I first wrote about the Deobandi movement on this blog three and a half years ago. Since that time, Western interest in the Deobandi movement has increased both in the media and among the security community. I thought it might be helpful if I offered an updated version of that original post.

The Deobandi movement has evolved out of a Sunni reformist tradition. It began in the Indian subcontinent, but it’s political expression and ideology were co-opted by Pakistan’s Jamiyyat-i-Ulama-i-Islam (JUI). The JUI are a religious party with a strict, militant, anti-West, and anti-American culture. The JUI also denounce anyone who is non-Muslim. The JUI trained many members of the Taliban in their madrasas (seminaries). These schools were first set up for Afghan refugees in the Pashtun heavy areas of Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet war.

Madrassa

The Deobandi movement is named for the originating Madrasa established in the town of Deoband in northern India in 1867. This school soon became the model for madrasas established all over Southern Asia. Thousands of Deobandi madrasas now exist in India and Pakistan. And out of all the sectarian orientations in South Asia, those associated with Deobandi have been the most intellectually dynamic and politically the most significant.

The majority of significant commentaries produced by Deobandi intellectuals have focused on hadith. A hadith is an oral story related to the prophet Muhammad and his customs. Hadith are understood as being important devices in deciding proper Muslim living. And it is important to stress that hadith are attributed to Muhammad as opposed to the Qur’an. Therefore, it is understood by Muslims that hadith are the words of Muhammad and not the word of God. The Sunni cannon of hadith is called the ‘Six major Hadith collections.’

Deobandi-scholarship on hadith has encouraged reconsideration of earlier religious positions. Among the goals of the Deobandi brand is the defense and preservation of Sunni norms and law. Defensive arguments within Deobandi, sometimes referred to as jihad, are often accompanied by an unusual degree of openness to departures from past hadith analysis. These departures include a call for a more rigid conservatism while promoting a militant vision and culture unheard-of in classical Islam.

Saudi funding to Islamic groups worldwide was drastically accelerated in the early 1980s as a means to create a Sunni wall  against Iran’s export of its Shi’a revolution. Iran’s funding of Shi’ite groups as well as its call for a global revolution threatened Saudi Arabia’s Islamic leadership role and the Arab world’s Sunni hegemony. The Deobandi movement’s emphasis on the defense and preservation of Sunni norms and law made the funding of Deobandi schools especially appealing to the Saudi regime.

Deobandi schools created close ties to Wahhabi militants in Saudi Arabia, and the creation of new schools boomed throughout the 1980s and 1990s from Saudi funding. In this way, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia are closely tied together, to the dismay of their current respective governments. The criminal networks of militants operating in these countries all have ties to the Deobandi worldview. If world governments are going to overcome terrorism perpetrated in Islam’s name, they will have to better educate themselves in the Deobandi brand of radicalism.

Pakistan has a population exceeding 180 million people, and nearly two-thirds of this population is illiterate. The average Pakistani makes about $450 a year. Deobandi madrasas provide students with shelter, food, and a much needed education. It is sometimes estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 Pakistanis trained in Deobandi madrasas just between 1994 and 1999.

Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan are typically run by religious teachers who have little knowledge of or appreciation for traditional Islam. The chief task of these teachers is to promote a jihadist vision that is global in scope, intolerant of competing with other Sunni doctrines, and fanatically anti-Shi’a. A main goal of Deobandi schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is having their pupils spread this form of Islam world-wide.

All Female Madrasa in Pakistan

All Female Madrasa in Pakistan

The post-Deobandi boom  has affected both faith and politics in the Muslim World. Deobandi’s global vision is to establish a Deobandi caliphate, and Deobandi missionaries have brought greater piety, religious divisions, opposition movements, and conflicts. Deobandi schools were first opened in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States in the 1980s.

The British newspaper The Times has claimed that nearly 600 of the 1,400 mosques in Britain are run by Deobandi affiliated scholars, while 17 of the 26 Islamic seminaries follow Deobandi teaching. Significantly, the seminaries produce 80% of Britain’s domestically trained Muslim clerics.

In the States, Darul Uloom Al-Madania was opened in Buffalo New York in 1986, and Darul Uloom New York was opened in New York City in 1997. In Canada, the Al-Rashid Islamic Institute was opened in Ontario in 1980, and the Darul Uloom Canada was opened in Ontario in 1993.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is spending the week in Washington D.C. He is meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama as well as other senior administration officials, and the talks are expected to help set the framework for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after the bulk of American and NATO forces leave at the end of 2014. However, even when the American military pulls the majority of its troops out of Afghanistan, there will still be a huge American presence in the country.

Barack Obama, Hamid Karzai

According to the October 2012 quarterly contractor census report issued by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which includes Afghanistan as well as 19 other countries stretching from Egypt to Kazakhstan, there are approximately 137,000 contractors working for the Pentagon in the Middle East region. There were 113,376 in Afghanistan and 7,336 in Iraq. Of that total, 40,110 were U.S. citizens, 50,560 were local hires, and 46,231 were from neither the U.S. not the country in which they were working.

