DEOBAND,country town northeast of Delhi in what is now the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, India, where an influential Dār al-ʿolūm was founded by a group of religious scholars in 1867 as an expression of a major religious reform movement partly inspired by British educational models. The goal was to train a class of religious scholars dedicated to a version of Islam stripped of many customary practices deemed deviant. The curriculum was based on the dars-e neẓāmī developed at the Farangī Maḥāll in Lucknow in the 18th century, though with less emphasis on “rational” studies in favor of a thorough grounding in the Koran and Hadith. Although the Deobandis were originally apolitical, by the 1920s many of them supported the Indian nationalist movement and later opposed the creation of Pakistan.

As part of a 19th-century trend away from Persian in favor of modern vernaculars, Urdu, with its heavy admixture of Persian vocabulary and forms, was the language of instruction. In this respect the Deoband school led in establishing Urdu as the language of Indian Muslims. Many Arabic and Persian religious texts were translated into Urdu. Nevertheless, as Sufis, many of the teacherscontinued to cherish the great tradition of Persian mystical poetry. For example, Moḥammad Yaʿqūb Nanawtawī, the first principal (sadr modarres; 1867-88) and a revered spiritual guide (mūršīd), was said to recite Rūmī’s maṯnawīs silently, lest the whole forest burn from his passion (Metcalf, 1982, p. 166).



Z. Faruqi, The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan, Bombay, 1963.

Y. Friedmann, “The Attitude of the Jamʿiyyat-i ʿulamaʾ-i Hind to the Indian National Movement and the Establishment of Pakistan,” in G. Baer, ed., The ʿUlamaʾ in Modern History. Studies in Memory of Professor Uriel Heyd, Israeli Oriental Society, Asian and African Studies 7, Jerusalem, 1971, pp. 157-83.

B. D. Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India. Deoband, 1860-1900, Princeton, N.J., 1982.

(Barbara Daly Metcalf)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 21, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 3, pp. 296-297