Deobandi Patriarchy: A Partial Explanation
Yoginder Sikand

Through its gendered vision, Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband, provides a partial explanation of the stridently patriarchal interpretations of Islam that are projected by its clerics as normative and binding. But these interpretations are fiercely contested by many other Muslims, including prominent Indian Muslim women’s groups, as both unjust and un-Islamic. This study focuses on such an interpretation by a well-respected cleric Ashraf Ali Thanvi (1863-1943) in Nikah [Marriage] in Islam, which deals specifically with issues related to Muslim women in the context of various rules concerning Muslim marriage.

Yoginder Sikand ( is with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.
Economic & Political Weekly EPW

he Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband, a town not far from Delhi, is India’s largest and influential madrasa. It is also the nerve centre of the current global Deobandi movement. Literally, thousands of madrasas representing what has, over the decades, crystallised into the distinct Deobandi school of thought exist all across India and abroad, mainly in other south Asian countries and among diasporic south Asian communities. For millions of Muslims associated with the Deobandi tradition, the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband is the umm ul-madaris or “the mother of all madrasas”. Despite its global salience, relatively little scholarly work has been done on the Deoband madrasa. The only full-length academic study of the madrasa till date, by the American scholar Barbara Metcalf, deals with the early, founding period of the madrasa (Metcalf 1982). The significant changes in the madrasa and in the Deobandi movement in India, more generally in the subsequent period, particularly following the Partition and Indian independence, have been almost totally ignored by scholars. On the other hand, journalists have written much about the Deoband madrasa, particularly in the last two decades. Journalistic accounts of the madrasa have generally focused on two major issues or concerns: allegations (almost all unfounded) levelled against the madrasa itself or at least some of its student movements of being supposedly involved in “terrorism”, particularly in the wake of the rise of militant Deobandi activism in Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan; and a continuous slew of fatwas issued by the madrasa’s dar ul-‘ifta or fatwa department, as well as writings and pronouncements by senior clerics who teach at the madrasa that clearly target Muslim women’s autonomy, agency, and rights. This paper deals with one aspect of the gendered vision of the Dar ul-Uloom,


Deoband, through which it seeks to provide a partial explanation of the stridently patriarchal interpretations of Islam that are projected by the clerics of Deoband as normative and binding, but which are fiercely contested by many other Muslims, including prominent Indian Muslim women’s groups, as both unjust and un-Islamic. The focus of this paper is somewhat modest. It does not seek to analyse, interrogate or critique the fatwas or other writings of clerics of the Deoband madrasa from the perspective of gender justice, although this is an important task that sorely needs to be undertaken. Rather, by focusing on a single significant Deobandi text it seeks to partially explain the persistence of the Deoband madrasa’s perceived hostility to Muslim women’s autonomy and rights, even if such autonomy and rights are conceived of within the broader framework of the Islamic shariah or divine path, as a range of contemporary Muslim women’s activists perceive and project it.

Thanvi’s ‘Marriage in Islam’
Although “traditionalist” and “orthodox” in terms of theological interpretation (kalam) and jurisprudence (fiqh), the men who man the Deoband madrasa are not, contrary to what some might believe, wholly anti-“modern”. They willingly embrace, for instance, modern technology, which they press into the service of propagating their particular version of Islam. Thus, the madrasa has an impressive, trilingual website1, which hosts hundreds of articles and thousands of fatwas, dozens of photographs, and a couple of books. Six booklets can be downloaded from the English section of the website, all written by senior Deobandi scholars.2 Presumably, these were written originally in Urdu and then translated into English. Of these, three are penned by the widely-known, and in Deobandi circles, highly respected, cleric Ashraf Ali Thanvi (1863-1943) (Zaman 2007). Among these three, one, titled Nikah [Marriage] in Islam,3 deals specifically with issues related to Muslim women in the context of various rules concerning Muslim marriage. Ashraf Ali Thanvi was one of the first graduates of the Deoband madrasa, having

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hadith reports or the writings of past Muslim jurisprudents or fuqaha. some of the many rules related to it that they consider as binding. they argue. This greatly limits the value of the booklet while also leaving it open to the charge that many of its prescriptions. Contents of the Booklet In the booklet. Thanvi discusses various rules and conditions that he believes must govern marriage among Muslims. husbands over wives. when it was written and first published. Nikah [Marriage] in Islam is a short document in which Thanvi discusses what he. Islamic scholars who are critical of the Deobandis for their insistence on taqlid point out that this doctrine is sometimes deployed to prefer the opinion of a medieval jurist over the explicit commandment of the Quran or what is considered an “authentic” saying of the prophet. might possibly be based on Thanvi’s own personal opinions. one may take it to represent the