Assalamualaykum Mufti saheb,
1) I wanted to know your opinion on calling oneself ‘deobandi’. I know there is nothing wrong in follwoing the Ulema of deoband and that is why I say that “I follow the ulema of Deoband”. However, I don’t understand why people call themselves ‘deobandi’ as it has become like name-calling now and although it might not be intended, it is causing uncessary groups and sects in Islam when the Prophet SAW has told us to be united as Muslims. These days, no one calls themsleves muslims, they call themselves ‘deobandi’, ‘barelvi’ ‘salafi’ etc. Please give me some guidance on this name calling and what the correct way of referring to oneslef is who follows the ulema of Deoband.
2) Mufti saheb, if someone asks you what kind of hanafi muslim you are, what would you reply with? (Would you call yourself as deobandi’?)
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
Before responding to your query, we wish to explain the basis for the establishment of Darul ‘Ulūm Deoband.
When the British came to India, their main objective was to bring India under their rule. When the ‘Ulemā realised that the British are getting more and more fortified, they called up a meeting to find a solution to this problem. Between the years 1864 and 1867 over 14,000 ‘Ulemā were made shahīd due to which ‘Ulemā were becoming scarce and Islamic knowledge was slowly being wiped out from the Indian Sub-Continent. Those ‘Ulemā who remained, felt that there was a need to safeguard the Sunnah of our Nabi Ṣallalāhu ‘Alaihi Wa Sallam and to protect the Muslims from losing their Islamic heritage. The only way to do this was to establish an institution for imparting knowledge and to equip the Muslims with divine knowledge, so they may mend their lives according to Islamic teachings. On the 5th of Muharram, Mawlānā Qāsim Nānotawi laid the foundation of Dārul ‘Uloom Deoband. Soon after that many other Madrasas opened and helped revive Islamic teachings in the Indian Sub-Continent. Those ‘Ulemā that studied in Deoband or any of its affiliate Madrasas across the world will be regarded as the Ulema of Deoband.
The affiliation to Deoband has two possibilities,
1. A Deobandi could be a person who studies at Darul ‘Ulūm Deoband or any of its affiliate madrasas. The reference Deobandi in this context is viewed as an identity similar to the identity Azhari for a person who studied at Al-Azhar in Egypt.
2. A Deobandi could also be referred to a person who admires and adopts the ideologies of the ‘Ulemā of Deoband.
To refer to oneself as a Deobandi will depend on the situation one finds himself in. In a neutral environment, one should not label himself as a Deobandi, as this would lead to blameworthy sectarianism.
To reference oneself to Deoband based on the second meaning does have sectarian connotations.
I would avoid the reference Deobandi if it leads to blameworthy sectarianism.
May Allāh Ta’āla give us Tawfeeq to unite under the banner of Islam. Āmeen.
And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best
Ikraam Bin Elias Gangat
Student Darul Iftaa
Checked and Approved by,
Mufti Ebrahim Desai.
 The following has been summarized from the book “The ‘Ulamā of Deoband – Their Majestic Past” (Madrasah ‘Arabia Islāmia, 2006)
This answer was collected from Askimam.org, which is operated under the supervision of Mufti Ebrahim Desai from South Africa.