The Ijtema – Bringing Truth Forward®

“There Should Be No Rigidity Of Views” – Maulana Qasim Nanotwi’s Eight Founding Principles For Dar al Ulum Deoband.

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السّلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

That Maulana Qasim Nanotwi (rh) had laid down about eight foundational principles for Dar al Ulum Deoband was something I had heard in a speech of one of its scholars (who also taught at the institution) years ago, unfortunately he hadn’t elaborated on them, my curiosity grew and I asked him if he can refer me a book where I could read them in detail, the Maulana couldn’t recall.

Perhaps it’s a telling sign of the quality of its students who no more read, remember or reflect on the advices of its founders that believe it or not, in the past four to five years I have asked several of its graduates about these principles and none, absolutely none of them had either read about it or at-least could refer me to sources.

“The way to find a needle in a haystack is to sit down.”

The search continued when more than a year ago, when browsing Amazon I came across a book on Deoband titled “Islamic Revival in British India” by Barbara Daly Metcalf – and she had listed down these principles in detail and with context.  

She writes:

“Dar al Ulum Deoband, financially was wholly dependent on public contributions, mostly in the form of annual pledges, not on fixed holdings, of waqf or pious endowments contributed by noble patrons. The school was in fact so unusual that the annual printed report, itself an innovation, made continuing efforts to explain the organization of the novel system”. 

What was the need of the principles?

In older schools, like the famous Farangi Mahali, Lucknow, family members taught students in their own home or in a corner of a mosque: There was no central library, no course required of each student, no series of examinations. A student would seek out a teacher and receive a certificate, a sanad, listing the books he had read, then move on to another teacher or return home. The ‘ulama (Islamic scholars) in such a setting depended primarily on revenue from their endowments and on the largess of princes whose courts they graced and for whom they trained government servants. Such ‘ulama were part of the larger structure of a Muslim State.

The Deobandi ‘ulama, in contrast, could not depend on a court to provide a framework of patronage or take responsibility for Muslim law and education. 

They themselves would serve the daily legal and spiritual needs of their fellow Muslims.

Two characteristics of the new institution were particularly striking: the participation of people with no kin ties and the system of popular financing.

One of the leading founders, Maulana Muhammad Qasim (rahimahullah) enunciated eight fundamental principles dealing with these two institutional characteristics. The definition of a rationale for relations between those associated with the school particularly called for attention, since the school was not in the hands of a single family, subject to the understood and accepted norms of kin behavior. Its staff consisted of personnel with specific responsibility as teachers, administrators, and councilors. The dozen members of the teaching staff were ranked by learning, with the Arabic faculty given precedence in pay and prestige over the Persian teachers. The administration included three figures: the sarparast, or rector, who served as patron and guide to the institution; the mohtamim, or chancellor, who was the chief administrative officer; and the sadr mudarris, the chief teacher or principal, who was responsible for instruction. In 1892 a fourth administrator, the mufti, was added to supervise the dispensation of judicial opinions on behalf of the school.

The consultative council was composed of the administrators and seven additional members. The rules called on all to subordinate personal interests in striving for common goals. Members were to demonstrate openness and tolerance in dealing with each other, engaging in mutual consultation not on the basis of position but on that of the value of their ideas.

The principles were as follows:

  1. The councilors of the madrasah should always keep in mind its well-being. There should be no rigidity of views, and for this reason it is important that they never hesitate to express an opinion and that listeners hear it with and if we understand another’s idea (to be better), even if it is against us, we will accept it wholly. For this same reason it is necessary that the mohtamim always seek advice of councilors, whether those who are the permanent councilors of the madrasah or others who possess wisdom and understanding and are well-wishers. Let no individual be unhappy if on certain occasions he is not asked for advice. If, however, the mohtamim asks no one, all the councilors should object.
  1. It is essential that the teachers of the madrasah be in accord and, unlike the worldly ulama, not be selfish and intolerant of others.
  1. Instruction should be that already agreed on, or later agreed on by consultation.

The third principle was particularly significant, asking the teachers to forego individual inclinations in the interest of a common program.

Rafiuddin, mohtamim from 1872 to 1889, further formalized Maulana Muhammad Qasim’s guidelines for the institution by giving precedence to the council over staff and administration. He insisted that grievances be presented directly to the council. Moreover, he urged that the power of the mohtamim be limited by curtailing the amount of money available for use at his discretion. In 1887 he wrote, “All decisions are made by the consultative council. Even I, though the mohtamim, present here in the school for twenty years, will be removed if they see fit.” By having the council so central, the school was freed of both instability and personal whim. No one person, by virtue of either his administrative position or his seniority within the family, was to dominate the school.

A second cluster of principles dealt with the new system of financing. The system arose in part because the founders had no option but to find an alternative to the increasingly insecure princely grants. Muslim princes of states such as Hyderabad, Bhopal, and did, to be sure, patronize learning and extend their bounty across the border to their fellows in British India. Large landlords in the United provinces did dispense some of their wealth for religious causes, but such contributions could never be as substantial as of the days of Mughal rule, nor could they be as certain in a period of economic, social, and administrative flux. Nor were the ulama willing to accept British grants-in-aid, for such help was precarious and carried the taint of its non-Muslim source. Instead they created a network of donors who formed a base not only for financial support but for dissemination of their teachings.

Most of their income was derived from popular contributions pledged annually by their many supporters. The system was complex. It required keeping careful records, and depended on the new facilities of postal service, money orders, and even the printing press. Thanks to the last, they were able to publish widely in the annual proceedings the list of donors, who thus received recognition for their generosity. The donors were listed in the order of the size of their gift, but even the humblest contributor was included. The Deobandis also solicited single gifts in both cash and kind. Especially in the early days of the school people donated books, food for the students, and household items to furnish the school. Groups of people organized collections of hides of animals left from the eid sacrifice, selling them and sending the proceeds to the school.

People were encouraged to designate their contributions as zakat, the obligatory alms that in other eras were collected by the state. The resultant income was managed with such care and such frugality that by 1890 an average of only forty two rupees a year had been spent on each student: “What jewels for cowries!” the proceedings declared.

Five of Maulana Muhammad Qasim’s eight principles dealt with this new financial arrangement. They stressed the obligation of all associated with the school to encourage donations. Of cash and food. They also pointed out the spiritual advantage of poverty in fostering the unity sought in the principles described above.

  1. First, the workers of the madrasah should, as best they can, keep in view the increase of donations; and should encourage others to share the same concern.
  1. The well-wishers of the should always make efforts to secure the provision of food for the students, indeed they should try to increase the food.
  1. 6. As long as the madrasah has no fixed sources of income it will, God willing, operate as desired. And if it gain fixed income, like jagir holdings, factories, trading interests, or pledges from nobles, then the madrasah will lose the fear and hope that inspire submission to God and will lose His hidden help. Disputes will begin among the workers. In matters of income and buildings. Let there be a sort of deprivation.

  1. The participation of government and the wealthy is harmful.
  2. The contributions of those who expect no fame from their gifts are a source of blessing. The sincerity of such contributors is a source of stability.

 * * *

Notes and references:

  1. I wanted to put in a few words of myself but the post is already too long, but if I could describe the principles in one single word, that would be ‘Ikhlaas’ – purity of intentions.
  2. As written before, the source of the post is ‘Islamic revival in British India’ By Barbara Daly Metcalf, published in 2002.

وعليكم السلام و رحمة الله و بركاته

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Author: Salman

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