Darul Uloom Deoband, India’s largest Islamic seminary, has denied claims by the National Commission For Protection of Child Rights that it has issued a fatwa that would promote hatred in India.

“It is not a fatwa,” said Ashraf Usmani, the spokesperson for Abul Qasim Nomani, the vice chancellor of the Darul Uloom Deoband, which is located in Uttar Pradesh.

A fatwa is a religious dictum issued by an Islamic jurist for Muslims to act on.

He was responding to a controversy that has been in the headlines since the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights wrote a letter to the Saharanpur district magistrate on Wednesday seeking legal action against the institute for allegedly publishing an objectionable fatwa on its website.

“The fatwa talks about the invasion of India [or Gazwa-e-Hind], and how whoever will be martyred in it is a great martyr,” said the letter by Priyank Kanoongo, the chairperson of the commission. “Such kind of fatwas are exposing children to hatred against one’s own country and eventually causing them unnecessary mental or physical suffering.”

Gazwa-e-Hind refers to the holy battle by Muslims in the Indian subcontinent, as has been predicted in a hadith – a saying of the Prophet Muhammad.

Action demanded

The commission’s letter said the content is a violation of Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice Act. It directed the district administration and police authorities to take legal action against the Islamic institute and file a compliance report within three days.

The commission says the content of the fatwa may lead to hatred against the country and refers to a Supreme Court judgment, Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar, which said that offences against the state are seditious acts under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. In May 2022, the Supreme Court ordered that Section 124A of the IPC be kept in abeyance and asked states not to invoke the section in new cases.

The letter reprimanded the district authorities for failing to take action when the commission raised objections to numerous fatwas on Darul Uloom’s website.

However, a visit to the link shows the website’s question and answer page, where the institute publishes fatwas and answers to questions posed by users about Islam. The page is in Urdu.

In this case, a person who is not named, has asked a question whether there is a hadith that talks about Gazwa-e-Hind and how anyone who dies in this conflict will be considered a great martyr who will go to paradise.

In its answer, the website mentions the Arabic text of the hadith with a reference to the Sunan Al-Nasa’i, one of the six major collections of hadiths, from which it is sourced.

Without giving a translation or detailed interpretation, the answer says that the hadith talks about the gazwa that Prophet Muhammad had predicted. Unlike in many other instances, the answer does not exhort the readers to follow or act upon it. The answer ends with the sentence “واللہ تعالیٰ اعلم,” which means “God knows the best.”

The question was posted on the website in 2009, said Ashraf Usmani, the spokesperson for Darul Uloom Deoband vice chancellor Abul Qasim Nomani. “We have just reproduced the hadith in answer to the question about Gazwa-e-Hind,” he said. “We are not promoting, encouraging, or asking people to act up on it.”

Usmani said that the position of the Darul Uloom Deoband on Gazwa-e-Hind is “very clear”. “That Gazwa-e-Hind has already taken place in the subcontinent between 711 AD and 713 AD, when Muḥammad ibn al-Qāsim, a military commander of the Umayyad Caliphate, conquered Sindh, a province in present-day Pakistan,” he said.

He said that there was no question of issuing a fatwa on past events. “I do not know why someone has an objection to it now,” Usmani added.

He said that by publishing a hadith, the institute has not violated any law and in case the authorities take any legal action in the matter, they will “approach the courts for justice”.

‘A bogey’

Mehdi Hasan Qasmi, a social activist from Deoband who was a student at the Darul Uloom, claimed that the the National Commission For Protection of Child Rights has been targeting the institute for some time by trying to create controversies. “Gazwa-e-Hind is a bogey raked up by those who want to defame the institute,” he said.

He said that instead of engaging with the institute directly, the commission leaked the letter to the media.

While many Islamic scholars say the Gazwa-e-Hind was an event in the past, some Pakistan-based militant groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad invoke the idea to derive religious legitimacy in their fight against India.

In India, references to Gazwa-e-Hind can be found in police documents, including first information reports, charge sheets and intelligence reports implicating Muslims in terrorism cases. The police claim that these individuals or groups were inspired by the idea of Gazwa-e-Hind to participate in acts of terror.

Dinesh Chandra, the Saharanpur district magistrate, said that the administration has taken cognisance of the child rights commission’s complaint and forwarded it to the Senior Superintendent of Police. “Since it is an old matter, we are investigating it and once we know more details we will take action within time as per the directions of NCPCR,” he said.

Vipin Tada, Senior Superintendent of Police in Saharanpur, said that the police have started investigating the complaint and are already in touch with Darul Uloom. “We are looking into when, who and where the [alleged objectionable content] has been posted, and we will take it forward after getting more details,” he said.