Owen Bennett Jones tells the story of India’s Deobandi school of Islam, which has inspired both a peaceful global missionary movement and the Taliban.
Around 150 years ago in the sleepy Indian town of Deoband, a group of Muslim scholars gathered under a spreading pomegranate tree and began to teach. With India under British rule at the time, they feared that their faith would be erased, and so they began a mission to preserve Islam in its purest form.
Today Deoband is the most important seat of Islamic learning in South Asia – the town’s seminary, the Darul Uloom Deoband, informing millions of Muslims around the world on how to adhere to its strict, orthodox interpretation of Islam.
In the first of two programmes, the BBC’s former Pakistan correspondent Owen Bennett Jones pays a rare visit to the Deoband seminary, where he speaks to senior scholars about its teachings and influence. He meets students abiding by its austere lifestyle, free of television and mass media - but not necessarily free of temptation.
While seemingly peaceful and pious, the religion practised in Deoband is in stark contrast to Deobandi Islam in Pakistan where it has provided spiritual inspiration for many militant groups. So how can a single school of thought take such different paths? Is it a perversion of the true faith - or do Deobandi teachings actually encourage intolerance?
(Photo: Owen Bennett Jones speaks to students at the Darul Uloom Deoband Credit: Richard Fenton-Smith)
India’s Deobandi school of Islam and its mission to preserve Islam in its purest form
The BBC's former Pakistan correspondent Owen Bennett Jones continues his exploration of South Asia’s Deobandi Muslim movement. He heads across the border to Pakistan, where Deobandi ideology has provided spiritual guidance for both militant groups like the Taliban and a strictly non-violent missionary movement. So how can a single school of thought follow such different paths?
Owen explores the role the Deobandi ideology has played in shaping Pakistan's identity, and how the Pakistani state has tapped into the intolerant elements of Deobandi teachings to fuel state-sponsored jihad - be it fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan or the Indians in Kashmir.
Empowered by a ready supply of cash and guns, a relatively small number of Deobandi militants have caused havoc across the country, in the form of sectarian violence, and anti-state violence, as violent groups turn their guns on their masters. Pakistan created a monster by endorsing Deobandi militancy - so how can it bring it under control?
(Photo: Owen Bennett Jones meets Maulana Sami Ul Haq, leader of the Darul Uloom Haqqania madrassa in Akhora Khattak. Credit: Richard Fenton-Smith)
Owen Bennett Jones heads to Pakistan in his exploration of South Asia's Deobandi Islam