The role of Deobandi school of thought in Iran discussed

Published May 21, 2015
Stephane Dudoigon.—White Star
Stephane Dudoigon.—White Star

KARACHI: The Deobandi school of thought is playing an important role in the political landscape of Iran. This was the final point of a presentation titled ‘Interaction between Iranian and Indian worlds in religious fields, in modern times’ delivered by French scholar Stephane Dudoigon at the Alliance Francaise on Wednesday evening.

Mr Dudoigon, a senior research fellow at the National Centre for Scientific Research, France, started off by establishing the existence of Muslim scholarship in India and Iran. He mentioned the names of Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi and Allama Iqbal, who, he said, were known and respected in the Persian speaking world as they were in the subcontinent. There had been rich exchanges since the 16th century onwards in the region, with the presence of both the Sunni and Shia schools of thought. In that context he took the name of Mulla Sadra, a Shia philosopher whom Sunnis also revered.

Mr Dudoigon spoke on the diffusion of populations from India because of which the Deobandi school of thought was able to reach Iran and through Iran to the Soviet Union. He said since the 1920s significant changes took place in Iran, and since the 1970s the Baloch, which is demographically a small Sunni community, were playing an important role in Iranian politics and in the diffusion of the Deobandi school of thought. This led him to show the slide of a map depicting the population movements, as a result of which religious thoughts (from India) were established in different areas, resulting, among other things, in the presence of the Mujadadis in Russia. It was in the 1940s that the Deobandis started moving from the subcontinent to Central Asia, he said.

Mr Dudoigon showed an image of a school in Zahidan in the Sistan-Baluchestan region of Iran to suggest the ‘diversification’ of religious concepts in the country and its adaptability to other ideas. The Deobandis, he argued, tried a homogenisation of religious schools to widen the scope of the subject. They were, however, opposed to some popular practices. In the Sufi tradition, the Naqshbandi order played an important role in the Deobandi school of thought in the Persian speaking world, he said.

Expanding on the Sunni sect in Iran, he showed some more pictures of madressahs in Iranian Baluchestan established in the beginning of the 20th century. He said until the dissolution of the USSR, the Muftis used to be the highest religious authority in Russia — most of that heritage had been preserved and revived. He touched upon certain reformist movements that originated in the subcontinent and were propagated beyond the region. On the Arab influence, he claimed that in 1855 a number of Ulema of Persian- and Urdu- speaking origins went to Makkah. One of them hailing from UP, in 1874, opened the Sawlattiyah Madressah there. And during the reign of the Ahmed Shah Durrani the influence of the Deobandi school of thought arrived in the Pakhtun world, he said.

After that, Mr Dudoigon came to 20th century Iran where in 1941 a madressah was formed. He argued that one of the reasons for encouraging such madressahs was to use it as a rampart against the Soviet or communist influence. Later, in the 1970s, the Deobandi school of thought was used to counter the Saudi influence as well.

He then focused on a major Baloch Iranian leader Maulana Abdul Aziz Makki of Jamiah Darul Uloom, Zahidan, who had acquired education from the Darul Uloom Deoband. He had great political clout and was a key negotiator for Sunni minority in Iran. He said the Baloch in Iran were disadvantaged due to their demographic smallness (they are two to three per cent of the population) but were vital when it came to the unity of different populations.

Elaborating on the Sunni Iranian Baloch’s significance in Iran’s politics, he said that it was evident from the 2013 Rouhani vote. They were also striving to have a secular approach to things, for example, they observed Ashura. It’s a paradox, he added, that the Deobandi school of thought was playing an important role in secularising political debate in the country.

Published in Dawn, May 21th, 2015

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