Deobandi ʿulamāʾ and Violence in Pakistan (part 2 of 2)

Deobandi scholars after 9/11

After 9/11, at the onset of these confrontations between the army and militant groups In Pakistan, Noor Muḥammad (d. 2010) a prominent scholar and a former member of the parliament from Wānā Wazīristān which is the birthplace of militant groups, discouraged the public support of Ṭālibān. He strongly asserted in his k̲h̲uṭbas (Friday sermons), daily Dars (morning sermons), d̲j̲irgas, and rallies, that enforcement of s̲h̲arīʿa with violent means is not allowed by s̲h̲arīʿa. He openly differed from the militant’s propaganda that Pakistan is a “transgressing and disbelieving state”. Noor condemned it in his several k̲h̲uṭbas and daily Dars. Noor was vocal about girls’ education. Their schools were among the primary targets of these militant groups. His institution was providing 1800 girls with free education up to the intermediate level in Wānā (Qasmi, 2016). Later, he was killed by the militants in a suicide bomb attack at his mosque on the 23rd august 2010.

In Orakzaʾī agency, a prominent Deobandi scholar, Amīn Orakzaʾī (d.2009), also used his influence to undermine the support of these militant groups. Amīn condemned the activities (enforcing their own s̲h̲arīʿa, killing people for bigger sins, and fighting against the state forces) during his daily sermons and meetings with d̲j̲irgas (delegations of local elders). In an interview he said, these acts in the name of Islam have nothing to do with Islam, let alone humanity (Amin, 2017). Amīn helped and managed to form Lashkar (an armed group) to protect people from these militant groups and in support of the state (Amin, 2017). Another prominent scholar, Ḥasan Jan (d. 2007), the Vice president of wifāq ʿul Madāris, a teacher of several Afg̲h̲ān Ṭālibān cabinet members, vocally criticized the approach of these militants and issued a fatwā that their actions are against the Islamic teachings (Hussain, 2019). He was assassinated by militant groups in September 2007 in Peshawar.

In early 2007, ʿulamāʾ from a Red Mosque (Lal masd̲j̲id), and female students from Deobandi madrasa j̲āmiʿa  Ḥafṣa in the heart of the capital Islamabad took up arms to impose  s̲h̲arīʿa in Pakistan (Bano, 2012). They took refuge in the mosque and madrasa and started calling the public to join their armed j̲ihād to enforce s̲h̲arīʿa in Pakistan. Abdul ʿAzīz G̲h̲āzī, the chief clericof Lal masd̲j̲id, wrote letters to Deobandi ʿulamāʾ, asking them to join his armed j̲ihād against the state. However, he failed to get legitimization for his j̲ihād or material support from Deobandi ʿulamāʾ. Responding to his letter, Zāhid al- Ras̲h̲īdī, a prominent Deobandi scholar, an author, and a former secretary of the political party j̲amīʿat ʿUlamāʾ-i Islam wrote:

I do not agree with your stance. Certainly, s̲h̲arīʿa should be implemented in Pakistan, and we should use all reasonable means to achieve this goal. However, we cannot support taking up arms, creating a parallel state, and using violence. The strategy you have opted for is incorrect by law, ethics, and s̲h̲arīʿa. Your strategy will harm our peaceful struggle for the implementation of s̲h̲arīʿa.

Rashidi, 2007

Wifāq ʿul Madāris, the largest federation of Deobandi madrasas, completely disagreed with Abdul ʿAzīz G̲h̲āzī and said that taking up arms and violence is incorrect. wifāq ʿul Madāris sent serval delegations of leading Deobandi figures to convince Azīz that the path you have chosen had nothing to do with religion or Deobandi thought. In a conversation with Azīz, Taqi ʿUt̲h̲mānī, the premier Deobandi cleric of Pakistan, said:

whatever you are going to do is incorrect ethically, legally, and against the teachings of s̲h̲arīʿa. He went on to say that whatsoever losses will be their blood will be on your hand.

Abbasi, 2017

wifāq ʿul Madāris, with the consensus of ʿulamāʾ, deregistered j̲āmiʿa Ḥafṣa and cut educational ties with them (Abbasi, 2017). The situation escalated between G̲h̲āzī brothers and the state and ended with a military operation and the loss of precious lives.

In January 2008, soon after the formation of TTP, prominent Pakistani Deobandi ʿulamāʾ issued a declaration urging the Government and militant groups to shun violence and resolve the conflict with peaceful negotiation. The declaration also pointed out that suicide bombing in Pakistan is a grave sin and fasād fil al- Arḍ (Al s̲h̲arīʿa, 2008). Since then, Deobandi ʿulamāʾ have criticized and differed from these militant groups individually and collectively.

Ras̲h̲īdī, wrote dozens of articles in national newspapers, periodicals insisting that Pakistan is an Islamic state. The constitution of Pakistan guarantees that the sovereignty belongs to God, people will choose the ruler and the parliament and government will adhere to s̲h̲arīʿa. Based on these principles, Pakistan is an Islamic state, and the constitution of Pakistan is Islamic (Rashidi, 2014). Ras̲h̲īdī in his articles also insists that there is no s̲h̲arīʿa justification for taking up arms against the Pakistani state. Ras̲h̲īdī not only considers violence against the teachings of s̲h̲arīʿa, but he also thinks that it is harmful to the peaceful struggle for orthopraxy (Rashidi, 2009).

