Contents > Chapter 1: Overview and Background > Historical Background into the Deobandi-Barelawi Differences


Historical Background into the Deobandi-Barelawi Differences

Bitter difference and rivalry between the Deobandis and the Barelawis has caused much confusion and hatred amongst Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.


One of the major issues that caused the rift and the subsequent formation of the school of Deoband was the Tafseer (explanation) of ‘Khaatam an-Nabeeyeen’ (seal of Prophet-hood) mentioned in Soorah al-Ahzab: “Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) is not the father of any man among you, but is the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) and the last of the Prophets (Khaatam an-Nabeeyeen).”[1]


Moulana Ahsan Nanotwi (a prominent Deobandi scholar) mentioned that the Khaatam (seal) of the Prophet-hood mentioned in Soorah al-Ahzab does not deny the advent of another Prophet. And even if another Prophet arrived, this would not affect the finality of Prophet Muhammad’s (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) Prophet-hood.[2] The Barelawis strongly objected to this statement and used it as a proof for the Takfeer of the Deobandis.


The Deobandis also argue with the Barelawis on futile issues, like (Imkaan al-Kadhib) whether Allah has the ability to lie or not? Other issues of differences were the celebration of Milaad (the Prophet’s Birthday) and various innovations which accompany it, ceremonies in which Soorah al-Fatihah is recited over food before eating, celebrations and festivities held at the graves of popular saints, invoking the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) believing that the Messenger is Omnipresent and the like.[3]


The Real Ikhtilaaf (Disagreement)

In reality, the Barelawis and the Deobandis differ more in practice than in principle. This is apparent from books that have been written by the Deobandis in order to bridge their differences with the Barelawis. Most disagreements are either in finer details, or whether those actions are for specific people or for all. A good example is the issue of meditation (Muraqabah) and seeking benefit from the graves. Even though, the two groups outwardly oppose each other on this issue, the only difference is that the Barelawis call towards and recommend visiting graves to derive benefit from them for everyone, whilst the Deobandis make it specific for a few. Therefore, the rift between the Deobandis and the Barelawis is more of mutual prejudice, than of Aqeedah.


The Barelawis on their part have relied mostly on conspiracy theories and misinterpretation in their Takfeer (declaring Kufr) of the Deobandis. They created a lot of noise on Moulana Ahsan Nanotwi’s statement, “And even if another Prophet arrived…”, but this statement is not objectionable from the Sufi point of view. It simply stems from the common belief of all the Sufis that everything was created from the light of Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam), and that he (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) is the ‘Seal of Prophet hood’ from the very beginning. Besides, ‘real Sufis’ know that since nothing exists other than Allah, to believe in the real existence of Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) is Shirk. This shows that the differences between these two Sufi groups are superficial and based mostly upon party rivalry than upon religion. The Sufis in general do not give Aqeedah, which is the core of Islam, its due position. We shall elaborate further in light of statements by Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki.


[1] Soorah al-Ahzab (33): 40.

[2] Tahzeerun-Naas, p.3 and 25.

[3] See Bahishti Zewar, Part 12, p.222, (Unity in Islam by Haji Imdadullah).