Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 25

The making of the modern maulvi

By Ajmal Kamal Published: August 19, 2011

The writer edits a quarterly Urdu literary journal Aaj from Karachi, runs a bookshop and City Press, a small publishing house Since Islam was first adopted and practiced by people speaking Arabic the language of the Holy Quran they did not need any intermediary between themselves and the religious text. However, there was a possibility of a group or class of people taking it upon themselves to give a specific interpretation to the divine word. Besides, many of the Islamic acts of worship and social rites were such that somebody was needed to lead them in congregations. Therefore, there certainly was a likelihood that some people might choose to make it a source of their living. Syed Naseer Shah, a writer of an exceptional merit, born and based in Mianwali, in his classic 1962 essay titled Kya khidmat-e-deen ka muawza laina jaiz hai? (Is it allowed to get paid in exchange of a religious service?) lists in sufficient detail verses from the Holy Quran, clear and generally accepted Hadiths and the opinions of the Islamic legal experts through of the early centuries to show how they were unanimous in condemning, disallowing and declaring haram absolutely forbidden and said it was a grave sin to demand or accept any economic reward in exchange of teaching and explaining religious texts, leading and facilitating acts of worship and performing religious rites. This was done with an unambiguous purpose of discouraging people from making khidmat-e-deen their bread and butter. The logic was that since all the major prophets quoted in the Holy Quran have shown their hatred for the idea of receiving economic benefit for performing the divine task of teaching religion to people, those carrying on with their task in the later period must also refrain from making it a source of economic benefit. Besides, when a member of a Muslim community assists another member in performing an act of worship, he is actually performing this religious duty for his own self, and not for the other person. Therefore, it is absurd to demand or accept any material, worldly reward for it. However, according to Shah, by the end of the eighth century of the Hijra calendar (roughly corresponding to the fifteenth century of the Gregorian calendar) not only had getting paid in exchange of khidmat-e-deen been declared halal allowed by those who monopolised the interpreting of religious texts, but minimum wages for teaching the Quran had been fixed in cash and kind 35 dirhams and a measure of halwa and, whats more, refusing to pay such wages had been made a crime punishable by imprisonment.

In this newspaper space, in the coming weeks, we intend to try and understand what form the profession of maulvi took in South Asia during the later part of the colonial era from midnineteenth century onwards and how it influenced the social and political life of the Muslim communities in the subcontinent in the decades that followed. This study seems meaningful in that this particular era could be seen as the beginning of a fundamental transformation of the role of religion in public life and that the new form of the profession was essentially shaped by the technologies of modern times new means of communication, dissemination of knowledge and information, printing, public instruction and so on along with specific skills and professions that emerged as a result of this huge change in technology and sociology. It is vital to see in proper perspective the part it has been playing in the politics of identity in our region. However, before coming to this period, it would help to see what it was that the modern era replaced or transformed, meaning what the form, content and ways of dissemination of knowledge were before the introduction and prevalence of the new technologies of communication, which happened, in the event, during and under the colonial rule. To quote from the 1978 paper titled The Art of Memory: Islamic Education and Its Social Reproduction by Dale F Eickelman, then professor of anthropology and human relations at New York University (and currently at Dartmouth College): Islamic education was in some ways intermediate between oral and written systems of transmission of knowledge. Its key treatises existed in written form but were conveyed orally, to be written down and memorised by students. He goes on to quote (and critique) Marshall Hodgsons statement that education was commonly conceived as the teaching of fixed and memorisable statements and formulas which could be learned without any process of thinking as such. According to Professor Eickelman, the accurate memorisation of the Holy Quran in one or more of the seven conventional recitational forms, and of the key religious texts, formed the starting point for the mastery of religious sciences. The generally accepted assumption was that religious knowledge is fixed and knowable and that it is known by men of learning. Furthermore: The religious sciences throughout the Islamic world are thought to be transmitted through a quasi-genealogical chain of authority which descends from master or teacher (shaykh) to student (talib) to insure that the knowledge of earlier generations is passed on intact. Knowledge of crafts is passed from master to apprentice in an analogous fashion, with any knowledge or skill acquired in a manner independent from such a tradition regarded as suspect. The system of religious education in South Asia followed the same general pattern as outlined above. Since the common means of transport were bullock carts and horses (and also boats where there were rivers), geographical mobility was highly limited. People of suitably high social status based on their being born in the correct caste travelled in search of knowledge in much the same way as other high-born individuals set out to kill, plunder, conquer, occupy and rule. Most of the common people, tied to the agricultural land, had no business travelling to other places, except mass-migrating in times of drought, famine or other such calamities. They were tied to their ancestral means of earning their living as firmly as they were to the land. The activity of acquiring and imparting religious knowledge was therefore something out of their world

Syed Manazir Ahsan Gilanis book Musalmanon ka Nizam-e- Taleem-o-Tarbiat (The System of Education and Training under the Muslims) is a good source of information about how the business of acquiring and imparting religious education used to be conducted till the time when technological advancement coinciding with the British rule initiated fundamental change in the concept, practice and social character of education in the subcontinent. Gilani was born in Bihar and at the time of writing this book, in 1942, was faithfully serving the state of Hyderabad which was faithful to the colonial masters, just like other princely states. His book is a passionate defence of the pre-colonial system of Muslim religious education against criticism that came not only from the recipients of the so-called modern or English education but, significantly, from some of the maulvis of the modern era as well. Gilani quotes in his preface a Deobandi maulvi without mentioning his name as follows: The fate handed over the task of interpreting Islam to such men (sufis and alims) in this country who did not properly know its teachings, and whatever little they knew they did not practice. Allahs book is in Arabic and these men wrote and spoke Persian and did not have even a distant inclination towards the Arabic language. The result is obvious: the monotheistic religion which originated in Hijaz came to suffer a sorry fate in Bharat. (The Urdu phrase used in the last sentence of this quotation is mitti paleed ho gayi.) One could easily sense where the motivation of such views lay. The Deobandi movement sought (just as enthusiastically as the newly-surfaced Ahle Hadith sect but perhaps a little more tactfully) to undermine the local form the religion had taken in the course of centuries. Both were influenced, to different degrees, by the Salafis or Wahabis from Najd, which had become the ruling credo in what came to be called Saudi Arabia. Hence the harsh criticism of whatever happened earlier in this field in the subcontinent. (Gilani feels that the wholesale rejection of the past was meant to highlight the significance of Shah Waliullah and his school.) Highly incensed by this unfair criticism, Gilani set out to write a brief article on the subject and ended up writing a 750-page tome, employing his near-encyclopaedic knowledge about the conventional system of religious education, in the course of 20 days. The book is full of information about how the old system worked. Those connected with that system belonged to the shurafa castes (mostly Syed) who are termed as ilmi gharanas (upper-caste clans who had the monopoly of knowledge) aided and supported by big or small kings, nawabs, amirs and aristocrats. The madrasas were located either in mosques or more commonly in the havelis or deorhis of the amirs. Gilani mentions a number of maulvis who enjoyed the hospitality of the wealthy zamindars of respectable origin for decades in their divan-khanas. Students travelled to well-known madrasas in their regions of residence to stay and study. Their food came from the kitchens of generous, God-fearing shurafa households. Books used for educating the students were calligraphed by hand and used hand-made paper, ink and pens. In order to acquire a book, one had to first gain access to the personal collection of someone who owned it and then copy it (or have it copied by warraqs calligraphers who made a living out