The most Islamic constitution

Taqi ʿUt̲h̲mānī, an internationally renowned Deobandi scholar, asserts in his writings and public speeches that Pakistan has the most Islamic constitution in the world. To achieve the full implementation of it we must look for peaceful and intellectual methods. He further says that taking up arms or starting a revolt is no way to achieve this (Taqi, 2022). On another occasion, Taqi using the analogy of s̲h̲ahāda addressed the situation:

I accept that there is an unchecked flood of wrongdoings by the government, populace, and political parties; there is no doubt about this … But understand that those who say that Pakistan is an apostate state because of these wrongdoings; that Pakistan’s government is an apostate; those who affiliate with the government are apostates; Pakistan’s army, which protects the country, is an apostate – this egregious misconception is an abhorrent deviation … If Pakistan’s constitution is kept in mind, then Pakistan’s example is that of a person that has uttered the testimony of faith (kalima; the Urdu equivalent of the Arabic term shahada), “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His prophet.” Upon uttering the kalima he has become a Muslim. It is completely unacceptable to call him an apostate or a kafir. However, if after pronouncing the kalima, he is engaged in wrongdoing we can call him a wrongdoer, a sinner, or a lawbreaker (fasiq) … There are factions in the country … that talk ill of Pakistan. So, please, for God’s sake, save yourself and try and save others from this monumental misconception.

Saif, 2020

Apart from these individual refutations of the militants, Pakistani Deobandi ʿulamāʾ have conducted several conventions in the fowling years to issue collective denunciations of violence in Pakistan. In February 2008, In May 2009, April 2010, and in later years, Deobandi ʿulamāʾ held several meetings and issued collective fatwās against the violence in Pakistan (Al s̲h̲arīʿa, 2008). The latest of them is the Paigham-e-Pakistan declaration, a unanimous declaration by the ‘ulama of different religious sects in Pakistan. The declaration was presented by Mufti Muḥammad Rāfi ʿUt̲h̲mānī (d.2022), head of the largest Deobandi madrasa D̲j̲āmiʿa Dar al-ʿUlūm Karachi. The declaration stated that armed struggle against the government is against Islamic teachings and is forbidden under Islamic law. Suicide bombing has been declared as Haram and the state is urged to act against such groups. Every sect and school of thought is free to propagate and preach their beliefs, but hate speech against individuals, sects, or institutions is prohibited. The jurisdiction of declaring someone a non-believer lies with the court, not with religious scholars. Pakistan is committed to not allowing its land to be used for the promotion of terrorism or any other nefarious activities. Additionally, non-Muslims in Pakistan enjoy similar rights and freedoms to Muslims, including the freedom to worship according to their own religion. This and earlier declarations were directly targeting the religious militancy in Pakistan and have addressed the key ideological and theological arguments presented by the militant groups.

Fazl al-Raḥmān, prominent Deobandi scholar, politician, and currently president of PDM (the ruling collation in Pakistan), has condemned these militant groups multiple times and survived three suicide attacks personally. He has explicitly said in speeches on multiple occasions that the militant struggle for orthopraxy is against the s̲h̲arīʿa. His Deobandi religious political party j̲amīʿat ʿUlamāʾ-i Islam has lost dozens of workers in the suicide attacks by militant groups.


The above mentioned evidence encourages to think about the relationship of Deobandi with violence in more complex and nuanced terms. The long and complex history of Deobandi thought took diverse and contested discourses on violence at different location in different times. Therefore, limiting of Deobandi thought to an ideology for violence is simplistic. After 9/11, the of identity of the Pakistani state in the Deobandi discourses brings the contemporary contestations between militants and Deobandis. It is clear that Deobandi ʿulamāʾ were struggling and arguing for Pakistan and they had a vision that Pakistan will be an Islamic state where Muslims will live according to s̲h̲arīʿa and free from the control of non-Muslims. But while this is the case, majority of these scholars showed no interest in using violence to achieve this goal. They have achieved this goal by making an Islamic constitution and are constantly and peacefully leading their struggle for orthopraxy. Across numerous works by Deobandi ʿulamāʾ, one finds repeated references to implementing s̲h̲arīʿa in Pakistan, however, there is certainly no reference of using violence for this goal. The scores of fatwas, daily sermons, articles, and commentaries that Deobandi ʿulamāʾ composed especially after 9/11, were done primarily to target militant groups, as well as to clarify misconceptions about their discourses on the use of violence. The Deobandi ʿulamāʾ’s support for the Afg̲h̲ān Ṭālibān should be looked at in a specific historical context with reference to their theological arguments taken up with consideration of territorial boundaries.

Bibliography (part 1 and 2)

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Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

RaT-Blog Nr. 04/2023 2/2

  • Muhammad Bilal, a Madrasa graduate from Pakistan, is pursuing his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at Vienna University. His research focuses on Islamic religious education, intellectual history, and global jihadist movements. Bilal holds a master's degree in History from Central European University, having written his thesis on 19th-century jihad movements in North Africa.

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