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YahyaM: Deobandi Sufis

To: alt.religion.gnostic,alt.sufi,alt.islam.sufism,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.consciousness.mysticism
From: (tyaginator)
Subject: YahyaM: Deobandi Sufis
Date: 27 Mar 1999 01:26:35 -0800


The Deobandi sect is perhaps the most influential of all among Muslims of
South Asia.  Its origins go back to the descendants of Shah Wali Allah of
Delhi, who lived over 200 years ago.  Shah Wali Allah was a Sufi in the
Mujaddidi Naqshbandi lineage of Ahmad Sirhindi and wrote on theology and 
the Shari`ah, and also translated the Qur'an into Persian.  My friend Ahmed
Hussain, one of the rising stars of Sufi scholars of the new generation, is
very much impressed with Shah Wali Allah's Sufi theology, although I don't
know much about it myself.

What I read about Shah Wali Allah being influenced by the Wahhabis of Najd
left me incredulous, but some cite this as the connection between Wahhabism
and Deoband.  Sayyid Ahmad Shahid was a disciple of Shah Wali Allah's son 
who waged jihad against the British and is usually called the Wahhabi of 
India.  The son and grandson of Shah Wali Allah were also Mujaddidi Sufis 
and their efforts led to the founding of the Deoband school over a hundred years ago.

This school has to be seen in the context of the conservative reformist 
"neo-Sufi" movements of the 19th century (like the Sanusiyah and the 
Idrisiyah in Africa).  They vigorously attacked the practices of Indian 
Muslims and insisted on a more scriptural normative Islam to replace the 
popular folk customs.  Barbara Daly Metcalf has studied this school and 
written much about it (Islamic revival in British India : Deoband, 
1860-1900).  She takes quite a positive view of them.  She translated 
the Bihishti zevar of Ashraf `Ali Thanvi under the title of Perfecting 
Women.  Ashraf `Ali Thanvi was the head of Deoband a hundred years ago 
and is credited with the movement to educate Indian Muslim women 
(because the culture had left them uneducated).  This seems liberal in 
the context of that time & place.  (Thanks to Sufism; the reason I 
discuss Muslim women's rights in the context of Sufism is that 
throughout history the Sufis have allowed the most liberal expressions 
of Islam and given women their full equal status.)

A major outgrowth of the Deobandi school was the Tablighi Jama`at movement
that arose in the 1920s.  A grass-roots, traveling, pietist, anti-
intellectual movement with an extremely simplified and repetitive 
approach to Islam, the TJs are well-known to Muslims around the world.  
If anyone asks them about Sufism, they de-emphasize it and try to 
deflect everyone's energies into supporting their agenda.  TJ is a good 
example of how "Sufism" can completely lose its esoteric dimension when 
excessive stress is put on the outward legalistic Islam (a tendency of 
the Mujaddidi).  Barbara Daly Metcalf has a very positive view of the 
TJs and wrote that they encourage the spiritual equality of men & women 
and destroy the old hierarchical social strata of Indian Muslims, and 
even feminize men when they are in the mosque by getting them to 
perform tasks that were thought to be only for women.  Again, this
sounds pretty liberal in the Indian context.  

Given all this, the thing that puzzles me the most about Deobandism is that
the effect I see them having here & now is very much against women's 
rights.  Their tendency has been to enforce the most restrictive measures 
against women.  No women can enter their mosques.  They enforce absolute 
"purdah": women have to veil their faces, it's "haram" for men & women 
to exist in the same space at the same time (which is not from the 
Qur'an or the Prophet's sunnah at all).  They are so extreme about this 
sexual apartheid that you get the impression if they could segregate all 
men on one planet and all women on another, they would.  The most ironic 
twist of all is that the woman-beating Taliban of Afghanistan, the most 
systemically evil tyrants against women in the world, were indoctrinated 
in Deobandi schools.  Imagine that what was originally a Sufi, somewhat 
liberal, movement should have come to this!


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