of it ) word-by-word. Compared with printing which had become common by the end of the nineteenth century, this traditional system of hand-written books afforded more effective control of the written word, so that knowledge did not go astray and reach those who were supposed to have no connection with it. One great grievance of the progeny of the ilmi gharanas against the printing of books and the new system of universal education was precisely this: that it resulted in the devaluation of knowledge (ilm ki na-qadri) by throwing it open to all, including those who were unsuitable as a result of their low-birth status to access it. The curriculum was limited to manqoolat the Holy Quran, the Hadith and commentaries thereon, i.e. the Tafseer and the Fiqh. Gilani is of the firm view that maqoolat philosophy (actually ilm-e-kalam), logic and other non-religious disciplines had no place in the syllabus of the Muslim education in the subcontinent until a few centuries previously. He feels that the inclusion of maqoolat in the curriculum was a harmful innovation and that it might have been a result of a conspiracy hatched by Shias during that period to bifurcate the madrasa syllabus. Discussing what motivated upper-caste Muslim youths to study, Gilani quotes from the classic Akhbar-ul-Akhiar as follows: Once some students were talking and trying to know each others circumstances as to how they described their aim in acquiring knowledge. A few of them, artificially, said that their ultimate wish was to know the divinity [marifat-e Ilahi], while others simply spoke the truth and said that their aim in getting educated was to gain economic benefit. Gilani compares the crisis of the so-called ilmi gharanas during the colonial era with the situation that prevailed two centuries earlier when the disintegration of the Mughal empire had disturbed the smooth lifestyle of the purveyors of knowledge. Faced with economic hardship, they had to abandon the profession of knowledge and take up that of soldiery and had joined different local armies fighting with each other to gain control of relatively smaller tracts of land. Fortunately for them, they were traditionally well versed in using both pen and sword. However, as a result of such economic crisis, the search for knowledge declined and the institutions that imparted religious education were badly affected. It becomes abundantly clear that what concerns Gilani and all thereform or educational movements among Muslims of the subcontinent is the economic interest of the shurafa who had monopolised knowledge, physical power and land, to the exclusion of everyone and everything else. There are certain established biases underlining the world view of people like Syed Manazir Ahsan Gilani that we would do better to acknowledge and understand at the outset. The first assumption that they take as a settled, unquestionable affair, is the supremacy of Islam over all other religions. For example, while talking about the materials used for writing before the introduction of paper, Gilani mentions an old library which was acquired in his time by Osmania University and which had a large collection of books written on toddy-leaves with iron pens and tied together with a string. The contents of such books could not be ascertained, he says, because they are mostly in Kannada, Telugu and Marathi languages and some in Sanskrit. He spoke to some Hindu professors of the university and came to the conclusion that they contained nothing but qissa-kahanis of eras gone-by and mumbo-jumbo used for jhaar-phoonk. That some of those devoted to this other religion might have considered these writings a treasure

of religious knowledge would break no ice with people like Gilani, because for them religious knowledge or ilm could only be in languages such as Arabic, Persian and well, Urdu, and could only deal with the single true faith in the world, professed incidentally, by a minority of humankind. There was a long-held belief that each non-Muslim that ever existed in the world, no matter if he is pious according to his religion or good to people, was inevitably destined for hell while heaven was reserved for Muslims. The political power held by Muslims in the Islamic mainland and elsewhere, including the subcontinent, had generally caused this belief to be taken as something like as an established fact. In the new era of the colonial rule, when group identities became the basis for politics in the public sphere, the question whether all non-Muslims were to burn in hell after death came into sharp focus and became a constant topic of religious debates. As identities started to solidify, the maulvi of the modern era hardened his stance on this point, although the laws of the colonial government did not normally allow him to go further than propagating it as a mere religious belief. There was another very active bias that worked within the collective Islamic community at large. The supremacy of the Sunni theology over Shia or other sects within Islam was and, still is, considered as much a settled affair as that of Muslims over all the rest. The Muslim body politic had broken into two groups at the beginning of the caliphate which later came to be known as Shias and Sunnis. The ascendance of the latter under the Banu Umayya and Banu Abbas dynasties politically subjugated the Shias except in places where they themselves were able to relegate Sunnis to a subject status. The proportion of Shias among Muslims as a whole is believed to be close to a quarter. In the Sunni power circles, Shias of various persuasions were considered as insurgent political groups, always scheming to dislodge and replace Sunnis from positions of authority. The canonisation of Islamic learning the compilation of six books of hadith (Sahah-e Sitta) and the establishment of four schools of interpretation and fiqh was carried out in the time and places where Sunnis were in power. Men of learning who were Sunni, backed by men of authority who were also Sunni, did not treat the Sunni-Shia divide as a sign of diversity. They took a view under which Shia religious thought was nothing but a deviation from what they thought to be the true faith. The proponents of the four schools of fiqh, came together and declared that the work of interpreting the religious texts had been completed and since human life was not likely to throw up any new matters to resolve, therefore, the door of ijtehad was closed from then onwards. This was a political move meant, at least in part, to isolate the Shia minority. Many of the preachers who came to the subcontinent and spread the message of Islam were Shias, which resulted not only in the conversion of a number of local castes into Shia biradris (such as Ismaili, Asna-Ashri) but also created a soft corner among the converted population of Sunnis for religious concepts associated with Shias as well as public feelings for them. This was unbearable for the orthodox Sunni clergy and the maulvi of modern times has tried to isolate and fight such trends which has created sorry results, as we all know. The political subjugation of Shias wherever they acquired power was also considered necessary. For example, Mahmud

Ghaznavi in the 10th century, first invaded and destroyed the Fatimid Shia kingdom of Multan before turning his destructive attention towards Somnath. The darbar politics during the Mughal era and in the states away from the centre also sharpened the Sunni-Shia political tussle. In an interesting, revealing footnote, Gilani mentions that Tabatabai, the author of the history Seerul Mutaakhhereen, calls the Nizam Asif Jah a dunyadar and a zamana-shanas, not because the Nizam deserved these epithets as a collaborator of the East India Company, but because Tabatabai was writing under a heavy, incorrigible Shia bias! The fact was only that Gilani was in the service of the Hyderabad state and felt that he had to defend his masters. The third strong bias that we can sense in Gilani and his likes is against the local coverts. He mentions a great Muslim preacher and sufi-saint who was taught the Quran by a Hindu, and later clarifies that the Quran teacher was actually a respected Muslim and was called a Hindu only because he was a convert. He insists that this very atypical, isolated incident of a person of a low status being allowed to teach the Quran should be taken as proof that in matters of knowledge, Muslims treated everyone equally! The fact is that the growing caste-consciousness among the lower-caste Muslims as a result of social change had made it difficult by the 1930s and 1940s to treat them as incapable of accessing religious and other knowledge While listing the three traditional biases strongly held by mainstream religious decision-makers and inherited by the maulvis of the modern times against non-Muslims; minority sects; and local converts of the lower castes I did not mention the gender bias, because the prejudice against the socially weaker sex cuts all religious, sectarian and caste boundaries and could be considered as common to all. When the process of socio-economic change began during the colonial era, all these biases started becoming the basis of the politics of identity. After the Bengal Armys mutiny of 1857, the subcontinent came directly under the crown and a new third, according to Hamza Alavi phase of the colonial administration began. While the previous phase was characterised by a transfer of wealth in terms of cash used to build the textile and other industries of Britain it was decided in the latter half of the nineteenth century by the colonial rulers to turn the subcontinent into a supplier of raw material for the British industry, grain for its populace and soldiers for its colonial army. These decisions were to have a deep and lasting impact on the individual and collective lives of the inhabitants of this region. A huge canal network was constructed in the northern plains of Punjab and UP to make the land capable of growing cotton, sugarcane, wheat and other important crops. New mandi-towns and port cities were developed and railways and road networks were built to transport agricultural produce and industrial products, and to move troops. These public works brought into being an institution called the thekedar, or contractor, which ensured the supply of labour and materials of all kinds for a commission. Modern civic and administrative services of water supply, sewerage, transport, law courts, policing etc. were developed in urban centres. Important changes were made in the recruitment policy of the British Indian Army and a theory of the so-called martial races was invented to support it.

All these changes were taking place side-by-side with developments in technology that changed the way people communicated with each other. While modern post and telegraph transformed communication between individuals and families, the currency of the printing technology changed the way knowledge was disseminated and shared. Since all these developments needed new skills and forms of knowledge at every level, a large system of public education was put in place, the like of which had never existed in previous eras. People from some of the lower castes who were considered unfit to get education under the traditional system of hereditary occupations, were now allowed to acquire skills needed for the modern systems and to change the way they earned their livelihood. Among the mainstream Muslim communities of North India, there were two significant elite reactions to this. The MAO College at Aligarh (later to be called Aligarh Muslim University) and the religious madrassa at Deoband (later to be known as Darul Uloom of Deoband) could be taken as expressions of these two reactions. There has been a tendency among social analysts and critics of making much of the differences in the approach of Aligarh and Deoband. However, their commonalities could be much more significant and revealing from another perspective. While the two elite points of view had some differences with respect to the rationality of the biases against non-Muslims and against minority Muslim sects, they displayed an identical repugnance towards people of low birth whose aspirations to acquire education, change their profession and improve their lives turns them into upstarts. Both these educational movements and their leaders were clear about the class they were meant to serve and benefit. It was the well-defined class of Muslims who considered themselves of high birth and called themselves shurafa. While the phenomenon called Aligarh, with its impact on the politics of Muslim identity in the subcontinent, deserves to be studied from this angle separately, just now I would like to focus on Deoband which produced the quintessential character I have chosen to call the modern maulvi. Masood Alam Falahi, a young graduate of a madrassa in Bihar who went on to do his M Phil and PhD in Delhi, has written a book called Hindustan Mein Zaat-Paat Aur Muslman in 2007 (reissued in a revised and enlarged form in 2009 and available in English translation on the internet at newageislam.com). This book is a treasure trove of revealing quotations from the Muslim religious and historical literature of the subcontinent on the subject. Among other things, Falahi quotes an interesting anecdote about Aligarh written by the famous Deobandi Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (18631943) in his collection of responses to religious queries called Ashraful Jawab, which shows how the firm policy of segregating and differentiating between people of higher and lower castes was a common factor between Aligarh and Deoband. The learned maulana apparently respected the deep, though misplaced, concern of the questioner about the dangers of mixing people of higher and lower origins at places like Aligarh. In his response, Thanvi writes: An Englishman went to visit Aligarh College. He saw that while the sons of aristocrats (raeeson ke larke) studied, the servants accompanying them stood and waited at a distance; they could not even think of sitting next to their masters. But at the time of the namaz, the servants and masters stood next to each other. He asked the raees-zadas if standing shoulder to shoulder during the prayers did not make these servants bold and impudent. He was told that they could not dare to consider themselves equal in any way to their masters after the namaz.

He then goes on to state: The haq during namaz is that everybody should be equal, and the hukm for other times is different. In the remaining parts of the current series, I am going to comment on the life and thoughts of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi who, in my view, perfectly fits the bill of the modern maulvi. Although the positions he took regarding important religious, social and political questions of his time were clearly orthodox, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi can be studied as a product of the modern, colonial times. For a professional maulvi, he came from a non-traditional background, received his higher education in the newly commissioned madrasa at Deoband and throughout his busy life, used most of the modern means of communication for his purposes. He wrote and published books and risalas (religious booklets or pamphlets) using the new printing technology, which had become quite popular by the time he became active, travelled to places near and far, using the brand-new railways, to offer waaz on the invitation of big urban raoosa, and helped create a sect-based community of followers communicating with them through the great institution of the post office. In fact, as we are told innumerable times in his official threevolume biography, Ashraf-us Sawaneh, and other sources, the activity of reading and replying to letters took a considerable part of his time. Also, he received donations from his mureeds and others by money order, although one of his teachers at Deoband had once declared it un-Islamic. Ashraf-us Sawaneh falls into the category of hagiographies of men of God that became current in Urdu after the introduction of printing, with the difference that it was an authorised biography written during the lifetime of its subject and actually supervised and occasionally corrected by him. The writer, Khwaja Azizul Hasan Ghouri, was among Thanvis akabir khulafa (prominent khalifas who were allowed to make mureeds on the maulanas behalf). Besides, Ghouri was a graduate from Aligarh (he is particular in writing Alig in brackets after his name) and had served the colonial administration as a deputy-collector and an inspector of schools in UP. Not only is his name adorned by a curious title Khusrav-e-bargah-e-Ashrafia (meaning he was to Thanvi what Amir Khusrau was to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia), one is amused by the strangest combination of his official title of Khan Bahadur with what appears to be his takhallus (or poetic pen-name) Majzoob. A Sufi term derived from the Arabic jazb, which means to be absorbed in or fatally attracted to the Almighty, a majzoob would perhaps be looked at as a rare bird among the worldly wise men who managed to earn titles such as Khan Bahadur from the British colonial masters. This particular brand of biographies is characterised, among other things, by the prominent place enjoyed in them by predictions and dreams of apparently semi-divine personalities that one would doubt or question at ones peril. According to Ghouri, who quotes Thanvi on this, the latters maternal grandmother complained to a majzoob that her daugthers male children did not survive infancy. He enigmatically replied that they died because of a tug of war between Hazrat Umar (RA) and Hazrat Ali (RA), and advised, Ab ki bar Ali ke supurd kar dena, zinda rahe ga, (this time hand over the newborn to Ali and hell survive). It was taken to mean that since the paternal side of Thanvi was Farooqi and the maternal side was Alavi, and the male infants were named in the formers tradition (such as Fazl-e-Haq), hence, the male infant mortality. The next time the newborn was to be given a name with Ali in it.

The majzoob laughed at the correct interpretation of his utterance and predicted that the mother would give birth to two sons in succession, both of whom would survive, and instructed that they were to be named Ashraf Ali and Akbar Ali, respectively. The prediction came true and the sons were named as advised. The paternal side, however, insisted on giving a name of their own to Ashraf Ali, and named him Abdul Ghani, though the latter did not gain currency. It was, incidentally, used much later by Thanvi himself as a cover in one of his risalas (titled Khutoobul Muziba) that he wrote as a reply to his younger brother Akbar Ali, who had objected to Ashraf Ali taking a second wife (much younger to him) while his first, older wife was still alive. It appears that under the influence of the Protestant ethics, made current by the colonial rule, polygamy had begun to be openly objected to. Ashraf Ali was born in Thana Bhavan (hence his adopted surname Thanvi), a UP qasbah or small town some 150 kilometre from Delhi, in 1863, i.e., a mere five years after the last Mughal lost his nominal place in the Red Fort. By that time, the traditional system of the Shahi or Nawabi patronage of the maulvis (and others calling themselves ahl-e-kamal) had been all but dismantled. The primary occupation of Thanvis father, Abdul Haq, was to serve a tiny state in Meruth (Meerut) as its Mukhtar-e-Aam, but with the permission of his employer he used to take contracts of the commiserate from which he had earned considerable amount of wealth and social status and bought a lot of semi-urban property. Abdul Haq, therefore, belonged to the profession of thekedar, or contractor, which became the source of new money, especially from the later part of the 19th century onwards. Ghouri quotes Thanvi while speaking about the Firasat-e-Khudadad or the God-gifted wisdom of Abdul Haq. In that, he decided very early in their childhood, what course the lives of his two sons were going to take. Ashraf Ali was chosen for taleem-e-arabi (Arabic education), while Akbar Ali was to acquire taleem-e-angrezi (English education). An old aunt of Thanvi took it as discrimination against the elder son that he was being deprived of the modern education, as she thought the Arbaic education would limit his chances of earning money. Abdul Haq got enraged and said, Bhabi sahiba, tum kehti ho ko yeh arabi parrh kar khayega kahan se. Khuda ki qasam, jis ko tum kamane-wala samajhti ho, aise aise is ki jutiyon se lage lage phirain ge. As soon as he finished his education at Deoband, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi took up the job of a teacher in the Madrasa Faiz-e-Aam, Kanpur. Apart from teaching, he was supposed to lead prayers and give waz (sermons). As was the practice in the new era, when donations from people of new professions had replaced the traditional patterns of patronage, the waaiz (sermoniser) was expected to appeal for chanda (donation) during his waz. However, Thanvi did not like it for several reasons. He did not deny the need of the madrasa to collect donations, but he thought that it was not becoming of a teacher, engaged on a monthly salary, to make an effort for chanda. Besides, he came from a well-off, new-rich family and believed that this kind of an economic and social background suited a religious leader, not to mention the correct lineage, which, in his view, was essential for social impact. However, he spent 14 years teaching at the Kanpur madrasa before establishing his own seat at his ancestral town of Thana Bhavan. Being a product of Deoband, Thanvi was a strong proponent of cleansing the Indian Muslims religion of the locally developed forms of devotional and social practices and rituals. The influence of Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab (17031792) of Najd had reached the subcontinent

