Darul Uloom (House of Knowledge), Deoband, founded by Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotawi, is the second most respected Islamic University after Jamia Al-Azhar University in Cairo. While Al-Azhar is believed to have been set up around 988 AD, Darul Uloom was established in 1866.
The seminary, where 5,000 scholars study at a given time, is run entirely on charity and does not charge anything for education, boarding and lodging from scholars. Even the modest uniform — white pyjama and kurta with a skull cap — is provided by the institution besides their meals, medicines and books. In fact, all the students hail from poor families and students from well-off families are turned away.
No donation or grant from the government is accepted. Nor is corporate funding accepted. Foreign donations are discouraged and what little is paid is routed through FCRA with the knowledge of the RBI and the government.
In what is possibly unprecedented, the seminary returned a donation of Rs 18 crore from the King of Kuwait who had deposited the amount in the seminary’s account for development of its library. The seminary called the King and enquired whether the amount was given from his personal funds or by the government. Once it was confirmed that the money had come from the government, it was returned with thanks. The King was told that the seminary doesn’t accept grants from governments.
The seminary’s annual budget is said to be a modest Rs 35 crore, collected almost entirely through small donations from across the country. The country for this purpose has been divided into 50 zones from where individual donations are collected throughout the year.
A unique feature of the seminary is that it places no age restriction on scholars. The pursuit of knowledge is not barred by age and the oldest student in 2019 happens to be a 80-year-young man.
Deoband, with a population of just over a lakh, is dotted with schools, publication houses and small eateries.
There are three mosques for the scholars to pray — the grandest and the most beautiful being the Rashidiya Mosque, the construction of which took almost 20 years and was completed in 2003. The Imam of the mosque is usually someone who is studying in the seminary. It is a part of training and the current Imam is barely 25 years old. The seminary has old political connections as its founders were politically active even before the establishment of Darul Uloom. In 1857, several of its founders including Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi, had protested against British rule and gave a call for Independence.