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Islamic Ideology ( 24 Aug 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Who and What is a Deobandi?

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

24 August 2014

The following table is a summary of the similarities and differences between the Deobandi, Barelvi and the so called Wahhabi. The Wahabi’s are being referred to as ‘the so called Wahhabi’ since no Muslim calls himself a Wahhabi. They are now calling themselves Salafi to distinguish themselves from the other Sunnis. However, all three claim to be the Ahl-e-Sunnat -wal-Jamaat 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 (Madhhabs) 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 favour 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


Naqshbandi, 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 Wahhabism 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 Wahhabis are “Ahle Quran”, meaning that the Wahhabis attach less importance to the Hadiths in their overall approach towards the Islamic faith. The common factor between the Ahle Hadith and the Wahhabis is that both are Ghair Muqallid or transcend the four Sunni Madhhabs.

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 Wahhabi 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 Madhhabs nor did they accept the authority if the Ahadith. Raza Ahmad prepared a document in which he portrayed the Deobandis as Wahhabis 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 five religious leaders:

1. Mirzaqadyani (founder of the Qadiani/Ahmadiyya sect)

2. Rashid Ahmed Gangohi

3. Khaleel Ahmed Anbethawi

4. QasimNanotvee

5. Asharf Ali Thanvee

These 268 Muftis were all leading muftis from the madrasa of Firangi 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 Wahhabi which as can be seen, is far from the truth. The only commonality between the Deobandis and the Wahhabis 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 Wahhabism:


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’ (Khabees), and labelled him and his followers as the ‘despicable Wahhabis’ (Wahabiyya Khabisia).

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

He wrote that: “Muhammad 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 Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab Najdi was 'stupid’ (Be-Waquf) 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’ (‘Ummah) 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 Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab’s beliefs. [Faizi, op.cit. 43.]

Deobandi Fatwas on Salafism/Wahhabism:

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-e-Sunnah al-Jamah such as the refusal of Hujjiyat Ijmah and Qiyas etc, therefore they are out of the Ahle 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 Muqallideen 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. Ahle 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 Jamaat-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 Jamaat-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 Jamaat-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 Jamaat 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 founders 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, ho visited Darul ‘Uloom during his visit to India in 1969, had said: "I have had relation with Darul ‘Uloom since the time the Shaikh ul-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. (

The Influence of Deoband outside India

Darul Uloom Deoband was founded in 1866 and has no links to “Deobandi madrasas” 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 madrasas 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 “jihad” against the aggressors. Since religious justification was used to prepare civilians for war, madrasas best served the purpose for indoctrination. Since Saudi Arabia were funding the effort and they consider the Sufi/Barelvi, the Shia and the Ahmadiyas as heretics, their madrasas were left out and only the madrasas belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Ahle-Hadith, the Salafis 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 system 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 Khalid 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 Madrasa 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 “jihad” 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 ‘Jihad 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 “Jihadists”, 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 madrasas that have allowed themselves to be converted into schools producing “Jihadists” may be called “Talibani” rather than spoil the fair name of Deoband and the Deobandis. Mislabelling 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.


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