mainly through Shah Ismail (17791831), who wrote a book called Taqwiyyat-ul Iman, which has been shown to be a more or less an exact Urdu translation of a risala by Wahhab. As the latter had taken a hard, rigid and violent stand against the practiced form of religion which in his view was to be abandoned in favour of a puritan form. Wahhabs (and Shah Ismails) detractors said that the puritan Islam was nothing but a modern invention with specific political and social purposes. This line of religious argument was useful for the Deoband school because the prominent maulvis associated with it wanted to campaign against the local content of the lived religion, although they did not at all wish to touch let alone demolish the system of caste hierarchy. (This hierarchy, practiced in the Hindu society following the teachings of a religious scripture called Manusmriti or Laws of Manu, was followed into the division of the South Asian Muslim society into Ashraaf, Ajlaaf and Arzaal, referring to the supposedly upper, middle and lower castes, respectively, according to their ancestral professions.) In the local, lived Islam in the subcontinent, the converted peoples devotion to the saints of the past several centuries was an important aspect. The dargahs of the deceased saints (pirs) used to and still play a central role in the religious life of Muslim communities. This had gradually become a family profession of the descendants of those saints (Pirzadas) all of them belonging to the Ashraaf castes, mostly Syed. The modern reformist maulvis, belonging to Deoband and other schools of religious thought, wanted to change this state of affairs and turn it in their favour. There is a clear difference between a genuine urge for social reform and a professional rivalry with those who have been traditional beneficiaries of the local religious practices. The modern maulvis did not want the practice of monetary exploitation of the devotees to be eliminated; they just wanted the madrasa to replace the dargah as the centre of religious life of the Muslims of South Asia. There is a revealing incident mentioned in the official biography of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Ashraf-us-Sawaneh, which illuminates the point mentioned above. Here it goes: Somewhere in Marwar [where Thanvi had gone to give a waz], one Pirzada came to attend accompanied by an alim with the purpose that if there was something against the profession of Pirzadas in the sermon, he should challenge it by way of munazra (debate), because the Pirzada was worried that his followers might get influenced by what Thanvi was going to sermonise. During the sermon, Thanvi said: It is a right of the descendants of holy men (buzurgon ki aulad) that they should receive monetary offerings (maali khidmat) from their followers, but the Pirzadas should not be asked to give religious guidance (deeni khidmat). On the other hand, maulvis should be asked to provide deeni khidmat, but they should not be offered maali khidmat, as they dont need it. Maulvis earn their living on their own, but the buzurg-zadas have no other option but to depend on the offerings of their devotees. This line of reasoning pleased the Pirzada and once the sermon was over, instead of challenging him with a munazra, he came and kissed Thanvis hands. After narrating this anecdote, Thanvi commented: The Pirzada felt happy in vain, because he did not understand how I had cut his roots (un ki jar ki kaat di) because if people receive religious guidance from maulvis, they will offer maali khidmat to them and not to Pirzadas.

Abdul Haq, Thanvis father, had decided what professions his two sons were going to pursue. He had predicted that although his younger son, Akbar Ali, with the help of his Angrezi taleem, would be better placed to make money and acquire social status in the modern era, his elder son, Ashraf Ali, with his Arabi taleem, would also achieve a status where people having wealth and social standing would find a place near his shoes. Even before Abdul Haq, the majzoob, who had predicted Thanvis birth and survival, had also declared: one of the two sons would belong to me, he would be a maulvi, and the other would be a dunyadar (a worldly man). Needless to say, both brothers did reasonably well in their respective professions chosen for them. While Akbar Ali served the British colonial administration in various capacities at the municipal and provincial level, including that of deputy superintendent of police and secretary of the Bareilly municipality, Ashraf Ali excelled in his career as a prominent maulvi of the modern times To write on a theme in a series of newspaper articles, each a week apart from the previous one, has its own issues. For one thing, even the regular reader might lose track of the route the particular writing has taken, and for someone who picks it up from the middle, it becomes difficult to place it in the larger argument conceived by the writer. This does not, of course, apply to the readers on the web, as they can not only recall the earlier instalments but also look at the comments that each one generated. It is therefore appropriate at this stage to quickly take an account of how much of the overall theme has been covered in the previous six pieces that were published in this space and where the argument is leading. I began by pointing out that the maulvi as an economic profession came into being in the face of unambiguous edicts of the Holy Quran, Hadith and the great interpreters and experts of Islamic fiqh or jurisprudence to the contrary. Somewhere during the 15th century AD, what was absolutely haram was turned into halal by those who monopolised the divine word. Then I mentioned the salient features of the system of imparting and disseminating religious learning which existed before the advent of the new modes of communication, travel and education. The traditional system ensured that religious knowledge was kept within the reach of a small bunch of families, that considered themselves of high birth, and away from the majority of common people, who received nothing but contempt because of their supposed low birth. The new technologies, in principle, made it possible such people to free themselves from their rigid traditional ancestral occupations and get the new kind of education to make themselves employable in the new socio-economic set-up that came into being under the colonial administration from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Access to education, traditionally denied to them, also meant that now they could get to know more than one interpretation of the religious scriptures and make their own judgments. The professional maulvis too, as an interest group, modernised themselves, not with respect to their outlook towards social change which remained extremely conservative but, in that they started making use of the same modern technologies to safeguard and further their interests. They continued trying to defend or rather revive the dead and dying socio-economic system that had traditionally been sustaining them and which suited them more than the new era. The Deoband was among such modernising reform movements launched by professional maulvis as a response to changed and, from their point of view undesirable, circumstances. In the name of reform, they sought to condemn the local forms of lived religion, evolved over

centuries, and replace them with their imagined original or pure Islam. In this they were deeply influenced by the Wahhabi school of thought which sought to use takfeer declaring their opponents outside the fold of Islam and strong-arm methods to destroy old, historical forms of the lived religion. The case of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi was chosen for a somewhat detailed study for several reasons. He has a bigger following among the Deobandi sectarian circles in Pakistan compared with other maulvis from Deoband who sided with the Congress during the time leading to partition. His books are constantly in print and are sold in large quantities. In the remainder of the series, I would discuss Thanvis ideas about cleansing the local forms of religious practices of tasawwuf Sufism of the familiar kind and the common South Asian Muslims sympathy for the martyrs of Karbala, apart from his usual efforts to declare the local traditions as innovations. His pronouncements on the issues related to womens emancipation, jihad and casteism will especially be discussed in some detail as those are relevant in view of the significance Thanvi enjoys. However, it is interesting to note, as will be shown subsequently, that his follower maulvis sometimes simply ignore Thanvis categorical judgments on such issues and adopt policies dictated by the expediencies of current politics. This has a background to it. Since the production of madrassa graduates increased manifold after these seminaries had adopted the modern method of classroom education by the early twentieth century, each maulvi coming out of this system ideally needed for himself a separate mosque with a madrassa and preferably a publishing arm (and resultantly a small or large group of followers with his own khalifas to manage the mureeds) to make his own career. Which is what Thanvi himself eventually opted for after teaching at a madrassa at Kanpur for several years. Since each competent Deobandi maulvi is his own master in his religious kingdom you need only to look around to find contemporary examples of madrassa-masjid-hostel complexes owned and run by a prominent maulvi families there has been a gradual loss of any central authority in the Deobandi circle. They act more or less in the same manner as a coterie of independent warlords in jihad without obeying a single Amir who would hold the authority over all of them. This became obvious when, during the Lal Masjid crisis in July 2007, the head of the Darul-uloom Korangi, Karachi founded by Mufti Mohammad Shafi Usmani and run by his sons and grandsons tried to reason with Ghazi Abdul Rasheed and was contemptuously snubbed by him. This is in line with the manner Thanvi himself acted. He differed with other prominent Deoband maulvis and other religious leaders on significant issues of the Khilafat movement, jihad, civil disobedience etc. and found religious arguments supporting his own preferred positions. This, despite the fact that others minority sects, the adherents of the traditional local Islam and Sufism (constituting a majority), free-thinkers, etc. receive nothing but wrath for having differing opinions. To understand this apparent dichotomy is essential for having a relevant insight into the problems facing our society today in the matters of political Islam By the time Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi became a prominent active maulvi, Muslim shurafa as a class or a bunch of upper caste groups both with a religious bent of mind and with a more

