Books and Documents

Islam and Politics (10 May 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Syed Ahmed ‘Shaheed’ Rai Barelwi’s Tehrik-e-Jihad in India, Was It to Fight British Imperialism or Establish an Islamic State?

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

10 May 2016

Maulvi Syed Ahmed ‘Shaheed’ Rai Barelwi was born in 1786 in Rai Bareilly in India. Therefore, he is called “Rai Barelwi” (not “Barelwi”, so it should not be confused with the term popularly attributed to those who belong to another city in India called “Bareilly” or those who subscribe to the views of Imam Ahmad Raza Khan Barelwi).

Maulana Abul Hasan Nadwi, prominent Islamic and Arabic scholar of Deobandi denomination and former rector of Nadwatul Ulema in Lucknow, authored a complete and comprehensive book on the biography of Syed Ahmad Rai Barelwi showcasing the ‘glory’ of his Jihad movement in India. He notes in his book, “Seerat Ahmad Shaheed”:

“The Indian Islamic movement of Ahl-e-Hadith, also known as Wahhabi movement, was inspired and led by Syed Ahmad Shaheed, who was born in Rai Bareli (Awadh) on 29th November, 1786…..He was an eminent Islamic thinker, scholar, an unparalleled orator of his time and well-versed in both religious and mundane affairs. The chain of his preaching and proselytisation (Dawat o Irshad) was spread across the country…..Almost 4,000 non-Muslims embraced Islam at his hands” (Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Seerat Ahmad Shaheed, Vol. 1, pp.20, Published by MajlisTahqiqat-o-Nashriyat Islam, Lucknow, 1977).

It is quite interesting to note that Syed Ahmad Barelwi coined a new term “Bai’at-e-jihad” (allegiance to jihad) in parallel to the popular Sufi term “Bai’at-e-Tariqat” (allegiance to a spiritual master). Dwelling more on the jihad movement of Rai Barelwi, Maulana Ali Nadwi writes: “Thousands of people undertook Bai’at-e-Jihad at his hands, in which they were taught war skills and use of arms in place of Zikr-O-Muraqabah (Sufi practice of chanting, meditation and remembrance of Allah). The high-soaring slogans of Jihad Fi Sabi-Lil-Lah (jihad in the path of God) were also raised”.

Maulana Ali Nadwi further enumerates: “He [Syed Ahmad] used to lay great emphasis on the zeal for jihad. He would exhort his followers, saying: keep with you arms and weapons with the intention of Jihad and eat to your fill. Insha Allah! (God willing), we will engage in jihad against the Kuffar (infidels and polytheists). So keep doing practice and preparation for this. There is no better godliness and sainthood (Darweshi Aur Faqiri) than this.”

Interestingly, Maulana Ali Nadwi’s book, Seerat -e- Ahmad Shaheed is also recommended as a reading reference for the students of Islamic Studies in many madrasas and universities. It takes one to the conclusion that the battle of Ballakot which was fought between the forces of Syed Ahmed Rai Barelvi and Raja Ranjit Singh eventually led to the martyrdom of Syed Ahmed Barelvi ushering in the Jihad movement in India.

Quoting Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi in his book “Major Muslim Religious Movements in India” originally written in Urdu, the current head of the department of Islamic Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia, Dr. Iqtidar Mohammad Khan writes under the subtitle “Tahrik-e-Mujahideen and Ahl-e-Hadith’s Ulema of Sadiq Pur”: “When the Islamic reform movement in India was championed by Syed Ahmad Shaheed (1201-1246) and Maulana Ismail Shaheed (1196-1246), after Shah Waliullah, it was opposed by the British and some Pirs and Maulvis [Sufis] who called it “Wahhabi movement in India” because of its objective being similar to that of Ibn Abdul Wahhab in the Najd”.

