Sohaib Ali – Contested Religion

The Contending Political Theologies of Pakistan’s Transnational Islamic Actors: A Comparison of Mainstream Deobandi Discourses and Militant Islamism

Sohaib Ali

This doctoral project seeks to analyse competing political theologies resulting from different interpretations and applications of the influential Sunni-Islamic orientation of Deobandis – within their network of Islamic schools (madrasas), on one side, and by militant Islamist actors associated with the same denomination, on the other. The Deobandi seminary network, following its head school Dārul Uloom Deoband in North India (est. 1866), is a locally dominant system with over 20,000 registered seminaries in Pakistan and a significant translocal outreach through the preaching movement of the Tablighi Jama’at; though it has also inspired militant groupings, notably the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, academic studies and policy literature are marred with considerable ambiguity with regard to the potential of Deobandi ulamā to opt for violent means. The obscure Deobandi madrassa sector requires deeper academic scrutiny, both for bringing precision to characterizations of Pakistan-based transnational Islamic actors, and for accurately determining their place in the over-all threat spectrum.

Hence, this study aims to understand the contending Deobandi articulations and legitimations of an idealized Islamic order in domestic and international contexts. Pre-existing textual data is utilized that mainly comprises of: fatāwa (religious edicts) and programmatic statements by leading mainstream and radical figures, and the monthly periodical of the official Deobandi madrasa board, Wifāq-ul Madāris. This data will be analysed to establish the divergence and inter-textuality of perspectives regarding tensions over violent rebellions in Muslim polities, ‘jihad’ and relations with non-Muslim polities. The findings will have considerable utility for policy-making aimed at enhancing human security and social cohesion in South Asia, and in regions having diasporic presence of South Asian Muslims.