Candidly, there are currently more contractors than U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The Middle East is overrun with U.S. government contractors, and not all of them work for the American Defense Department. For example, contractors working for the U.S. State Department are prolific. The CENTCOM report says that “of FY 2012, the USG contractor population in Iraq was approximately 13.5K.  Roughly half of these contractors are employed under Department of State contracts.”

While people now understand that contractors perform a lot of missions once done by troops – cleaning toilets, performing security — they may not realize how the size of contractors working in the Middle East has grown, or just how dependent on them the United States government has become.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. government is signing five-year contracts, well beyond the 2014 deadline for all U.S. combat forces to get out of that country. While Karzai is in the U.S. this week to negotiate a timetable for American troop withdrawal, one must assume that his talks won’t have much of an impact on the contractor population within his country. The subject of contractors remains conspicuously absent from Mr. Karzai’s global pulpit, and contractors have remained a strong presence in Iraq since all U.S. troops were withdrawn from that country in December 2011.

With contractors remaining in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, what prospects will their presence have for Afghan peace? Many of the conflicts in Afghanistan are based on local grievances. Karzai has stated that he hopes that militants who were galvanized by local disagreements can be reformed while any factions that fight for a global jihadi movement can be omitted and frozen out of Afghanistan’s political structure.

American officials hope to use any reconciliation talks in Afghanistan as a way to neutralize Taliban regional control. For example, any talks with the Taliban or a Taliban aligned group would be designed to dismantle some parts of the Taliban while excluding the more hostile factions. American strategists are hoping that if the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups become politically impotent, it will lead to a change in their behavior.

Syria Defiant

January 7, 2013

Syria’s state media reported earlier today that government troops were successful in stopping last night’s rebel attack on a police school in the northern city of Aleppo. The attack occurred on the same day that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called on Syrians to fight the rebel opposition driven by what he characterized as “religious extremists.”

Syria’s official SANA news agency said regime forces killed and wounded members of a “terrorist group” in the fighting late Sunday, but the agency failed to provide a number for the killed and wounded.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a former commercial hub, has been a major front in the civil war since July, with battles often raging for control of military and security facilities such as the police school. Rebels have made progress in capturing territory around Aleppo, as well as in the east and in the capital Damascus, bringing Syria’s civil war closer to the seat of Assad’s power.

In yesterday’s speech, Assad outlined terms for a peace plan, but he dismissed any chance of dialogue with the rebel opposition, labeling them as “murderous criminals.” Bashar al-Assad addresses supporters in Damascus

This was Assad’s first public speech in six months, and he  appeared confident in the hour-long address. He vowed to continue the battle “as long as there is one terrorist left.”

The United Nations now estimates that 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war since that conflict began.

As violence spilling across Syria’s border with Turkey has increased in frequency, the international community has resolved to contain and constrain Syria’s border incursions.

Roughly 400 U.S. military personnel are being deployed to Turkey to help man Patriot anti-missile batteries. Turkey formally asked NATO for the missiles in November to bolster security along its 560-mile border with Syria. Turkey has repeatedly scrambled fighter jets along the frontier, and it responded in kind when Syrian military opened fire across its borders, fanning fears that the civil war could spread to destabilize the region.

The 400 U.S. troops will man two of the Patriot batteries out of a total of six batteries that have been promised by NATO allies. Two other anti-missile batteries left a Netherlands military base this morning en route to the Turkish border. Roughly 300 Dutch soldiers will man the Dutch  batteries. Germany has been tapped to send the final two anti-missile batteries requested by the Turkish government.

Since my recent post about Egypt’s internal turmoil, I’ve had some readers email me asking that I expound on who and what the Muslim Brotherhood are.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a socio-religio-political movement that was founded in Egypt in 1936, and, to me, the Brotherhood’s philosophical framework is best understood through the writings of one of their most prolific members, Sayyid Qutb.

Sayyid Qutb’s interpretation of Islam grew out of the many confrontations that occurred between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian state in the 1950s and 1960s. Increasingly radicalized by Egypt’s suppression of the movement, Qutb espoused a rejectionist ideology that was meant to be a kind of call to arms for the Egyptian people.

Qutb in an Egyptian jail

Qutb in an Egyptian jail

Qutb, who had a modern education, saw the Western world as morally decadent, racist, and devoid of familial responsibility. Worse, the West’s influence was growing in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. Throughout the writings of his forty published books, Qutb divided the world into two antipodal camps, the Muslim world (dar al-Islam) and the world of evil epitomized by the West (dar al-Harb).

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I wanted to follow up on my post dealing with the recent Muslim anger over a YouTube film with this very insightful article from Religion Dispatches. The article emphasizes what I wrote yesterday, which is that for Muslims, Mohammad is the perfect Muslim. He is the living Qur’an. Enjoy:

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/haroonmoghul/6380/why_are_muslims_so_concerned_with_muhammad/

 

The film that sparked the anti-American violence last week in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen was breathtakingly offensive to most Muslims.