open worldly outlook had become completely loyal to the colonial government and opposed any political campaigns against it, let alone jihad against occupation. The mass political resistance initiated by the Indian National Congress gradually moved through the stages of mobilisation for home rule, boycott of European goods, adoption of khaddar instead of imported cloth, Khilafat movement and a call for Hijrat. The last two were the Congress leaderships attempts to politically mobilise Indian Muslims of the urban areas who had become sentimentally attached to the dreams of Pan-Islamism and international Khilafat. Some wellknown Muslim leaders, including a few maulvis of Deoband, participated in these movements. Thanvi, however, had categorical reasons against participation in such movements against the colonial government. For one thing, he was of the view that since the ultimate aim was the revival of Muslim rule in India and elsewhere to which Hindus could never be expected to empathise, Muslims must keep away from all such khurafaat (nonsense). He was particularly angry that the Muslim leaders had subordinated themselves to Gandhis decisions. In his Malfoozat, Thanvi says, There is nothing in this entire movement which is based on a suggestion from a Muslim leader or the ulama. See for yourself: home rule Gandhis idea, boycott his idea, khaddar his idea, the Khilafat issue his idea, the lesson of Hijrat his idea. All they [the Muslim leaders] take upon themselves is to follow whatever he says. They should have some ghairat at least! When Maulana Mahmood-ul Hasan Deobandi was allowed to return from his seven-year exile to Malta due to deteriorating health, Thanvi went to Deoband to see him. He mentions in his Malfoozat that a maulvi, who knew of Thanvis opposition to the idea of any resistance to colonial masters, reminded him that he was straying from the path of his jihadi elders. He apparently meant the jihad movement launched by Shah Ismail and Syed Ahmad (which was, incidentally, launched against the Sikh kingdom of Punjab). Thanvi retorted that he was aware of the fact that his buzurgs had stood up for jihad, but in the end they had sat down (meaning, abandoned it), and that he (Thanvi) was following their later stand which cancelled their earlier decision to launch jihad. He further comments that the underlying reasons for abandoning jihad in the earlier time were not only present in his own time but had become more severe. Thanvi does not say if he said the same thing to Maulana Mahmood-ul Hasan, who had clearly sided with political resistance. Thanvis arguments against the launching of jihad in modern times are based on his interpretation of the concept. He divides it into two postulates: One, if the Muslims have the qudrat (strength), they are supposed to launch a qital (an action to kill and enslave non-Muslim opponents); and, Two, if the Muslims are suffering from ijz (lack of strength), they must observe sabr (patience). In his view, there was no option in between these two that could be supported by the sources of Islamic fiqh. He used his interpretation of jihad to oppose any form of popular resistance public rallies, offering arrests, hunger strike (which Thanvi equated with suicide, which, unlike the Deobandi maulvis of the AfPak today, he considered as absolutely forbidden haram according to Islam). All these invented forms of mass political action were, according to him, borrowings from other nations. The concept of qudrat for jihad among Muslims leads to some very revealing intricacies of Islamic law that came to light during a detailed conversation between Thanvi and someone who

had come to challenge him on his views against methods of popular resistance to an unjust rule. The latter gentleman was of the view that the newly adopted forms of political resistance could be used to get political rights. Thanvi rejected this idea out of hand, insisting that according to Islam it is either qital or sabr and nothing else. And qital could be undertaken only if there is a certainty that the Muslim participants have the qudrat in the correct, shari sense. He explained his idea of qudrat by saying that if they had the strength to take an action but lack the strength to counter its reaction from the other side, this is not qudrat in the religious sense. According to Thanvi, any tactic adopted for jihad had to be strictly in line with the shariat, otherwise it was not allowed. He posed a question, which seems quite relevant today when suicide bombing has become a usual occurrence. Even if your suicide affects the kuffar (infidels) he asked, will it become halal to take your own life? The other reason that, according to Thanvi, made jihad in modern times impossible in the religious sense is the absence of a single Amir-ul Momineen who would command total obedience from all Muslims, including maulvis. Another gentleman suggested that Thanvi himself be made the Amir. He agreed, but on certain very interesting conditions. The first condition he put was that all the Muslims in India should transfer their entire property to his name under the principle of hiba (gift); he would promise to give them maintenance allowance as per their social status throughout the period of jihad, and return everything that remained once the jihad is successfully over. Two, all the maulvis and Muslim leaders of India should declare in writing that they would follow Thanvis dictates as Amir. If these two conditions were met, the first action that he intended to dictate would have been a complete suspension of all political resistance to the government for ten years. This period would be used to purify and reform Indian Muslims, and at the end of it, further decrees would be issued. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi opposed the Khilafat movement so fiercely that he was willing to sacrifice his life for the cause of opposing it. His Malfoozat have the following entry concerning the events. During the peak days of the Tehreek-e-Khilafat, fiery people were in a state of great rage. There was fire all around. Matters came to such a pass that in addition to abuses, condemnations and sundry allegations, I began receiving letters containing death threats in case I did not join it. Hazrat Maulana Khalil Ahmad Sahib (RA), out of his extreme fondness for me, sent a special envoy to me with his advice that I should consider the dangerous times and if I decided to participate just a little bit only formally, there was room [in the religious sense]. I sent my reply that what he said certainly showed his affection, but the biggest threat was that of losing ones life, for which I was prepared. However, I was neither willing to participate without being convinced [of the movement being correct] nor could I participate outwardly and remain aloof from the inside, as I considered it hypocrisy. So, behamdillah, I am alive and well before you today. These people have made it like a game for little girls: Either do as we do, or else get killed. During those days I went to the jungle as was my morning routine. On my way I met a Hindu Rajput old man, also from Thana Bhavan. The old-fashioned and elderly Hindus too have affection for me. He said, Maulvi-ji, do you have any idea what kind of things are being proposed for you? You should not come to the jungle alone like this. I said, Chaudhry, I know that, and I also know something that you do not know. He asked me what that was. I said, Without His order nobody can do anything. Despite being Hindu, he was so impressed by it that he exclaimed, Maulvi-ji, you may go wherever you feel like without any jokham (danger). For a man like you, jungle and mountains are no different from home.

The leaders of the Khilafat movement, apart from collecting donations for the aid of the Ottoman Turks (which, according to reports, never made it to them), asked the Indian Muslims to quit their military or civilian jobs with the British colonial government because it was involved in a world war in which the Ottoman Khalifa had chosen to be in the opposite camp. Apart from producing a lot of sound and fury, such appeals remained largely ineffective, and the process of socio-economic change, initiated as a result of the policies of the colonial government continued. Thanvi, obviously, was opposed to any such adventure. Not only was his brother a district-level employee of the government, a large number of his mureeds and even khulifas, including his official biographer, were in the service of the government. An offshoot of the same Khilafat movement was what is called Tehreek-e-Hijrat. Although Thanvi chooses to blame the Congress for it, fact is that it was the Deobandi maulvis belonging to Jamiat-ul Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) who, in their infinite wisdom, declared the subcontinent unfit for Muslims to live. They issued a religious fatwa for the shurafa Muslims, who could not undertake jihad against the British government for obvious reasons, to migrate to Afghanistan. The fatwa was obviously not directed at the vast majority of South Asian Muslims who were converts from lower castes and had no reason to feel any historical, ancestral or strategic affiliation with Afghanistan. Perhaps we could discern in this fantastic fatwa of the modern followers of Shah Waliullah an early version of what we today know as strategic depth, according to which it is presumed that the poor Afghans have a duty to let their land be used to enable us to realise our regional, international, Pan-Islamic or whatever dream. Thousands upon thousands of starry-eyed Muslims sold their property and crossed the northwestern border into Afghanistan. The Afghans and their King Amanullah Khan, who could have no truck with the peculiar worldview of the Indian maulvis, felt that their country was unable to host so many uninvited guests, and so the borders were sealed to stop further migration. Those who had already landed there met a tragic fate, many of them even losing their lives. When commenting on the ideas of Hijrat and quitting government jobs in his Malfoozat, Thanvis does not challenge the religious interpretation which provided the basis of the JUH fatwa. Curiously enough, he avoids even mentioning it. Instead he blames some resolution (probably a Congress resolution) for it. He writes: In the times of the Khilafat movement, a resolution was passed for Hijrat. Muslims stood up saying labbaik to it. Thousands of Muslims were made homeless as a result. Everyone knows its effect on the community (zaat) of Muslims. Then it was advised that they should quit government jobs. Those who had lost their minds (jin ki matain mari gayi theen) left their jobs. The vacancies created by Muslims leaving their jobs were filled by Hindus. Many of them have still not found employment (ab tak jootian chatkhate phirte hain). I receive letters in which people write that they had taken that stupid step then, and till now they are jobless and worried. Another tragic incident that took place as a result of Khilafat movement, which has been all but forgotten by our North-centric historians, was the armed rebellion of the Moplah Muslims in the southern region of Malabar in which around 10,000 people (including about 2,500 rebels) were killed, many more injured, and 20,000 deported to Kala Pani or the Andaman Islands. Thanvi comments on these events: The nation (qaum) of Moplahs was destroyed by these leaders and the maulvis following them who lectured and flared them up. Their passions were aroused as they were of Arab descent. And then everyone knows what happened to them.

