Books and Documents

Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (24 Apr 2015 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Shah Waliullah’s Islamic Reformation in 18th Century India: Sufi or Wahhabi?



By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

24 April 2015

Islam was facing baffling internal problems in 18th century India. Corrupt understanding of the Qur’an and Hadith, complete oblivion to the egalitarian values of Islam, sectarian conflict, moral depravity, caste-based prejudices and many more social vices were creeping into the Muslim society. Besides, there was gradual political decline and collapse in India’s Muslim sultanate. Muslim rulers, jurists and the clergy had also fallen in the pit of the moral and ethical decay. They became completely oblivious to the Qur’anic moral trajectories and Prophetic traditions. Muslim scholars and Ulema had literally done the “closing of the gate of Ijtihad” or independent reasoning. Muslim emirs and elites were busy with the enjoyment of their luxurious life. The situation of common Muslim youths was worse. They had set all value upon fulfilling their selfish whims and desires. In this situation, Shah Waliullah launched a project of Islamic reformation in India and concentrated his efforts on the moral, religious and ethical revival of Indian Muslim society and polity. Therefore, Islamic reformation in India in the eighteenth century is mainly attributed to Shah Waliullah Dehlvi.

Notable Reformation Works of Shah Waliullah

Shah Waliullah’s work can be divided into three major categories: (1) intellectual (2) ideological reformation and (3) political. Although Shah Waliullah concerned himself with politics of his era and had a vision to see a strong Muslim government, he is remembered primarily for his contribution to the religious reformation of Indian Muslims. Among notable reformation work of Shah Waliullah was his translation of the holy Qur’an into Persian. He was the first Indian scholar who translated the Quran into the literary language of the subcontinent of his time. He believed that the purpose of reading the Qur’an is to reform human nature and correct erroneous beliefs and practices. For his rendering the Qur’anic texts into Persian, he was severely criticised by the orthodox and ultra-conservative Muslim clergy of his time.

Being an outstanding Muhaddith (Traditionalist), he also left behind several seminal works on Hadith sciences, particularly his commentaries on "Mu'atta", a collection of the Prophetic traditions compiled by Imam Malik, in both Arabic and Persian. Most notably, Shah Waliullah owns the credit of being the first Islamic scholar in India who stressed the need for Ijtihad (rethinking) to find ways to solve the most intricate problems of his time from a theological perspective.

It was due to Shah Waliullah’s emphasis on Ittehad and independent reasoning that eminent Ulema and theologians of almost all Indian Muslim sects claimed to be his intellectual heirs and true followers. Each of them quoted him, rightly or wrongly, to substantiate their own theological stands. Surprisingly enough, from the orthodox Ulema of the Deoband and the Ahle Hadis to the Muslim modernists such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-98), Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938), nearly all Ulema and Muslim intellectuals laid a strong claim on him. However, their approaches to link with him were diametrically different. While Muslim modernists such as Sir Sayyid and Maulana Azad focused on his originality of thought, rejection of blind faith and endorsement of Ijtihad (individual reasoning), the Deobandi-Salafi Ulema stressed Shah Waliullah’s emphasis on Hadith scholarship, stricter adherence to the Shari’ah and Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh). It is interesting to glance through the views of many modernist Muslim scholars in India, like Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who held rationalist and reformist ideas, and yet followed the tradition of Shah Waliullah.

As for the Sunni-Sufi Ulema, they were more inspired by Shah Waliullah’s spiritual inclinations and particularly his affiliation to the Naqshbandi Sufi order. Therefore, they continue to look up to him as a source of spiritual inspiration. Not to speak of Sunnis, even many Shias appreciate his work of reformation. His efforts at bridge-building and reducing the sectarian tensions between the Shias and Sunnis is considered a form of Islamic reformation in India. At a time when Shia-Sunni rift was acute, his writings on the subject, particularly “Izalatul Khifa” (removal of darkness) were a great help in reducing the Shia-Sunni tensions in his time. Moreover, he tried to reconcile the most ravaging sectarian tensions amongst different groups of the Muslims and considered the government as an essential agency for regeneration of the community.

In the jurisprudential issues (Fiqhi Masai’l), Shah Waliullah advocated the path of moderation. He gave preference to the Qur’anic verses rather than the Hadith reports in the contentious jurisprudential matters. His approach to interpret the Qur’an and Sunnah was balanced and opposed to the blind imitation (Taqlid-e-Jamid) of the medieval imams as well as the blind faith in Hadith reporters. However, while Shah Waliullah ostensibly criticised blind imitation in faith and Fiqh and objected on “the closing of the door of Ijtihad”, he maintained that the door of Ijtihad was not open to all and sundry. Rather, he opined that only those well-versed in the Islamic sciences with the required abilities can engage in Ijtihad. Shah Waliullah’s emphasis on Ijtihad was also demonstrated in his efforts of renewal of the Shariah or Islamic law in tune with the modern times.

Shah Waliullah is also known as a social reformer in the Muslim community. Some of his writings are aimed at reorienting the Muslim society with the concepts of basic social justice, removing social inequality and balancing the distribution of wealth. In his book, Hujjat-ullahil Balighah, he mentioned the causes and remedies for degeneration and disintegration of Muslim society.

Pointing out to Shahi Waliullah’s social and political reform works, S. M. Ikram Chaghatai writes: “there were valid reasons for fearing that political disintegration would be accompanied by religious collapse. But that did not happen, due to more than anything else but the services of one man.”  (Shah Waliullah: His Religious and Political Thought by M. Ikram Chaghatai)

Was Shah Waliullah Sufi or Wahhabi?

There is much hype over the theological orientation of Shah Waliullah. From most of his thoughts, it appears that he was imbued with the teachings of Sufism as he belonged to a Sufi family. But some of his writings, as produced and criticised in modern researches, underpin that he was influenced by Wahhabism..... This is perhaps why his thoughts and writings are considered as precursors for radicalism in the Indian subcontinent.  For instance, Dr Farhan Zahid, wrote in his PhD thesis titled “Roots of Radical Islamist Ideologies in South Asia: “Shah Waliullah was inspired from Wahhabi Movement of Arabia. In fact he was a contemporary of Ibn-al-Wahhab, the leader of 18th century radical Arabian Islamist movement. Waliullah had personally come across Wahhab while on pilgrimage to Arabia. Wahhab's writings and thoughts greatly inspired him. " He further writes that “Waliullah's writings are precursors for providing sources for radicalism. He gave a distinct political thought previously absent in Muslim political thought prevailing during the times of semi-secular Mughal dominated India.”

Jamil Ahmad writes in his book titled “Hundred Great Muslims" under the subtitle “Shah Waliullah”: “in his early age, Shah Saheb came under the influence of Ibn-e-Taimiya, a great religious reformer. During his stay in Hejaz, he came into contact with scholars who were influenced by Wahhabism. This provided a check to his blind following of Sufism. But like Wahhabis, he did not totally discard Sufism. He was aware of the services rendered by Sufis in popularising Islam in the subcontinent and the spiritual self developed by the truly Islamic form of Sufism. But he was highly critical of the decadent and traditional form of Sufism which borders on the verge of asceticism and is, therefore, averse to true Islam. In his Wasiyat Nama (Will) he observes: “And the next advice (Wasiyat) is that one should not entrust one's affairs to and become a disciple of the saints of this period who are given to a number of irregularities”.

 Dr Farhan Zahid wrote in his PhD thesis titled “Roots of Radical Islamist Ideologies in South Asia: “Waliullah's writings are precursors for providing sources for radicalism. He gave a distinct political thought previously absent in Muslim political thought prevailing during the times of semi-secular Mughal dominated India.”

According to Ayesha Jalal, “hailed as being at once a Muslim modernist and the architect of Sunni orthodoxy, Shah Waliullah left an intellectual legacy that casts a long shadow over all subsequent explications of jihad in theory and attempts to translate it into practice”. (Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia", Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore, pages 15-16)

R. Upadhyay writes in his book "Shah Wali Ullah's Political Thought: Still a Major Obstacle against Modernization of Indian Muslims" (South Asia Analysis Group, Paper no. 629) that "On principle Waliullah had no difference with his contemporary Islamic thinker Abd-al-Wahhab (1703-1787) of Saudi Arabia, who had also launched an Islamic revivalist movement. Wahhab, who is regarded as one of the most radical Islamists had a wide range of followers in India”.

However, Shah Waliullah is known as a Sufi scholar among many Muslim circles of the Indian subcontinent. Most of the Sunni Sufi Muslims of India (also known as Ahl-e-Sunnat wa Jam’at) believe that Shah Waliullah was a reformist Sufi. They appreciate his contributions to major issues in Sufism, for instance, the theory of the unity of being (Wahdat al-Wujud) versus the unity of witness (Wahdat Al-Shuhud). The fact is that Shah Waliullah tried to strike a balance between the orthodoxy in Islam introduced by Ibn Taimiya and the Islamic heterodoxy championed by Sufis. He believed that Islam had two vital aspects. Its exoteric side was concerned with the protection of the public good but its esoteric aspect involved the purification of the heart through virtuous deeds.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/ghulam-rasool-dehlvi,-new-age-islam/shah-waliullah’s-islamic-reformation-in-18th-century-india--sufi-or-wahhabi?/d/102628



  • Hats Off thinks this is an apostate website!

