What does Deoband initiative mean?

Economic Times, 29 Feb, 2008

The recent gathering in Deoband, where over 6,000 Muslim clerics and political activists gathered at an ‘All India Anti-Terorism Conference’ is a significant event. Never before have such large numbers of the ulama assembled to acknowledge and condemn Islamic terrorism.

The participants also criticised the Indian government for collaborating with the US-led “enemies of Islam and Zionist forces” in targeting Muslims and madarsas in the name of fighting terrorism. One of the largest seminaries in the world, Deoband is known for Islamic puritanism and orthodoxy.

Significantly, Deoband was a Congress ally during the freedom struggle. It represented the nationalist Muslim voice, as opposed to the Muslim League’s fight for partition on religious lines. In this context, then, the meeting becomes even more path-breaking because of the presence of political organisations such as the Jamaat-i-Islami, which have been accused of lending support to insurgent groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir.

The meeting, however, did not condemn the politics of hate practiced by several participating organisations. It would have gained more credibility had there been a critical reflection on the undemocratic role some of them played during the Shah Bano case, the hateful and communal mobilisation against Salman Rushdie, the proclamation of death for a Danish cartoonist and, more recently, the hounding of Bangladeshi writer Tasleema Nasreen. In all these cases moderate Muslims and dissenting voices were threatened by violence and intimidation.

It is true that minorities are attracted to violence when democratic institutions fail to deliver justice, and these organisations rightly accuse the Indian state of being soft on right-wing Hindutva organisations and for looking the other way during, for example, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat massacre. But it is equally important to reform orthodox and sometimes medieval practices in the community, specially those related to women, as well as to recognise the dangers of the communal and violent politics practiced by organisations such as the Jamaat-i-Islami.

The meeting, thus, fell short of facing challenges within the community and only ritually condemned the Indian government and the US.


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