaders were educated at this same school that its head cleric, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, has been called the father of the Taliban.

Another of the school’s alumni is Pakistani Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani. He was the Minister of Tribal Affairs under the Taliban. Today, he and his sons use a network of Deobandi Madrasas, the Dar Uloom schools in Waziristan, to indoctrinate, recruit, and train jihadists that they deploy in the insurgency in Afghanistan. Deobandi-trained armies under Haqqani have taken credit for bombing the five-star Serena hotel in Kabul last winter, and are suspected in the Indian embassy bombings that took place in Kabul this summer. The U.S. military has identified one of Haqqani’s sons, Siraj, as no less than the leading threat to security in eastern Afghanistan. Many analysts believe he is the heir apparent to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Researchers from Kabul Centre and the Indian Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses visited the headquarters of the Deobandi movement in the city of Deoband, about 150 kilometres northeast of New Delhi, in mid-November.


 Deobandi mosque

 History of the Deobandi movement

The school was established in 1866, during the early period of India’s long struggle for independence from British colonial rule. The school’s founder, Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanautvi, set up the centre to establish a place where Muslims could retreat in order to escape what he believed was the corrupting encroachment of Western civilization. He wanted the school to become a place where Muslims could return to what he believed was the pure Islam, the Islam that was practiced by the Prophet and his companions.

The founder must have touched on a deep longing, as the school quickly emerged as one of the most important centers of Islamic learning in the British Indian Empire.

A century later, when Britain was finally relinquishing its control on the sub-continent, the Deobandis sided with Mahatma Gandhi against the leading Muslim politician at the time, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Like Gandhi, the Deobandis opposed the idea partitioning India into two secular states, one especially for Muslims, to be called Pakistan, and the other, India – that would welcome all Indians, regardless of their beliefs.

The Deobandi scholars opposed the Jinnah plan because in their minds, there was nothing Islamic about a secular Muslim state. Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, then head of the Deobandi movement, believed that the Islamic alternative was to have all Indians endeavor together to create a democratic state Indians of every faith. (Abdul Sattar Ghazali, Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality).

Jinnah would prevail. And so in 1947, when the subcontinent was divided, the Deobandis, elected not to move to the new state of Pakistan and instead they stayed in their traditional home, which was now in the new state of India.

Soon the two new states were on hostile terms, over a dispute over which state should control the Himalayan state of Kashmir. What this meant to the Deobandis was that now followers of the movement in Pakistan had to create their own centers of learning – they no longer had the same access to the centre in Deoband.

Instead of diminishing the movement’s influence, however, the international border that now bisected its sphere of influence may have strengthened the Deobandis. Now new leaders had additional space in which to grow without having to threaten the centre’s power.

  Deobandi students

Deobandi Madrasas proliferated in the new environment and today, the force of the movement can be seen in the Deobandi Madrasas that can be found, not just in India and Pakistan, but also in countries as far away as Europe and North American. An estimated 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques are identified as Deobandi mosques according to a London Times report. (The Times, Sep. 7, 2007).

Moreover, many of the Deobandi centers are characterized by the media as “hard-line.” (The Times, Sep. 7, 2007). This is because like the Taliban, many of the Deobandi Madrasas have been linked to extremism.

“Dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, for example, attended a Deobandi mosque in South Florida where he is said to have learned the interpretation of Islam that would steer him toward Al Qaeda, and land him a 17-year prison sentence for aiding terrorists.

Kabul Centre researchers wanted to find out what the Darul Uloom Deobandi leaders thought about the school’s various connections to terrorism and so they set out from Delhi in November.

Unfortunately, they arrived in Deoband a day earlier than expected. While the mufti, or head cleric of the school was unable to accommodate the last minute schedule changes, Adil Siddiqi, the public relations officer, was made available to the researchers.  Mr. Siddiqi introduced himself, telling the researchers he has served the school in this capacity, for twenty years now, ever since he retired as an official in the Indian Ministry of Culture and Information.

A native of Deoband, Mr. Siddiqi, never attended the madrasa himself though, curiously, his father taught at the school.

He explained that he was educated in the secular system for “economic reasons” – the same reasons he chose to educate his own children – two boys and two girls – in the same state-run secular system as opposed to the Deobandi madrasa.

Like his father, he went on to say that he never imposed any religious views on his children. Though he identifies himself as a Deobandi, he never memorized the Koran and any religious education he has is “self-taught.”

In addition, he admitted that his lifestyle is not as pure as the Deobandis who stay at the centre. While at the centre all forms of entertainment are banned as they are considered to be corrupting. Mr. Siddiqi confessed to watching television at home – “the news,” he said, smiling.  Here are excerpts from the researchers’ conversation with Mr. Siddiqi.


  Muslims in India

Kabul Direct: How are Muslims doing in India?

Adil Siddiqi: In general, Muslims in India are very depressed due to economic problems. They have the problem of educational backwardness. Because of their backwardness, Muslims have not been able to serve the Indian nation very well.

Kabul Direct: How many Muslims are there in India?

Adil Siddiqi: Around 200 million, spread throughout the country.

Kabul Direct: What explains their economic and educational backwardness?

Adil Siddiqi: Muslims in India were originally drawn from the lower castes. They were the people who were exploited by the Brahmins. This is why they converted to Islam. They responded to Islam’s message of equality. Still, they remain weak, economically and educationally.

Kabul Direct:  What about the political participation of Muslims in Indian government?

Adil Siddiqi: Indian Muslims take part in all political spheres. But again, because of their weakness in the economic and educational spheres, their political progress is less than it should be.

The Curriculum


Deobandi classrooms

Kabul Direct: As the oldest Deoband seminary around the world, how many students do you have?

Adil Siddiqi: Today we have some 3,500 students. Every year about 800 students graduate from our program. Not one of our students is unemployed or jobless. Not one of them is involved in any kind of anti-social activity. Our students go on to leave peaceful lives, to spread the message of Islam as a religion of peace throughout the world.

Kabul Direct: what about your educational programs?

Adil Siddiqi: The program is a twelve-year program. The elementary education is a five- year program. Then there is a seven-year advanced program.

Kabul Direct: What subjects are taught?

Adil Siddiqi: We teach philosophy, literature, logic, Islamic jurisprudence and other subjects too. After completing our full program, a student who wants to go further can specialize and continue his studies in the seminary.

Kabul Direct: What about the journalism and computer courses you offer. Are all students obliged to take these courses?

Adil Siddiqi: Only students who want to pursue these courses.

Kabul Direct: Are your students only from India or from around the world as well?

Adil Siddiqi: The majority is Indian, but we have students from abroad as well. For example, we have students from England and so on.


Students at the school are not expected to pay tuition, and the researchers were curious as to where the money came from.

Kabul Direct: How is the school funded?

Adil Siddiqi: The school’s funds come from Muslims, from charities and so on. Do not forget that this is the age of globalization. We have many followers from around the world who support our institution.

Kabul Direct: What is your annual budget?

Adil Siddiqi: [Around $3 million U.S.].

Kabul Direct: Do you publish your financial statements?

Adil Siddiqi: Yes, for sure. Our expenditures and income is regularly is checked by the Indian government. Government officials monitor our finances.

 Clash with the West

Kabul Direct: As every scholar and citizen is aware, the idea that there is a clash occurring between Islam and the West is gaining ground. Some have called for a dialogue – between Islam as a religion and the West as a geography. Is this how to address this rising issue?

Adil Siddiqi: Well, a conspiracy started under the Bush strategy and administration. Now the Bush era is over. With the newly-elected president in the United States, Mr. Obama, it is hoped, will change the policies of his country towards the Islamic world, and thereby change the situation in the world

Kabul Direct: According to your institution, should such a dialogue happen?

Adil Siddiqi: Dialogue is always welcomed. But it should be based on sincerity.

Kabul Direct: Should the dialogue be between the West and Islam or between the holy religions – between Islam and Christianity, for example, or between Islam and Judaism?

Adil Siddiqi: Dialogue must happen. But it should not be ambiguous or with reservation.

Kabul Direct: The Bush policies notwithstanding, don’t you think it has been Bin Laden and his harsh and inhuman interpretation of Islam that has most damaged Islam’s image in the world?

Adil Siddiqi: Well, it is claimed that Osama Bin Laden was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. But where is the evidence? Who has proved this claim that Osama has planned the attacks? This has never been proved.