authoritative Deobandi interpretation of Islamic rules and practices related to Muslim marriage. regards as the normative rules that must regulate marriage or nikah according to Islam. That this is so clearly evident in Thanvi’s discussion of marriage rules in the booklet discussed here which reflects a literalist approach to texts as well as stern taqlid of medieval Hanafi fiqh provisions. and fervently believe. He went on to become a prolific writer. it can assist in the task of understanding the logic that informs Deobandi patriarchy and the continued opposition of the clerics of the Deoband madrasa to Muslim women’s autonomy. (2) Persons with Whom Marriage Is Forbidden. hostile to. we do not know the original title of the booklet. which are the bases of much of the perceived misogyny in the writings of many traditionalist Muslim scholars on women’s issues such as Thanvi. whether they be Quranic verses. and at least partially. explain. (4) The Question of Compatibility or Kufu’ (5) Mahr or Dower. the doctrine of taqlid acts as a powerful deterrent to ijtihad. medieval fiqh or juridical rules. No details of the original Urdu version are provided on the website where this booklet is hosted. each limited to a paragraph or two. This assumption is further fortified given the immense regard Thanvi enjoys in Deobandi circles. wherein he formulated what he regarded as appropriate Islamic rules of behaviour for Muslim women. including that of contemporary demands for gender justice and equality. of the rules devised by the medieval Hanafi jurists. while also violating the spirit of justice and equality that they see as pervading the Quran. Since the authorities of the Deobandi madrasa assume. (3) The Wali or Legal Guardian. was an ardent defender and may 7. The overall structure and system of Muslim marriage that Thanvi outlines corresponds to that prescribed by the medieval fuqaha or Muslim jurists of the Hanafi tradition. or what is sometimes translated as “blind following”. authoring almost a thousand books on a vast range of subjects. Thanvi continues to be widely revered by Deobandis. who refer to him with the honorific title of hakim ul-ummat or “the sage of the Muslim community”. interpretation of Islamic marriage rules. like other Deobandis. and faulty. Deobandi. Such an examination can throw much-needed light on. they contend. In this way. The rules that Thanvi sets out are presented in the form of short points. they contend. they conflate the particular Deobandi version of Islam with Islam itself. such an exploration can also provide valuable explanations of the flurry of anti-women fatwas that routinely issue forth from the portals of the Dar ul-Uloom. the father or other vol xlvi no 19 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 36 . he omits mentioning the sources of these rules. is Islamically unacceptable. Muslims of real or putative Arab origin over Muslims of non-Arab or Ajami origin. literalist and non-contextual understandings of the Quran and “authentic” ahadith. This is hardly surprising. as a Deobandi scholar. in practice. In this way. and notions related to the normative status of Muslim women. a marriage can be envisaged as an exchange between two men. it is routinely argued by genderfriendly “progressive” Muslim scholars that the Deobandis’ stern opposition to ijtihad and their insistence on taqlid leads them to insist on literalist understandings of scriptural prescriptions and medieval fiqhbased rules that impact harshly on Muslim women’s status and rights. agency and rights even when these are conceived of within the broad framework of a gender-egalitarian understanding of the shariah or the divine path. and whether or not it was an independent booklet or part of a larger volume from which it has been extracted. particularly those that appear deeply patriarchal and highly sexist. being regarded therein as an accomplished Islamic scholar as well as an acclaimed Sufi. the Deobandis’ overall approach to issues related to Muslim women’s rights and legal status. (6) Marriages of the Infidels or Kuffar. Some of these related specifically to Muslim women. An examination of Thanvi’s booklet is instructive for providing valuable insights into how the Deobandis imagine the institution of marriage. This. (7) Equality among Wives in a Polygamous Marriage. With regard to women’s rights. Moreover. Since the booklet is hosted on the official website of the Deoband madrasa. that their interpretation of Islam is the sole authentic one. Since Thanvi’s intention is perhaps to provide only a summary of these various rules. a practice sanctioned by the prophet but which defenders of taqlid are. creative individual juristic reasoning. given the fact that Thanvi. In this way. Marriage and Male Dominance As Thanvi describes it in the booklet. if not in theory. insisting that Muslims of this school (who form the majority among the south Asian Muslims) must strictly abide by taqlid. weak or fabricated ahadith or statements reportedly about or by the Prophet Muhammad. and “upper” caste Muslims over “lower” caste Muslims. and so on. Thanvi’s description of the rules and norms that he argues must govern Muslim marriage clearly indicates that he conceives it to be a patriarchal institution based on a series of hierarchies: men above women.PERSPECTIVES completed his course of studies there in 1884. defenders of rigid taqlid reinforce the stagnation of Muslim jurisprudence and its inability to change in response to new contexts and challenges. In particular. and classifies them into the following sections: (1) The Conduct of the Marriage. (8) The Virtues of Marriage. 2011 proponent of the Hanafi school of fiqh. most notably his Bahishti Zevar (Metcalf 1990). Hence. they do not feel compelled to qualify the title of Thanvi’s booklet as being a particular.