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 5/23/2019 12:37:50 PM

  • oh! rational mohammad yunus, where are you?
    By hats off! - 5/22/2019 5:55:07 PM

  • Dear Rajendraji, Shah Waliullah's most influential work Hujjatullah al-Baligha has started getting translated into English. Forst volume I bought from amazon, others are still not available. In Hindi, I am not aware of any translation, though it should be easier to do from Urdu. Let's hope some one does it for Hindi readers.
    By Sultan Shahin - 5/22/2019 9:28:56 AM

  • Dear sir I want to read book on shah waliullh in hindi editions pls info me book
    By Rajendra J.Tekale - 5/22/2019 1:09:51 AM

  • Dear GRD
    both articles of yours on two source of radical Islam are just an effort to save them.
     Radical Islam didn't fall from sky out of sudden. It was developed by scholars like these two. you gave political and religion picture of the time these two hardcore religious drivers who drove the Muslims into hate against other faiths.
    Either sufis before them were wrong because they introduced many unislamic rather mushrikana and bidati practices into Islam or these two mujaddid were wrong.
    you quoted nothing from maktoobat e sarhindi.
    Tomorrow Maudoodi will be defended keeping his time in mind.
    every scholar of Islam can be defended giving the benefit of his circumstances.

    work of both sahikhs is the proof of what Islamic Shariah has for non-Muslims. Those supposedly inclusive sufis were not considered mujaddids but these two hardcore scholars became mujaddids.
    if mujaddids had such views on non-muslims, what their successors will do. they will multiply.
    Both shaikhs were not happy with non-muslims and their political power. they wanted to bring back the glory of Islam through sword.
    If modern radical islamists quote them, they are not wrong. After all everybody wants link to some big shots to validate their claims.
    these two shaikhs opened the door to militancy which under decline due to influnce of others.
    it proves Muslims of big names were not happy under non-muslim political power. For them poltics was religion and religion was politics. If Muslims after them stood against non-Muslims' power, it proves that Islam and politics can't be separated.
    this was the reason, Imam Raza didn't like Gandhi as his leader. he had intense hate to non-muslim power. that is why he opposed freedom struggle and supported Pakistan.
    Birth of Pakistan is the result of Muslims' unwillingness to remain under non-muslim rule.

    you were a liar in telling me a liar on my quotation of maktoobat e sarhindi.
    i have not shut my eyes. it is you who shuts eyes from the open hate of Islamic mujaddids. you condemn current jehadis and shut your eyes from their ideologues. You simply justified the beliefs and actions of these two non-muslim haters.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 4/25/2015 5:38:04 AM

  • Dear GRD,

    You also are  among those who club all non-Sufi into the "other category" and use the most obnoxious label from the point of view of common perceptions which is Salafi or Wahabi today.

    Do you also  do the same with the non-Muslims  like  many others  who club them into the category of Kafir who to them is the worst creature whom God hates and who  will never be forgiven? Of course you will deny this because politically it is inexpedient but you display the same mindset although I have written an article on the subject  for people like you. 

    Since posting a link in my earlier comment was not enough for you, let me reproduce the article:

    Who and What is a Deobandi?

    By Observer

    The following table is a summary of the similarities and differences between the Deobandi, Barelvi and the so called Wahabi. The Wahabi’s are being referred to as ‘the so called Wahabi’ since no Muslim calls himself a Wahabi. They are now calling themselves Salafi to distinguish themselves from the other Sunnis. However, all three claim to be the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamat or the true followers of the sunnat (practice) of the Prophet.






    Abu Hanifah

    Abu Hanifah

    Ahmad bin Hanbal





    Do not formally subscribe to any of the four schools of jurisprudence

    Taqlid or adherence to one of the four schools (madhabs) of Sunni Islamic Law, and discouraging inter-school eclecticism

    Taqlid is made obligatory. They are followers of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence.

    Same as the Deobandis

    known as the ghair-muqallid, the nonconformists, because they eschewed taqlid in favor of the direct use of Quran and Hadith.