Kabul Direct: But what about his interpretation of Islam? Do you think he is right in his interpretation of our religion?

Adil Siddiqi: Well, I have to mention one major point. Osama and his organization have misused the word of Jihad; they have applied it in the wrong sense. We oppose what he describes as jihad. We direct our efforts to interpret Jihad according to the present situation, the time and context.

Kabul Direct: So what is [Darul Uloom Deoband’s] interpretation of Jihad?

Adil Siddiqi: Jihad means efforts to make our lives peaceful. This is the true message of Islam throughout the world. This is the real meaning of Jihad. We have to promote Islam. I don’t think it is Jihad to kill, oppress, and attack people.

The other major usage of Jihad is that Muslims can defend themselves. In Islam and in Jihad, we can defend ourselves from the attacks of the enemy. All the rights of self-defence are declared in Islam. Only for self-defence are we allowed to fight. Otherwise we are not allowed to wage war.

Kabul Direct: What about suicide attacks in Afghanistan? Are suicide attacks legitimate? Are they right to conduct suicide attacks?



 Deobandi fascinated students

Adil Siddiqi: Well, this is Afghanistan’s matter. We can’t interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan or the affairs of other countries.


 Deobandis laugh

Kabul Direct: You don’t think suicide attacks are un Islamic?

Adil Siddiqi: Well, in particular situations, I think they are un Islamic.

Kabul Direct: But in Pakistan, Madrasas who are using the name Deoband are involved in attacks and the killing of innocents. As the largest Islamic Deoband seminary in the world, have you ever sent a message to tell them that what they are doing is not allowed in Deoband?

Adil Siddiqi: We have always given the message that activities – murder, the killing of innocents- is not Islamic, that such actions are anti-Islam and against our interpretation of Islam.


In fact, it was only in February of this year that Darul Uloom Deoband issued its first blanket condemnation of terrorism. In the decree, the clerics stated that “Islam is a religion of mercy for all humanity. Islam sternly condemns all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism.” (AFP, Feb. 25, 2008)

Deobandi efforts to disassociate Islam from terrorism do seem to be accelerating of late. A few days before the researchers arrived in Deoband, some 4,000 senior clerics met in Hyderabad and endorsed the second Deobandi fatwa against terrorism that was issued in May. The May fatwa read: “Islam is in no way connected with terrorism and all those who are responsible for terrorist acts leading to loss of life and property of innocent people are not Muslims.” The Hindu, Nov. 9, 2008.)

Maulana Mahmood Madani, general- secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i Hind, a political party founded by Darul Uloom Deoband clerics, said the next step was to gather clerics from across the entire sub- continent, including Pakistan and Afghanistan and have them endorse the anti-terrorism decree as well. (Radio Free Europe, Nov. 18, 2008).

Perhaps this is why in mid-October; a group of radical clerics in Pakistan came out with their own fatwa repudiating suicide and other “senseless” jihadist attacks in Pakistan. The fatwa’s endorsers included the head of the banned Deobandi-inspired Sipah-e Sahaba, a group that is notorious for its brutal attacks against Shia Muslims. (BBC Monitoring South Asia, October 16, 2008).

Afghans were disappointed to note the ruling was silent on such “senseless” attacks inside Afghanistan. But many Afghans were cautiously optimistic at least this was some indication the Deobandis had taken stock of what their followers have done to the image of Islam.

The Afghan Insurgency

Kabul Direct: [The Taliban] say they are fighting Jihad [in Afghanistan] with their suicide attacks and murders. They say they are doing these things under the banner of Islam, in accordance with the Hanafi and the Deobandi schools to Afghan citizens. But is what they are doing in Afghanistan, to an Islamic nation with a constitution that states that Islam is the basis of its law, with a government that was elected by Muslim people, really in accordance with the teachings of Deobandism?

Adil Siddiqi: Well what the Taliban claims that is Deobandism dates back to fifty years ago. But since that time, we have brought about many changes to Deoband. Today our approach to any case is based on the current situation and present era. So Deoband cannot be held responsible for the Taliban’s mind set.

Kabul Direct: So are you saying that what the Taliban is doing is anti-Deoband?

Adil Siddiqi: Well, every place has its own problems. We have to analyze the particular context to see what is good and what is bad. Then we can decide about that.

