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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 36, August 27, 2011

Some Aspects of the Vastanvi Episode in Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband

Friday 2 September 2011, by Syed Shahabuddin

The mass media has highlighted the decision of the Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband, to terminate the recent appointment of Maulana G.M. Vastanvi as Mohtamin (Rector) and focused on the Muslim Indian’s continuing rejection of Narendra Modi, the mastermind of the Gujarat Genocide of 2002.

The economic development of Gujarat under Modi is totally irrelevant to the Muslim Gujaratis who have re-built their shattered lives to the extent possible since the Genocide of 2002 with their own efforts without help and support by the Modi Government. They have thus shown their spirit of enterprise and their outlook of hope and optimism and their refusal not to cry over spilt milk. All over Gujarat, Muslims have re-constructed their torched Madrasa and damaged Masjids and even reset their looted shops and small industries. But in Modi’s Gujarat they still cannot go back to their villages, run their shops and till their fields and even re-occupy their houses as they continue to be subjected to economic and social boycott. The Muslims form nearly 10 per cent of Gujarat’s population and 3.3 per cent of the total Muslim population of the country but economically and socially they have always been better placed than other North Indian Muslims. That is why it is incorrect to view the Muslims’ progress and development through the prism of Gujarat’s Modi.

The media has also tried to build up Vastanvi as a modern educationist, like a latter-day Sir Syed. He may have done much for educational uplift in a corner of Gujarat though we have not yet been given the names of the Madrasas and colleges he runs and has been credited with running these under his umbrella Education Society. We do not have any data on the courses in those colleges, their enrolment and their annual output. This is not to belittle what he has achieved and what he plans to do but if, to make success, he has to court Modi, the Muslims’ self-respect will not allow it.

The Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband is basically a religious seminary to produce religious functio-naries and Islamic scholars and not to produce bureaucrats, or engineers, or doctors. But it is alive to the need of its products to lead a life of dignity for which adequate means of livelihood is a must. That is why in the past the Dar-ul-Uloom responded to the demands of the market to train its students in other skills to expand the job opportunities. It established vocational courses. It established a Tibbiya College on its campus.

Like all other major Madrasas in the country, the Dar-ul-Uloom has made many changes in its curriculum and syllabus as well as introduced new methodologies like computerisation as well as new subjects like English, Mathematics, General Science, and Social Science. More and more products of the Dar-ul-Uloom are being admitted to post-graduate courses in various universities like the AMU, JNU, JMI and the Jamia Hamdard, which sometimes provide ‘bridge courses’ to enable the Madrasa products to cope with their new subjects. The Madrasas see the inevitability and need for change like all human institutions and are changing but they must do so at their own pace and ensure that they do not lose sight of the basic purpose of their existence or adopt ways which violate the traditions and culture of the institution.

Throughout the country the community is establishing many schools and general and professional colleges, even universities, and Muslim enrolment in other universities and colleges is also increasing. It is not right and proper to condition Muslim educational and economic uplift upon the distortion of theological seminaries, except for those who would wish to deny and even annihilate Muslim identity. This explains why the mass media has also represented the situation in the Dar-ul-Uloom as a conflict between Development and Identity. It fails to see that not only the Madrasas but the Muslim community as a whole are for development and at the same time they wish to retain their Islamic identity and not to jettison it.

The problem in the Dar-ul-Uloom arose because not being a product of the Dar-ul-Uloom, though he had been a member of its Majlis-e-Shura for nearly a decade, Vastanvi entered upon his appointment with his own personal agenda. He needed to go slow in implementing his ideas. Unfortunately his agenda was much wider and deeper. Perhaps he hoped to utilise his position as the Rector of the Dar-ul-Uloom to secure more support from the governments. Incidentally, the Dar-ul-Uloom, which had taken a leading part in the freedom movement, has consistently refused to encash its contribution by accepting government aid after independence. As a matter of principle it refuses to seek or accept any financial assistance from the government of the day, whatever its ideology or political complexion.

Vastanvi may have entered upon his job without any motives but he not only brought his agenda and stated it in unambiguous terms but hastily tried to create a favourable opinion among the students and the faculty. This created misunderstandings and tensions, as a result of which he had to leave the Dar-ul-Uloom.