    Strictly no innovation beyond what was crystallized into practice during the time of the Prophet and the first four Caliphs

    Introduced many innovations. For example celebrating the prophet’s birthday, seeking intercession of saints in their graves etc.

    Same as for Deobandi


    Naqshbandhi, Qadri, Chisti and Suhrawardy orders

    Qadri, Chisti and Suhrawardy orders

    Consider Sufis as heretics


    Yes, started as a reformist movement to strip Islam of the innovations such as seeking the intercession of pious persons in their graves. However retained many of the Sufi practices including mysticism and even limited monasticism.

    The movement of Raza Ahmad khan Barelvi was a reaction to the reformist movement of the Deobandis and therefore he issued fatwas of apostasy against the leaders of the Deobandi movement, declared the sect as heretics.

    Yes, stripped Islam of the innovations since the days of the last four Caliphs or the Salih Salaf.


    The closest phenomenon to so-called Wahabism or Salafism in the Indian subcontinent is the Ahle Hadith movement (Followers of the Sayings of the Prophet) which can trace its roots to the late 18th century Indian Muslim reformer Shah Waliullah of Delhi. Ahle Hadith is a fringe phenomenon on the subcontinent. While the Ahle Hadith are self-evidently the followers of the ahadith, the Wahabis are “Ahle Quran”, meaning that the Wahabis attach less importance to the Hadiths in their overall approach towards the Islamic faith. The common factor between the Ahle Hadith and the Wahabis is that both are ghair Muqallid or transcend the four Sunni Madhabs.

    A comparison shows that the Deobandis are closer to the Barelvis than to the other sects. However, since Barelvism is a reaction to the Deobandi reformist movement, the hostility of the Barelvi to the Deobandi is very intense. Raza Ahmad Khan Barelvi tried to stem the tide of people accepting the Deobandi reforms. The Wahabi movement was insignificant until it received support from the Saud dynasty, and was considered heretic by most sunnis as they did not believe in Taqlid of any of the Madhabs nor did they accept the authority of the ahadith. Raza Ahmad prepared a document in which he portrayed the Deobandis as Wahabis despite the fact that the Deobandis are neither ghair muqallid nor rejecters of the ahadith and issued a fatwa in 1905 declaring the Deobandis as heretics and their leaders as apostates which he got ratified by the prominent Ulema of Mecca based on false premises.  He also got Two hundred and sixty eight (268) leading Muftis of Indian subcontinent of that time to issue the fatwa of apostasy on the following 5 religious leaders:

    1. Mirza qadyani (founder of the qadiani/ahmadiyya sect )

    2. Rashid Ahmed Gangohi

    3. Khaleel Ahmed Anbethawi

    4. Qasim Nanotvee

    5. Asharf Ali Thanvee


    These 268 Muftis were all leading muftis from the madarsa of Firang mahal , Rampur , Hyderabad ( deccan) , Sindh ,Lahore. Agra and Surat.


    The war of the Barelvis against the Deobandis continues ever since and it is focused on losing ground to the Deobandis. The outward justification of the war is on the same false grounds used by Raza Ahmad Khan Barelvi to portray them as Wahabi which as can be seen, is far from the truth. The only commonality between the Deobandis and the Wahabis is that both sects consider seeking of favours from and through dead “saints” as shirk or associating partners with God. The question that may arise in one’s mind is why a Barelvi reacts so strongly to this difference. The reason is as old as religion itself. The shrines of the saints are a source of immense income and any move to stop the veneration of shrines is a blow to an easy source of income for the descendants of the Sufi Saints.


    Views of prominent Deobandis on Wahabism:

    (source: http://salafiaqeedah.blogspot.in/2010/12/forefathers-of-deobandi-tableeghi-sect.html

    Please note that the source for this section is Barelvi)


    1.      Husain Ahmad Madani (1879-1957CE)

    Madani who was a rector of the Darul uloom Deoband, penned a polemical tract, al-Shahab al-Shaqab, in which he described Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab Najdi as having preached ‘patent falsehood’ (‘aqa‘id-i batila), killed numerous Sunni Muslims and forced many others to accept his ‘false’ creed(‘aqa‘id-i fasida). He referred to him as a ‘tyrant’ (zalim), ‘traitor’(baghi), and ‘despicable’ (khabis), and labelled him and his followers as the ‘despicable Wahhabis’ (wahhabiya khabisia).


    [ Cited in Mahfuz ur-Rahman Faizi, Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab Ke Bare Mai Do Mutazid Nazren, Varanasi: Jami‘a Salafiya, 1986, p.i.]


