Madaris (religious seminaries) have always existed in the pre and post partition Indian subcontinent. Prior to the establishment of two Muslim seminaries in Bareilly and Deoband in the pre-partition India, the madaris were largely housed inside the mosques and these installations primarily served as social facilitators mostly for Muslims and occasionally for non-Muslims in various chores of their daily social lives. They acted as community centres where people of all faiths could come for food, resolving petty issues, finding solutions to local disputes, and most importantly: water, as most complexes had wells dug. These buildings were also used for housing the guests and visitors for local weddings. The mosque plus madaris combination did not have a sectarian identity and were rather associated with different Muslim Sufis who toured the Indian subcontinent. An overwhelming majority of the Muslim Sufis were not narrow sighted and easily blended with their non-Muslim counterparts. There were elaborate discussions and heated dialogues, but these hardly ever spun out of control or resulted in bloodshed. Indian Muslims and non-Muslims never took religion too seriously and rather saw their adherence to the rainbow of religions more of a cultural than religious practice. The same trend is still visible in the countryside of the Indo-Pak subcontinent where the rural strata may come across religious in their talk, but their practices of life are more connected with their nature and local environment. They respect Deity, but maintain a frank and flowing relationship also reflections of which are abundant in Sufi poetry of all religions. But this was all true before the politics started getting mixed with religion, and localised mutinies started this trend. As the centrality of the Mughal emperors gradually weakened, powerful local rulers, also including Muslims, tried assuming control of their rajwarras (domains) — as they were called. In a Hindu majority Indian subcontinent, the British also found it slightly more convenient to engage more constructively with the Hindus. Also that it was inherently difficult to engage the Muslim mainstream given that deep hurt and sense of loss on the abolishment of the Mughal empire. Though this makes for a separate discussion but I wish to make a side note about a myth that the Muslims ruled India for nearly a millennium. Reality is that powerful tribal leaders who followed the Muslim faith continuously invaded India and brutally fought against each other for the political and economic control of India. There has not been a single decade in the purported one-thousand-year rule over the subcontinent where a Muslim ruler in the centre had a full control on the entire geographical mass. But the Muslim generations in India constantly believed that having a rainbow of Muslim rulers in Delhi meant a Muslim rule over India even if their lives were subjugated under a local Hindu Raja. Hence, the loss of the Mughal empire at the hands of the British gave that deep cut in the Muslim political and economic psychology that constantly stopped them from working with other communities. An overwhelming majority of Muslim Sufis were not narrow-minded. They easily intermingled with non-Muslim counterparts How could the ‘superior ruling class’ work with the ‘inferior class’ they ruled for centuries? And how could the rulers of yesterday jointly work with the rulers of today who ousted them: The British? As cooperating with Hindus and other non-Muslim native Indians seemed difficult, joining hands with the British looked more challenging. This psychology created two interesting trends that created a narrative where Muslims sought their identity in ‘going back to basics’, borrowing from Mr John Major, former British PM. The first trend was the growing proximity of the British and non-Muslim communities in India that created political clout and economic prosperity for either side. There were indeed challenges, but leaders from both sides grew closer, came together and prospered. The second trend was that this proximity agitated the Muslims and they started looking rather inward believing that their religion provided an answer to all challenges that they were faced with. The unwritten, informal but fairly effective political and economic union of the British and non-Muslim Indians also influenced the practices of particularly the urban Muslim classes who essentially pecked at the leftover crumbs. But these crumbs were enough to thrust them in the representative roles that the British also recognised. This representation was mostly an urban phenomenon that the puritans despised, disapproved and saw with contempt as these Muslim leaders tried mainstreaming their communities with the modernity that the British professed. Hence, the ‘going back to basics’ first at Deoband in 1866 and then at Bareilly in 1904. Interestingly, both followed the similar interpretation by Imam Abu Hanifa, and were never started as sects. The writer is a social entrepreneur and a student of Pakistan’s social and political challenges. He tweets at @mkw72 Published in Daily Times, October 23rd 2017.