In the previous instalment of this series, we saw how Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and other maulvis from the Deoband madrassa took diametrically opposed positions on matters of great political and social significance during the 1920s. Seen from afar, the difference of opinion seems political and worldly in nature. Take the matter of the Malabars Moplah rebellion for instance. Thanvi clearly and squarely holds the rebels and their leaders including maulvis responsible for the tragic and brutal end that those who participated in the rebellion met. He does not blame the British Indian government even one bit for savagely suppressing an uprising which began as a part of a mass political mobilisation claiming to resist colonial rule. You play with fire, he appears to say, you burn your fingers! Sarkar-e-Inglishia the English government seems to him to be something of a law of nature, with few moral implications. The shurafa castes of Indian Muslims as a group including the Muslim communities intellectual, social, political and religious leaders who exclusively came from these castes had openly and eagerly accepted the role of supporters of the English colonial government after 1857, in exchange for material benefits. These mindset-makers suffered and still suffer from an oversimplified and self-serving worldview which ran as follows. (1) We ruled India for a thousand years and now it is the Englishmans turn. Its Allahs will. (2) Why we lost power is because somewhere, somehow, we stopped being good Muslims. The proof of our goodness as Muslims was in the fact that we ruled not only India but the world (or half of it, or a third, or whatever). (3) Therefore, if we become good Muslims, well rule the world again, or a large part of, or at least India, or a part of it anyway. However, divorced from the realities of a changed and constantly changing world, it may be the most marvellous fact is that the leaders of the South Asian Muslim communities were able to sell this mindset to those Muslims who were converted from the local low-caste communities during the centuries of Muslim invasion and rule. In the modern era, the specific policies and measures of the colonial government, public education, printing, new and faster means of communication in short, the advent of modernity allowed some of these converted Muslims individuals, families, biradris to break from the rigid, debilitating tradition of sticking all their lives to their ancestral, caste-determined occupations. They entered new professions and, in order to equip themselves with all levels of skills for these, accessed literacy and education which, it must be remembered, was completely denied to them in the past and was fiercely resisted throughout the 19th and 20th centuries by the upper-caste monopolyholders of knowledge. They acquired the power to approach, consume and interpret the written word. And, at that crucial moment in their individual and collective histories, the unbelievable happened: they, the modern South Asian Muslims of the converted origin, bought wholesale and, in the process, sold themselves to the ridiculously unrealistic worldview described above. They started entertaining the strange idea that they were in fact among the people who had ruled India for centuries and an indeterminate but large enough portion of the world on top of that. They began not only to use the mind-boggling, delusion-driven expression when we, the Muslims, came to the subcontinent (came being a euphemism for invaded, occupied and ruled) but actually to believe in it! Can you imagine, for example, Africans, converted to Christianity during the European colonial invasion and rule of their continent, claiming to have come to Africa at a certain point in history and ruled it?

Once the modern, literate, employed lower-caste Muslims acquired this megalomaniac delusional idea, they began to construct their family genealogies and biradri histories to justify their outlandish, acquired view of their past. From there, the next step was simple and easy: they accepted the premise that they lost their rule because they were not good Muslims and as such admitted to the life long guilt of someone who needed to mend his un-Islamic ways, i.e., abandon his true, historically-determined geographical, socio-economic, cultural and religious identity and replace it with something dictated to be suitable by an authority. Once they admitted to this unjustified guilt, they surrendered themselves and a large number of their personal, family and collective decisions to this, that or the other authority which determined what they needed to do to become good Muslims, i.e. to follow the shariat, as that particular authority defined it. The modern maulvi claimed to be such an authority because this position, if accepted by a sufficient number of gullible, obedient people, gave him the power to define shariat for them. Therefore, to the exclusion of all reasonable considerations usually required to analyse any complex human situation and decide upon a practical course of action, the moot question in every single point under discussion became this: What does Islam say on this matter? And, as we have seen in the case of whether to support or resist the colonial government, and through which means, Islam seems to have said different things to different authorities even of the Deobandi variety. The fact that each of these opinions coming out of the same school of sectarian Islamic thought based itself on a specific interpretation of this or that part of religious scriptures and that each maulvi considered his interpretation to be the only true one, points to a fundamental dilemma of Deoband and its contemporary religious reform movements. Each modern maulvi purveying his particular opinions as the shariat had acquired his religious knowledge by reading the relevant printed material and interpreting it as determined by his political outlook, but he was not prepared to give the same right of interpreting the religious text to even the other, equally modern, maulvi let alone those who are considered unfit by birth to attempt it, for example women and people of lower castes. The difference of opinion among maulvis of same or different denominations has not been limited to political matters alone, as we have seen in the case of those in the early 20th century, even though taking a stand on serious political issues still divides even the Deobandi camp. One glaring contemporary example is whether to declare suicide bombing halal or haram. While the Darul Uloom of Deoband had no qualms declaring such terrorist acts totally forbidden according to their interpretation of the Sharia, the Deobandi maulvis on this side of the eastern border, especially those located near the north-western border, find it increasingly difficult to say anything straightforward about it, because they face the same danger to their life as Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi did when he decided to oppose the supposedly popular movement in favour of the Ottoman Khilafat. While Thanvi thought nothing of sacrificing his life for a stand that he considered correct in the religious sense, todays modern (or shall we call them postmodern?) maulvis think otherwise. However, the chaos created by this multitude of conflicting religious fatwas each fatwa-giver considering his own to be the only correct opinion crosses the boundaries of politics and

terrorism and enters peoples everyday lives. It tries, quite successfully, to confuse the minds of individuals facing big or small decisions affecting their lives. There is an interesting, though a little anachronistic, remark by Khwaja Azizul Hasan, the official biographer of Thanvi in his Ashraf-us Sawaneh, which points to a recurring theme in the circle of the maulvis of the modern era since its beginning: whether to consider certain new technologies and resources halal or haram. While describing Thanvis personal traits, Khwaja mentions his murshids impressive voice and remarks that although technological advancements had made voice recording possible, Thanvis voice could not be saved for posterity because recording human voice is not allowed in the Sharia. However, later maulvis, including Thanvis devoted followers, saw no problem in allowing their sermons to be recorded using modern technology. Having oneself photographed was considered absolutely haram until recently, not to mention the moving image of celluloid and television screen. Now one hardly finds a TV channel not blessed by the presence of maulvis of all descriptions. Another example is the loudspeaker, which was initially considered haram, but later became not only halal but an integral part of every mosque. Radio, motion pictures, TV, VCR, dish antenna all have had their rightful place in the list of means of Satanic communication that were haram, but sooner rather than later got their status changed to halal. These days you may find in Karachis Urdu Bazar pamphlets such as CD ki Shari Haisiat (The Status of CD according to Sharia) and the internet is still being considered by maulvis as the latest source of Satanic technology. One wonders what fatwa will greet the all-pervasive, almost omnipresent communication tool of the present age the cellular phone but the astonishing thing is that in the same Urdu Bazar one can find booklets advocating against the teaching of English language to young Pakistani Muslim girls, because it is going to take away their modesty haya! From turning the mission of teaching religion into a regular worldly profession in the face of unambiguous decrees against it in the Holy Quran, Hadith and categorical opinions of respected experts of Islamic jurisprudence, to the above decisions regarding new gadgets and ideas, one could appreciate the ease with which the modern maulvi swims this way and that in the familiar waters of fatwa. However, when it comes to matters such as changing his attitude towards women, he finds it extremely difficult to do so. For Thanvi this was a matter settled permanently, as he considered women naqis-ul aql wal-iman (deficient in reason and religion). He wrote the classic treatise called the Bahishti Zevar to guide the deficient women of the shurafa background in every aspect of their limited, secluded and segregated lives. He did not allow a woman any power to make a decision even when it concerned such highly personal issues as marriage and divorce. A woman, according to Thanvi, has to follow the dictate of her wali (guardian) typically, her father, but in his absence any male closest to her in blood relation from a brother to an uncle, a cousin or even a nephew while being married off. In the matters of divorce, Thanvi interpreted the scriptures in such a way that the husband had absolute power to divorce his wife, while the woman had no right whatsoever to make a decision in this regard, as she is considered incapable of making a reasonable and religiously sound decision.