    He wrote that: “Mu-hammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab Najdi had declared the wealth of all Muslims, including Sunnis, who did not follow him as property that could be rightfully looted (mal-i ghanimat), and their slaughter as a cause of merit (sawab), considering all but his own followers as apostates.”


    Undoubtedly’, Madani asserted, Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab Najdi had committed such heinous crimes that ‘much hatred for him is a must’. [Cited in Qadri, op.cit., p.136.]



    2.      Anwar Shah Kashmiri (1875-1933CE)

    Anwar Shah Kashmiri, a leading Deobandi scholar Insisted that Muhammed bin ‘Abdul Wahhab Najdi was‘stupid’ (bewaquf) and had ‘little knowledge’ (kam ‘ilm), because of which he was ‘quick to declare other Muslims as kafirs’.


    3.      Rashid Ahmad Gangohi


    Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, teacher and spiritual master of Husain Ahmad Madani, issued a fatwa laying down that the


     ‘Wahhabis’ beliefs were ‘good’ (‘umdah) and that they were ‘good’ people, although he added that Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab’s views were ‘extreme’ (shiddat) and that when his followers transcended the ‘limits’ it lead to considerable strife (fasad).

     [Cited in Faizi, op.cit., p.20.]

    Gangohi’s views were contradicted by some of his own students.


     Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri considered the ‘Wahhabis’ as deviant, and claimed, referring to Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab Najdi, that ‘neither he nor any of his followers and clan are among our teachers in any of our chains of transmission in Islamic knowledge, whether in jurisprudence, Hadith, Qur’anic commentary or Sufism’. [‘Gangohi Fatwas on Wahhabism’]



    Likewise, Husain Ahmad Madani, also a student of Gangohi, dissented from his teacher’s opinion. Gangohi, he said, did not have a proper, complete and first-hand knowledge of Mu-hammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab’s beliefs. [Faizi, op.cit., 43.]


    Deobandi fatwas on Salfism/Wahabism:


    Fatwa: 124/68/L=1433 calls  Salfiyat or Salafism as a fitnah. Another fatwa says that if by Salafi belief it is meant the Ghair Muqallidin, then since they have differences in some important and basic rulings with Ahl Sunnah al-Jamah such as the refusal of Hujjiyat Ijmah and Qiyas etc, therefore they are out of the Ahl Sunnah al-Jamah without any doubt. One should stay away from them. Fatwa: 855/L=319/TL=1432 clarifies that Jama’at Islami or Ghair Muqallidin are not out of the fold of Islam,




    but these two sects are deviant due to their difference with the majority of Ummah i.e. Ahl Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah on many issues.


    Deobandis and the Jammat-e-Islami


    The views of the Ulema of Deoband sharply differ from the views of Political Islam groups such as the Jammat-e-Islami over the conditions required for delivering effective Islamic education. The JI believes that truly effective Islamic education and acculturation can only take place under an Islamic state, whereas the Deobandis believe that such education can be delivered under practically any conditions. The Deobandis also do not believe in political power as a necessary goal of Islam and believe that Islam can thrive under any political power.


    Who then is a Deobandi?

    In the context of the subcontinent, both the terms Deobandi and Barelvi are loosely applied to the sunnis from the subcontinent. The Barelvis are those who practice innovations such as venerating the shrines of their pious forefathers and the Deobandis are those who eschew all practices they consider as innovations.

    The Jamat-e-Islami also therefore get clubbed with the Deobandis although there are serious differences as discussed and the Ahle Hadith with even more serious doctrinal differences also get clubbed with the Deobandis.

    The term Deobandi is very loosely applied to mean a non-Barelvi, since the number of ahl-e-hadith and Jamat-e-Islami are too few to be considered separately.


    Major difference between the Deobandis and the Barelvis in the Indian context


    All Deobandis were and are nationalists

    The elders of Darul-Uloom, particularly the Shaikh (spiritual guide) of the group, Hazrat Haji Imdadullah Muhajir-e-Makki, 42, and his closest disciples.Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautavi, 25, and Maulana Rasheed Ahmad Gangohi, 29, had participated in the war of independence in 1857. They remained loyal to the cause of India’s independence till the end.


    Mohammed Ali Jauhar, a Deobandi, was one of the greatest admirers of Gandhi who he described as next to the Prophet (pbuh) and was instrumental in a large number of Muslims joining the freedom movement.


    In 1919, Maulana Madani founded the  Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind an organization of the ulema. The Jamat strongly opposed the creation of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan and saw nothing Islamic in the idea of Pakistan. He said: "All should endeavour jointly for such a democratic government in which Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis are included. Such a freedom is in accordance with Islam."


    The Jamiat has an organizational network which is spread all over India. They also have an Urdu daily Al-Jamiyat. The Jamiat has propounded a theological basis for its nationalistic philosophy. Their thesis is that Muslims and non-Muslims have entered upon a mutual contract in India since independence, to establish a secular state. The Constitution of India represents this contract. This is known in Urdu as a mu'ahadah. Accordingly as the Muslim community's elected representatives supported and swore allegiance to this mu'ahadah so it is the duty of Indian Muslims is to keep loyalty to the Constitution.


    In the meeting of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind at Calcutta, in 1926, which was well attended by the students and graduates of Darul Uloom Deoband, a call was made for complete independence of India from the British rule. Indian National Congress was to declare complete independence as its goal three years later, in its session at Lahore. Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam, also known in short as Ahrar, was a conservative Sunni Muslim Deobandi political party in the Indian subcontinent during the British Raj, founded in December 29, 1929 at Lahore. Chaudhry Afzal Haq, Syed Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari, Maulana Habib-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi, Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and Maulana Dawood Ghaznavi were the founder's of the party. The Ahrar was composed of Indian Muslims disillusioned by the Khilafat Movement. The party was associated with opposition to Muhammad Ali Jinnah and establishment of an independent Pakistan as well as persecution of the Ahmadiyya community. The famous freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who visited Darul ‘Uloom during his visit to India in 1969, had said: "I have had relation with Darul ‘Uloom since the time the Shaiykhul-Hind, Maulana Mehmud Hasan, was alive. Sitting here, we used to make plans for the independence movement, as to how we might drive away the English from this country and how we could make India free from the yoke of slavery of the British Raj. This institution has made great efforts for the freedom of this country".


    The opposition of the Deobandis to partition was based on the view that in the present times, nations are formed on the basis of homeland and not based on ethnicity or religion.


    The Barelvis on the other hand supported the British, did not join the freedom movement and were strong supporters of Jinnah and the Muslim League. According to Barelvi sources, Raza Ahmad Khan Barelvi mooted the idea of Pakistan even before Iqbal and Jinnah, and this was based on his extreme distaste for living under Hindu leadership. The Barelvis participated in movements which made partition inevitable and migrated to Pakistan in large numbers. (Ref: The Light By Professor Dr. Muhammad Masud Ahmed. Published by Idara-i-Tahqeerat-e-Imam Ahmad Raza.http://sunnirazvi.net/library/booklets/light.htm)



    The influence of Deoband outside India

    Darul Uloom Deoband was founded in 1866 and has no links to “Deobandi madrassahs” outside India but such institutions, no matter where they are found in the world, can trace their ideological and methodological roots to the core Deoband, which may be referred to as the “mother” institution.  Darul Uloom Deoband is second only to Al-Azhar university of Egypt in importance and influence. It is known to be the largest Islamic Seminary to attract students from all over the world. The foreign students have gone on to found many similar mandrasas across South Asia and further afield. The followers of this school of theology are often described as followers of the Deobandi school of thought.


    Deoband and Extremism

    To this day, no alumnus of the Darul Uloom Deoband, has ever been implicated in violent struggles anywhere and not a single student has ever been convicted of a crime in India.


    Outside its Indian birthplace, the Deoband movement has aroused controversy and become entangled with complex sectarian and political conflicts but inside India, it continues its quiet and benign existence as a centre of Islamic knowledge and reformist Islamic thought.

    Pakistan has been witness to drastic changes starting from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and the involvement of the governments of Saudi Arabia, US and Pakistan in preparing armies of civilians called the “Mujahideens” for waging “jehad” against the aggressors. Since religious justification was used to prepare civilians for war, madrassas best served the purpose for indoctrination. Since Saudi Arabia were funding the effort and they consider the Sufi/Barelvi, the Shia and the Ahmediyas as heretics, their madrassas were left out and only the Madrassas belonging to the Jamat-e-Islami, the Ahle-Hadith, the Salfis and the Deobandis were chosen.



