The Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband Madrasa in India is credited with initiating one of the most influential global Islamic networks.
Named after the city of its origin, the north Indian town of Deoband, the madrasa was founded in 1867 by Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Qasim Nanautvi. Soon after its inception many sister madrasas emerged. Over time the Deobandi network has also grown to become one of the most prominent modern reform movements with schools across the globe, including in South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, along with India, it is the two most populous Muslim states – Pakistan and Bangladesh – which host the largest number of Deobandi madrasas. Some of the most important Deobandi madrasas today are based in metropolitan city of Karachi, Pakistan.
The label ‘Deobandi’ refers to more than just a type of madrasa, it also refers to an ideology. It is a purist ideology that is committed, at its core, to Hanafism and hadith, although there is a broad range of views amongst its various groups. The Deobandi movement was in part a response to the loss of Muslim political power under the British in India; in colonial times, since Islam held little political significance, the Deoabandi ulama focused on the preservation of inner piety among Indian Muslims.
The curriculum is designed to reflect this emphasis on Hanafi thought and hadith. Known as dars-i nizami, the curriculum is named after its founder, the eighteenth-century scholar Mullah Nizam al-Din Muhammad from the famous Farangi Mahal madrasa in Lucknow, although the traditional emphasis on logic and philosophy within the dars-i-nizami curriculum has been dropped in favour of hadith. Students generally follow an eight-year course, at the end of which they qualify as an 'alim (scholar of religion and law). This equivalent of a graduate degree can be supplemented by more specialised study at post-graduate level. The madrasas operate outside state control. However, in various South Asian countries, the state has attempted to reform the curriculum to include such modern subjects as mathematics, social studies and general science. The results of such state led attempts at reform remain questionable.