The Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence ('Maktab-e- Fikr' i.e. 'School of Thought' in Urdu) is divided into Deobandi and Barelvi school in South Asia. Deobandis and Barelvis are the two major schools apart from the Shia Ithna Ashari school in South Asia. It is estmated that nearly 50% of the Pakistani population follow the Barelvi school. The Barelvi school was founded by Ahmad Raza Khan (1856-1921) of Bareilly within the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. This new school has created controversies and tension with other existing schools. The Barelvi school was founded to defend the existing unorthodox beliefs of Muslims of South Asia that were deeply influenced by Sufism and incorporated many non-Muslim and unorthodox beliefs against the reformation movements influenced by Hanbali school that emphasized Sharia and Qur'an. The Deobandis, Wahabis, Salafis and Ahle Hadith criticized Barelvis as the shrine-worshipping, the grave-worshiping, followers of saints and practicing many innovations (such as Bid’at) thar are not found in any other Muslim society. The Barelvi over-emphasis on Prophet Mohammad and associating him with divine attributes has been the most controversal belief that has been rejected by all the schools in Islam.

The differences between these sects can be difficult to understand. For the Barelvis, (who are mostly from the Pakistan province of Punjab) the holy Prophet is a superhuman figure whose presence is all around us at all times; he is Hazir (present); he is not Bashar (material or flesh) but Nur (light). The Deobandis, who also revere the Prophet, argue he was the Insan-i-Kamil, the perfect person, but still only a man, a mortal. Barelvis emphasise a love of Prophet Mohammad, a semi-divine figure with unique foreknowledge. The Deobandis reject this idea of Prophet Mohammad, emphasising Islam as a personal rather than a social religion.

The Barelvis follow many Sufi practices, including use of religious music (Qawwali) and intercession by their teacher. A key difference between Barelvi and Deobandi that Barelvi's believe in intercession between humans and Divine Grace. This consists of the intervention of an ascending, linked and unbroken chain of holy personages, pirs, reaching ultimately to Prophet Mohammad, who intercede on their behalf with God. It is a more superstitious - but also a more tolerant - tradition of Pakistan Islam. Their critics claim that Barelvis are guilty of committing innovation (Bid’at) and therefore, they are deviated from the true path - the path of Sunnah.

The Pakistan Movement got support from the Barelvis but was opposed by the Deobandi seminaries. However, after the establishment of Pakistan as an Islamic state in 1947, Barelvis law was too mixed up with mysticism to be a source of Islamic law. Ironically, Pakistan moved away from the 'spiritual pluralism' of the Barelvis, who had supported Pakistan, and relied on the more puritanical Islamic law of Deobandis who had opposed it.

Unlike the Deobandis, the Barelvis see the Prophet Mohammad as more than a man, a part of the divine light of God. This doctrine gives rise to a form of Islam that provides a space for holy men and esoteric practices and graves appear to be often more ornate than those found within Deobandi communities. The Wahhabi, Saudi Arabia's dominant school of law, part of Hanbali school of law, Deobandi, Ahle Hadith and Jamaat-I-Islami all are anti-Sufi, and against the over devotion to Prophet Mohammad, whereas the Barelvis emphasize Prophet Mohammad's uniqueness. Indeed, nearly 50% of South Asia’s Sunni Muslims are said to follow the Barelvi school, closer to Sufism. Nearly 25% of Sunnis follow the Deobandi school, more closely related to the conservative and puritanical practice of Islam. Most Shias in the South Asia also tend to be influenced by the Sufis. Pakistan’s Muslims, like other Muslims in the region, tend to follow a school of Islam which is less conservative, and hence the support for strongly and overtly Islamic parties has been minimal.

The Barelvis believe the Prophet Mohammad is a human being made from flesh and blood (Bashar) and a Nur (light) at the same time. This is like the example of when Archangel Jibrael (Gabriel), who is also Nur (light), used to appear to the Prophet Mohammad in the form of a man, flesh and blood. Prophet Mohammad is infallible and perfect and free from all imperfections and sinless (as are all Prophets). Prophet Mohammad is human but not like other humans. God has given him the ability to see the whole of Creation in detail while he is in his blessed grave as if he was looking at it in the palm of his hand. This is called being "Nazir" ("witnessing"). God has given him the ability to go physically and spiritually to anywhere in the Created Universes he pleases whenever he pleases (peace be upon him) and to be in more than one place at the same time. This is what is meant by "Hazir" (present). This is not the same as believing that he (peace be upon him) is present everywhere all the time.






Page last updated: Monday, October 26, 2009 11:05:44 -0400