The validity of such a marriage will be dependent on her permission and consent. The two cannot be married against their will or be forced. the grandfather becomes their wali. the marriage will not be valid. has a greater right to be the guardian of a Muslim child. Thanvi says. Thanvi lays down. This provision has been strongly countered by Islamic modernists and Islamic feminists. he elaborates: The first wali of a boy or girl is their father. and the other must reply. such as a grandfather’s uncle’s great grandson. and on hearing this. If she grants her permission. If he is not present. In this exchange. Yet. without providing textual evidence. than the child’s own mother. and irrespective of whether the wali gives his consent or not. so Thanvi argues. which will be discussed below. If the father’s uncle. The person who is addressed replies: ‘I accept her in marriage’. Moreover. the father’s uncle becomes their wali. including the Hanafi. e g. In so doing. without providing any Quranic support. married her off to a man. with the man meant to be “superior” in status to the woman. progressive Islamic authors argue that marriage in Islam must be based on the willing consent of both partners. i e. one male has to be present”. the blood-brother becomes their wali. something which modernist Muslim scholars might probably find deeply problematic. although a fellow Muslim. the son of the step-uncle and thereafter his grand-son. If none of them are present. a wali can marry off a mature girl without asking her or without seeking her consent. This sort of marriage is looked down upon in the Hanafi fiqh tradition probably because it inverts what is considered to be the normal relationship between the spouses. is considered of lower social standing than her. clearly indicating deep-rooted biases against women. and the groom. the mother will be their wali. The rules are different. to play the role required of a guardian in the child’s marriage. the nephew’s grand-son. his children and grand-children are not present. Together with two females. and without having informed her. one that entails a woman marrying a man who. it must be witnessed either by at least two male witnesses or one male and two females. then the step-uncle. If her wali is not happy about this marriage. the marriage will be valid. 2011 vol xlvi no 19 37 . Thanvi goes on to add. marries a person who is of a lower social status than her family. Role of the Wali or Guardian Reflecting the structure of medieval societies. for a mature woman who does not marry a person who is of the same social standing as her. and which forms the basis of a caste-like system among the Muslims of south Asia. As guardians. has today undergone such a radical transformation Economic & Political Weekly EPW The role of a guardian in a marriage differs. For a Muslim marriage to be valid. That might seem somewhat fair enough. and instead. However. thereafter the nephew’s son. grand-children. If she does not grant her permission or is not happy with the marriage. If none of them are present. that privileging males over females. then the step-brother. so Islamic feminists would argue. A “mature” girl. be deployed by them to force their wards. If she marries such a person on her own. are not mentioned in the Quran. the blood uncle becomes their wali. males are considered the preferred guardians (singular: wali) of children. he says: A marriage can be executed by just two words. then the great grandfather. the marriage is valid and both of them are lawful husband and wife. then the grand-father’s uncle becomes their wali. Thereafter. provided the man is of her equivalent social standing for purposes of marriage or kufu’. but only females. In this regard. Thereafter. the bride need not play any active role at all. his children. “I accept”. This rule against hypogamy. according to Thanvi. it is interesting to note. If he is not present. and in that capacity. often even before they reach the age of puberty or maturity. brothers from one father. he writes. the powers that the traditional fiqh schools provide to guardians. they point out. but again. into a marriage they do not approve of. the marriage will not be valid. may 7. particularly girls. the son of the blood uncle and thereafter his grand-son. Thus. the wali has a central role in ensuring that social hierarchies are not undermined by a hypogamous marriage. All that the couple have to do is to arrange for two witnesses. Various rules that Thanvi lays down for the marriage ceremony are also heavily gendered. If the father is not present. In this way he seems to suggest that the legal worth of a woman is half that of a man. Many of these rules. the nikah will not be valid even if there are ten females present. Thereafter. In so doing. This process appears remarkably egalitarian. that. has the choice to marry or not to marry. a person says the following words in the presence of witnesses: ‘I give my daughter to you in marriage’. i e. on the one hand. violates the egalitarian ethics of the Quran. they are supposed to play a major role in deciding the spouses of those under their care. If none of them are present. is related to the notion of kafa’at or kufu’. Thus. one that pertains to loans (2: 282) to the completely different context of marriage. and then one of the would-be spouses must say: “I am making my nikah with you”. If none of them are present.PERSPECTIVES male guardian of the bride. including a child’s mother. the nephew. On the basis of their reading of the Quran. the former being the giver of the woman and the latter the receiver. “If there are no males present. but when Thanvi writes that if a wali informs a young virgin girl that he has already. she either remains silent. depending on whether or not the would-be spouses are “mature” (with “maturity” or “adulthood” in the case of girls being recognised once they begin to menstruate) and on whether or not they are of equal social status. including relations between the genders. on the other. If he is not present. no matter how very subtly. as guardian is patently sexist and unfair. and can remain entirely silenced and invisibilised. who point out that the social context. the marriage will be valid irrespective of whether the wali is informed or not. and thereafter. the step-brother of their father. the marriage is sealed. can as is often the case. Thereafter. into marriages against their will. This equating one male witness with two female witnesses probably follows from his transposing the commandment contained in another Quranic verse. She can marry whomsoever she wishes. and thereafter his children. Thanvi goes so far as to insist that a very distant male relative. Thanvi (and the Deobandis generally) insist that the Hanafi prescriptions on the issue are valid and binding even today. and great grand-children. in the medieval Muslim fiqh schools. Thanvi contends. a notion that is completely alien to the Quran. which Muslim critics would argue.