    The Barelvis opportunistically claim that they were left out because of their peaceful Sufi ideology which is far from the truth. The Barelvis have a record of violence during the partition of the country, when the Deobandis on the other hand, played no role in it, having opposed partition. Before the Deobandi movement of the 19th century they were all the same - call them Sufis or whatever. As a matter of fact everyone was a Sufi including the Kings. The conquest of India can itself be considered as a Sufi conquest. Indians with their caste sysem tend to think of Sufis as equivalent of Brahmins and the Kings as equivalent of Kshatriyas. There is no such division in Islam.



    Even if you consider the case of Deobandis of Pakistan, out of 46 major Deobandi parties in Pakistan, 10 are militant in nature, with jihadist and sectarian agendas. Moreover, these militant parties do not enjoy popular support from the mainstream religious clergy. Even on the issue of support for the Taliban, there are diverse contradictory views within the major Deoband political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. A large faction of the party, led by Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani and Khaleed Somroo, remained critical of the Taliban, even when they were in power in Afghanistan. In 2007, concerning the Lal Mosque issue in Islamabad, most of the Deobandi clerics from religious-political parties and the Madressah Board had denounced the activities of the students. (Source: Muhammad Amir Rana, Perspectives on Terrorism, 2008).



    Maulana Hassan Jan a leading Sunni Deobandi cleric of Peshawar was the first among three ulema martyred by the terrorists for their opposition to terrorism. He was the vice president of Wifaq ul-Madaris, the largest board of Islamic madrasas of the Sunni Deobandi sub-sect of Islam which clearly shows that a majority of the “Deobandis” of Pakistan oppose terrorism, extremism and even “jehad” by armies of civilians.


    Please see the article in NAI “Jihad vs Terrorism” in which Dr Farooq Khan, who may be considered a Deobandi, argues forcefully quoting Maulana Maududi and Mufti Muhammad Shafi Deobandi that there is no concept of ‘Jehad as war’ in Islam that can be waged by private armies and individuals, and all such activities are outside the pale of Islam and such groups are “terrorists” and not “Mujahideen”.  Incidentally and tragically, Dr Farooq is also a martyr to the cause of fighting terrorism.


    Not only does Darul Uloom Deoband have nothing to do with the ideology of the current day “Jehadists”, but the majority of the so called Deobandis of Pakistan also actively oppose terrorism on a strong doctrinal basis founded in Deobandi ideology.


    The so called Deobandi Madrassas that have allowed themselves to be converted into schools producing “Jehadists” may be called “Talibani” rather than spoil the fair name of Deoband and the Deobandis. Mislabeling only helps the extremists to spread confusion. They need to be isolated completely from the majority of peaceful `Deobandis’ and dealt with in an appropriate manner.


    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/24/2015 10:15:14 PM

  • I guess this is what you wanted to emphasize:

    "....and denounced popular devotional ritual at shrines and other beliefs or practices regarded as shirk (polytheistic). As the name ‘Tariqa-e Muhammadiyya’ indicates, its leaders took as their model the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). The term ‘tariqa’ (sufi way of path) did not mean, however, that this was a new sufi order; rather, the leaders preached faithfulness to the prophetic sunna."

    And I took that as understood since everyone knows that the difference between the Deobandi and the Barelvi is on the issue of shrine worship.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/24/2015 10:03:05 PM

  • Dear Naseer Ahmad saheb, you should have given the full picture. While the Sunni-Sufis or Ahle Sunnat wa Jama't took inspiration from the spiritual discourses of Shah Waliulllah, the Deobandis and Salafis or Ahle Hadisis were influneced by the religio-political thoguht of Shah Waliullah.

    You could have stated the above fact honestly and clearly, if you had also reproduced the following two paragraphs from the same website, which are followed by your quoatations:

    "The practical culmination of the religio-political thought of Sha Wali Ullah….[a] movement of religious purification and political revolution...[The movement marker] the progress of his Shah Wali Ullah’s program from theory to practice, from life contemplative to active, from instruction of the elite to the emancipation of the masses, and from individual salvation to social organization. (Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment)

    The program of 'religious purification' was spelt out in detail in Muhammad Ismail’s Taqwiyat al-Iman (Strengthening of Faith), written in Urdu in 1820s and dealt with the centrality of the concept of tauhid (Allah’s transcendental unity), and denounced popular devotional ritual at shrines and other beliefs or practices regarded as shirk (polytheistic). As the name ‘Tariqa-e Muhammadiyya’ indicates, its leaders took as their model the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). The term ‘tariqa’ (sufi way of path) did not mean, however, that this was a new sufi order; rather, the leaders preached faithfulness to the prophetic sunna."

