By Yasser Latif Hamdani
The Deoband philosophy is a rejectionist philosophy, which rejected modernity and saw the British as the embodiment of western irreligious thought and materialism
The attack on Hazrat Ali Hajvery’s shrine has struck at the root of Lahore’s religious and cultural ethos. For 1,000 years, this city has been sustained by the cultural openness and tolerance that Ali Hajvery, or as he is known to the people of Lahore, Data, gave us. Indeed, Lahore is famously called Data Ki Nagri for the Data was, in a way, the famed Afghan warrior-plunderer, Mahmud of Ghazni’s most lasting bequeath to the subcontinent. For 1,000 years, Hajvery’s shrine has fed Lahore’s hungry, clothed its naked and given shelter to the shelter-less. All that was brought to a halt when the night jackals in straitjackets struck like the cowards they are. It was Ahmedis last month, sufis now and Shias probably next. Pakistan’s Islamic pluralism is now the target.
The purpose was not to create fear. The purpose was to target the soft traditions of Sufism and Barelviism — traditions that have informed Punjab’s social milieu for centuries. This popular Islam is the reason why there is a Muslim majority in Pakistan. It may be pointed out that this same Sufi-Barelvi Islam was invoked by the Muslim League in Punjab in the 1946 elections to counter the high-strung ulema and Islamic clerics of Deoband who had thrown their lot against Pakistan’s creation. Ironically, what was a low church project was hijacked by the high church.
Every militant organisation that exists in Pakistan or was deployed during the Afghan war was Deobandi in orientation. The notorious Jamaat-ud-Dawa is Deobandi. All so-called freedom fighting groups, trained for Kashmir, are Deobandi — ironic for a movement that had doggedly opposed partition because the underlying rationale is the same. The Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — two of the most vile sectarian bodies — are Deobandi and, while the third such body, the Tehreek-e-Khatme-Nabuwat, which calls itself non-violent, claims to represent both Deobandis and Barelvis, it is entirely dominated by Deobandi clerics. Recently, PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif was on the receiving end of this last organisation’s bigotry. But then Mian sahib has only himself to blame. In his last government, Mian sahib had placed, in Pakistan’s presidency, Rafiq Ahmed Tarar, a student and follower of Maulana Ataullah Shah Bukhari, a firebrand Deobandi scholar and orator who also coined the term ‘Kafir-e-Azam’ (the great infidel) for Pakistan’s founding father.
It goes without saying that there exists not even a single Barelvi terrorist organisation in Pakistan. And yet, another complication of this is the potent mixture of Pashtun nationalism with Deobandi Islam. Mix Pashtun nationalism with Deobandi Islam and you get Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the most important terrorist leader from North Waziristan. Hafiz Gul Bahadur is the direct descendant of Faqir of Ipi, whose claim to fame was that he raised the banner of violent jihad against the newly formed dominion of Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan has faced a war against militant Islam since the first day it was created. The world discovered the Taliban a decade ago but Pakistan has been forced to reckon with them since its inception. And they were called the Taliban even in the time of Lord Curzon where a religious fanatic, Mullah Pawinda, had challenged British rule.
I do not wish to insinuate that all Deobandis and Salafis are terrorists or extremists, but my point is this: all terrorists in Pakistan are Deobandis. No doubt, a majority of Deobandis are good, hardworking people who just wish to live according to their own beliefs. However, there is something intrinsic to the very nature of the Deobandi doctrine, which makes it amenable to violence. It is perhaps the conditions under which the Deobandi movement in Islam emerged. It was a reaction to colonialism and was fiercely anti-imperialist in its moorings. The Deoband philosophy is also a rejectionist philosophy, which rejected modernity and saw the British as the embodiment of western irreligious thought and materialism. Their hatred for foreign rulers was thus rooted in a carefully constructed religious dogma that presented all Europeans as monsters out to destroy Islam.
This is why the Deobandis, despite their strict version of Islam, were closely allied with the Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress during the independence movement, instead of the Muslim League which was seen as leaning towards the British and was in any event dominated by the westernised Muslim classes who were not Deobandi. Today in India, Darululoom-Deoband seems to have ensconced itself above all else as the supreme fatwa generating body for Indian Muslims. Consider the latest fatwas that have come out from there: banking is forbidden upon Muslims as a profession and also that women are not allowed to work. Whereas in India it is an attempt to exert clerical control over a hapless and insecure minority, in Pakistan, Deobandi extremists have tried to seize the state itself. They came very close under the military dictatorship of usurper General Ziaul Haq who supported them and nurtured them through Pakistan’s ISI for jihad against the Soviet Union. Needless to say, all this happened with the US’s approval. Things seemed to be going in that direction again in 1999 when Nawaz Sharif, who should have known better, made a decisive move to establish a caliphate in Pakistan. The Deobandi extremist movement in Pakistan is actually the officially anointed clergy’s war on the people’s Islam.
The question is, where do you take a stand? Where do you begin? The Punjab government’s denials of the existence of Taliban strongholds in South Punjab and elsewhere are disconcerting. In the longer run, it will threaten the PML-N itself. There is remarkable convergence today between the GT-Road’s middle class towns and the poverty stricken Seraiki belt, which have turned terrorist out of desperation, and the Taliban networks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, connected by a massive road network. The PML-N is, at heart, a party of shopkeepers and small city businessmen. The ultimate victim in this negligence is going to be the PML-N. Therefore, the Punjab government needs to take stock of the situation. About 10 years ago, only some 15 percent of Sunni Muslims would have described themselves as Deobandi. Today, this number has nearly doubled. This has everything to do with the unchecked growth of Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan. While still only a minority of Sunnis associate themselves with this school of thought, more than 60 percent of all seminaries in Pakistan are associated with Deoband. How does that make any logical sense? The state is obviously too weak to try and counter this. And so we continue this slide down our slippery slope.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Daily Times, Pakistan