BY BRANNON D. INGRAM // NOVEMBER 8, 2018
When I began researching the Deoband movement as a graduate student, I knew basically three things about the Deobandis: there are hundreds of madrasas around the world modelled after the original Deobandi seminary, the Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, founded in British India in 1866; the Deobandis have generally been vociferous critics of Sufi devotional practices, like the saint’s death anniversary (‘urs), garnering them a reputation for being “anti” Sufi, even as they identify as Sufis; and the Taliban emerged out of Deobandi seminaries in northwest Pakistan. I began the dissertation seeking to ascertain how these aspects of the movement connect. I quickly realized the third aspect – connections to the Taliban – was a matter of paramount interest to journalists, policy makers, and NGOs, but of little interest whatsoever to actual, living Deobandis. But the connection between the first two aspects perplexed me. How were they related? How did Deobandis’ critique of Sufism travel? Did it travel everywhere Deobandis went, or only selectively? To whom and in what forms did Deobandis voice that critique? To answer these questions, I followed the Deoband movement from India to South Africa, home to some of the most prominent Deobandi seminaries and scores of prominent Deobandi scholars.
By the time I finished the book, Revival from Below: The Deoband Movement and Global Islam, which will be published by the University of California Press in November 2018, the project had morphed considerably. The questions above remained central. It is, still, the first extended study of Deobandis outside of South Asia, and the first to focus on the Deobandis’ relation to Sufism. But in ways I could not have anticipated, the book became an extended reflection on how the ‘ulama, traditionally educated Muslim scholars, have attempted to adapt to that complex array of epistemic, intellectual, and social shifts we call “modernity” – and to do so on their own terms.[ ]