The portable madrasa: Print, publics, and the authority of the Deobandi 'ulama

Brannon D. Ingram*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


In the first decades of the twentieth century, classically trained Muslim scholars ('ulama) of the influential Deobandi school of North India issued a number of immensely popular, mass-printed 'primers' on Islamic belief and ritual practice. Now ubiquitous in the Islamic bookshops in South Asia and elsewhere, these primers sought to summarize the rudiments of an Islamic education for a nascent lay Muslim reading public. Focusing on three Deobandi 'ulama - Ashraf 'Ali Thanvi (d. 1943), Mufti Muhammad Kifayatullah (d. 1952), and Muhammad Manzur Nu'mani (d. 1997) - this paper explores how their primers advanced the Deobandi school's well-known critique of popular piety even as they claimed to address Muslims generally, and how their authors negotiated the subtle dynamics of print. Understanding the potentially subversive power of print to open a space for readers to form their own interpretations of minute doctrinal matters and the threat of mass-printed religious texts to their own authority, these 'ulama implored readers to refrain from forming their own opinions of the primers' content and to consult the 'ulama throughout the reading process. Thus, even as they took advantage of print's possibilities, they remained deeply suspect of its ramifications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)845-871
Number of pages27
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The portable madrasa: Print, publics, and the authority of the Deobandi 'ulama'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this