A Muslim Indian seminary which is said to have inspired the Taliban has issued a fatwa against terrorism, insisting that Islam is a religion of peace.
Senior clerics from the 150-year-old Darul Uloom Deoband issued the edict saying they wished to wipe out terrorism. "Islam rejects all kinds of unjust violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, murder and plunder and does not allow it in any form," said the rector, Habibur Rehman, to the cheers of thousands of students. Many held placards saying "Islam means peace", while others chanted.
"The religion of Islam has come to wipe out all kinds of terrorism and to spread the message of global peace," Mr Rehman added.
The Deoband institute was established in the aftermath of the 1857 uprising against British rule, an uprising that was brutally suppressed by the imperial forces. Highly influential, it controls thousands of smaller seminaries and madrassas around the world, from Britain to Afghanistan.
Of Britain's 1,400 mosques, about 600 are run by Deobandi-affiliated clerics. Seventeen of the UK's 26 Islamic seminaries follow Deobandi teachings, which produce about 80 per cent of all domestically trained Muslim clerics.
Analysts say the move to speak out against terrorism would be welcomed by the overwhelming majority of India's 140 million Muslim population, many of whom believe the image of their religion has been tarnished by the actions of a small number of people.
"It is an awakening among Muslim groups to the dangers that face them as a fallout of terrorism and suspected association of terrorism with Muslims," Pran Chopra, an analyst, told Reuters after the fatwa was issued this weekend. "The response by the Muslim population [to acts of violence] has been worth noticing and the fatwa is a very welcome development."
The seminary was founded by Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi, who ordered that it should use modern teaching methods, unlike similar institutions at the time. He also decided that it should teach in Urdu rather than English and remain outside of political debate. Despite this decision, the seminary opposed the division of India and supported the creation of a united country for Muslims and Hindus.