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Fringe or mainstream: Why are we not talking about the fact that Taliban is a Deobandi movement?

The underlying assumption for 'liberals' is clear. The Taliban and their attitude towards women, gays, human rights and civil liberties are all outliers. The Taliban is fringe.

The Taliban has now taken control of Afghanistan. And they are doing exactly what you would expect. They are carrying out mass executions, forcing women and girls into sexual slavery, and worse. The liberal Americans climbed into their helicopters and conveniently flew away.

The rest of the world wrings its hands. We can only feel sorry for the women of Afghanistan, the LGBTQ community there and in general, anyone who loves freedom. In case we have forgotten, there is also a tiny population of Hindus and Sikhs still surviving in Afghanistan. Nobody knows for how long. We are not allowed to talk about that, because that would be against our secularism. In fact, our liberal are using the Taliban as an opportunity to lecture India’s Hindu majority about the perils of religious fundamentalism.

Anyway, the underlying assumption is clear. The Taliban and their attitude towards women, gays, human rights and civil liberties are all outliers. The Taliban is fringe.

Okay then, let us find out how fringe the Taliban really is. Which planet have they traveled from? Mars? Did they just arrive here from the distant past in a super sophisticated time machine built during the stone age?

I don’t want to be accused of XYZphobia here, so let me quote here the first sentence from the current Wikipedia article on the Taliban.

The Taliban (/ˈtælɪbæn, ˈtɑːlɪbɑːn/; Pashto: طالبان‎, romanized: ṭālibān, lit. ‘students’ or ‘seekers’), which refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), is a Deobandi Islamist movement and military organization in Afghanistan, currently waging war (an insurgency, or jihad) within the country.

A Deobandi Islamist movement, Wikipedia says. In fact, the Wikipedia article on Taliban is incorporated within their series on Deobandism. But the Deoband is a town in Uttar Pradesh, not Pakistan. In fact, this has been known for a very long time. Let me refer here to this New York Times headline from 2002.

Taliban and ‘Indian connection’

They are talking about the Deoband school. So, why aren’t we talking more about this school, its teachings and how it may have inspired the Taliban? Why is there no curiosity in the media around this?

Let me now quote the beginning of the Wikipedia article on Deobandism.

Deobandi (Hindi: देवबन्दी; Pashto and Persian: دیوبندی‎; Urdu: دیوبندی‎; Arabic: الديوبندية‎; Bengali: দেওবন্দি ; Odia: ଦେଓବନ୍ଦି) is an Islamic revivalist movement within Sunni (primarily Hanafi) Islam that formed around the Darul UloomIslamic seminary in the town of Deoband, India, where the name derives from, during the late 19th century. The seminary was founded by Muhammad Qasim Nanautavi, Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, and several other figures in 1866, eight years after the Indian Rebellion of 1857–58; the Deobandi movement’s political wing, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, was founded in 1919 and played a major role in the Indian independence movement through its propagation of the doctrine of composite nationalism.”

Some more familiar names there, such as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. Also, that the Deobandi movement believes in “composite nationalism.” Glad they made that clear.

I will be honest with you. I don’t particularly enjoy the term “composite nationalism.” I prefer to say “idea of India.”

Again, why isn’t the media talking about this? Yesterday was Independence Day. The least we could have done is thanked the Deoband and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, considering that they played a major role in the Indian independence movement. Now we know.

So how does an organization as wholesome as the Deoband get linked to the Taliban? As Wikipedia informs us:

” … during the initial phase of its establishment the operating expenses are said to have been partially borne by Hindus because Deobandi philosophers of those times talked about the unity of Hindus, Christians and Muslims, multiculturalism and opposition to the partition of India….”

Oh wow! I can’t believe there is no Manmohan Desai movie about this. Anyway, I decided to read up more on this AAA (Amar-Akbar-Antony) style organization. Given its opposition to partition and possibly because of its composite nationalism, the Deobandi philosophy has spread its wings all across Akhand Bharat.

An estimated 15-25 percent of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims consider themselves Deobandi.”

That’s not a bad start. That means this 15-25% of Pakistan’s Muslims is already committed to unity, peace and oneness with India. Now we know who watches all those patriotic Bollywood movies across the border. What else do we know about the Deobandis in Pakistan?

Deobandi-affiliated groups such as the TTP, SSP, LeJ, etc. have a militant character

Did you hear that? The Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan has a “militant character.” To be fair, everyone has character flaws. That is why non-judgmental language is so important.

What other wonderfully mainstream things are the Deobandis associated with?

Deobandi Islam is the most popular form of pedagogy in the Pashtun belt on both sides of the Durand Line that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, prominent Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders have studied in Deobandi seminaries.

Did I say mainstream? I meant to say fringe.

Coming to Bangladesh, we learn the following:

As with the rest of the Indian subcontinent, the majority of Muslims in Bangladesh are traditional Sunni, who mainly follow the Hanafi school of jurisprudence (madh’hab) and consequently the Maturidi school of theology.[29][30] The majority of them are Deobandi along with Tabligh (51%)and Barelvi or Sufi (26%); the Deobandi, in the form of Qawmi institutions, own the vast majority of private Islamic seminaries and produce the majority of the ulema in Bangladesh.

All mainstream! I see a mention of Barelvis, again a name derived from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. I also see the Sufis, who were much glorified in my school history textbook. And finally, also the Tablighis, those darling little angels. There was a short period last year when the media smeared them. But, we did make amends. Now the media falls at their feet. Nobody is more mainstream than the Tabligh-i-Jamaat now.

If you are having difficulty following who is fringe and who is mainstream, don’t blame me. Blame Wikipedia for having such a confusing table of contents in their article on Deobandis.

Wikipedia on Deobandi

“Associated political organizations” as well as “associated militant organizations.” Along with a list of “notable institutions” and even “scholars.” There’s a mix I thought I would never come across.

Let me quickly cover some bases here. I am definitely not saying that the Deobandis or the Deoband school are involved with illegal activities anywhere on earth, either at this point in time, or in history. I am also not saying that the Deobandis are an influential group spread across multiple nations, with the “mainstream” providing cover for the “fringe.” In fact, all I am trying to say is that the Deobandis are spreading a message of peace.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author.  

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