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V The Style of Religious Leadership, II: Writers and Debaters A pious man was blessed by a dream in which he saw Almighty God. Seeing him speak Urdu, he inquired: "O God, how did you happen to pick up that language? You used to speak only in Syriac or Hebrew or Arabic." God replied: "From dealing with Shah Rafi'u'd-Din and Shah 'Abdu'l-Qadir and Thanawi and Deobandi and Mirathi and Mirza Hairat and Deputy Nazir Ahmad, I learned the language."1 THE 'ulama of the late nineteenth century played tradi­ tional public roles as prayer leaders and preachers, but they took on as well new roles that brought them into touch with ever larger numbers of people. They enthusiastically em­ braced two means of communication that their precursors earlier in the century used somewhat, but that now were newly important: the lithographic press and public debates. The Christian missionaries had introduced these means of proselytizing but, as in the case of so many policies and products brought by the Westerners to India, their use was not at all what had been anticipated. Indeed, one can argue that in this period in north India, the main influence of the missionaries was not the message they disseminated but the challenge they offered and the example of preaching and publishing they provided. Indigenous leaders wel­ comed cheap publications and public preaching not as a source of a new world-view but as a way of spreading their own new formulations of self-statement and identity. As we have seen above, the sense of being newly and consciously faithful to their tradition was a source of great 1. Anonymous. Mabla'-ι Wahhdbiyyat ko Garez (Bombay, n.d.), p. 61. 198 Writers and Debaters satisfaction to the Muslim reformers. The late nineteenth century saw, in fact, a variety of movements of religious renewal, each of which thought itself to be correct. Not surprisingly, the movements tended to come into conflict. But the conflict was more than accidental. Its impetus was in part psychological, an aspect of the very search for individual meaning and self-esteem. By defining others as adversaries, the religious leaders enhanced their own sense of worth.2 Conflict became, as well, a dimension of rivalry among potential leaders within religious groups3 and among the ever-more politically conscious religious communities themselves. By participating actively in these contests, the Deobandis established themselves among other Muslims not only as intellectuals, but as defenders of their faith and their community. The 'ulama had always written and had, indeed, at times participated in debate. New in this period was the social context in which these activities were carried on and the new technology that gave them unprecedented publicity. New as well—and intrinsic to that publicity—was the use of Urdu, lightly treated in the epigraph above by a writer who opposed the reformist 'ulama, who had pioneered its scholarly use. Publications The Beginnings As early as the first decades of the nineteenth century, the reformers set the pattern of spreading religious teachings by new methods of cheap publications. Lithographic presses in northern India came first to towns dominated 2.1 am grateful to Michael Zuckerman of the University of Pennsylvania for stimulating this analysis by his work on colonial American religious sects. See his "The Fabrication of Identity in Early America," William and Mary Quarterly, XXXIV (April 1977), 183-214. 3. Sandria B. Freitag, "Community and Competition in Religious Festivals : The North Indian Prelude," presented to the Conference on Intermediate Political Linkages at Berkeley, March 1978. 199 The Deobandi Movement by Muslims: Bareilly, Moradabad, Agra, Meerut, and Delhi.4 And the reformers were preeminent among those using the presses. They tended to publish in Urdu, thus participating in the shift from an imperial to a regional culture whose participants were more geographically restricted but more socially diverse than those who had shared the court culture embodied in Persian. Urdu was, however, known beyond its immediate region by urban Muslims elsewhere, and particularly by the asArafMuslims of Bengal, who claimed an origin in the Urdu-speaking area. Hence Urdu publications had an audience among the Muslim upper class of the east and, most importantly, among much of the population of the north. The two main documents of the early period of reform, the Taqwiyatu'l-Iman and the Siratu'l-Mustaqim, both addressed themselves to all Muslims, not only to the learned. They sought to disseminate familiarity with the fundamental sources of the...


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