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Yogi Sikand – Deoband's Anti-Terrorism Convention: Some Reflections

Deoband's Anti-Terrorism Convention: Some Reflections
Submitted by Tarique on Tue, 03/11/2008 - 18:37.

By Yoginder Sikand,

The mammoth 'Anti-Terrorism Convention' organised at Deoband late last month, which brought together ulemafrom all over the country, has received wide media
coverage. While smaller conventions of this sort have been organized by other ulema bodies in recent years, this one, unlike others, caught the attention of themedia particularly because it was organized by the Darul-Ulum Deoband, probably the largest traditionalmadrasa in the world, which large sections of the
media have been unfairly berating as the 'hub' of 'terrorism'.

The speeches delivered at the convention have been considerably commented on in the press. By and large, the non-Muslim press has focused almost wholly on the
resolutions that were passed that labeled 'terrorism' as 'anti-Islamic', leaving out other crucial issues that were raised by numerous ulema who spoke on the
occasion, particularly about Western Imperialism and Zionism as major factors behind global 'terrorism', and the hounding of Muslim youth and mounting
Islamophobic offensives across the world, including India, in the name of countering 'terror'. Muslim papers have dealt with these issues fairly
extensively, but, following most of the speakers at the convention, they have placed the blame for 'terrorism' almost entirely on what they identify as 'enemies of Islam', thus presenting a very one-sided picture. In short, media reporting about the
convention, by both the Muslim and non-Muslim media, has been inadequate and somewhat imbalanced. The same can be said of several of the speeches made at the

The presidential address to the convention, which was also circulated as a printed document, was delivered by the conference's organizer and rector of the
Deoband madrasa, Maulana Marghubur Rahman. 'We condemn all forms of terrorism', he insisted, 'and in this we make no distinction. Terrorism is completely wrong, no
matter who engages in it, and no matter what religion he follows or community he belongs to'. 'Islam', he announced, 'is a religion of mercy and peace'. Hence,
terrorism or the killing of innocent people 'is totally opposed to Islam'. He evoked the Quran to argue that Islam exhorts Muslims to behave well with
people of other faiths if they do not oppress them, to abide by their treaties and agreements with non-Muslims and not to let the injustice of any community cause them to deviate from the path of justice.

Maulana Marghub ur-Rahman argued that far from being 'anti-national', numerous ulema and madrasas were in the forefront of India's freedom struggle. Dismissing
charges that madrasas were used for fomenting 'terrorism', he insisted that they 'promote love, peace, tolerance and patriotism'. He appealed to the madrasas to provide 'proper guidance to their students so that they are not misused as agents to engage in
any illegal activity in the name of Islam', an obvious reference to certain radical Islamist outfits that have sought, largely unsuccessfully, to make recruits
among Indian Muslim youth. He suggested that in order to counter the misapprehensions that many non-Muslims have about madrasas, the managers of the madrasas must establish good relations with government officials and
people of other faiths living in their vicinity. 'We must not unnecessarily make or consider others as our enemies', he stressed. 'Instead', he advised, 'we must
spread our message of love'. He also suggested that madrasas should improve their system of functioning, maintain proper accounts and focus on the
character-building of their students.

Indians, Muslims as well as others, the Maulana declared, are 'brothers', and they have 'jointly sacrificed for and contributed to the country'. He appealed to all Indians to join hands to work for India's 'peace and development'. If the government of
India is really serious about combating terrorism, he stressed, it should be neutral in its approach to various communities, not suspect or target anyone simply because of his religion, and cease hounding innocent people, an obvious reference to the growing
number of cases of police arresting and even killing Muslims in the name of countering 'terrorism'. He lambasted what he termed as 'Zionist forces' for spreading terrorism throughout the world as a means for promoting Western and Israeli expansionism and
imperialism, and even suggested that these forces might well be behind many terrorist attacks in India, which, he insinuated, had been deliberately, but wrongly, attributed to Muslims. He refused to acknowledge that Indian Muslims might engage in
terrorist activities, claiming that because this would hurt Muslims more than others 'it is unrealistic and even impossible for them to be terrorists'.

Several other speakers at the convention repeated many of the points that Maulana Marghub ur-Rahman had made. Like him, all of them argued that Islam did not
sanction terrorism or the killing of innocents. Some used this argument to make the specious claim that, by definition, Muslims could not be terrorists, thus
placing the entire burden of global terrorism on what they called 'anti-Islamic forces', particularly 'Western Crusader' and 'Zionist' groups. These forces, they alleged, were engaged in a global conspiracy to defame Islam and wrongly brand it as a violent
religion, while at the same time engaging in state-sponsored terrorism on a large-scale, as in the case of the American devastation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or masterminding blasts and violent attacks which they had, so they alleged, wrongly lamed on Muslims simply to give them and Islam a bad name.

This, for instance, was the burden of the argument made by Maulana Noor Alam Khalil Amini, editor of the Deoband madrasa's Arabic magazine 'Ad-Dai', in a booklet commissioned by Maulana Marghubur Rahman specially for the convention, which was distributed to those present on the occasion. In a similar vein, Maulana Khalid Rashid Firanghi Mahali, a noted Islamic scholar from Lucknow, declared that 'America is sowing the seeds of terrorism all over the world'. 'Anti-Islamic forces', he claimed, 'are scared of the increasing influence of Islam. That is why they claim that Islam and terrorism go with each other'.
Likewise, Maulana Mahmood Madani, senior leader of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, denounced George Bush as 'the world's biggest terrorist'. He castigated America and
other Western powers for 'spreading hatred against Muslims and Islam'.

