From “Closed Worlds” to “Open Doors”
(Now) Accessing Deobandi 'darul uloom' in Britain
Keywords:access, darul uloom, research, methodology, Muslims, Britain, seminary, reflexivity
In 2005, I documented my unsuccessful attempts to conduct qualitative research in a particular group of British Islamic seminaries responsible for training future imams and scholars ('ulama). These seminaries or "darul uloom" (in Arabic, "house of knowledge", often abbreviated "DU") reflect the "Deobandi" tradition due to their origins in the town of Deoband, India, in the nineteenth century. My article, published in the journal Fieldwork in Religion, considered the circumstantial, contextual, and historical factors that might explain why access was apparently impossible for social science researchers, at the time. In this article, twelve years on, I explore why research access is now more possible in at least some Deobandi institutions. These include developmental changes within and outside these seminaries, and aspects of personal and professional biography. My article considers the processual nature of research access, and the need for a felicitous convergence of circumstantial and biographical conditions.
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