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BARELWIS. The Barelwi movement emerged during the 1880s in the North Indian town of Bareilly, in the Rohilkhand region of the United Provinces. The movement is so called because of its close association with the writings of Maulana Ahmad Riza Khan (1856-1921), who, as a resident of Bareilly, had the toponymic (nisbah) name “Barelwi.” Followers of Maulana Ahmad Riza, however, have always identified themselves as the Ahl al-Sunnat wa-al-jama’at or “people of the (prophetic) way and the majority (community).” The significance of this nomenclature is clear: they believe themselves to be the true representatives and heirs in South Asia of the earliest Muslim community, the companions and followers of the prophet Muhammad.

The late nineteenth-century emergence of the Barelwi movement is significant. The failure of the Indian revolt of 1857 was followed by the formal colonization of India by the British, leading to the final dissolution of the Sunni Muslim Mughal Empire. This sequence of events, traumatic from the Indian Muslim point of view, led to a period of lively religious debate among the scholars of Islamic law (the `ulama’) in North India. They could all agree that Indian Muslims had lost political power because of internal moral weakness and decay (because, in other words, they had neglected to be good Muslims), but they differed widely in their understanding of what constituted a “good” Muslim and how renewal (tajdid) and reform should proceed. The Barelwi movement emerged in this context of internal debate about identity and action deemed necessary to reverse a politically unfavorable situation.