“As for the husband”. must be completely curtailed. Walis can. Here. That is. in some cases. People should abstain from this. He can get them married to whoever he wishes and refuse whoever he wishes. writings as a form of economic security that can. there is the habit of specifying a very high mahr. Dissolution of Marriage Since Thanvi’s booklet purports to discuss various “Islamic” rules of marriage. Thanvi effectively rules out the possibility of mahr playing this role because although he insists that in Islam there is no limit to the maximum amount of mahr and that the bride can stipulate as much as she wishes. or reluctance to displease her wali by protesting against his having married her off without even informing her. these rules appear to wholly undermine the freedom. she now depends entirely on her husband’s consent to travel out of the home. the female victim is penalised for the misdemeanour of the man by having her marriage automatically dissolved. Henceforth. Immature girls and immature boys cannot reject such a nikah at that time. help a woman tie over her economic difficulties in case of divorce. it does not refer in any detail to the dissolution of marriage. However. but this must be said in front of a Muslim judge. he writes. it is very easy for the man to fulfil her mahr. Thus. agency and autonomy that the Quran grants women in choosing their spouses. which is an essential condition of a Muslim marriage. like other medieval Muslim (and other) jurists. This is the case even though such children definitely do not have the capacity to make an informed decision about their own marriages. after the husband gives his wife her mahr “it is not permissible for her to go anywhere without his consent”. The only references to the issue that it makes are in connection with two hypothetical cases of incest. considers women as subordinate to men. In both the cases that Thanvi describes. or should. if the wali of an “immature girl performs her marriage with a person of a lower social standing. However. that is marriage of minors who have not attained the age of sexual maturity.” As long as the mahr is not paid. a woman cannot be stopped by her husband from travelling out of the marital home. even this possibility is not as widely and easily available as one might hope. she must mention her discontent”. it is therefore. have the marriage annulled. After all. although there is nothing in the Quran that validates this practice. if she remains silent. In this way. The “best wife”. Thanvi concedes. now an adult. In such a case. Thanvi claims. as heart-felt acceptance of the marriage. and if she does not have sex with her husband until she attains maturity. the child. her freedom of movement out of their home. Yet.” Thanvi insists. would annul the marriage. 2011 38 . he says. and he marries off an immature girl or boy. It is as if men are charged with a civilising mission with regard to “their” women. is thus trapped into a marriage he did not approve of in the first place. which also is completely antithetical to the Quranic dictum that a person cannot be punished for the misdeeds of someone else. it completely undermines the freedom of a woman to refuse such a marriage. the rules are somewhat different. Do not allow them to become impudent and disrespectful. This subordination is reinforced by what comes across as a very deep-rooted understanding that women are biologically and congenitally “deficient” as compared to men. this response of hers would be considered to be her permission and consent to the marriage. Thus. does not have the right to reject or repudiate this marriage even after he or she becomes mature. Other convoluted rules apply in the case of a minor girl who is married off by a wali other than a father or paternal grandfather. incumbent to take special measures in reforming them. Thanvi writes. If a minor girl is married off by a wali who is other than the father or grandfather. having to seek his permission even to visit her own parents. “he can take her wherever he wishes. even sanctions childmarriage. she can. Thanvi. Thanvi does discuss this possibility. he suggests that “it is not good to stipulate a very high figure”. perhaps out of embarrassment. she will not have the choice of having her nikah annulled”. the woman completely forfeits her freedom of movement. The intellect of women is deficient. too. that such marriages do not disturb the existing pattern of social hierarchy and inequality. in supposed need of being both taught and controlled by the latter. like his fellow Deobandis. as Thanvi seems to do. it is clear that Thanvi. is often described in modern Muslim may 7. Thanvi indicates.PERSPECTIVES starts smiling. caution must be taken. Similarly. fear. Thanvi writes. in turn. commonsense would suggest that if she cries on hearing the news of her being married off without her having been