The implausibility of the Deobandi-Barelwi rift

by britishmisk

The global nation of Muslims currently live in a time of great tribulation and struggle. That is a fact repeated by the masses as a kind of new mantra for our age. But at the heart of some of its heralds lies a rust that has encrusted itself over time and spread to the masses, undermining the progress and development of our nation and keeping us in the past of futile bickerings and differences.

For those of us from the Asian sub continent many of us may have heard of the Deobandis and Barelwis. The fact that many British Asian Muslims are not aware of their real differences or why the two groups are at odds is in itself a sign of its fallacy. Anyone who reads into lower intermediate ‘aqeedah will find brief introductions into the different historical sects, such as the Mu’tazilah, Khawarij, Rafidi etc, many modern writers on ‘aqeedah will reflect on the different beliefs of these groups to some modern sects of our time, particularly the anthropomorphists and the Khawarij. However we find very little material on Deobandis and Barelwis within mainstream and modern writings. Despite the fact that I have prayed most of my life in a Barelwi Mosque, I never knew the differences between the two apart from the plainly obvious: Deobandi Mosques tend to be sparsely decorated (Which given South Asian tastes tend to be a good thing, as most Barelwi Mosques descend into a flamboyant display of tacky Christmas decorations), Deobandis don’t celebrate the Mawlid, they tend to do group dhikr less often, if even at all, and a few little minor things here and there. I never made much of the differences, and see pros and cons of both camps and will happy pray in pretty much any Mosque that designates itself as ‘Sunni’.

The fact I never knew much about this topic, despite going to my local Mosque quite often (which happened to be Barelwi), can lie in a number of different factors: One, my local Mosque is relatively progressive, (emphasis on the word relatively), and generally the Imams never talked about the differences between the two groups. Two, I tended to get my information on Islam from non-South Asian sources. As I was progressing as a Muslim I edged towards the works of such scholars as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, Imam Suhaib Webb, Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi etc. (Notice the number of revert scholars in that list).

I only became fully aware of the topic after reading an article by Shaykh Nuh Keller, in which he elucidates very eloquently, the idea of apostasy and belief in Islam and reflects on it in the issue on the Deobandi-Barelwi conflict. The article can be read here. (This is by the way is definitely recommended reading if you want an in depth analysis of claiming apostasy on Muslims).

In conclusion Shaykh Nuh’s article can be summated as follows:

Ahmad Rida (Reza) Khan Barelwi praised the Prophet (SAWS) -> Deobandi scholars felt he went too far -> Deobandi scholars responded using old school Hanafi qiyas to try and refute him -> End up saying things about the Prophet (SAWS) they shouldn’t have -> Ahmed Barelwi issues ruling the scholars of Deoband have committed apostasy. -> Deobandis do the same to him. -> The end.

150 years later some students of knowledge based on a South Asian Islamic curriculum are still brain washed into this archaic debate. Many of whom if they were to read this article up to this point would become infuriated with my comments and be preparing a refutation in their minds post-haste. However it has to be kept in mind that this same sort of debacle is nothing new. For many years Hanafi and Shafi’ite scholars had some serious bad blood with each other, some of whom would make silly comments regarding the other school’s jurisprudence. Even to this day Hanafi students of knowledge who study books on the differences in fiqh will find the phrase ‘This is evidence against as-Shafi’i” numerous times. But nowadays both schools have come to an acceptance of one another, and for many centuries now Hanafi works will mention the permissibility and actions of what to do when praying behind a Shafi’ite.

Why then has this debate, in our modern times, not subsided faster than the previous one? Well, some may argue that this is a difference over ‘aqeedah and not jurisprudence and is therefore a much more serious matter. But if we were to look into the evidences behind the differences we would find both schools have solid grounding to hold onto their beliefs. (Shaykh Nuh touches on this in his article). It has to also be borne in mind that the differences between the two schools, such as the permissibility of Mawlid/Tawassul etc. can be seen in many different parts of the Islamic world, and have been debated over for numerous years. However this has never resulted in two different sub-madhabs ever developing within a particular area.

One may respond to me be by saying that in previous posts I have been quite critical of the Salafi school, and then ask why do I not apply the same logic to them. My response would be, as I mentioned earlier, I will pray behind anyone who considers himself to be ‘Sunni’, this includes Salafis. Also it when has come to matters such as Mawlid and Tawassul (more so the latter), historically scholars who have disagreed with these things, generally did not consider its practitioners has having left Islam, this is a sharp contrast to the Salafi ‘ulema. I would then ask the person to do the following three things:

1) Read the criticisms on the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab and how they differentiate from orthodox beliefs. (I would recommend ‘The Divine Texts’ by Imam Mustafa ibn Ahmad ash-Shatti)
2) Read up on the aqeedah of the Salafi ‘ulema, particularly regarding the attributes of Allah, and how they differ from orthodox beliefs. (In this regard I would recommend ‘The Attributes of God’ by Ibn al-Jawzi)
3) Read up on the history of the conquest of the Hijaz and Haramayn by the Saudi royal family. (Any source not based in Saudi Arabia is sufficient).

I think you will find it is a rather different ‘kettle of fish’…

In conclusion then, the Deobandi-Barelwi situation has very little standing in Great Britain, and rightly so. However there are certain circles who still continue to hold these backward beliefs regarding each other. I saw this recently myself when I stumbled across a forum post where the author had listed a large number of Mosques in the UK, and took the time to mark each Deobandi Mosque with ‘STAY AWAY’ and a devil emoticon, (This included the East London Mosque). I would urge our brothers and sisters in the UK to maintain the good ties we have between ourselves as orthodox Muslims, hold fast to the rope of Allah, and shy away from those from within our own circles who would wish to break us apart.

And to Him is our return.