Deoband in the throes of change?
When the Urdu publication 'Tarjuman-e-Deoband' ran an article this month justifying the killing of Pakistan's Punjab governor Salman Taseer, some 'moulvis' (clerics) at the Dar-ul-Uloom -South Asia's oldest and biggest Islamic theological school - had supported the argument, going on to warn that 'other infidels' would meet the same fate.india Updated: Feb 01, 2011 00:51 IST
When the Urdu publication 'Tarjuman-e-Deoband' ran an article this month justifying the killing of Pakistan's Punjab governor Salman Taseer, some 'moulvis' (clerics) at the Dar-ul-Uloom -South Asia's oldest and biggest Islamic theological school - had supported the argument, going on to warn that 'other infidels' would meet the same fate.
Taseer was opposed to his country's blasphemy laws.
The commonly heard theory is that the seminary's newly appointed and MBA degree-holder 'Mohtamim' (vice-chancellor), Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, in the eye of the storm for his resignation threat, had to flee Deoband because of his attempts to yank the 145-year-old institution out of its culture of "mullahism" (obscurantist Islamic ideology).
In a newspaper interview shortly after taking office, Vastanvi advised the Muslim community to look beyond the Gujarat riots of 2002, saying that the community had become better-off during Narendra Modi's tenure as chief minister.
This incensed the Islamic orthodoxy.
"The Dar-ul-Uloom stands for promotion of unadulterated Islamic thought - entirely divorced from the influence of the western model of liberalism. The new VC failed to grasp this reality," said Abdullah Javed, Islamic scholar at Deoband, the western Uttar Pradesh district where the seminary is located.
The Dar-ul-Uloom has had to suffer the 'fatwa factory' tag - not for misplaced reasons. Over the past few years, the Dar-ul-Ifta (the school's fatwa department) has issued edicts opposing the co-education system, against the practice of men and women working together in the same office, against liquor and family planning, and against the practice of taking interest on money through bank deposits or through insurance policies.
Vastanvi wanted to leave the past behind. He wanted to replicate his Gujarat model of moulding Islamic teaching with mainstream education by setting up information technology, engineering and medical colleges. He had also proposed to set up a 'fatwa' screening committee.
"They (fundamentalist lobby) have hounded Vastanvi out. But we will make sure he returns," said Mohammed Yusuf of the Muslim Majlis.
In this fight between the modern and fundamentalist forces, is Vastanvi being used as a tool? Or is he a willing partner to the entire scheme of things? Is his resignation threat (later withdrawn) a mere strategic ploy?
Some clarity to these unanswered questions is likely to emerge at the February 23 meeting of the 'Majlis-e-Shoora' - which has been called to discuss the resignation of Vastanvi.
In the run-up to the January 10 election, he is credited with having worked out a close rapport with at least four members of the 'Majlis-e-Shoora'. Eventually, he ended up getting four votes more than his nearest rival Arshad Madani. Can Vastanvi swing the 'shoora' in his favour this time as well?
Apparently, the entire Muslim world wants to find an answer to that.