Kabul Direct: What do you think about the terrorism that is currently happening?

Adil Siddiqi: I don’t think there is a unique definition of terrorism in the international level. Terrorism’s roots go back to economic problems. Its causes are local. For example, terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir has one aspect and terrorism in Afghanistan has another aspect. So everywhere it is defined differently.

Kabul Direct: So what do you say when innocent people are killed under the name of Islam?

Adil Siddiqi: Islam has never been for the killing innocent people. Islam is a religion of peace. We are not even allowed to tease our neighbour, who might be from any religion.

Adil Siddiqi: Hamid Karzai’s government has completely failed in Afghanistan.

Kabul Direct: But the constitution of Afghanistan is based on Islam. It is totally believed to be Islamic. In the third article even, it says that Islam is the source of law in Afghanistan that nothing that is against Islam can be passed as law.

Adil Siddiqi: The United States army is attacking the Taliban. They are acting in self-defence. They don’t have any other way except to defend themselves. And they have the right of self defence.

Kabul direct: But you know that out of some thirty million Afghan citizens, the majority of them support the Afghan government. They see at as the legitimate Islamic government. They have never opposed it. So we have an Islamic constitution, an elected and legitimate government, a government that is supported by the majority of Afghan Muslims. So you do not think that the Taliban’s claims are not true? That the Taliban’s claims are against the will of Afghan population?

Adil Siddiqi: Well, this is the age of democracy. If a majority of people are positive, then they are right. The Taliban are defending their own thoughts.

Kabul Direct: So what do you think about the insurgency which is going on in the name of Jihad in Afghanistan? Is the Taliban’s jihad against the legitimate Afghan government acceptable according to your organization’s view of Jihad?

Adil Siddiqi: You know that the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Now it is charging its way toward Pakistan. The Bush administration is using Pakistani territory to attack Afghanistan.

Kabul Direct: Well, it is the Taliban who are claiming to be waging Jihad in Afghanistan

Adil Siddiqi: The Taliban are not saying that. They are being compelled to say it and wage Jihad. This is not their basic idea.

Kabul Direct: What do you mean that this not their basic idea?

Kabul Direct: Has the Darul Uloom done anything to dissociate itself from the Darul Uloom Madrasas in Pakistan – the ones that are being used by the insurgents?


 Adil Siddiqi: We have no links with those seminaries in Pakistan. The Darul Uloom Deoband was opposed to the partition of India from the very beginning. Since Partition in 1947 we have never been in touch with the seminaries that were established there, the seminaries who claim to be following the Deobandi school of thought.

Kabul Direct: But it was reported that Maulana Fazal Rahman, [the leader of the Pakistan’s hard-line Jamiat Ulema-e Islam] visited your institution recently. Did this not indicate that you have links to one of the leading extremist organizations in Pakistan?

Adil Siddiqi: When he visited India, he did visit the Darul Uloom Deoband, yes. There were no talks of politics, however. That is it.

Kabul Direct: If your relations with the Pakistani seminaries ended in 1947 with the partition of India, why did Maulana Fazal visit your institution then?

Adil Siddiqi: Before the Partition, the seminaries in what are today’s Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh were in close touch. There was no difference between them. They were all united during that time. They had talks in those days, dialogues. This is the only reason leading scholars from Pakistan – like Maulana Fazul Rahman – visit India’s Darul Deoband today.

What Mr. Siddiqi told the researchers in November 2008 contradicted what he had told a reporter in May of 2001, as the Darul Uloom was celebrating its 150th anniversary.  The century-and-a-half celebrations must have been heightened by the fact that at the time, Deobandis known as the Taliban were in possession of their own state – the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as they called it. The head of this state, Taliban leader Mullah Omar, in fact, gave the keynote address at the most important event of the commemoration festivities, the one in Peshawar, where so many Taliban leaders had learned their Deobandi interpretation of Islam.

This then was the context in which Mr. Siddiqi told a reporter months before the 9/11 attacks, that there was little distance between the Darul Uloom Deoband in India and the Taliban Madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As he explained the relationship then: “We expect Madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan to refer to us when they have any religious doubts.” (Globe and Mail, May 12, 2001). But that was a long time ago. Much has changed to warrant the new Deobandi position Mr. Siddiqi was now conveying.