informed of it. he adds. “the moment she becomes mature. “is one whose mahr is very simple. Civilising Mission From the various rules of marriage that he describes. “The wali has full rights over such a boy or girl. It is as if by accepting the mahr from him. who. and hence. the nikah will not be valid from the very outset”. he says. her silence need not necessarily be construed. it is more likely that she would do so in sorrow than in joy. If the wali of a boy or girl is his or her own father or grandfather. These days. in the process unabashedly sanctioning marriage that involves sex with a minor girl. he writes. arrange for the marriage of “immature” children under their guardianship even without their consent. Thanvi provides no Quranic support for these absurd rules. for Thanvi adds the impossibly impractical rider. Why a perfectly innocent woman must be punished in this way for the actions of another person is left entirely unexplained. and whose husband has sexual intercourse with her before she attains maturity. indicating her opposition to the marriage rather than her acceptance of it. Thanvi writes. the latter. these rulings are recorded vol xlvi no 19 EPW Economic & Political Weekly Mahr The mahr or dower that the groom pays or promises to pay the bride. In short. Presumably. once he gives her the amount he owes by way of mahr. “Once she becomes mature and allows even a moment to pass in which she does not mention her discontent. Thanvi advises Muslim men thus: You should continue teaching your womenfolk and inculcate respect and good manners in them. If the child in question is a minor girl and she has knowledge of the marriage. It is not permissible for her to refuse him”. or begins to cry.

over time. Yet. engaging in both hypergamous and hypogamous marriages. Thanvi insists that these groups are lower than Syeds and Shaikhs.] are [. who. length of time the family has been Muslim. By taking birth in a particular caste or occupational group to be a defining factor in kufu’. which. Hanafi jurists claimed that Arabs were of a “superior” lineage than nonArabs or Ajamis. the same rule will apply. Because the Mughals and Pathans are in his view “lower” than the Syeds and Shaikhs. to a person of may 7. she would be marrying out of her kufu’. Thinking them to be his wife. However. Instead. In this way. for that. in the Indian context. and therefore. a view that the Deobandis continue to echo. he mistakenly touched his daughter or his mother-in-law. he suggests. it is permissible for Syeds and Shaikhs (to which caste Thanvi. while being superior to other Muslims. 2011 vol xlvi no 19 39 . If the prospective bride and groom are not equal with regard to one or more of these factors. as understood by the south Asian Deobandis. presumably because they are not of Arab origin. he claims is precisely what is mandated by the shariah or what Muslims believe to be the divine path. Now. including the Hanafi. as well as of the fraternity of Muslims. Thanvi. who form the vast majority of Muslims in south Asia. in the Indian context) with a man from a family that was not of Arab origin. without providing any evidence or textual backing whatsoever. On this basis. among other Economic & Political Weekly EPW factors. in the process very clearly highlighting how the notion of the superiority of Muslims who claim Arab descent over other Muslims. Thanvi devotes much of his booklet to a defence of the doctrine of caste-based kufu’. No longer was it considered possible or permissible for Muslims of different classes and ethnicities to freely inter-marry. In line with the standard Hanafi prescriptions. But the restrictions on marriage did not stop there.. governed by elites who jealously guarded their privileges. belonged) to marry among themselves. this man will become haram (forbidden) on his wife forever. which the Deobandis erroneously equate with the notion of the divine shariah.4 There is no way in which she can be halal (legitimate) for him.. or putative descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. being particularly harsh on hypogamous marriages. Very detailed rules of kufu’ were evolved by medieval Muslim jurists and formed an integral part of the teachings and formulations of the fiqh schools. Besides Syeds and Shaikhs. Violating the Quranic equality of all believers. she will become haram on her husband. he writes: The Moghuls and Pathans are regarded as one nation and are not of the same class as that of the Sayyids and Shaykhs. the Deobandis insist that Muslims must follow the conventional caste-based fiqh rules related to kufu’ in deciding marital partners. Thanvi contends that if the daughter of a Syed or Shaikh marries a Mughal or Pathan man. Instead. One could. As he puts it: Equality in lineage is that the Shaykh [and] Sayyid [. Equality in Marriage or Kufu’ The Quran speaks of the ontological equality of all