The best known Islamic seminary in Asia after Al Azhar University in Cairo,the Dar-ul-Uloom in Deoband in western Uttar Pradesh,lost its chief,96-year-old Maulana Marghoobur Rahman,on Wednesday. He passed away in his hometown,Bijnore,after prolonged illness,and was laid to rest after the night prayers in Deoband.The Mohtamim,or the head of the institution,was in office for 30 years and saw Deoband through several ups and downs. Quiet and soft-spoken but a stickler for discipline,the well-respected Mohtamim had been ailing for several years now. His tenure saw many landmarks,including the introduction of computers,journalism courses and English in the conservative seminary. Maulana Marghoobur Rahmans role in keeping the balance and importance of the institution alive may not have won favours from liberals seeking a radical review of womens status in traditional Muslim societies,but his tenure saw the landmark fatwa against terror in February 2008 (calling terror attacks on innocents,against the tenets of Islam). Also,on issues such as explicitly calling for action against Salman Rushdie,Deoband decreed the call as totally un-Islamic. Post the attacks in the US on September 11,2001,there was tremendous pressure on the seminary and attempts were made to draw it into the larger debate on elements in puritanical Islam being supportive of action against non-believers. However,it was Marghooburs steering of the seminary that helped Deoband successfully tide over the phase and emerge as committed to its own version of Sunni Islam,without any political affiliations. When a troubled Mulayam Singh Yadav,accompanied by his former lieutenant Amar Singh,wanted to enter Deoband before the 2008 state elections,and make a political point, Maulana Marghoobur Rahman met him but did not allow the sending out of a larger political message. His well to do family is believed to have descended from one of Prophet Mohammads closest associates,Hazrat Abu Bakar. Born when the first World War had just started,he had worked closely with Husain Ahmed Madani,a well-known freedom fighter from Deoband and Mahatma Gandhis associate. Several leading Muslim scholars and leaders have mourned Maulana Marghoobur Rahmans passing away. Rajya Sabha MP and leader of a faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind,Mahmood Madani described it as a deep personal loss as well as a great loss for the community and its educational prospects. The head of his rival faction,his uncle Maulana Arshad Madani,condoled his death terming it an irreparable loss. Maulana Marghoobur Rahman has been described as the only link to the traditions of the old times by scholars and his presence was a calming one in tumultuous times,when the publicity shy Deoband was often in the spotlight and had to make its case to the outside world. Marghoobur Rahman witnessed the formation of a breakaway faction from the Dar-ul-Uloom in 1982,but was able to stabilise the institution. On Wednesday,even the rival faction,the Dar-ul-Uloom (Waqf) in Deoband,declared a day off as a mark of respect. In more recent times,when one of the largest Muslim organisations of clerics,the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind,got divided between two groups,he was able to keep the balance between both sides and mediate at crucial moments. He also managed to keep Dar-ul-Uloom free from political factionalism of any sort. As he was ailing for a while,Maulana Ghulam Rasool Khamosh was appointed as the acting chief. Maulana Ghulam Rasool Khamosh passed away in October. Presently,the effective next in command is Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi. But finding an appropriate successor to the Mohtamims post is not going to be easy.