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Barelvi (Urdu: بَریلوِی‎, Barēlwī, Urdu pronunciation: [bəreːlʋi]) is a term used for a movement within Sunni Islam of Hanafi school of jurisprudence, originating in Bareilly with over 200 million followers in South Asia.[1] The name derives from the north Indian town of Bareilly, the hometown of its founder and main leader Ahmed Raza Khan (1856–1921).[2][3][4][5][6] Although Barelvi is the commonly used term in the media and academia, the followers of the movement often prefer to be known by the title of Ahle Sunnat wal Jama'at, or as Sunnis, a reference to their perception as forming an international majority movement.[7]

The movement is much influenced by Sufism and the traditional folk Islam practices of South Asia, having formed as a reaction to the reformist attempts of the Deobandi movement, which was influenced by the Wahhabi movement in Arabia.[8][9]


To its followers, the movement is known as Ahle Sunnat wal Jama'at (People of the traditions [of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad] and the community"), and they refer to themselves as Sunnis. This terminology is used to lay exclusive claim to be the only legitimate form of Sunni Islam in South Asia, in opposition to the Deobandi, Ahl al-Hadith, Salafi and Nadwatul Ulama movements.[7][8][10]


The Barelvi movement was founded by Ahmad Raza Khan[11][12][13][14] who, after two failed attempts at establishing Islamic schools, finally succeeded in 1904 with the Manzar-e-Islam.[8][15] Though very much linked to Pakistan today, the movement's foundation predated Pakistan's nationhood; the movement was, essentially, founded as a defense of traditional Islam as understood and practiced in South Asia.[9] Defense of these beliefs sometimes brought the Barelvis into conflict with other movements and creeds. Unlike most other Muslim movements in the region, the Barelvis opposed the Indian independence movement due to its leadership under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was a Hindu and not a Muslim.[16] On the other hand, Khan and his movement, being among the foremost campaigners for Sufism, were largely responsible for pulling Muslims into conflict with Hindus and were primary supporters of the Pakistan Movement.[16] The Barelvis were joined in this by all major Islamic movements in the South Asia, including Shi'ites and Ismailis, except the Deobandis, the Barelvis' main rivals.[16][17][18]

The Barelvi movement formed as a defense of the traditional mystic practices of South Asia, which it sought to prove and support.[8][9]

Although the Nadwatul Ulema council was founded in 1893 to reconcile South Asia's Muslim sectarian differences, the Barelvis eventually withdrew their support of the council and criticized its efforts.[8]

As a reaction to the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, a conglomerate of forty Barelvi parties called for a boycott of Western goods, while at the same time condemning violence which had taken place in protest against the film.[19]


India Today estimates that the vast majority of Muslims in India adhere to the Barelvi movement,[20] and The Heritage Foundation, Time and The Washington Post both give a similar assessment for the vast majority of Muslims in Pakistan.[21][22][23][24] Political scientist Rohan Bedi estimates that 60% of Pakistani Muslims are Barelvis.[25] In Pakistani, many Barelvis have switched to Deobandi movement due to Islamization and radicalization of the society after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.[26]

The majority of Pakistani and Kashmiri immigrants to the United Kingdom are descended from Barelvi-majority villages.[7] The Barelvi movement in Pakistan has received funding from Barlevis in the UK, in part as a reaction to rival movements in Pakistan also receiving funding from abroad.[27] According to an editorial in the English-language Pakistani newspaper The Daily Times, many of these mosques have been however usurped by Saudi-funded radical organizations.[28]

Beliefs and practices[edit]

Barelvi movement
Tomb of Ahmed Raza Khan
Central figures

Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi
Shah Waliullah
Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki
Meher Ali Shah

Mufti Amjad Ali Aazmi
Hamid Raza Khan


Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, Pakistan
Sunni Tehreek, Pakistan
Sunni Ittehad Council, Pakistan
Dawat-e-Islami, International
World Islamic Mission, International
Sunni Dawat-e-Islami, International


Al Jamiatul Ashrafia · Manzar-e-Islam
Al-Jame-atul-Islamia · Jamiatur Raza

Notable Scholars

Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi, Pakistan
Ilyas Qadri, Pakistan
Muhammad Muslehuddin Siddiqui, Pakistan
Allama Arshadul Qaudri, India

Kanzul Iman, translation of the Qur'an

Like other Sunni Muslims, Barelvis base their beliefs on the Qur'an and Sunnah and believe in monotheism and the prophethood of Muhammad. Barelvis follow the Maturidi school of Islamic theology and the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, in addition to choosing from the Qadri, Chishti, or Suhrawardi Sufi orders.