THE Dar-ul-Uloom has its old Dastoor which defined its Majlis-e-Shura as the Governing Body sometime back when the Dar-ul-Uloom was registered as a Society under the State law. This led to a split, and today there are two Dar-ul-Ulooms in Deoband. This split would have been avoided as both its Waqf character and legal status can be reconciled. However, neither the Dastoor nor the Rules and Regulations are in the public domain. With time the Dar-ul-Uloom has grown. Both its Dastoor and its Rules and Regulations need to be revised just like its academic syllabus. Without going into details the Dar-ul-Uloom needs a bigger and more representative Majlis-e-Shura which should include some prominent non-Ulema who are experts in non-theological fields as well, and who appreciate the place and purpose of the Dar-ul-Uloom. The Shura should give due representation to the Muslim community in the States from which it mainly draws its students. The Shura members should not be elected for life but for a fixed term so that new faces and new ideas can play a role in reviving the Dar-ul-Uloom when necessary. Above all, the Mohtamim (Rector) should be appointed for a fixed term, and not for life, renewable with mutual consent. The Shura should have representation of Old Boys, affiliated Madarsas and senior faculty and perhaps a few senior students engaged in research. All these changes will come in due course and need not be rushed.

In relation to the Muslim society in India, its objective is to produce religious functionaries and Islamic scholars who are models of intellectual integrity and high moral character, who will draw respect and make an impact on the community and in the country and, if and when necessary, can lead it and at least assist it in forming its ideas on questions of public concern.

The Vastanvi episode is a minor ripple in the long and glorious history of the Dar-ul-Uloom. The Shura deserves to be commended for dealing with an unprecedented crisis in a democratic and peaceful manner. Maulana Vastanvi also deserves all appreciation for gracefully respecting the decision of the supreme body and not falling into the hands of divisive and destructive forces. The Dar-ul-Uloom is a valuable heritage of the Muslim community but for historical reasons, it is by and large controlled by a few families. Vastanvi has hinted that he was considered an outsider and a conspiracy was hatched to force him to quit. Tradition does not mean dynastic succession, nor can any family be expected to produce the theologians and managers it needs from one generation to another. Both admission of students and appointment should be transparent and on merit and give equal opportunity to all eligible persons and applicants with requisite qualifications from all over the country. All well-wishers therefore strongly feel that the time has come for the Majlis-e-Shura to appoint a high-powered committee to suggest changes, both academic and administrative, which would facilitate the successful transition of the Dar-ul-Uloom to the 21st century so that it maintains its essential character and traditions and plays a glorious role in preserving, redefining and promoting its Islamic identity in the age of democracy and globalisation.

The Dar-ul-Uloom should not only maintain its aloofness from the government but also preserve a stance of neutrality towards all national parties which appreciate the call of Muslim identity without showing any eagerness to join them and seek public position.

As the most important Muslim theological seminary in the country, the Dar-ul-Uloom is also expected to give a lead in harmonising inter-sect differences, in promoting inter-religious goodwill and in providing a common platform for Madrasas of all schools of theology to protect their integrity and meeting the common threat from anti-Islamic forces to divide them and undermine their identity.

Before independence, not only did the Dar-ul-Uloom receive students from what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also from Afghanistan, Central Asia, China, Tibet, Burma and Sri Lanka. This intellectual traffic has nearly ceased but, as and when the Dar-ul-Uloom regains its glory, the seekers of knowledge of Islam will again make Deoband their destination.

Deoband has also been associated with some Sufi orders, particularly the Qadriya. All over the world there is a concerted move to create a wall of separation between Islam and Sufism. So one important aspect of the role of the Dar-ul-Uloom now is to reconcile the Tariqat and Shariat and minimise misunderstandings deliberately nurtured by anti-Islamic forces and create mutual appreciation between the Ulema and the Mashaikh.

The Dar-ul-Uloom has also played an important role in promoting fraternisation among various sections of the Muslim community in the subcontinent. It must distance itself from intra-community politics and reject social categori-sation in terms of ‘baradaris’. In selecting its faculties and students, it must rise above all considerations of ‘baradarivad’ and domicile and language. The Qasmis will then become a unifying force in the community and play a constructive and creative role in preparing it for the struggle that it faces and shall continue to face for years to come.

The author is an ex-MP, and the former editor of Muslim India.

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