Dr. Iqtidar further comments that “the two reform movements [of Ibn Abdul Wahhab and Syed Ahmad Rai Barelwi) arose in the lands where Jihalat (ignorance), superstitions, Qabr-Parasti (grave-worshipping), and Peer-Parasti (saint-worship) were rampant. Therefore, both the Islamic movements were adversely affected by the British propaganda”.

We have just taken a cursory glance over what the Indian Ulema and Islamic circles think of Syed Ahmad Rai Barelwi and how they project him in their remarkable writings. Let us now see what liberal authors and secular researchers have to say with regard to him:

An authoritative scholar on Islamic thinkers and reform movements in India, Barbara Metcalf made a particular mention of Syed Ahmad Rai Barelwi in her work on Deoband as ‘someone who was trying to synthesize his experience in establishing an Islamic state as per his pious commitment to the Shariah’. (See: Metcalf, Barbara Daly, 2002. Islamic revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900 (3rd impression. ed. New Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press).

The author of the ground-breaking book “Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan”, Mr. Olivier Roy (1985) recalled Rai Barelwi as the first Indian Islamist leader who launched an armed jihad and led a movement that was religious, military and political. Mr. Roy succinctly explained how Syed Ahmad sermonised jihad to the local Pashtun tribes, urging them to abandon their local customs and strictly adhere to the Shariah. He mentioned that due to his religious decrees, the traditional tribal chieftains (the khans) were replaced by the clerics and mullahs. They formed a new system of religious tax (Jizyah) to finance the Jihadi activities. (See: Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan. Cambridge University Press. pp. 57–8)

In the same way, Edward Mortimer, a noted scholar on Islam in South Asia described Syed Ahmad Rai Barelwi “as an Islamist who anticipated modern Mujahideen in his waging of jihad and attempt to create an Islamic state with strict enforcement of Islamic Shariah.

Remarkably, Syed Ahmad Rai Barelvi was glorified as “Ameer ul Momineen” (the chief leader of believers) by his supporters among the Ulema and Islamic leaders in India. Some of his diehard followers even believed him to be the promised Imam Mahdi (al-Mahdial-Mauood), as the eminent Islamic historiographer, Shaikh Ikram has noted this in his classical work on this subject, “Mauj-e-Kausar: Musalmano ki Mazhabi aur Ilmi Tareekh ka daur e Jadeed (the modern religious and intellectual era of Muslims in India).  This is precisely why a great adoration of Syed Ahmad Rai Barelvi and high glorification of his jihad movement are an integral part of Wahhabi Madrasa curriculums in the subcontinent, particularly in Pakistani madrasas.

In a syllabus of Class IX, there is a book entitled, “Pakistan Studies” which carries a chapter "Syed Ahmed Shaheed Barelvi". After a brief introduction, sings high praises of Syed Ahmed as ‘great thinker and martyr of Islam’, the chapter gives the historical background of his Jihad movement with an illustration of its chief objectives. It reads under the subtitle “The Mujahideen Movement”:

“Syed Ahmed Shaheed Rai Barelvi started a great movement in the North of India known as “The Mujahideen Movement” or “The Movement of Jihad”. This movement arranged a power for the struggle of freedom in Muslims which produced a spirit of survival and they started freedom struggle”. Giving the background of the Mujahideen Movement, it further reads: “Syed Ahmed Shaheed Barelvi devoted himself in the preparation of the holy war. He started a national movement for this purpose in 1818 and organized this movement after his arrival from Hajj as the Mujahideen Movement in 1831”.

Among the prime objectives of Mujahideen Movement, as the above chapter puts forward, were:  “To protect the Muslims from the worship of other things except Allah, and to preach Jihad because it was not possible to get freedom from an evil force without an armed struggle”.

The book has clearly stated that Syed Ahmed Rai Barelvi wished to eradicate the rule of Sikhs from Punjab in order to establish Islamic values and traditions. It further adds: “He [Syed Ahmed] started Jihad in Punjab. Shah Ismail Shaheed along with six thousand followers also joined Syed Ahmed Shaheed in his Jihad against evil forces. He toured different areas around Delhi and Punjab, where number of his followers joined him”.

