By Manish Rai
It seems that Darul Uloom, Deoband, one of the most important and influential schools of Islamic Studies especially in South Asia, doesn’t have any 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 didn’t 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’s education in Afghanistan. The request was made to clarify whether women’s education is permitted under sharia and whether the Taliban ban on women’s 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 in the small town of Deoband around 100 miles north of Delhi by Muslim scholars. Eventually, 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. 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 Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
And that is where most of the Taliban and their leadership were educated. Hence the Taliban is also a follower of the Deobandi ideology. And the interpretation of Islam through this ideology the Taliban justify their clerical government and their goals for a hard-line Islamic system. It may be the case that because of this ideological bond, Darul Uloom is reluctant to clarify the stand on the Taliban’s decision to ban women’s education.
Deobandis are a prominent group among Islamists in modern-day 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 still, their madrasas follow Deoband’s program of studies. That program 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 Taliban-led 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 doesn’t seem a creditable claim that Deobandis across the region have no connections. Maybe they have a limited organizational 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 the Af-Pak border areas have closed their schools and advised the students to join and help the Taliban.
Taliban claim that its ban on women’s education is as per the sharia. There is no universal Islamic law because Sharia is open to different interpretations among the five main schools of Islamic jurisprudence four Sunni schools of thought which are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali. And one Shi’ite school which is called Jaafri. The Taliban’s justification for its hard-line Islamic system is rooted in the Deobandi movement which follows the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence. Thus, the Taliban’s Deobandi version of Islamic law differs from Sharia in other predominantly Muslim countries, including other mostly Sunni countries.
The Darul-Uloom, Deoband itself has been criticized many times in the past over the issuance of fatwas prohibiting Muslim women from working outside their homes or girls from taking up modern education. Deobandis in India and Pakistan don’t have the capacity to ban women’s education. So, they only share their views and in some cases issue fatwas. But that’s not the case in Afghanistan as Deobandis are running the government which gives them the 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 teaching only find an audience in South Asia and not in Muslim Ummah at large. It’s ironic that 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 a decree, an order to be followed, and a defining proclamation about what is to be believed and not believed. But strangely Darul Uloom doesn’t think it’s important to give its views on the recent ban on women’s education by the Taliban, their ideological followers.
(Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround)