The Barelwi-Deobandi Truce? More Than Meets The Eye


By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

30 May 2016

It was rather surprising that the Barelwi leader Tauqeer Raza Khan would visit Deoband, hold an hour long discussion and plead for maslaki unity among the Muslims. It is surprising because both these maslaks (schools of thought, sub-sects of Sunni Islam) think that the other is not following the true path of Islam and that the refutation of each other’s teachings in writings form an important core of their respective works.

For the Barelwis, the Deobandis, whom they accuse of being disrespectful to the Prophet, are to be treated as kafirs (infidels) and many of their sermons warn Muslims of the danger of praying behind a Deobandi imam. The Deobandis, on their part, have always accused the Barelwis of following the path of shirk, of being too close to Hindu tradition and of being grave worshipers; charges which make the Barelwis too Hindu to be considered as Muslims according to the Deobandis.

All this has been written and elaborated by their respective Ulama and it is not possible all of a sudden to argue that such deeper differences have ceased to exist. In fact, they do and will continue to exist as the Barelwi cleric made it clear: that the invitation to the Deobandis to come together did not mean that the theological differences among them will get dissolved. Rather he appealed for a political coming together, keeping aside the theological differences, and focussing just on their Muslim identity, which he thinks is being targeted and discriminated.

Now there cannot be any disagreement with Tauqeer Raza Khan when he says that Muslims are discriminated against and targeted for being a minority. Recent events have more than told us that here is a pattern where Muslim boys are being arrested on false charges and their released by courts for want of any credible evidence. There is no remorse, no compensation on the part of this government or the earlier governments in terms of the years of life lost for these Muslim youth and having to live their lives with the taint of terror.

Every right thinking person, be that a Deobandi or Barelwi, Hindus or Muslims, should raise their voice against such systematic targeting of a community. And of course one should keep differences on other things separate when one is trying to form a joint platform to fight on such important issues.

The problem with the Deobandis and Barelwis, however, are too deep to be resolved or even to be kept in abeyance for a while. Already there are murmurs within the ranks of Barelwis that perhaps Tauqeer Raza has gone too far. This was expected. The ideologue of the Barelwis, Ahmad Riza Khan, chastised the Deobandis for having an alliance with the Hindus (whom he called kafirs) against the British who were ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book). According to him, this was against all known tenets of Islamic fiqh.

Moreover, he accused the Deobandis, that by upholding the writings of scholars such as Sayyid Ahmad Rai Barelwi, the Deobandis themselves have become denigrators of the Prophet of Islam. And anyone who denigrates the Prophet is not Muslim and in fact is liable to be killed. His famous fatwa which declared the Deobandis as kafirs (husam al haramain) got vetted by a number of Ulama within the Arabic world. For the Barelwis, whose very maslak is built around the personality of the Prophet and sacredness attached to it, it will be very difficult to bridge this theological antipathy with the Deobandis.

Tauqeer Raza would have surely known this. Then what explains his sudden overtures to the Deobandis. For one, it has to do with his own marginalization within the anti-Deobandi platform. This platform is represented recently by the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board which held a huge Islamic conference in Delhi with the express purpose of promoting Sufi (read Barelwi) Islam over what they called Wahhabi (read Deobandi) Islam.

Initially part of this extravagant display, Tauqeer Raza was gradually marginalized from this platform with the whole limelight shining on the shrine of Kichhauchha who were the main organizers of the conference.

Secondly, it seems to me that the coming together of Barelwis and Deobandis is also an effort to prevent any discussion on the reform of Muslim personal law. There is a growing movement among Muslim women to demand changes in the Muslim personal law which they label as inherently unjust to women. The Muslim personal law board is party to this in court and are opposing any changes to these laws which they claim as sacred.

Thus behind the veil of protecting Muslim youths framed up on terror charges, something much more fundamental may be going on. Both the Deobandi and the Barelwi leadership derive much of their legitimacy and power from being the custodians of the Muslim religious sphere. Any challenge to their understanding of Islam is a direct challenge to their religious authority and therefore it is no wonder that the erstwhile enemies are now talking to each other.

History is a reminder that this is not the first time that they have come together. Even during the early 1970s both these maslaks came together on a single platform and that time also their objective was to prevent the shariat which they understand as sacred and therefore beyond any scope of change.

One would have been deeply appreciative of this coming together of the Barelwis and Deobandis had they resolved to do some concrete good for the community. They could have taken up issues of lack of education, etc, which so plagues the Muslim community. By taking up issue of framing up of Muslims in terror related cases, without any knowledge or expertise of how this system works and how to defend these Muslim boys, they are only adding to existing discourse of Muslim victimhood.

Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist and a Delhi based writer.

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-sectarianism/arshad-alam,-new-age-islam/the-barelwi-deobandi-truce?-more-than-meets-the-eye/d/107474

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