Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The hospitality of the Deobandis

Via Family Security Matters comes this affront to multi-cultism in The Times of London: "Hardline takeover of British mosques"

It concerns the proliferation and entrenchment in Britain of the fundamentalist Deobandi branch of Islam, named after the north Indian city of Deoband where the sect is based. Pull quote:

A commentator on religious radicalism in Pakistan, where Deobandis wield significant political influence, told The Times that "blind ignorance" on the part of the Government in Britain had allowed the Deobandis to become the dominant voice of Islam in Britain's mosques.

Khaled Ahmed said: "The UK has been ruined by the puritanism of the Deobandis. You've allowed the takeover of the mosques. You can't run multiculturalism like that, because that's a way of destroying yourself. In Britain, the Deobandi message has become even more extreme than it is in Pakistan. It's mind-boggling."

Alarming stuff, however depressingly familiar it may be by now. However, the story reminded me of this anecdote, which was the fist I'd heard of the Deobandis, by name at least:

I had not realized it was possible. But the mullahs of Deoband, the center of Islamic orthodoxy in south Asia, had managed to circumvent a fatwa[...]out of courtesy to me. They did it so that I could drink a cup of coffee. I was visiting Dar-ul-Uloom--the House of Knowledge--a large Islamic school in the town of Deoband, about ninety miles north of New Delhi. [...] I was sitting on the ground in the study of Maulana (an honorific given to learned Muslim men) Abdul Khalik Madrasi, vice-chancellor of Deoband, with a group of his students [in October 2001...]

The burly Maulana, whose beard almost reached down to his rotund belly, then asked if I wanted a refreshment. I said I would like a Nescafe, which is the only kind of coffee usually available in north India outside the cities. "No, no," he said sternly. "We have issued a fatwa forbidding the faithful from buying any American or British products." I tried in vain to argue that I was not one of the faithful so the fatwa should not apply to me. They laughed it off. Then I tried and failed to convince them that Nescafe is owned by Nestle, which is a Swiss company. But they had either never heard of Switzerland or could not see the difference. In much of India the word *Angrezi*--English--simply means "foreign", or "Western". No, they said, wagging their fingers, as if they had caught me pulling a fast one, Nescafe is Angrezi.

Then something occured to the Maulana, who was a member of the committee that issues Deobandi fatwas. "I have thought of a legitimate loophole," the Maulana announced with a smile. "The fatwa applies only to products bought after September 11. Does anyone here possess Nescafe that is older?" A student raised his hand. The mildewed sachet of instant coffee that he fetched from his room considerably predated 9/11. It was one of the most satisfying coffees I have ever had.
-- Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of
Modern India, 2007

Cute, eh? In a creepy sort of way? So maybe I do have a suitable 9/11 anniversary post, after all. Maybe the common courtesies, which Near Easterners have historically been so famous for, will have some hand in bringing about peace. Wouldn't bet my kids' futures on it, but wouldn't it be...sweet?

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