In the 1930s, Allama Iqbal pointed in one of his lectures, included in the book Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, to a pressing problem of that era, mainly in Punjab, concerning women who either wished to break out of their unpleasant marriages or wanted to have their marriages declared annulled because their husbands (probably serving in the British colonial army) had been missing for several years. The Hanafi fiqh required the wife of such a person to wait for 70 years before finding another husband. The Allama whose devotees gave him the title of Hakeemul Ummat, just as those of Thanvi suggested that maulvis could use their great powers of ijtehad (re-interpretation of religious scriptures) for once to ease the severe problem of those women, some of whom had started declaring themselves Christian in the courts of British law in order for their painful marriages to be declared void. Thanvi wrote a book called Heela-e Najeza on the subject, without acknowledging either the Allama or the real issue of the time, and found a way of apparently giving such women a right to take their case to a male qazi (religious judge) who had the absolute power to make a binding decision on the matter. In the previous column, we saw how Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi does not favour granting a woman the right to make the most personal decisions of her life marriage and divorce because in his view she is deficient in both reason and religion, and therefore in perpetual need of someone to make these decisions for her. His popular treatise on teaching correct behaviour to the shurafa women Bahishti Zevar describes in detail what is expected of them in different situations of their strictly domestic lives. As long as men in position of authority over these women had their way, there was hardly any problem. They decided, for instance, to what extent if at all a little girl in their custody would be educated, when and with whom she would be married off, what her behaviour would be if she faced unpleasant conditions in marriage and whether she (in fact, her husband) would demand and get a share in her fathers property. And, as long as the women of that propertied class knew their place and followed traditional norms sanctified and buttressed by Bahishti and other Zevars everything was hunky-dory. The problem started when pressures of changed and constantly changing social conditions made it more or less compulsory for girls to get educated if their parents could afford it. As these girls got access to modern education, to whatever extent, they came into in contact with new thoughts as well including the simple idea that forms the basis of democracy: that everybody man and woman must have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. The specially published, ornamented editions of Bahishti Zevar (or other such books written under an uncontrollable yearning to keep womens behaviour in check) typically form part of a young womans dowry even today. However, as parents as well as producers of such texts know very well, todays young women do not want to accept the code of conduct suggested for them as submissively as, for example, women of a similar class would half a century ago. Hence the need to propose a ban on teaching English to our girls, or keeping them away from ideas (expressed even in a local tongue) that would encourage them to consider themselves capable of making their own decisions. Another approach, getting increasingly popular among Pakistani urban middle-classes these days is to somehow alloy modern education (containing whatever modernity allowed in it in our national curriculum) with religious learning so that the formers corrupting influence on their young daughters (or even, for that matter, sons) minds could be curbed or at least mitigated.

This is in line with Thanvis (and other modern maulvis) approach to try to control the effects of modern education on the minds of those who unfortunately cannot escape being exposed to it. The fundamental difference that such education makes is to enable a person to read and interpret all kinds of texts directly without anyone determining its meaning for him (or her). And this is considered dangerous by Thanvi (and other authorities like him). We have seen how women are considered incapable of making up their own mind as to what kind of life they want to lead. But this is not limited to women. As modern education has enabled a number of men and women to read books, newspapers, magazines and other print products (that have become part of urban life from late 19th century onwards), they felt that they had acquired a kind of power to think and decide for themselves what the features of their lives in modern times were going to be. From the point of view of the modern maulvi, this power had to be controlled. Which is why Thanvi famously declared that to read books written by the adversaries mukhalifeen even with the pious intention to write a refutation, is dangerous and, therefore, disallowed under his interpretation of sharia. The immediate meaning of this interesting category was the texts written by maulvis of other sects, but it could and did include any text that would give a person the misleading idea that he (and specially she) can think and decide what constitutes right or wrong. However, such a categorical instruction or decree to keep away from the dangerous material produced by the adversaries (Thanvis Barelvi, Shia, Ahmadi or other sectarian adversaries would no doubt impose the same restriction on their followers) creates an intriguing dilemma. The avalanche of books, booklets, pamphlets, handbills, posters, audio and video cassettes, CDs (and currently YouTube clips or even complete websites) devoted to a dissection and refutation of the opposite sects beliefs and pronouncements that we have to inevitably suffer along with its divisive and violent repercussions day in and day out would not have been possible had the maulvis themselves not created its contents by reading the banned material and culling passages from it that they considered provocative enough to be useful for their violent sectarian purpose. It is unavoidable to draw a simple conclusion from this state of affairs: there exists a crisis in our society as to who monopolises the authority to read and interpret relevant texts (in whichever form) and to decide what course of action an individual, a group or a collectivity such as the entire nation must take. Certain elements of modern, essentially democratic, thinking and practice such as mass education, print (and now electronic) media, and social space for individuals and groups to articulate their opinions have popularised (at least in the relatively privileged classes of society) values which are in constant conflict with the traditional values expressed in texts produced, for example, by Thanvi and other modern maulvis. The increasingly fundamentalist and even, in some cases, violent positions taken by maulvis of different denominations and their equally modern supporters point to the gravity of this very crisis. The maulvis of the modern era find it increasingly difficult to continue to enjoy the monopoly of reading and interpreting texts. The idea of equitable access for Muslims of all castes to education modern, worldly or religious, but no less of a worldly variety has been anathema for those who promoted the cause of education of both these kinds for the Shurafa Muslims of India. The almost airtight

category of Shurafa (plural of Sharif; also called Ashraaf) included four major caste groups: Syed, Mughal (of Turkic origin), Pathan (from different parts of Afghanistan) and Shaikh. The last subcategory was very interesting in that the high-value converts to Islam those who came from Hindu upper-castes also found their place in it. (One famous example is that of Iqbals grandfather, who came from a Kashmiri Pandit clan of Jammu and quickly adopted Shaikh as the new surname for the converted part of the clan.) Apart from this adjustment to accommodate the local notables, the real source of high birth was a particular Sharif familys origin in the obscure lands of Arabia, Turkistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Local origin was generally taken as proof of low birth. When this matter of discriminating between upper- and lower-caste converts was put as a question to Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, inquiring whether it might be a discouraging factor for people of lower castes to enter the fold of Islam, he, in his characteristic detached style, replied that the questioner should consider how a high-caste (for example an honorable Rajput) would feel if he was told that upon entering Islam he would be treated equally with a converted Bhangi or Chamar. Would he not be discouraged? The Shurafa were distinguished on another count as well: their occupations required them either to use a sword or a pen; in other words, they either monopolised physical power or knowledge and never used their hands for any productive work. All the menial jobs tilling the land, fetching water, weaving clothes, making houses, tools, utensils, shoes, ornaments etc. and cleaning all kinds of dirt and mess were forced on the local converts (and, of course, unconverted lower-caste people) who were supposed to exist only to serve the Shurafa castes. Indeed, they were collectively called khidmati qaumain (literally meaning serving castes and an Urdu equivalent of the Punjabi kammi). Needless to say, they constituted a huge majority of the population. In the South Asian Muslim caste system, they were further divided into two large groups, Ajlaaf and Arzaal, which roughly corresponded to the middle and lower (untouchable) caste groups under the Hindu social system. Whatever else these Ajlaaf and Arzaal had to go through throughout their lives, what concerns us here is that there was no question of their leaving their ancestral caste occupation or pursuing any branch of knowledge under the traditional local system. These things began happening for some of them only when society started to change under the exigencies of the colonial system, as we have outlined before. Being allowed to enter new professions, access knowledge of different levels and kinds and see a definite improvement in their standard of living constituted the beginning of a narrative of progress through education, work and urbanisation. The effect of the same process of social change on the Shurafa was almost in the opposite direction. They had typically inherited a piece of land, conquered and occupied by a sword-wielding ancestor or granted to him by a sword-wielding ruler. The spectre of getting educated and working to earn their living was nothing less than a great calamity for most of them. It was for these Shurafa of North India that two institutions the MAO College at Aligarh and the Darul Uloom at Deoband were established. Initially, they (and other, less publicised educational initiatives) were meant to exclusively serve the Muslim landed class made up of the upper castes. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan is on record at numerous places in the huge volume of his writings and speeches to this effect. Similarly, the initial administrators of the Deoband madrassa