Protests over the film entitled The Innocence of Muslims are now spreading across the Middle East and North Africa. I want to take a moment to talk about what is happening and why.

The now infamous trailer on YouTube was uploaded back in July, but the protests only started in Egypt this past week. There is some chatter that the man who made the film, believed to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, specifically targeted the Egyptian news media. It is believed that he alerted the Egyptian press to the YouTube trailer himself for maximum exposure within Egypt. It is possible that Nakoula timed his interaction with the Egyptian press to coincide with 9-11.

First, it is important to understand that the Qur’an and other Islamic teachings are crystal clear: Mohammad is never to be portrayed in a sketch or a painting, much less played by a bad actor in a cheap B movie. For Muslims, Mohammad is the perfect Muslim. He is the living Qur’an.

But this movie shows Mohammad seducing many women, and one actor states that the Prophet was gay. If you are a Christian, imagine if a movie depicted Jesus Christ engaging in oral sex and then claimed that he was a child molester.

The film portrays Mohammad as a sexual predator, a fraud, and possibly insane. It is in the poorest of taste.

The Innocence of Muslims

Sam Becile – which is the pseudonym Nakoula Basseley Nakoula used – claimed to be an Israeli Jew, and said that the film was financed by other Jews back in Israel. That appears to be completely false, though. Nakoula is being identified as an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian who’s alleged to be extremely anti-Muslim.

It is possible that the film was designed to not only denigrate Islam, but also to stir discord between Muslims and the Coptic Christians within Egypt. There’s been a lot of tension in those relations as of late, so such a film would be intended to further strain Egypt’s social fabric.

A series of anti-Christian attacks has heightened tensions since the ouster of Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak. Coptic Christians blame the the Muslim Brotherhood for the increase in violence.

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A Perfect Storm for Turmoil

September 13, 2012

An assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya resulted in the first killing of a U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.

Ambassador Chris Stevens

There are differing reports on the timeline of what happened and why. What is known is that armed militia joined a protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Various militia brought automatic weapons, RPGs, and handmade bombs.

Libyan security forces originally blocked the road towards the Consulate in order to protect the Ambassador and his staff, but then security forces withdrew as the attacks intensified.

There has been a security vacuum in Libya since the Arab Spring ended The 42-year rule of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Militias now roam around the country unchecked and unfettered. Hundreds of people may make up a single militia while another militia may have its membership number as few as ten.

The attack in Libya came hours after an Egyptian mob stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag. 

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The Axis of Resistance

August 8, 2012

Iranian security chief Saeed Jalili, yesterday pledged Tehran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Members of Iran’s government joined Mr. Assad during talks in Damascus broadcast by Syrian state television. Mr. Jalili said, “Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be an essential part, to be broken in any way.” 

The “axis of resistance” refers to Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

As I alluded to in my post yesterday, the Lebanese Hezbollah has operated as an instrument for the radicalized Shi’ite community. The “axis of resistance” is a purely Shi’ite alignment of nations that seeks to be a counterweight (within the Middle East) to the power of the Sunni alignment of nations led by Saudi Arabia.

Iran is seen as the de facto leader of this Shi’ite alliance. The biggest effect the Iranian Revolution of 1979 had on the Middle East was to encourage the most uncompromising elements within the Shi’ite community to fight a regional counteroffensive against what was then a Sunni status quo.

Iran has been attempting for years to export its revolution to the rest of the Muslim world. The social norms and values espoused by the Iranian Revolution encourage Shi’ite legitimacy and political power.

The Middle East has been dominated by Sunni power centered in Saudi Arabia since the creation of the Islamic conference in 1969. However, Iran has considered itself the true standard-bearer of Islam since its revolution, despite its Shi’ite minority status. Iran considers the Saudis to be “usurpers who sold oil to the West in exchange for military protection–a retrograde, conservative monarchy with a facade of ostentatious piety” (Kepel 2000).

As I explained yesterday, the Shi’ite faith has always appealed to the poor and oppressed waiting for salvation. Iran’s propaganda promotes an “Islam of the people,” and incites the poor to rise up against the impiety of Sunni-lead governments.

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The Marjah Offensive

February 16, 2010

U.S. marines are leading a massive NATO effort to drive Taliban insurgents from Southern Afghanistan so that power in the region can be transfered to the Afghan government.

NATO forces have so far been facing the most resistance in the Taliban haven of Marjah. U.S. troops have been plagued by sniper fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). However, British and Afghan troops are reported to be making better progress in the neighboring district of Nad Ali.

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Iraq Postpones Elections

February 8, 2010

Iraq’s independent election commission has postponed the start of parliamentary races. Officials say that they need time to determine who is eligible to campaign after a ban was lifted on hundreds of potential candidates.

An Iraqi appeals court last wednesday overturned an effort to bar hundreds of candidates from running for office. Most of the people barred were formerly aligned with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party, and many of them were previously members of parliament. The ban threatened to disenfranchise Sunnis and open up possible sectarian tensions that have plagued Iraq for the past few years.

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