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Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ

By:
Itzchak Weismann
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics What is This? Provides in-depth coverage of the political dimensions of Islam and the Muslim world through thematic examination of the major topic areas of political science as they relate to the Muslim world.

Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ

Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ (Council of Muslim Religious Scholars was originally a convention of Indian Muslim scholars and subsequently a leading religious seminary based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, with affiliations throughout India as well as in Pakistan and Nepal. Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ was founded in 1891 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, with the aim of uniting the various streams of Islamic learning that had sprung up in India in the aftermath of the Great Revolt and the demise of the Mughal Empire in 1857–1858. Among the participants in the inaugural meeting in 1893 were modernists of Aligarh College, qasba-based Deobandīs, fundamentalist Ahl-i Ḥadīth, rationalist Farangi Mahallis, traditional Ṣūfī Barelwīs, and, for a while, even Shīʿī. A leading role in the formation of Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ was played by Shibli Nuʿmānī (d. 1914), a close associate of Aligarh's founder, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, though the more consensual Naqshbandī shaykh Ali Mongiri (d. 1928) was elected first president.

The early annual meetings of Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ discussed the reformation of Indo-Muslim scholarship and the role of the Muslim scholars in colonial British India. Soon, however, it became apparent that the differences of opinions among the various ʿulamāʾ factions were too wide to overcome. The Shīʿī were the first to leave, followed by the Barelwīs, who found themselves excluded because of their adherence to “superstitious beliefs and practices.” Following Mongiri's resignation in 1903 a new rupture developed within the Nadwah ranks, between the modernists led by Shibli, who called to form a new rational theology and historiography, and Mongiri's assistant Sayyid ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Ḥasanī of Rae Bareli (d. 1923), who adopted a more conservative agenda centered on the study of ḥadīth. ʿAbd al-Ḥayy eventually won the day and was nominated head of Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ in 1915. Thereafter he turned it into another Sunnī religious faction in India and a patrimony of his family, henceforth known as the Nadwīs.

The idea of establishing a model religious seminary (dār al-ʿulūm) under the supervision of Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ was first aired in 1896. Inaugurated two years later, it moved to its present site in Lucknow in 1908, to become the primary institution of the Nadwah and the basis of its political and social activity. Shibli was instrumental in shaping the initial reformist goal of the seminary, namely, to forge a new kind of proficient scholars capable of coping with the problems of the modern age and defending Islam against its Western and Hindu detractors. He demanded that the curriculum reflect modern knowledge and stressed the need to study English. Under ʿAbd al-Ḥayy and his successors the curriculum came closer to the Deobandī system, with the study of ḥadīth and the traditional sciences (manqūlāt) at the expense of the rational sciences (maʿqūlāt) that were not only advocated by Shibli but also imbedded in the dars-i niẓāmī, the customary curriculum created at Farangi Mahal. This was accompanied by a stress on the study of Arabic, which became the hallmark of Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ among Indian schools.

Nadwat leaders have generally shown little interest in politics as such. During the anticolonial struggle of the interwar period, ʿAbd al-ʿAlī al-Ḥasanī al-Nadwī (d. 1961), ʿAbd al-Ḥayy's eldest son and successor, refrained from supporting Jamʿīyatul ʿUlamāʾ-i Hind (the Association of Muslim Scholars of India) that, after the collapse of the Khilāfat movement, allied with the Indian National Congress against the separatist tendencies of the All-India Muslim League. He felt much closer to the Tablīghī Jamāʿat, an apolitical missionary movement that has directed its efforts toward marginalized Muslim populations. It was also during ʿAbd al-ʿAlī's term that the first Arabic journal al-Diyaʾ appeared in India and close ties were forged between Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ and Arab scholars, particularly of the Salafīyah trend.

These various activities were taken up and further elaborated by Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī al-Ḥasanī al-Nadwī (ʿAlī Miyān, d. 1999), ʿAbd al-ʿAlī's younger brother, whose term represented the peak of Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ's influence in India and beyond. As a true heir to the Nadwah ideology, Abū al-Ḥasan was initiated into the Naqshbandī Ṣūfī brotherhood, studied with leading Deobandī scholars, served as one of the foremost missionaries of the Tablīghī Jamāʿat, and for a while associated with Abū al-Aʿlā al-Mawdūdī (d. 1979), leader of the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī movement—until he recognized the latter's excessive political propensity. Abū al-Ḥasan's was the way of religious propagation from below (daʿwah), rather than political change from above. He emphasized the central role of the ʿulamāʾ as the only legitimate transmitters of religious knowledge in the reform and propagation of Islam, and, to enhance Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ's position in these respects, in 1959, shortly before his appointment, he founded the Academy of Islamic Research and Publication on its premises. The Urdu mouthpiece of the institution, Taʿmīr-i Ḥayāt (Establishing the Pious Life), first appeared in 1963.

Abū al-Ḥasan's reputation in the Arab world rested on his writings, particularly his 1947 book Mādhā khasira al-ʿālam bi-inhiṭaṭ al-muslimīn (What Has the World Lost with the Decline of the Muslims?), which endeared him to Salafīs and Muslim Brothers in Egypt and Syria and led to his election as a founding member of the Saudi-based World Islamic League. As relations with the Wahhābī scholars soured, Abū al-Ḥasan established in 1984 the World League of Islamic Literature to support Indo-Muslim scholarship. He accepted the presidency with the stipulation that Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ should serve as the institutional core of the League and host its international gatherings. This helped him consolidate his position as the leading representative of Indo-Muslim scholarship and to harmonize the different approaches to religious education in India—the original goal of the Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ.

Today, with more than four thousand students, most of them boarders, and more than a hundred affiliated schools throughout India and the rest of South Asia, dār al-ʿulūm Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ is one of the leading institutions of higher education in India. Its current principal, ʿAbd al-Rabiʿ al-Nadwī, Abū al-Ḥasan's nephew and successor, shares the general concern with the contemporary association of madrasahs with terrorism and has called for incorporating an Islamized form of the modern sciences into the Indo-Muslim curriculum.

Bibliography

  • Hartung, Jan-Peter. “The Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʾ: Chief Patron of Madrasa Education in India and a Turntable to the Arab World.” In Islamic Education, Diversity, and National Identity: Dīnī Madāris in India Post 9/11, edited by Jan-Peter Hartung and Helmut Reifeld, pp. 135–157. New Delhi: SAGE, 2006.
  • Hartung, Jan-Peter. “Standardizing Muslim Scholarship: The Nadwat al- ʿUlamāʾ.” In Assertive Religious Identities: India and Europe, edited by Satish Saberwal and Mushirul Hasan, 121–144. New Delhi: Manohar, 2006.
  • Malik, Jamal. Islamische Gelhertenkultur in Nordindien. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1997.
  • Metcalf, Barbara Daly. Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.
  • Zaman, Muhammad Qasim. “Arabic, the Arab Middle East, and the Definition of Muslim Identity in Twentieth Century India.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3d ser., 8 (1998): 59–81.
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