ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Vastanvi as a Bellwether

The struggle for control of the Deoband is indicative of a larger churn within the Muslim communities of India.

The remarks by the newly appointed vice chancellor, or Mohtamim, of Darul Uloom Deoband, Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, that Muslims should “move on” from the anti-Muslim riots of 2002 in Gujarat have shocked most observers. Vastanvi further added that economic growth and “prosperity” in Gujarat had benefited all communities, giving a positive c ertificate to its chief minister, Narendra Modi, which few p olitical actors outside the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh family have been willing to do.

As expected, this statement was condemned in the strongest terms by Muslims from all over the country and was met with dismay and disbelief by others. Not only is the Islamic seminary at Deoband a leading centre of Islamic theology in south Asia, it is well known for its conservative and socially retrogressive views. After independence, the Deobandi clerics, organised in the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (juh) have been politically close to the Congress. Maulana Syed Asad Madani, who led both the JUHas well as the Deoband seminary for the past three decades and more, was the dominant figure who defined the conservative yet non-communal position which defined Deoband inside I ndia. While control of Deoband remained with clerics from north India, an increasing number of its 4,000 students and faculty were coming from states other than Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Vastanvi’s election as Mohtamim was an attempt by these “outsiders” to cut the Madani family’s control over the institution.

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