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Young Ulama as Custodians of Change: An Ethnography of a Traditional Dar al-Uloom in Modern Britain.

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There is a vacuum when it comes to research about the most significant tradition of imam training seminaries, the Dar al-Ulooms, in Britain. This particular Islamic ‘school of thought’ – the Deobandi tradition (maslak) - plays a significant role
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    Young Ulama as Custodians of Change: An Ethnography of a Traditional Dar al-Uloom in Modern Britain. Haroon Sidat, Cardiff University. Muslims in the UK and Europe Postgraduate Symposium 2019 There is a vacuum when it comes to research about the most significant tradition of imam training seminaries, the Dar al-Ulooms, in Britain. This particular Islamic Ôschool of thoughtÕ Ð the Deobandi tradition (maslak) - plays a significant role where out of the 30 seminaries in Britain, 80% of graduates are Deobandi (Birt et al., 2011). Yet, very little is known about them. For the first time, this paper provides a rich tapestry of the everyday lived reality of life in a Dar al-Uloom. It makes a unique contribution to the study of Muslims in Britain and Europe. Recently, there has been a growth of interest in Islamic seminaries globally (Buang, 2007; Moosa, 2015) and more recently in the West (Bano, 2018; Scott-Baumann et al., 2017). Being an alumnus, I provide a unique ÒinsiderÓ ethnographic account based on immersion in the seminary for over a year. There are increasing numbers of young, educated British-born Muslims looking to religious scholars and imams for religious guidance. In parallel, there has been an interest in Dar al- UloomÕs from many stakeholder groups from both within and outside Muslim communities. My paper is, therefore, a timely exploration of one of the most under-researched British Muslim institutions. What emerges is a fascinating insight into a tradition that is experiencing evolution. This is led by a young generation of scholars acting as bricoleurs: creating new forms of hybridity while remaining within the ambit of tradition. Ultimately, a Faustian bargain will need to be struck between maintaining a link with the particular tradition stemming from South Asia and the exigencies of life in modern Britain. Given the importance of religious authority in Islam, the paper uncovers the multifaceted ways it is construed in the DU. It argues that there is a plethora of modalities of authority that both complement and interplay with each other. Significantly, the paper challenges the commonly held view that Dar al-UloomÕs are engaged  primarily in producing imams while providing alternative ways of conceptualising religious leadership. My paper bridges the Òexpectations gapÓ by clarifying what the raison d'•tre of a Dar al-Uloom is: the transmission and preservation of knowledge through pious practicing Muslims. Reflective of a thinking tradition, however, the Dar al-Uloom is engaged in a contestation between the embodiment of piety and the production of scholarship. The paper makes a unique contribution to an interdisciplinary field of knowledge that reflects the intersection of Islamic Studies, Religious Studies, and the Sociology of Religion. McLoughlin (2007) argues that anthropological and ethnographic studies have an important role to play in Islamic studies but are not given adequate consideration. My paper fills this gap by bringing into conversation concepts germane to Islam based on my own ÔtraditionalÕ Islamic learning with sociological theories. Therefore, this paper weaves together distinctive perspectives to fashion a unique tapestry that tells the ÔstoryÕ of a British DU, for the first time.
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