Why Indian Deobandis Are Quiet on Women Education Ban?

By Manish Rai

It seems that Darul Uloom, Deoband, one of the most important and influential schools of Islamic Studies especially in South Asia, does not have the time to shed light on women‘s education. I submitted multiple requests through the online fatwa portal and email correspondence to Darul Uloom. But unfortunately, the seminary did not even bother to respond, even after getting chased for months. I initially submitted the request to the online fatwa department of Darul Uloom called Darul Ifta in November, 2022 after the Taliban banned women education in Afghanistan. The request was made to clarify that whether women education is permitted under sharia and the Taliban ban on women education in Afghanistan is as per Islamic beliefs. But even after contacting Darul Uloom for months, no response was provided by the Islamic institute.

It should be noted that Darul Uloom, Deoband was founded in 1866 by Muslim scholars in a small town around 100 miles north of Delhi. It has become one of the most prestigious Sunni Islamic institutes in South Asia. The school of thought of the institute is known as Deobandi Islam, and the Taliban are followers of this ideology. After the partition of India, many noted scholars of this institute moved to newly created Pakistan and set up seminaries, or madrassas, teaching an austere version of Islam, particularly along the PakistanAfghanistan border. And that is where most of the Taliban and their leadership was educated. Hence the Taliban is also the follower of Deobandi ideology. And interpretation of Islam through this ideology the Taliban justify their clerical government and their goals for a hardline Islamic system. It may be the case that because of this ideological bond Darul Uloom is reluctant to clarify the stand on Taliban decision to ban women education.

Deobandis are a prominent group among Islamists in modernday Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghani Deobandis often claim that they have little contact with the original Deoband school in northern India. But the matter of fact is that their madrasas follow Deoband‘s program of studies, which focuses on the most orthodox Islamic jurisprudence, interpretations of the Quran, theology, and philosophy. Also, the alumni from Darul Uloom Haqqania, one of the most prominent Deobandi schools in Pakistan‘s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, hold many prominent posts in the current Talibanled government. Even the founder of the Taliban movement, Mullah Omar, studied in Darul Uloom Haqqania. Often many people call the institute the University of Jihad, as it has educated more Taliban leaders than any school in the world. So, it doesnt seem a creditable claim that Deobandis across the region have no connections. Maybe they have limited organisational connection but they definitely have an ideological one. Also, it‘s a truth that whenever the Taliban requires a large number of foot soldiers, Deobandi madrasas in AfPak border areas have closed their schools and advised the students to join and help the Taliban.

The Taliban claim that its ban on women education is in accordance with Sharia law. However, there is no one interpretation of Sharia, as it is open to different interpretations among different schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The Taliban‘s justification for its hardline Islamic system is based on the Deobandi movement, which follows the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence. This version of Sharia differs from Sharia in other predominantly Muslim countries, including other mostly Sunni countries. The DarulUloom, Deoband has been criticised many times in the past over the issuance of fatwas prohibiting Muslim women working outside their homes or girls taking up modern education. However, Deobandis in India and Pakistan don‘t have the power to ban women‘s education. So, they only share their views and in some cases issue fatwas. But thats not the case in Afghanistan, as the Deobandis are running the government which gives them power to implement any interpretation of Sharia they like. And other Deobandis of the subcontinent are giving them ideological support by keeping quiet on this controversial issue.

The Deobandis claim that they follow their original and purest form of Islam, but on the contrary, their beliefs and teachings only find an audience in South Asia and not in the Muslim Ummah at large. It is ironic that the Deobandis often put forward their views or even issue fatwas on issues like photography, dress code for Muslims, kite flying, and beard for men. It would not matter much if these fatwas were mere opinions. But they are treated and projected more as decrees, orders to be followed, and defining proclamations about what is to be believed and not believed. But strangely, Darul Uloom doesn’t think it is important to give its viewpoint on the recent ban on women education by the Taliban, their ideological followers.

About the author: Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround.