The failure of the Great War of independence in 1857 was a turning point in the history of India. Its immediate consequences were twofold. Firstly, it demoralized the indigenous population of India to such an extent that they surrendered unconditionally to the supremacy of the British in almost all spheres of life. Secondly, it prompted the intelligentsia of the country to rethink the situation facing them and to identify ways to meet the challenges posed by British hegemony.

Religious scholars, who had taken up arms in the cause of Jihad in
1857, now turned their attention to the religious and intellectual revival of the masses. Foremost amongst these scholars were the scholars who belonged to the “Waliullah” tradition.

The closure of Madressa Rahimiyyah (which was run by the successors of the Waliullah tradition) and its affiliated institutions in 1857-1858 necessitated prompt action to safeguard the religious, social and cultural milieu of South Asian Muslims. With this in mind, within a decade of the failure of the First War of Independence, a foremost institute of Islamic religious education was established at Deoband – a small town 22 miles south of Saharanpur and 90 miles northeast of Delhi – that was declared the successor of Madressa Rahimiyyah.

On Thursday 15 Muharram 1283AH (30 May 1866), a group of concerned individuals gathered at Deoband and decided to establish the madressa. Necessary funds were collected and the madressa was inaugurated under the shade of a pomegranate tree on the uncarpeted floor of the old Chattah Wali Masjid of Deoband.

Haji Abid Husain (a pious and saintly man of Deoband who received khilafah from Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki) was the first to appeal for funds and was also the first to make a financial contribution. The first teacher of the institute was Mulla Mahmud, the first pupil was also named Mahmud, who later rose to international fame and became known as Shaikhul Hind (1851-1920). On 19 Muharram 1283AH, the establishment of the madressa, which came to be known as Darul Uloom, was formally announced. It was also announced that 401 rupees and eight annas had been collected, which would finance the boarding and lodging of 16 students and that more students would be accommodated as more funds became available. Within a year, the number of students rose to 78 and the services of four more teachers were acquired.

Although Haji Abid Husain was the originator of the idea, Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi was the real man behind the madressa. He was the institute’s first rector and formulated an eight-point modus operandi for the institute based on shura and democratic norms. He also laid down a principle that governmental participation in the Darul Uloom’s running would be harmful to its purpose.

A Majlis-e-Shura (Consultation Board) for the Darul Uloom was established. The board comprised seven individuals including Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi, Haji Abid Husain , Shaikh Nihal Ahmad, Mawlana Dhul Fiqar Ali (father of Shaykhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan and a master of Arabic language and literature) and Mawlana Fazlur-Rahman (a high-ranking poet and Father of ‘Allamah Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani, Maulana Habib ar-Rahman ‘Uthmani and Mufti Aziz-ur-Rahman, who later became Chief Mufti of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband) – all scions of the Waliullah tradition.

Shaikh Nihal Ahmad, a follower of Sayyid Ahmad Shahid, was among the most influential personalities of Deoband. The first head lecturer (Sadr Mudarris) was Mawlana Muhammad Yaqub Nanotwi, the son of Mawlana Mamluk Ali, who was a well-known disciple of Mawlana Rashiduddin (a renowned scholar who was among the foremost students of Shah Abdul Aziz Muhaddith Dehlawi), as was Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi.

Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi was well versed in the writings and thought of Shah Waliullah. His intellectual perspective was much the same as that of Waliullah and his family to the extent that Mawlana Abdul Hayy saw in him another Mawlana Muhammad Ismail Shahid. His method of delivering lectures and sermons also resembled that of Mawlana Ismail.

Mawlana Muhammad Munir Nanotwi – at one time the muhtamim (rector) of Darul Uloom and an erstwhile student of luminaries such as Mufti Sadruddin Azurdah, Mawlana Mamluk Ali and Shah Abdul Ghani – was a prominent participant in the jihad of 1857. He was appointed military secretary to Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi by Haji Imdadullah. A comprehensive scholastic genealogical table of the Ulama of the Deoband School showing the affinity with the tradition of Shah Waliullah has been given by Anwarulhasan Sherkoti. Their association with the Waliullah tradition has always been a matter of pride for all the scholars of Deoband, who consider the Darul Uloom an extension of Madressa Rahimiyyah. The well known exponent of Shah Waliullah’s thought, Mawlana Nasim Ahmad Faridi Amrohawi, has written a poem entitled ‘Shah Waliullah aur Darul Uloom Deoband’ in which he says that the Darul Uloom is the only memorial to Waliulllah’s association in India.”

Until 1291AH, the Darul Uloom was housed at various mosques and buildings, which soon proved to be insufficient to accommodate the growing number of students, teachers and other staff. At the graduation ceremony of 1291AH/1874, funds were raised to construct new buildings and a general appeal for donations was made. On Thursday 2 Dhul Hijjah 1292AH, the foundation stone of the present permanent building was laid, among others by Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi. The ceremony was attended by delegates from across India.

Soon, a number of madressas were established on the pattern of Deoband. Some of these were formally affiliated to it, while others preferred to work independently. The Darul Uloom’s 1293AH annual report contains reports about affiliated madressas, which include Mazahirul Uloom Saharanpur; Qasimul Uloom Muradabad; a madressa at Gallauthi and Ambethah and two madressas in Thana Bhawan and Muzaffarnagar respectively.

Amongst these, Mazahirul Uloom and Qasimul Uloom flourished achieving great acclaim. The former was founded in late 1283AH/1867, and was named after Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanotwi, its first principle. He was among prominent scholars produced by the Waliullah tradition and among the students of Shah Muhammad Ishaq, Mawlana Rashiduddin Khan, Mufti Sadruddin and Mawlana Mamluk Ali. Mawlana Mazhar was seriously wounded at Thana Bhawan during the War of Independence of 1857.

The Deobandi leaders had conceived the setting up of a network of such madressas, at least in north India between 1865 and 1899. At least thirty madressas were established in the United Provinces and Bihar; these continued well into the 1970s. There were also one hundred and eighty-seven madressas in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between 1900 and 1946 that continued functioning till at least 1969. This inter alia indicates that the Deobandi Ulama aimed to create among Muslims a religio-intellectual consciousness through a well-knit system of instructional institutions.

Although the curriculum adopted by the Darul Uloom and its affiliated madressas is generally called the Dars-e-Nizami, it differs considerably from the original syllabus, which included only one collection of hadith, the Mishkat al-Masabih. The modified curriculum of Darul Uloom Deoband included eleven collections of hadith. Modifications were also made to other subjects; for instance, the syllabus of the Dars-e-Nizami originally consisted of 35 books, while the curriculum at Darul Uloom comprises some 81 books.

Shah Waliullah had also reduced the study of logic and philosophy to the minimum – his main emphasis being the Qur’an and fiqh. Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, being a member of the Majlis-e-Shura also advocated the exclusion of logic and Greek philosophy from Darul Uloom’s curriculum. In the early days of the madressa, members of the shura excluded these subjects altogether; later, they were included in the curriculum. The works of Shah Waliullah – Hujjat Allah al-Balighah, for instance – were also included in the curriculum some years later.



The article reproduced above is a chapter from Maulana Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi’s work, ‘Islamic Renaissance in South Asia (1707-1867): The Role of Shah Waliullah and his successors.’ The original text has been edited and certain additions have been made in the body text for the benefit of the average reader. Footnotes (mainly references) which were in the original text have also been omitted. It is hoped that this article provides some insight into the foundation of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband and its affiliated institutes. It is also hoped that Darul ‘Uloom Deoband’s afilliation with the tradition of Shah Waliullah   is made apparent through the article.

I would like to thank my dear friend Maulana Abu Zaynab for taking time out of his busy schedule and helping with the necessary editing. May Allah reward his efforts. Ameen.