Maulana Ahmad Riza Khan was born into a well-to-do family of Pathan origin. His ancestors had been associated with Mughal rule and had become local notables (ru’ass’) with land holdings and trading interests in and around Bareilly. Ahmad Riza’s grandfather, Maulana Riza `Ali Khan (1809-1 865/66), breaking with family tradition, devoted his life to jurisprudential (fiqh) scholarship and the Sufi way of life (tasawwuj). There is no evidence that he was involved in the 1857 revolt; the suggestion in Ahmad Riga’s biography Hayat-e a’la hazrat (1938) that Riza ‘Ali’s piety protected him from falling prey to a British punitive expedition can be variously interpreted as complicity or as covert opposition, depending on one’s perspective. Naqi `Ali Khan (1831188o), Ahmad Riza’s father, developed close ties with the nawab of Rampur, a ruling family of largely Shi’i persuasion. In scholarly terms, Ahmad Riza had a strong orientation toward the “rational” (ma`qulat) sciences, and jurisprudence. His voluminous writings, estimated by some at one thousand, consist for the most part of fatwas, decisions on specific aspects of the law delivered in response to questions posed by Muslims from all parts of the country and even outside (including the Haramayn in Arabia). The rapid growth of telecommunications and railway networks in late nineteenth-century British India facilitated the wide dissemination of Ahmad Riza’s views. Ahmad Riza and his followers were also Sufi shaykhs or pirs (masters of select circles of disciples), owing particular though not exclusive allegiance to the Qadiri order. In this capacity, Ahmad Riza enjoyed close relations with a number of prominent Qadiri Sufi families in the Rohilkhand region, particularly those of the Barakatiyah Sayyids in the rural town (qasbah) of Marahra (Etah district) and the `Uthmani pirs of Badayun. The impact of these ties on Ahmad Riza was twofold: a strong emphasis that a “good” Muslim accord primacy to the shari’ah (Islamic law) over tariqah (the Sufi path); and an insistence that being a “good” Muslim was contingent on personal devotion to the prophet Muhammad as a loving guide and intercessor between Allah and the individual through a chain of pirs ending in the living pir to whom each individual was bound by an oath of loyalty or bay’ah. Barelwi ritual practice reflected this interpretation of correct belief and practice in its emphasis on activity centered on Sufi shrines, particularly the periodic observance of the death anniversaries (`urs) of the founder of the Qadir! order, Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir Jilani Baghdad! (d. 1166) and of one’s own personal pir. The Barelwi observance of the `urs sprang from the insistence (based largely on Ahmad Riga’s interpretation of medieval fiqh works) that individual believers needed the Prophet’s intercession with Allah if they hoped for Allah’s forgiveness. Those who denied the importance of intercession on the grounds of the equality of all believers before Allah were deemed by Ahmad Riga to be guilty of arrogance. What brought the Barelwis into conflict with other Sunni Muslim reform movements of the late nineteenth century, particularly with the `ulama’ associated with the Dar al-`Ulum at Deoband, was primarily the Barelwi vision of the prophet Muhammad’s attributes. These attributes included his ability to see into the future, to have knowledge of the unseen (`ilm al-ghayb), to be spiritually-and perhaps physically, if the Prophet so wished-present in many places simultaneously, and to be invested with Allah’s preeminent light. Ahmad Riza argued on the basis of certain verses of the Qur’an, as well as hadith and fiqh scholarship, that the prophet Muhammad had been invested with these and other qualities by God, with whom his relationship was that of a beloved. Denial of these prophetic attributes was interpreted by Ahmad Riza as denial of some of the “fundamentals of the faith” (daruriyat al-din). These fundamentals, which fall under the rubric of ‘aqa’id (articles of faith), broadly interpreted, were indivisible: one could not accept some and reject others, as some `ulama’ in his view had done, for denial of even one of these fundamentals was tantamount to apostasy from Islam, or kufr (unbelief). Such denial, to Ahmad Riza’s mind, was implicit in the position taken by those he designated as “Wahhabis,” a term he applied variously to Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi (d. 1831), leader of the early nineteenth-century jihad against the Sikhs; to Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d. 1898), the founder of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh; and to various Deobandi `ulama’ of his own time. In Husam alharamayn, a fatwa written in I 9o6, he specifically designated a handful of Deobandi `ulama’ as “Wahhabis”  [See Deobandis and the biographies of Ahmad Khan and Barelwi. ] During Ahmad Riza’s lifetime, the Barelwi movement centered on a small core of followers personally loyal to him. These followers, returning to their own towns after receiving khtlafat (the right to accept students of their own), carried his vision beyond the confines of learned `ulama’ circles into a wider arena. Since Ahmad Riza’s death in 1921, “Barelwi” leaders (most of them from towns other than Bareilly)–among them Maulanas Na’imuddin Muradabadi (d. 1948), Shah Aulad-i Rasul Marharvi (d. 1952), Zafaruddin Bihari (d. 1950s), Ahmad Riza’s son Mustafa Riza Khan Barelwi (d. 1981), and Burhanulhaqq Jabalpuri (d. 1984)-have led the movement in varying directions in terms of the leading political issues of twentieth-century British India, most importantly that of partition in 1947. Although the movement has been viewed as largely rural in terms of its following, it is currently in the throes of a resurgence among urban, educated Pakistanis and Indians. Schools and madrasahs identifying themselves as “Ahl al-Sunnat wa-al-Jama’at” are to be found in South Asian cities and towns including Lahore, Karachi, Bareilly, Mubarakpur, and Hyderabad (Deccan). Beyond South Asia, the movement also has followers in Great Britain and South Africa. [See also Islam, article on Islam in South Asia.] BIBLIOGRAPHY Ahmad Riza Khan. Al-`Ataya lil-nabawiyah ft al-Fatawd alRidawiyah. Vols. 1-7, 10-11. Saudagaran, Bareilly, 198i-1987. Ahmad Riza Khan. Malfuzat-i A’la Hazrat. 4 vols. Gujarat, Pakistan, n.d. Metcalf, Barbara D. Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900. Princeton, 1982. See pages 296-314. Sanyal, Usha. “In the Path of the Prophet: Maulana Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi and the Ahl-e Sunnat wa Jama’at Movement in British India, c. 1870-1921.” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1990. Zafaruddln Bihari. Hayat-i A’la Hazrat. Vol. 1. Karachi, 1938.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/barelws/

  • writerPosted On: November 2, 2012
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