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Founded in 1866, the Deoband school quickly set itself apart from other traditional madrasahs, which were usually based in the home of the village mosque's prayer leader. Deoband's founders, a group of Muslim scholars from New Delhi, instituted a regimented system of classrooms, coursework, texts and exams. Instruction is in Urdu, Persian and Arabic, and the curriculum closely follows the teachings of the 18th century Indian Islamic scholar Mullah Nizamuddin Sehalvi. Graduates go on to study at Cairo's al-Azhar and Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, or found their own Deobandi institutions. Today, more than 9,000 are scattered throughout India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, most infamously the Dara-ul-Uloom Haqaniya Akora Khattak, near Peshawar, where Mullah Mohammed Omar, and several other leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban first tasted a life lived in accordance with Shari'a. Islamabad's Red Mosque follows the same school. Siddiqui visibly stiffens when those names are brought up. They have become synonymous with Islamic radicalism, and Siddiqui is careful to disassociate his institution from those that carry on its traditions, without actually condemning their actions. "Our books are being taught there," he says. "They have the same system and rules. But if someone is following the path of terrorism, it is because of local compulsions and local politics."
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of the Anglo-Mohammedan Oriental College at Aligarh in 1877, studied under the same teachers as the founders of Deoband. But he believed that the downfall of India's Muslims was due to their unwillingness to embrace modern ways. He decoupled religion from education, and in his school sought to emulate the culture and training of India's new colonial masters. Islamic culture was part of the curriculum, but so were the latest advances in sciences, medicine and Western philosophy. The medium was English, the better to prepare students for civil-service jobs. He called his school the Oxford of the East. In architecture alone, the campus lives up to that name. A euphoric blend of clock towers, crenellated battlements, Mughal arches, domes and the staid red brick of Victorian institutions that only India's enthusiastic embrace of all things European could produce, the central campus of Aligarh today is haven to a diverse crowd of male, female, Hindu and Muslim students. Its law and medicine schools are among the top-ranked in India, but so are its arts faculty and Quranic Studies Centre. "With all this diversity, language, culture, secularism was the only way to go forward as a nation," says Aligarh's vice-chancellor, P.K. Abdul Azis. "It was the new religion."
This fracture in religious doctrine whether Islam should embrace the modern or revert to its fundamental origins between two schools less than a day's donkey ride apart when they were founded, was barely remarked upon at the time. But over the course of the next 100 years, that tiny crack would split Islam into two warring ideologies with repercussions that reverberate around the world to this day. Before the split manifested into crisis, however, the founders of both the Deoband and Aligarh universities shared the common goal of an independent India. Pedagogical leanings were overlooked as students and staff of both institutions joined with Hindus across the subcontinent to remove the yoke of colonial rule in the early decades of the 20th century. But nationalistic trends were pulling at the fragile alliance, and India, an unruly collection of rival states coerced into unity under Mughal rule, then again under the British, began to splinter along ethnic and religious lines. Following World War I, a populist Muslim poet-philosopher by the name of Muhammad Iqbal began to frame the Islamic zeitgeist when he questioned the position of minority Muslims in a future, independent India.
Once called the prophet of Hindu and Muslim unity for poems espousing intercommunal unity, Iqbal became increasingly concerned with the fate of the Jewish diaspora in Europe. "Iqbal saw the solidarity of Jews crumble under the cultural majority of Christian Europe," says Fateh Mohammad Malik, chairman of Pakistan's National Language Authority and editor of a book on Iqbal's political thought. "He was worried that the same fate would befall the Muslims. He thought that if they sacrificed their culture at the altar of Indian nationhood, slowly they would be absorbed and made extinct."
The solution, Iqbal proposed to a stunned congregation of the All India Muslim League on Dec. 29, 1930, was an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India, a separate country where Muslims would rule themselves. The response was explosive. The then British Prime Minister, James Ramsay MacDonald, declared that "the poet Iqbal has spoiled all our efforts," to keep a united India. The next day, an editorial in the Times of London trumpeted a pan-Islamic plot to create a contiguous Muslim empire spanning the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and now the sensitive regions bordering the Russian empire.
When asked by a Muslim student group the name for this new nation, Iqbal was at a loss, according to Malik. As an afterthought he suggested taking letters from the names of the provinces: Punjab, Afganiyat or the North-West Frontier, Kashmir and Sindh, ending with Baluchistan. The Hindu newspapers derided the composite name, mocking both Iqbal and the idea of a separate Muslim state. But the name stuck, and the idea of Pakistan was born.