The conviction that British values pose a deadly threat to Islam has been nurtured by Deobandis since the movement’s birth in 19th century India.
The first madrassa, founded in 1867 in Deoband, 90 miles (145km) north of Delhi, was established as an act of Sunni Muslim defiance against imperial oppression. Ten years earlier its leaders had taken part in the Indian Mutiny against British rule.
Deobandi orthodoxy holds that their decision to focus on religious education stemmed from a fear that Britain, not content with “political subjugation of Muslims”, also sought their “intellectual subjugation” in order to establish “the ultimate supremacy of the Western way of life and thinking”.
The movement expanded from India to Pakistan, where there are an estimated 13,000 seminaries, of which 8,500 are Deobandi. It was from some of these that the Taleban leadership emerged to win control of postSoviet Afghanistan before imposing their brutal vision of an Islamic state, ruled by Sharia. “Every Afghan is a Deobandi,” a Taleban spokesman said shortly before the group was toppled by the 2001 allied invasion that followed 9/11.
The first in Western Europe, Darul Uloom al-Arabiya al-Islamiya, in Holcombe, near Bury, Greater Manchester, opened in 1975 after receiving financial support from the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Behind its closed doors boys and young men aged from 12 to 23 study GCSE subjects alongside advanced Islamic studies.
Bury acts as the mother madrassa for other Deobandi seminaries in Britain and there was outrage when security officials and counter-terrorism police, acting on “intelligence information” detained its founder, Yusuf Motala, at Heathrow for seven hours of questioning in 2003. He was not charged with any offence.
The Times was unable to arrange an interview at the seminary. A teacher said that no one was available to discuss its operation. He also said that he had never heard of Deoband.
Because they are free to practice and preach their religion in Britain, Deobandis are told that they should obey the laws of the land. Yet when it comes to how they should view their adopted country, the message is one of almost unremitting hostility.
Parents who allow their children to attend a nonMuslim school, teenagers who wears Western clothes, clean-shaven men, women who do not wear the hijab – all such practices are condemned as a detestable imitation of the ways of the kuffar(unbelievers).
Many Deobandi clerics view any attempt to engage with the deviant, nonMuslim majority as a threat to the pure faith. Steps towards integration are perceived as a betrayal; Muslims are told to steer clear of nonMuslim neighbours.