    By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi - 4/24/2015 3:18:05 PM

  • Influence of Shah Waliullah on the Deobandis and the Ahle Hadith. The source is a Barelevi website:

    The revisionist sectarians appear to have turned the Deobandis into Salafis although the term is of recent origin! 


    The Deobandis who were in Sufi terms primarily Chishtis but shared Shah Wali Ullah’s affiliation to the Naqshbandi order, also saw him and his successors as a ‘source of spiritual blessing’. Finally the ‘ulema’ followed Shah Wali Ullah’s lead in their efforts to provide moral guidance to the Muslim community.

    The Deobandi renewal movement was centered on the Darul-Ulum in Deoband, Saharanpur district and was dominated in its early years by Maulanas Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi (1829-1905) and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (1829-1905). These two men were united by a friendship that went back to the 1840s when they had both been private pupils at Delhi College and both became disciples of Hajji Imdad Ullah Makki (1817-99) in the Chishti order (and secondarily in the Qadiri, Naqshbandi, and other orders).Their common commitment to the reform of customary ritual practice, and to an emphasis on hadis scholarship in the Shah Wali Ullah tradition, further cemented the relationship.

    In 1867, following the Revolt and the subsequent desolation of Delhi, both joined in founding the Darul-Ulum in Deoband. As muftis (jurisconsults, one who issues fatawa), the ‘Deobandi’ ulema attached great importance to the writing of fatawa as a means of providing moral guidance and instruction at the personal level. According to Barbara Metcalf, the fatawa reflected the Deobandi’s concern for religious reform in the following important ways:

    The Fatawa in general reflected three underlying principles: to revive lapsed practices such as undertaking the hajj and permitting widows to remarry, second, to avoid fixed holidays like the maulud/milad-un-nabi [birth anniversary] of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), the urs (death anniversary) of the saints… and the elaborate celebration of Id [a Shia] practice; and, third to prevent optional practices being made obligatory – for example, the reading of certain passages in supererogatory prayers or the distribution of sweets upon the completion of the reading of the Quran. On this foundation the reformers built, point by point, to convey to their followers the conviction that they conformed to the sunnat.

    As had Shah Wali Ullah, the Deobandi ulema also integrated Sufism into their lives. In their role as Sufi guides and masters, they sought ‘to influence people to conform to the sunnat’, and emphasized aspects of sufi belief and practice that reinforced the reformist message they sent out. The Deobandi’s insistence that the prophetic sunna be the measure of approved belief and action indicates that, as for the Tariqa-e Muhammadiyya of the early 19th century, so for them the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) was the ultimate model and exemplar of human conduct. He was also the object of spiritual devotion, approached through the experience of discipleship to a personal Pir. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) intervened directly in the lives of the Deobandi ‘ulema’, appearing to the in dreams, giving guidance, and sanctioning their educational work at school.

    The centrality of the prophetic model was expressed rather differently by the followers of the renewal movement of the Ahle Hadis, initially calling themselves ‘Muhammadi’ to emphasize the importance they attached to the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) example, they later used the name Ahle Hadis in response to criticism that they were exalting their relationship with the Prophet over that with Allah. They believed that Muslims should act in accordance with the injunctions of the Quran and the prophetic sunna recorded in hadis, bypassing the opinions of the four Sunni law schools as embodied in fiqh (jurisprudential) scholarship. It is better to study the sources directly in light of the application of qiyas (analogy) and ijma (consensus), as the founders of the law schools had themselves once done, they argued, than to depend on commentaries, etc.

    This approach to the religious tradition, as Barbara Metcalf notes, could hardly have come been advocated for the uneducated. The Ahle Hadis leadership consisted overwhelmingly of the well-to-do and the well-connected people who had the necessary learning to interpret the texts unaided. The Ahle Hadis preference for direct access to the sources of religious authority was also transparent in their disapproval for Sufism, believed to be a ‘danger to true religion’.

    In this respect, as in their rejection of taqlid (authority of the Sunni law schools), they differed dramatically from the Deobandis who, like the majority of Indian Sunni Muslims, were followers of the Hanafi School. Yet these two groups to some extent had common intellectual roots in their affiliation to the Delhi reformists of the Shah Wali Ullahi family, in their disapproval of ritual practices such as Urs and other shrine-related practices. The Ahle Hadis also had friendly relations with certain Arab Muslims, which were followers of the reform movement of Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab of Arabia (Wahhabi’s).


    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/24/2015 5:41:15 AM

Compose Your Comments here:
Email (Not to be published)
Fill the text
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles and comments are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of NewAgeIslam.com.