The final declaration of the convention ran on similar lines. It denounced the killings of innocents as completely 'anti-Islamic', no matter who the perpetrators were, Muslims or non-Muslims. It insisted that Islam 'teaches peace, equality, justice and service to others'. It failed, however, to recognise the very existence of terrorism in the name of Islam engaged by some self-styled Islamist groups. Instead, it appeared to put the burden of terrorism entirely on the shoulders of those whom it saw as inimical to
Islam. 'Governments of most countries', it announced, 'are toeing the line of Western and imperialist powers, and in order to please them are behaving in a despicable manner with their citizens, particularly Muslims'. It rued the fact that India's internal and external policies were being increasingly shaped by these anti-Islamic powers, who 'have unleashed untold terror' in countries as far as Afghanistan, Iraq and
South America. It condemned the hounding of innocent Indian Muslims and their religious institutions in the name of countering 'terrorism', while lamenting that
the Indian state took no action against the real perpetrators of crimes against humanity. It appealed to the Muslims of India to 'follow their established tradition of love and respect for the country and be alert so that no anti-Islamic and anti-national forces
could use them as agents'. Finally, it called for all Indians to unite 'for upholding justice, the rule of law and secularism'.

The significance of the Deoband convention can be
gauged from the fact that various Muslim organizations
(including several non-Deobandi groups), as well as
Hindu and secular bodies have welcomed it, although
some have rightly expressed the wish that it should
have been organized much earlier. The announcement by
the organizers of the convention that similar meetings
will be held across the country is indeed a very
heartening development. One wishes this step would be
reciprocated by Hindu religious organizations, who,
too, need to take a clear stand against the terrorism
being actively stoked by hardliner Hindu groups. One
also hopes that the appeals for cooperation with
secular non-Muslims that have been made at the
convention are accepted by the state and civil society
groups and movements, who can explore creative ways of
engaging with the ulema for working for Muslim
empowerment, inter-communal harmony, improving India's
relations with Muslim countries (particularly
Pakistan), promoting dialogue with Kashmiri groups and
countering radical Islamist forces from across the

That said, some burning questions still remain.
Writing in the Urdu "Hindustan Express", Shakeel
Rashid asks, 'Why is it that the ulema were silent for
the last two decades when Muslim youth were being
hounded in the name of combating terrorism and when
communal violence, which is also a form of terrorism,
was being unleashed on a massive scale?'. For an
explanation, which he obviously does not agree with,
he refers to Syed Arshad Madani, till recently the
President of the Deobandi Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, as
having declared at the convention that despite
widespread anti-Muslim violence in India for the last
60 years, the Deoband madrasa 'had not brought the
community together', but that now it was forced to, in
the form of the convention, because madrasas are being
increasingly targeted. What Shakeel Rashid was
probably suggesting was that the ulema were coming
into the open to protest mainly because now, unlike
before, their own institutions are under attack and
that they themselves are being branded as

Another critical issue raised by the commentator Yusuf
Ansari, also in the "Hindustan Express", is that none
of the ulema who condemned terrorism at the Deoband
convention 'named a single terrorist organization and
condemned it'. Ansari sees it as unfortunate that the
ulema failed to explicitly mention, leave alone
condemn, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and similar groups in
Pakistan and Kashmir, some of which have also now
reportedly extended their activities into India, who
are 'misusing the name of Islam to spread terror'.
'The question arises', Ansari writes, 'as to why those
ulema who condemn terrorism as anti-Islamic did not
say a thing about these groups'. 'Is it', he asks,
'that in their eyes their actions do not constitute
terrorism?' 'Every speaker at the convention', he
notes, 'condemned America for its terrorism', but why,
he asks, 'did they not themselves also introspect and
look within?'. Further, he rightly adds, while the
ulema denounced the massive killings of Muslims in
Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine by America and
American-backed regimes, they remained curiously
silent on the massacre of Muslims by fellow Muslims,
be it by the late Saddam Hussain in Iraq, or in
Darfur, Sudan, where several hundred thousand Muslims
have been killed and rendered homeless in a
devastating intra-Muslim civil war.

In conclusion, Ansari aptly comments, 'It cannot be
logically sustained that, on the one hand, terrorism
is condemned as anti-Islamic, and, on the other hand,
silence is maintained about those [Muslims] engaged in
such anti-Islamic activities'. 'It is not enough', he
insists, 'to denounce terrorism as anti-Islamic.
Terrorist organizations must also be specifically
named and explicitly and sternly condemned'. Their
failure to do so, he suggests, had kept madrasas in

Yet, despite these apt comments by critics, the
Deoband 'anti-terrorism' convention is indeed a very
welcome development. One hopes it is not just a
one-time event, but that, as the organizers have
promised, it is but the first of a series of such
meetings to be held across the country in order to
galvanise a truly popular movement involving people
from different communities jointly struggling against
all forms of terrorism, whether by the state, groups
or individuals, and irrespective of the religious or
communal affiliation of its perpetrators. As one of
the speakers at the convention, Maulana Abdul Alim
Faruqi, very appropriately put it, the struggle
against terrorism demands that 'Hindus and Muslims
should unitedly work to take the country forward in a
spirit of love, brotherhood and unity'.

Yoginder Sikand is the author of 'Bastions of the
Believers: Madrasas and Islamic Education in India'
(Penguin, New Delhi, 2005). He writes mainly on Indian
Muslim issues, and maintains a blog on Indian
madrasas, which can be accessed on


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