human beings. if the daughter of a Sayyid marries a Shaykh boy. he insists that kufu’ is to be decided on the basis of five factors: lineage. Exemplifying this socially egalitarian Quranic ethics. by birth in a particular social group based on lineage (nasab). a man decided to awaken his wife. According to the Hanafi school. Thus. If the stepmother touches her step-son with an evil intention. would have meant a forbidden hypogamous relationship. In the south Asian case.. in their eyes. among other factors. are Syeds and Shaikhs. a number of early Muslims are known to have married out of their clans and socioeconomic classes. that is marriages between “high” caste/class women and “low” caste/class men. put together. they forbade the marriage of an Arab woman or a woman from a family that claimed Arab descent (Syeds. he touched them with the passions of youth. Let Thanvi speak for himself in describing these cases and the bizarre rulings that he lays down with regard to them: In the middle of the night. it will also be regarded as if she has married one of her relatives.] equal to each other. with the establishment and expansion of the Muslim empire. form a powerful basis for reinforcing and sustaining existing socioeconomic hierarchies and inequalities in any society. it will not be said that she did not marry someone who is of her family relations. the Deobandi Hanafis argued for an almost complete ban on marriage between “high” and “low” caste/class Muslims. Thus. caste endogamy and castebased hierarchy among the Hanafi Muslims. based. warns his readers not to “perform the nikah of a girl with a man who is not equal to her in status or who is of no match to her”. although the status of a Sayyid is more than the others. In other words. two other largely endogamous groups exist among the south Asian Muslims who also claim foreign. As will be easily appreciated. to be the kufu’ of each other. who insist on rigid taqlid of the prescriptions of Hanafi jurisprudents. wealth and profession or occupation. marry only someone of the same kufu’. Justifying Caste Thanvi devotes much attention to the issue of “equality in lineage” in shaping kufu’. it was argued. and Shaikhs. he indicates. the bride and the groom must be from the same kufu’.. There is no way in which she can become permissible for him. it is inappropriate for them to marry. As ardent Hanafis. complicated rules were evolved. on lineage. like most other pioneers of Deoband. If a boy touches his step-mother with an evil intention. thus. “superior” social status: Mughals and Pathans. Rules governing marriage also underwent a corresponding change. piety. kufu’ is to be decided. In other words. the relatively egalitarian Muslim communities in Mecca and Medina gave way to a sternly hierarchical social system. even if these appear antithetical to the Quran. the Hanafi conception of kufu’. as well as caste differences and hierarchies (all of which have no Quranic mandate) have come to be legitimised in the Hanafi fiqh tradition. Thanvi considers Muslims who claim Arab origin. was deployed to justify caste. these rules. in the name of kafa’at/kufu’ or social compatibility that laid down who a person of a particular social class and ethnic group could be permitted to marry. this corresponds to caste. he argues. It will be necessary for him to divorce his wife.PERSPECTIVES in the classical compendia of Hanafi fiqh that Thanvi feels bound to uphold as normative and binding. Echoing the standard Hanafi position in this regard. for that would have directly undermined the new social hierarchies that had come into being.

rs Sector-24. Shaikhs. They also hold the right to consider any nomination other than those received through this advertisement. 2011. barbers. Thanvi talks only of the various “upper” caste or so-called ashraf or “noble-born” Indian Muslim groups. weavers are not regarded as equal to tailors and are accorded a status that is lower than that of tailors. the Institute also holds the right to consider the life-time contribution of experts. Sector-24. The Institute. This is a premier national level Institute mandated to further the cause of labour welfare through training. thus. washermen. posing major hurdles for converts and also. needless to add. besides the influence of medieval feudal Muslim culture. even treating them with utter scorn.V. Thanvi unabashedly insists: Equality in occupation is that. along with copies of the published work and an abstract of not more than 500 words elaborating upon the conclusions in the particular research and training work and its wider applicability in the labour administration and industrial relations. the Institute has been engaged in research. if found incomplete in any respect. who were almost all from the “high” castes. completely alien to the Quran. Giri Memorial Award – 2010 in Labour and Employment. family has been Muslim in deciding kufu’ with regard to a potential couple. the proposal should furnish details as specified above. are not regarded as being equal to tailors. in south Asia. who are of indigenous. The Institute also welcomes nominations from persons other than the authors of the research work being considered for the Award. son-in-law of the Prophet. he suggests. Noida-201301 Advertisement for Applications / Nominations for V. it has been decided to confer a special award . he argues that only spouses who come from “equal” occupational groups (which. for Islamic missionary work. but are regarded as being lower than tailors. 