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Barelvi Islam

Deobandis and Barelvis are the two major groups of Muslims in the Subcontinent apart from the Shia. Barelvi Hanafis deem Deobandis to be kaafir. Those hostile to the Barelvis deprecated them as the shrine-worshipping, the grave-worshiping, ignorant Barelvis. Much smaller sects in Pakistan include the Ahl-e-Hadees and Ahl-e-Tashee. The non-Pakhtun population of Pakistan is predominantly Barelvi. The stronghold of Barelvism remains Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan. By one estimate, in Pakistan, the Shias are 18%, ismailis 2%, Ahmediyas 2%, Barelvis 50%, Deobandis 20%, Ahle Hadith 4%, and other minorities 4%. The Ahle-e-Hadith is a small group of Sunni Muslims in India who do not consider themselves bound by any particular school of law and rely directly on the Prophet's Sunnah. By another estimate some 15 per cent of Pakistan's Sunni Muslims would consider themselves Deobandi, and some 60 per cent, are in the Barelvi tradition based mostly in the province of Punjab. But some 64 per cent of the total seminaries are run by Deobandis, 25 per cent by the Barelvis, six percent by the Ahle Hadith and three percent by various Shiite organisations.

The Muslim League was founded by the Aga Khan, leader of the Ismaili Sevener Shiites. And Jinnah was an Ismaili. The barelvis and shias and ismailis and Ahmediyas joined the Pakistan movement, while the deobandis opposed the formation of Pakistan, since they wanted to islamise all of India. But the Deobandis in Pakistan owed their allegiance to Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, who organized the Deobandi ulema who were in favour of Pakistan into the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. The so-called "nationalist Muslims" who opposed Partition, such as Maulana Azad and Maulana Maudoodi, were Sunnis.

The differences between these sects can be difficult to understand. For the Barelvis, (who are mostly from the Pakistan province of Punjab) the holy Prophet is a superhuman figure whose presence is all around us at all times; he is hazir, present; he is not bashar, material or flesh, but nur, light. The Deobandis, who also revere the Prophet, argue he was the insan-i-kamil, the perfect person, but still only a man, a mortal. Barelvis emphasise a love of Muhammad, a semi-divine figure with unique foreknowledge. The Deobandis reject this idea of Muhammad, emphasising Islam as a personal rather than a social religion.

The Barelvis follow many Sufi practices, including use of music (Qawwali) and intercession by their teacher. A key difference between Barelvi and Deobandi that Barelvi's believe in intercession between humans and Divine Grace. This consists of the intervention of an ascending, linked and unbroken chain of holy personages, pirs, reaching ultimately to Prophet Mohammad, who intercede on their behalf with Allah. It is a more superstitious - but also a more tolerant - tradition of Indian Islam. Their critics claim that Barelvis are guilty of committing innovation (Bid'at) and therefore, they are deviated from the true path - the path of Sunnah.

The Pakistan Movement got support from the Barelvis (Low Church). It had faced opposition from the National Indian Congress which was supported by the Deobandi seminaries (High Church). However, after the establishment of Pakistan as an Islamic state in 1949, Barelvi Low Church was too mixed up with mysticism to be a source of Islamic law. Ironically, Pakistan moved away from the 'spiritual pluralism' of the Barelvis, who had supported Pakistan, and relied on the more puritanical Deobandis who had opposed it.

Unlike the Deobandis, the Barelvis see the Prophet Mohammad as more than a man, a part of the divine light of Allah. This doctrine gives rise to a form of Islam that provides a space for holy men and esoteric practices and graves appear to be often more ornate than those found within Deobandi communities. The Wahhabi (Arabia), Deobandi (Pakistan and India) and Jamaat-I-Islami all are anti-sufi, and against the over devotion to Muhammad, whereas the Barelvis emphasize Muhammad's uniqueness. Indeed, nearly 85% of South Asia's Sunni Muslims are said to follow the Barelvi school, closer to Sufism. The remaining 15% of Sunnis follow the Deobandi school, more closely related to the conservative practice of Islam. Most Shiites in the subcontinent also tend to be influenced by the Sufis. Pakistan's Muslims, like other Muslims in the region, tend to follow a school of Islam which is less conservative, and hence the support for strongly and overtly religious parties has been minimal.

The Barelvis believe the Prophet is a human being made from flesh and blood [bashar] and a noor [light] at the same time. This is like the example of when Gabriel, who is also noor [light], used to appear to the Prophet in the form of a man, flesh and blood. He is infallible and perfect and free from all imperfections and sinless (as are all Prophets). He is human but not like other humans. Allah has given him the ability to see the whole of Creation in detail while he is in his blessed grave as if he was looking at it in the palm of his hand. This is called being "nazir" ("witnessing"). Allah has given him the ability to go physically and spiritually to anywhere in the Created Universes he pleases whenever he pleases (peace be upon him) and to be in more than one place at the same time. This is what is meant by "hazir" (present). This is not the same as believing that he (peace be upon him) is present everywhere all the time!





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