Darul Uloom Deoband, the renowned Islamic seminary in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, is in the crosshairs of law for a recent ‘ban’ order on the learning of languages other than Arabic and Urdu. Learning of English language and skills, which appears to be increasingly popular within the student community of the seminary is seen as the chief driver for such a circular issued by Darul Uloom authorities.
As such edicts more commonly known as fatwas run against rights of children and violate other regulations, agencies such as National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and district administration are taking a serious note of this and the seminary is being inspected by officials in this regard. In its justification of the circular and warding off criticism over it, an official quoted in media said, “A circular meant only for Deoband’s students has created a needless controversy. For the past 15 years, Deoband is running courses in English and Computers. This circular was only meant for students who receive free-of-cost education, stay, and medical facilities from Deoband. The issue/circular was for students who enroll with Deoband for studying Islamic jurisprudence. They usually enroll with some outside body for studying other subjects. What’s wrong with that?”
Darul Uloom Deoband, which has a rich nationalistic history and legacy behind it and prides itself on being one of the acclaimed international centres of Islamic education, has been under attack for a long time over export and spread of politico-radical Islam. The seminary, which houses more than 4000 students/scholars—all men at a given time, has been grappling with this perception for a long time along with fighting the onslaught of modernity and its aspirations among the youth. For the past two decades or so, as a result it is evolving in response to this twin dilemma and become more inclusive by adding non-religious curriculum including computer skilling, English, Mathematics, etc.
At the same time, a vast section of the management of the seminary won’t let go its authority, influence and traditional place in the Muslim society and periodically the issuance of fatwas by its ulemas often in contravention of law and science, give rise to controversies and headlines.
The core ideals of this Darul Uloom born out of historic events with the felt need of promoting and safeguarding Islamic orthodoxy and conservatism are being challenged both within and outside the Muslim society as the dynamics of evolving aspirations, technology, values, opportunities and other social trends are having a corresponding effect on the society itself. So, by the day, these are also losing relevance and appeal. The more it asserts itself on the strength of its past legacy, the more conflicting and anxious are getting its actions.
Therefore, the present controversy presents an opportunity for both the Government as well as the seminary management to address this deep running issue in proper perspective. One prospect can be turning it into an autonomous college/ university and shifting school age students into the state-run boarding schools. In fact, Government must take a look at madrasas and enforce uniformity of norms and also ensure a voice for children, who are often ‘trafficked’ in the name of poverty and parental desire.
Darul Uloom itself needs to reflect on times and its contribution in changing times and inculcate a value and skill system that will turn its scholars into more of beacons of enlightenment, respect and leadership than commanders of medieval revivalism.