It is widely held among many Ulema of the Indo-Pak that Syed Ahmad Rai Barelvi launched his Tahrik e Jihad or Jihadi movement against the British imperialism in India. But the historical facts unravel the truth that his jihad was solely aimed at fighting Punjab’s Sikh community, overthrowing non-Muslim rule and ultimately establishing an Islamic state in the country. His core belief was that Muslims in India could not achieve true freedom unless they launch an ‘aggressive, violent and armed struggle against the non-Muslim forces’. He regarded non-Muslims as ‘monstrous evils’ who had corrupted the Islamic society, and therefore, launched a great jihad with thousands of his fervent followers to eliminate the ‘evils’.

A New Age Islam columnist, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar.

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/ghulam-rasool-dehlvi,-new-age-islam/syed-ahmed-‘shaheed’-rai-bareli’s-tehrik-e-jihad-in-india,-was-it-to-fight-british-imperialism-or-establish-an-islamic-state?/d/107256


  • The ‘ISIS’ or Daesh claims that the ongoing battle in the Middle East would lead to “Al-Malhama Al-Kubra” (the Great Battle). According to the online English Magazine “Dabiq” which is the mouthpiece of the extremist outfit Daesh, it believes itself to be one of the earliest armies of Imam Mahdi which is engaged in fighting the end-time wars. Thus, it loudly claims to be the only truth-bearing or saved sect that can lead the global Muslims to the righteous path to salvation in this ‘end time war’. Therefore, it calls upon the Muslims of the world to render their allegiance and support to its self-imposed caliphate which actually goes against the tenets of Islam.
    By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi - 5/16/2016 1:06:22 PM

  • It is also noteworthy that there are a number of Islamic scholars such as Ibn Khaldun and Dr Muhammad Iqbal who have rejected belief in the advent of Imam Mahdi. Some of them even go on to dismiss Muslims’ obsession with this subject with contempt and disapproval. While many Islamic clerics of all Muslim sects and hues warn that it is not only false but also sinful to strive for a deeper understanding of the subject of the advent of Imam Mahdi. There are also Muslims who prefer to get content waiting with folded arms for the Imam.

    By GRD - 5/16/2016 2:59:29 AM

  • It is interesting to note that in general, the term Messiah is specific to only the Abrahamic faith traditions. But prophecies abound in nearly all world religions that a leader will come and accomplish the messiah’s mission.

    Jews long for the promised Messiah.

    Christians believe in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who has already come and ascended to heaven but will reappear at his Second Coming.

    Muslims expect the second advent of Hazrat Isa alaihis salam or Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), who will come as a Muslim Imam. Both Sunnis and Shias share this belief in common. But among the Shias, there are various expectations of a future Imam Mahdi.

    In conformity to the Islamic doctrine of Mahdism, the Sikh scripture prophesises the advent of the "Mahdi Meer" who will be born for a purpose of defeating Kali, who will become egoistic referring to himself as the Almighty. In Dasam Granth, the Sikh scripture attributed to the tenth Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh, it is propheised that the powerful Mahdi will slay Kali and rule the world.

    It should be clarified that Kali is also a Hindu goddess who is the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. The name Kali is derived from the Sanskrit kala, or time. Therefore, it represents time, change, power, creation, preservation, and destruction.

    Buddhist scripture prophesies the coming of the Maitreya Buddha.

    Hindu scriptures prophesy the future descent of an avatar named Kalki.

    Zoroastrian scriptures prophesy the coming of the Saoshyant.

    Confucian texts speak of a future True Man who will finally bring peace to the world by perfectly instituting the Way of Confucius. 

    By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi - 5/16/2016 2:46:35 AM

  • Dear Aaiyna,
    The reason why we need to understand the apocalyptic worldview of a small group of radical islamists is that it is the genesis of much of the violent extremism perpetrated by a handful of radicals across the Muslim world. Therefore, an investigative study and holistic understanding of their apocalyptic theories may help us retort the radical thoughts more accurately and efficiently.

