School of Shariah: Islam and India

Edna Fernandes visits a madrassa in northern India founded in the wake of the Indian Mutiny. One of the first Islamic fundamentalist schools, its influence has spread into Pakistan and Afghanistan, among the Taliban and followers of Osama bin Laden.

The place was India. Muslims felt under attack for their faith and took up arms to defeat the imperialist enemy. The battle that ensued resulted in a hardened core of elders retreating into orthodoxy. They founded a madrassa with the aim of fighting ‘polluting’ Western influences by teaching a purer form of Islam. Their aim: a world returned to the year zero, the year of the Prophet.

The two momentous events lie over a century apart, yet they are inextricably linked by an ideology and movement, whose power resonates around the globe.

In 1866, nine years after the Indian Mutiny in which the British crushed the insurgency of Muslim and Hindu soldiers, a group of Muslim elders established a madrassa, or Islamic school, called Darul Uloom, the ‘House of Knowledge’, in northern India.

Nurtured by a hatred of foreign rule and cultural ‘pollution’, Darul Uloom promised to be a haven of Islamic purity and learning, based in the nondescript town of Deoband, in what is today Uttar Pradesh. The madrassa’s spiritual ideology was forged in the fires of the Mutiny and would become known as Deobandi Islam.

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