2011 vol xlvi no 19 EPW Economic & Political Weekly Since Thanvi. Govt. he does refer to them indirectly while discussing kufu’ rules with regard to “equality” of occupation as a necessary basis for marriage. Similarly. In furtherance to the mandated objectives of this Institute. Thanvi does not specifically name the “low” castes. contrary to his stance on the “upper” castes. marriage is ruled out. Curiously.V. including Mughals and Pathans. Here. “A man who accepts Islam and his father was a kafir cannot be on par or equal to a woman who is a Muslim and her father was also a Muslim”. The award for 2010 would be presented to the author of outstanding research and training work in the area of labour. Since its inception in 1974. daughter of the Prophet). Giri National Labour Institute. although this notion has no Quranic backing whatsoever. This rule effectively debars male converts to Islam from marrying women from established Muslim families. Thanvi gives another example. Giri National Labour Institute (An autonomous body of Ministry of Labour & Employment. It is certainly not considered to be preferable.P.1 lakh and a citation. marriage between the two is not. paid scant attention to the “low” caste Muslim by June 10. he specifies that this rule applies to all nonArab Muslim groups. mainly “low” caste. but whose grandfather was a V.V. education and publication activities to reach all those who are concerned with various aspects of labour. and reflects. if it is found appropriate. of India) Jeso t. This award was instituted in the year 2008. too. for example. and who. he also insists on the validity of the Hanafi regard for the length of time a person’s 40 . Distt. that is to say. The theme of the Award for the year 2010 is “Research and Training in Labour Administration and Industrial Relations”. that. A Muslim man whose father is also a Muslim. the impact of the Hindu or. Signed applications/nominations along with full contact details may be forwarded so as to reach the Director. research and education. may 7. In such cases. presumably. brahminical. Syeds. while discussing kufu’ based on lineage. training.V. Since the man in question is thus considered “lower” in status than the woman. NOIDA. prejudices and conceptions. Thanvi indicates. Thanvi appears to suggest. Alavis (descendants of Imam Ali. more specifically. etc. Giri Memorial Award – 2010 in Labour and Employment V. and Ansaris (descendants of the Ansars or the Medinese “helpers” of the Prophet). the General Council and the Jury reserve the right to accept applications/nominations or reject the same. champions blind adherence to Hanafi fiqh.V. origin. Thanvi lays down. Such a marriage is not regarded as permissible in Hanafi fiqh in most cases. Scholars and labour practitioners are all invited to apply for consideration for this Award. This clearly indicates that the leading lights of the Deobandi movement (as in the case of many other such south Asian Muslim movements). The award will carry a cash prize of Rs. taken together. like other Deobandis. This hierarchical ranking of occupations is. V. Interested applicants should provide complete details of their research and training work in the identified area.5 Although. while discussing fiqh-based kufu’ rules linked to lineage.PERSPECTIVES what he calls “a lower social standing”.V. considerations of caste and ethnicity come into play. On the other hand. which is to be considered for this Award. If they come from “unequal” occupational groups. without citing any Quranic evidence whatsoever. Further.) and also by e-mail to directorvvgnli@gmail. Gautam Budh Nagar (U. Government of India. Giri National Labour Institute (VVGNLI) is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Labour and Employment. Yet. Thanvi writes that this rule of equality in being Muslim for a certain number of generations does not apply to Arab Muslims or those who claim Arab descent. Repeating the traditional Hanafi prescriptions in this regard. both in the organized and unorganized sectors. through wives other than Fatima. correspond to caste groups) can marry each other. advisable. Thus. form the vast majority of the Indian Muslim population. but does not care to even mention the many other Muslim caste-like groups.