    By GRD - 5/15/2016 11:37:23 PM

  • To GRD: It's my opinion that unless coming Mehdi or Avtars are not projected than existence of newly relgion(Abhramic tradition of founding new relgion) or newly Sampraday( Hindu tradition of finding new Samraday) come to threat of exitintion, if you want to continue one ideology and want to stop any reformation the coming of Mehdi and Avtars are useful to manipulate politically unless new Mehdi or Avtars comes.

    Coming of Mehdi or Avtars is pure political tool to control humans, but every now and than in every century there is at least one person is able to break this cycle and declare himself(especially man) Mehdi or Avtars.

    Gulam Qadiani is one example he played both role of Mehdi to appear Muslim and role Avtar of Krishna to appear Hindus he get followers from Muslim community but not from Hindus. 

    Well this no ending story this will keep on happening.

    I do not what is truth behind this kind of Mehdi and Avtars but it is certainly hope for people who are relying on others person for their salvation( and worldly things too).

    Those who want to became Gabbar(movie sholy character) himself/herself  he or she has to became like Buddha( neglected some Hindu system) or those Sufis( Neglacted some of Muslim traditions) to find God themselves.

    By Aayina - 5/14/2016 11:45:10 PM

  • The doctrine of mahdism or  messiahism  is not only exlusive to Islam but it is common to all major religions and traditions of the world, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity. In Islamic context, the concept of Mahdism revolves around an eschatological figure who will rise and establish a system built on the foundations of justice, peace and social order. In Iran, the concept of Mahdism is deeply entrenched in the popular politico-religious discourse.
    By Shariq Siddiqui - 5/14/2016 11:32:20 AM

  • Dear Ibn Wali saheb,
    Near all religious scriptures have prophecies and mention of their fulfillment? If so, please describe what is the reason that prophecies and their fulfillment are recorded in the scriptures of all world religions?  '
    By GRD - 5/14/2016 6:31:41 AM

  • References of coming of Imam Mahdi as interpreted in hadiths

    The Mahdi is frequently mentioned in Sunni hadith as establishing the caliphate. Among Sunnis, some believe the Mahdi will be an ordinary man. The following Sunni hadith make references to the Mahdi:
    Muhammad is quoted as saying about the Mahdi:
    His name will be my name, and his father’s name my father’s name[7]
    Even if the entire duration of the world’s existence has already been exhausted and only one day is left before Doomsday, Allah will expand that day to such length of time as to accommodate the kingdom of a person from my Ahlul-Bayt who will be called by my name. He will fill out the earth with peace and justice as it will have been full of injustice and tyranny (by then).[13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21]
    Umm Salama, a wife of Muhammad, is quoted as saying that;
    His [the Mahdi's] aim is to establish a moral system from which all superstitious faiths have been eliminated. In the same way that students enter Islam, so unbelievers will come to believe.[22]
    When the Mahdi appears, Allah will cause such power of vision and hearing to be manifested in believers that the Mahdi will call to the whole world from where he is, with no postman involved, and they will hear and even see him.[23]
    Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri is quoted as saying:
    The Messenger of Allah said: "He is one of us".[24]
    The Messenger of Allah said: "The Mahdi is of my lineage, with a high forehead and a long, thin, curved nose. He will fill the earth with fairness and justice as it was filled with oppression and injustice, and he will rule for seven years.[25]
    The Messenger of Allah said: "At the end of the time of my ummah, the Mahdi will appear. Allah will grant him rain, the earth will bring forth its fruits, he will give a lot of money, cattle will increase and the ummah will become great. He will rule for seven or eight years.[26]
    At-Tirmidhi reported that Muhammad said:
    The Mahdi is from my Ummah; he will be born and live to rule five or seven or nine years. (If) one goes to him and says, "Give me (a charity)", he will fill one’s garment with what one needs.
    At-Tirmidhi reported that Muhammad said:
    The face of the Mahdi shall shine upon the surface of the Moon.
    At-Tarabani reported that: His forehead will be broad and his nose will be high, his face will shine like a star and he will have a black spot on his left cheek.(Tarabani)
    Amr bin Shuaib reported from his grandfather that the Messenger of Allah said:
    In Dhu al-Qi'dah (Islamic month), there will be fight among the tribes, Muslim pilgrims will be looted and there will be a battle in Mina in which many people will be slain and blood will flow until it runs over the Jamaratul Aqba (one of the three stone pillars at Mina). The man they seek will flee and will be found between the Rukn (a corner of the Kaaba containing the Black Stone) and the Maqam of Prophet Abraham (near Ka'ba). He will be forced to accept people's Bay'ah (being chosen as a Leader/Caliph). The number of those offering Bay'ah will be the same as the number of the people of Badr (Muslim fighters who participated in the Battle of Badr at time of Prophet Mohammad). Then, the dweller of Heaven and the dweller of the Earth will be pleased with him.[27]