made it abundantly clear that the calamity that had befallen the Indian Muslims was that the four Ashraaf castes who were entrusted with the profession of knowledge had abandoned it and that the madrassa had been established with the express purpose of persuading them to acquire religious learning not merely for glory but for their livelihood as well. It is another matter that their competing institution, Aligarh, which promised better and more prestigious means of livelihood to their graduates, managed to attract the bulk of the North Indian Muslims of Ashraaf castes. The pace of social change, to which the promoters of both these kinds of institutions seemed unmindful, at least during the initial decades, gradually worked to force them in the first quarter of the 20th century to open their gates to some of the lower-caste Muslims as well. However, the initial belief of religious knowledge being the exclusive monopoly of Shurafa not only survived among the prominent Deobandi maulvis but, as a reaction to the educational and economic progress made by some of the lower-caste biradaris, grew more sharpened and hostile. In 1935, Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani (who, after Partition, moved to this side of the border and started calling himself Mufti-e-Azam Pakistan) wrote a risala on the matter of bloodlines, titled Nihayaat-ul Arab fi Ghayaat-un Nasab, to condemn the upcoming Ansari and Qureshi biradaris in his home town Saharanpur. He wrote that the principal of equality in Islam was being misinterpreted in that some people wished to do away with the tafaazul-e-ansaab (privilege based on ones lineage) in the affairs of the world, although it is supported by the clear pronouncements of the sharia. The mufti had invited a prominent trader of his town to write a preface of the booklet, in which it was declared that the cause in the modern times for natural and other calamities, such as earthquakes, famines etc., was that religious knowledge had reached the lower-caste Muslims who could not possibly deserve or value this access to ilm-edeen. Mufti Shafi Usmanis risala booklet on a system of hierarchy of castes in his view of the Islamic sharia was published in a volume along with Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvis supporting text titled Wasl-us Sabab fi Fasl-un Nasab. Both these writings were in line with the Deoband stand on the issue of caste differentiation and the system of graded inequality that it entails. I must, however, clarify here that the Deoband school was not alone in this view; all other sects Sunni (labelled by others as Barelvi), Ahle Hadith, Shia, Ahmadi (called Qadiani by their detractors) and so on that proliferated as the profession of maulvi changed in the era of the new modes of communication, held exactly the same view. The literature on this subject brings it out that the matter of a particular caste groups place in the complicated hierarchy was a subject of serious discussion on two important counts in the social life of Muslim communities: whether one caste could have a relationship of roti and beti with the other caste, which roughly means whether one can sit on the same dastarkhwan dining table, if you will with them and whether one can give ones daughter in marriage to someone from the other caste. With the changing profile of urban living, the question of who to sit with on the table has declined in importance, although in our rural, more traditional milieu, a mirasi, a nai or a kanjar can hardly imagine himself breaking bread with a chaudhry, a malik, a khan or a wadera even today. The other question gave rise to a plethora of fatwas issued by all kinds of maulvis declaring who in specific situations can give his daughter in marriage to whom. This has resulted in two significant trends in the Muslim society of the northern subcontinent in the

background of the socio-economic change outlines before. One, a belief in the desirability of segregation of communities on the basis of sectarian, ethnic, linguistic, tribal or other differences that refer to the accident of birth rather than political values. Two, an insistence on the part of each small caste community to marry their daughters within the biradari. This latter trend has made life extremely difficult for a large number of young females in our society who cannot be kept away from the influences of literacy, education, exposure to mass media and mobile technology but are not given space to make decisions about their life according to their modern aspirations. Since maulvis of all hues and Thanvi enjoys a big following here put the weight of their fatwas behind the male authority in this regard, the common view is that the decision of a young womans marriage has to be made by her male guardian for it to have religious validity. In many cases, such conflicts have caused young women to be brutally murdered by their male relatives. Police and the local administration in such situations are usually seen supporting the murderers. Shamefully, some of our courts of law have also openly sided with this view on certain occasions; more often, they take a lenient view of the crime on the basis of the caste-based concept of honour or ghairat. Thanvi has made very clear pronouncements on the subject of caste hierarchy in his view of sharia. In the 20th volume of his collection of sermons Mawaiz-e Ashrafia he says that for Shurafa to be proud of ones high birth is takabbur and haram. He further says that for nonShurafa, even to think themselves equal to the high-born Shurafa constitutes takabbur, which, again, is haram. He plainly asks, Who can obliterate the difference that Allah has created? (p.193) In the seventh volume of the same series, Thanvi narrates an interesting incident: A Maulvi Sahib, who was a Syed, arrived in Qanoj and stayed with Manhiars [bangle-makers] in their neighbourhood. He started saying, to please his hosts and to gain monetarily, that there is no such thing as sharafat based on high birth and that all descendants of Adam are equal. The Shaikhs of the town found this talk not agreeable at all and they started a rumour campaign, saying that the Syed Maulvi Sahib was going to give his daughter in marriage to Manhiars. One clever man put this question publicly to the Maulvi. Maulvi Sahib got enraged on this outrageous suggestion and said: Who is the haramzada [bastard] who says this? He was told that since according to his views there is no sharafat based on ones lineage he had no reason to feel offended on this suggestion. That day, the Maulvi Sahibs eyes got opened. (p.266-7). Another revealing anecdote appears in a book called Kamalaat-e Ashrafia, a volume of hagiography put together by one of Thanvis khalifas, Maulana Eisa Allahabadi. When printed books became the order of the day and writers fell short of texts to be printed to cater to the growing demand, prominent maulvis began the practice of getting their verbal sayings collected and published under the category of malfoozat. Thanvi himself has a large number of such volumes to his credit. One of Thanvis disciples and khalifas, a maulvi who belonged to the Ansari caste (the biradari of cloth-weavers who had adopted this surname in the face of strong opposition of Shurafa Maulvis and others who insisted on calling them Julahas) liked this idea, collected his own malfoozat and got them printed as a book. Thanvi got angered by this and strictly reprimanded the fellow. What is more, the poor man was instructed to stand up every day after Maghrib prayers and announce to the congregation in the following words: Sahibo, since I belong to that low caste, I could not conduct myself in a reserved manner, got carried away

because of my patrons kindness and started considering myself a big man. I am being punished for this misconduct. You should learn from my example and always keep away from takabbur. In the previous parts of this series, I have tried to trace an outline of (i) how the professional maulvi emerged as a modern social and political actor in the subcontinent during the later part of the colonial era, (ii) how he transformed himself according to the needs of the time to serve his own interests and those of the powerful Shurafa castes, and (iii) how he used the authority of ijtehad interpreting specific religious texts to issue fatwas on contemporary questions. This process needs to be studied and understood as it has deeply influenced the social and political life of the Muslim communities in the northern subcontinent. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi was chosen as an example for this study for two reasons. One, the Deoband movement has played, since its inception, a vital role in shaping the educational priorities among the north-Indian Muslim communities on the one hand and, by launching a strong campaign against the lived popular forms of Islam, managed to divide communities, even families, on sectarian lines, on the other. This campaign was directed at replacing the dargah with the masjid-madrassa as the religious power centre. Influence of Deoband can be seen not only in the abundance of the new kind of masjid-madrassa complexes that dot our cities and towns today, but also among the myriad jihadi outfits that are active everywhere. (In their frustration with the deep-rooted popular religion, some of them have even started destroying the more famous dargahs.) Two, Thanvi himself is an influential figure, given the large body of writings he produced during his busy life. Also, he has gained in importance in the context of the Pakistani intellectual life during the previous two decades that saw people such as Muhammad Hasan Askari and Dr Muhammad Ajmal become his disciples, and his devotees occupy places in the academia and the so-called learned bodies. As the power of ijtehad was used to create a professional class of maulvis against clear pronouncements in the Holy Quran, hadiths and the Sunni authorities of fiqh, so was it used subsequently to serve certain interests and suppress certain others. Since there is room for several competing interpretations of these texts, the process of political ijtehad has sharpened the sectarian political conflict handed down by the history of Islam in which Shias have always resisted being pushed out of the mainstream by Sunnis. In addition to that, it has resulted in the emergence of a number of new sectarian divisions during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the background of the caste differentiations, made part of local Islam by Muslim invaderrulers with the help of earlier maulvis, the politics of identity among Muslim communities became a struggle to safeguard the economic and political interests of the upper castes. The idea of caste hierarchy was borrowed from the Hindu society and was mixed with Islamic injunctions dealing with slaves in order to concoct the social category of khidmati qaumain who existed only to serve the Shurafa and whose women could be used by the upper-caste men without a nikah. The changes wrought by developments in means of communication provided an opportunity to these downtrodden masses to aspire for knowledge, modern professions and eventually an improved life for themselves and their communities. The modern maulvi himself was a product of the same process of socio-economic change, but he threw his weight behind the upper-caste forces that have consistently been resisting this huge change. The modern maulvi used all the modern means of communication print, post, railways and so on to develop a national agenda that had no relation with the aspirations of those

disadvantaged on the basis of caste, religious sect and gender. Unlike Hindu society, which set out to mitigate and ultimately abolish the social inequality born out of centuries of caste and gender discrimination, Muslim politics, thanks to our religious, educational and political leaders and opinion-makers all coming from the Shurafa castes insisted on a flat denial of this fundamental social condition. After 1947, the maulvi became an active player assisting the antisocial change political forces who wanted to thrust on the new nation state an ideological agenda which could be used to keep the benefits of modernity out of the reach of the historically disadvantaged groups. How the fine art of ijtehad is selectively used for ones purpose can be seen in an example that relates to Thanvis death in 1943. Syed Suleman Nadvi had travelled to Thana Bhavan to visit him on his deathbed but could not stay with him in his final days. When Nadvi got the news of Thanvis passing away, he declared him a shaheed, citing some obscure religious text according to which anyone dying of a stomach ailment is a martyr!