his The rules corresponding to this vision. open to error. they would insist – and here they would vehemently oppose the Deobandis and other proponents of taqlid – fiqh-based rules can change in order to respond to new contexts in order to uphold the basic values of the Quran. This attitude. It was a context characterised by stern patriarchy and women’s subordination. as well as the virtually unchallenged supremacy of the so-called ashraf or “noble-born” Muslims of foreign descent over the vast majority of “low” caste Muslims of indigenous Indian origin. pointing out that while fiqh is a human and historical product. These rules reflect a marked tendency among the Deobandis (though not exclusive to them) of conflating medieval fiqh Economic & Political Weekly EPW prescriptions. as conceived of in the Quran. relations between the spouses. “Progressive” Islamic scholars would stridently oppose this conflation. are thus. would seem to insist that the Hanafi fiqh prescriptions remain valid and binding even when the social context has been widely transformed and when. This opens the Deobandis to the charge. the Deobandis regard certain iconic figures associated with their particular tradition as being exalted Islamic scholars. the shariah. moulded by his own vastly different sociohistorical context and even more so by his insistence on taqlid of medieval Hanafi fiqh rules. Mumbai: Ideal Foundation. as being of continuous and permanent relevance. may 7. where worship is reserved for god alone. are presented as unambiguously Islamic. Thanvi occupies a prominent position among these Deobandi icons. cannot be attributed solely to a supposed deep-rooted patriarchy innate to these men. exclusive to the Deobandis alone among the various Muslim sectarian groups. Barbara Daly (1982): Islamic Revival in British India – Deoband. their sayings and writings are regarded as having a particularly sacred character. as is very obvious in the case of a number of Hanafi fiqh rules related to women. no exception to this rule. This context played a major role in shaping his ideas of what he regarded as normative or “Islamic” rules for Muslim marriage.darululoom-deoband. this man cannot marry such a woman. even in times long after their own. are regarded by most Deobandis as having been in close communion with god. 5 References Metcalf. Conclusion All of us are creatures of our own times and of the social worlds that we inhabit. exaggerated reverence for the buzurgan of the Deobandi tradition partly explains their overall sexist and deeply patriarchal approach to women’s issues. levelled by their detractors from other Muslim schools of thought.darululoom-deoband. For details. Hindustan Mai Zat-Pat Aur Musalman (Caste-Based Discrimination in India and Muslims). the woman’s marriage stands automatically dissolved. – (1990): Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi’s Bihishti Zewar (trans) (Berkeley: University of California Press). In other words. some of which Thanvi elaborates on in his booklet. providing guidance in every age. although a range of “progressive” Muslim scholars would vehemently disagree with this contention. Thanvi argued for a range of rules and restrictions that are. To a large extent. as expressed in the booklet this article examines. 2009. the insistence of the Deobandis on rigid taqlid of jurisprudential precedent within the framework of the Hanafi school of fiqh – something which Thanvi so strikingly illustrates in the booklet this paper has discussed – explains the particular. child marriages. at variance with Quranic teachings. as the contents of Thanvi’s booklet as well as the status they are accorded today by the authorities of the Deoband madrasa clearly suggest. Zaman. so it appears to others.htm. Thus. From our examination of Thanvi’s booklet another reason for the very obviously patriarchal and deeply sexist pronouncements of the clerics of Deoband comes to light. the Deobandis. Like many other Muslim groups. Accordingly. one may safely posit. as we have books/nikah. is divine and. In contrast. His understanding of Islam was indelibly shaped by the particular context in which he was born.darululoom-deoband. the result of human effort to struggle to understand the divine intent. women’s degradation. some of which are discussed here by Thanvi. reared and worked. This is the marked tendency among the Deobandis of an exaggerated veneration of what they regard as their “pious elders” (buzurgan) to the point of regarding them almost as virtually beyond error.htm. these prescriptions no longer seem to reflect core Quranic values such as justice. 1860-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press). including Thanvi. http://www. see Masood Alam Falahi. forced marriages and caste-based hierarchies and distinctions. The “pious elders” of the past. Thanvi included. however. is infallible. Thanvi was. Notwithstanding the enormous changes that have occurred in Indian Muslim society over the decades after Thanvi’s demise. to a woman whose family has been Muslim for three generations. almost beyond criticism. continue to be regarded by the clerics of Deoband as normative and binding even three-quarters of a century after Thanvi’s death so that his writings now occupy a prominent place on the madrasa’s website. http://www. clearly something not sanctioned in Islam. This explains why Thanvi’s views on marriage. and women’s statuses. Notes 1 2 3 4 www. believed to be almost beyond reproach. still considered by the authorities of the Deoband madrasa as a source of guidance and instruction for Muslims today. of course. with the notion of the shariah or divine path. Muhammad Qasim (2007): Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi: Islam in Modern South Asia (Oxford: Oneworld Publications).PERSPECTIVES non-Muslim “cannot be equal”. as is invariably argued in journalistic accounts of Deobandi patriarchy. in this case those associated with the Hanafi school. so Thanvi argues. the underlying basis of the detailed set of rules that Thanvi insisted must govern Muslim marriages remained the Hanafi fiqh tradition. 2011 vol xlvi no 19 41 . In other words. so he claims. and books/index. of being hopelessly wedded to the doctrine of “worship of [their] elders”. or what is called buzurg parasti in Urdu. However. In other words. They go to the extent of considering many of them to have been divinely guided. very obviously. seeking to justify male supremacy. and hence. This tendency is not. As a result of his insistence on taqlid of the Hanafi tradition. deeply patriarchal and male supremacist Deobandi vision. The role of these contextual factors in shaping some of the rules that Thanvi developed in his booklet for Muslim marriages is very definite and obvious. therefore. then.

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