    أحاديث في الإمام المهدي عند أهل السنة

    لم ترد أحاديث للمهدي في صحيح البخاري وصحيح مسلم مفصلة
    بل جاءت أحاديث يمكن اعتبارها أحاديث مجملة يحتمل أنها عن المهدي كما في هذا الحديث من الصحيحين: أنه عن ‏‏‏أبي هريرة قال رسول الله‏‏‏  : "‏كيف أنتم إذا نزل ‏ابن مريم ‏فيكم وإمامكم منكم" (الصحيحين).
    وقد خرٍّج أحاديث المهدي جماعة من أئمة الحديث منهم أبو داود والترمذي وابن ماجة والبزار والحاكم والطبراني وأبو يعلى الموصلى، وأسندوها إلى جماعة من الصحابة مثل علي بن أبي طالب وابن عباس وابن عمر وطلحة وعبد الله بن مسعود وأبي هريرة وأنس بن مالك وأبي سعيد الخدري وأم حبيبة وأم سلمة وثوبان وقرة بن إياس وعلي الهلالي وعبد الله بن الحارث بن جزء م وإسناد أحاديثهم بين صحيح وحسن وضعيف
    المهدي عند اهل السنة يعتقدون أنه يولد قبل توليه الحكم ببضع عقود (والعقد عشر سنين) بينما تعتقد الشيعة أن المهدي ولد منذ أكثر من ألف عام وأن أبوه الأمام الحسن العسكري عقَّ عنه بثلاثمائة عقيقة وهذه أحد الدلالات على ولادته ودلاله أخرى أن/* أحاديث في الإمام المهدي عند أهل السنة */ الأرض لا تخلو من حجة وتوجد الأدلة الكثيرة، أما عن غيبته، فكانت الخوف من القتل، لئلاّ يكون في عُنقه عليه السّلام بيعة لظالم، الامتحان، تأديب الأمّة وتنبيهها إلى رعاية حقّ الإمام، والحكمة الإلهيّة.
    ويرى كثير من العلماء على أن أحاديث المهدي بلغت حد التواتر المعنوي، ومنهم القاضي العلامة محمد بن علي الشوكاني الذي يقول في التوضيح في تواتر ما جاء في المهدي المنتظر والدجال والمسيح: "والأحاديث الواردة في المهدي التي أمكن الوقوف عليها منها خمسون حديثاً في الصحيح والحسن والضعيف المنجبر وهي متواترة بلا شك ولا شبهة بل يصدق وصف التواتر على ما دونها على جميع الاصطلاحات المحررة في الأصول وأما الآثار عن الصحابة المصرحة بالمهدي فهي كثيرة أيضاً لها حكم الرفع إذ لا مجال للاجتهاد في مثل ذلك"
    وقد وردت أحاديث كثيرة في المهدي تخضع للجرح والتعديل يقوم علماء الحديث بدراستها للتأكد من صحتها وقد تم تصحيح بعض الأحاديث وتضعيف الكثير منها.
    عن أبو سعيد الخدري قال رسول الله : "‏المهدي مني ‏‏أجلى‏ ‏الجبهة‏ ‏أقنى‏ ‏الأنف يملأ الأرض قسطا وعدلا كما ملئت جورا وظلما يملك سبع سنين" سنن أبي داود وقال عنه الألباني حديث حسن.
    عن علي بن أبي طالب قال رسول الله ، لو لم يبق من الدهر إلا يوم لبعث الله رجلا من أهل بيتي يملؤها عدلا كما ملئت‏‏ جورا "، سنن أبي داود صححه الألباني.
    عن عبد الله، "بينما نحن عند رسول الله Mohamed peace be upon him.svg،‏ ‏إذ أقبل فتية من ‏بني هاشم ‏فلما رآهم النبي ‏ ‏اغرورقت عيناه وتغير لونه قال فقلت ما نزال نرى في وجهك شيئا نكرهه فقال ‏ ‏إنا أهل بيت اختار الله لنا الآخرة على الدنيا وإن أهل بيتي سيلقون بعدي بلاء وتشريدا وتطريدا حتى يأتي قوم من قبل المشرق معهم رايات سود فيسألون الخير فلا يعطونه فيقاتلون فينصرون فيعطون ما سألوا فلا يقبلونه حتى يدفعوها إلى رجل من أهل بيتي فيملؤها قسطا كما ملئوها جورا ‏فمن أدرك ذلك منكم فليأتهم ولو حبوا على الثلج"، سنن ابن ماجه وفي الزوائد إسناده ضعيف لضعف يزيد بن أبي زياد الكوفي لكن لم ينفرد بزيد بن أبي زياد عن إبراهيم فقد رواه الحاكم في المستدرك من طريق عمر بن قيس عن الحكم عن إبراهيم.
    عن عبد الله، "لا تذهب الدنيا حتى يملك العرب رجل من أهل بيتي يواطئ اسمه اسمي " ،سنن الترمذي صححه الألباني‏.

    By Ibn Wali - 5/12/2016 10:37:24 AM

  • 7 billion unity is needed for peace through unity in allegiance and obedience to 49th Imam and Fatimid Khalifa .Syed Ahmad Shaheed was not aware of this. He would have communicated on this and those commenting on him thinking him as Imam Mahdi (promised) would not called him so ,if they had learnt about the history of  Fatimid Khalifa. We need to communicate for global acceptance of 49th Imam Kareem Shah Al Hussaini Aga Khan IV leading AKDN. Islam is decreed peace through unity in allegiance and obedience. I am educating all on this being pledged to Syed Intekhab Aalam Shahbazia of Khanqah e Shahbazia, Bhagalpur, Bihar. I am affirming the presence of Iamm e Zamana believing in verse 2:124, 3:33,34, 17:71 decreed for obedience as OLIL Amr in verse 4:59. I realise that momineen in Shia and Sunni schools have the element of faith in the presence of Imam e Zamana in hiding following the chain from Imam Musa Qazim while the Imamat continued from Imam Ismail bin Imam Jafar Al Sadiq. Logically, believers globally need to accept the 49th Imam now.
    By Mukhtar Alam - 5/11/2016 3:37:51 AM

  • Good example of how one may be considered to be  heroic in the context of a particular era, but may appear problematic when judged by subsequent generations. 

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 5/10/2016 2:38:37 PM

  • Dear Husain Sherani, it is a really good retort to the falsification of the history and works of Tahrik e Jihad by Maulvi Syed Ahmad Rai Barelwi. But it should be written in more detail to expose the facade of this jihadi movement.
    By Ibn Wali - 5/10/2016 9:52:02 AM

  • it's necessary to expose.

    By Husain Sherani - 5/10/2016 9:02:28 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.