Beliefs regarding Muhammad[edit]

Barelvis have several beliefs regarding Muhammad's nature, which distinguish them from Deobandi, Salafi and Shia groups in South Asia:

  • He is a human being but created from light like angels, rather than from clay like other human beings.[29]
  • He is present in many places at the same time.[30]
  • He is still witnessing all that goes on in the world.[30]
  • He has knowledge of that which is unknown, including the future.[31]
  • He has God's authority to do whatever he desires.[32]


  • Veneration of dead and living saints. This consists of the intervention of an ascending, linked and unbroken chain of holy personages claimed to reach ultimately to Muhammad, who Barelvis believe intercede on their behalf with God.[35]
  • Visiting the tombs of Muhammad, his companions and of pious Muslims, an act the Barelvis claim is supported by the Quran, Sunnah and acts of the companions, but which opponents call "shrine-worshipping" and Grave worshiping and consider to be un-Islamic.[36][37][38][39]
  • Use of devotional music[40][41][42][43] and dhikr.[44]
  • Leaving the beard to grow for men; the movement views a man who trims his beard to less than a fist-length as a sinner, and shaving the beard is considered abominable.[45]


Relations with other movements[edit]

Having formed as a reaction against the reformist Deobandi movement, relations between the two groups have often been strained. Ahmad Raza Khan, the founder of Barelvism, went as far as to declare not only all Deobandis infidels and apostates,[47] but also any non-Deobandis who doubted the apostasy of Deobandis.[citation needed]

Although conflict has occurred, relations with other Muslim movements in South Asia have not always been hostile. In mid-2012, leaders of both the Barelvi and Ahl al-Hadith movements in the Kashmir Valley denied that there was any animosity between the two sects in the region.[48] One commentator has suggested that the Barelvi movement as a whole has begun to mix more with Shi'ites than in the past.[26][dead link][citation needed]

According to New Delhi analyst Sushant Sareen, in contrast to the substantial Saudi funds received by the Pakistani Deobandi and Ahle Hadith movements, the country's Barelvi movement has received almost no foreign funding. He says this is one reason no Barelvi jihadist group has grown large enough to get involved in Pakistan's Islamist and sectarian politics.[49]

Conflicts with the Deobandi[edit]

The conflict with the Deobandi movement has been particularly heated and uncivil.[8][50] While both the Barelvi and Deobandi movements tend to prefer the Hanafi school of Islamic law and accept Sufism, their fundamental beliefs and way in practicing Sufism has kept them at odds.[7][8] Commenting on this, historian Usha Sanyal, in her research entitled Devotional Islam and Politics in British India: Ahmad Raza Khan Barelwi and His Movement, 1870–1920, stated:

Not only did Ahmad Raza Khan obtain confirmatory signatures from other scholars in the South Asia, he managed to get agreement from a number of prominent ulama in Mecca. That occurred in the first years of the twentieth century—long before the Al-Saud and their Wahhabi allies got control of the Haramayn.[51] The feat was, nevertheless, stunning. The antipathy of the Deobandis toward the Ahl-i Sunnah on the emotional level becomes more comprehensible when Ahmad Riza's fatwa receives a full explication.[52]

Historically, relations between the Barelvi movement and Britain have been better than those of other Islamic movements.[7] According to Pakistani journalist Khaled Ahmed, the switchover from Barelvism to Deobandism and the gradual decline of Barelvism in the UK has resulted in the conversion of some mystically-minded Kashmiri expatriates to hardline Muslims,[26] though R. Upadhyay writing on behalf of the India-based South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) has described as a myth the idea that Barelvism is more tolerant and moderate than Deobandism.[16] According to the same SAAG analysis, the "Deobandi-Barelvi rivalry is also known to be rooted to their ethnic rivalry."[16]

Conflicts with the Taliban[edit]

The Barelvi movement has taken a stance against the various Taliban movements in South Asia, organising rallies and protests in India and Pakistan, condemning what they perceive as unjustified sectarian violence.[53] The Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), an amalgamation of eight Sunni organizations, launched the Save Pakistan Movement to stem the process of Talibanisation. Terming the Taliban a product of global anti-Islam conspiracies, the leaders of SIC charged the Taliban with playing into the hands of the United States to divide Muslims and bring a bad name to Islam.[54]

Supporting this movement, the Pakistan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said: "The Sunni Tehreek has decided to activate itself against Talibanisation in the country. A national consensus against terrorism is emerging across the country."[55]

In 2009 another prominent Islamic scholar and mufti, or jurisconsult, of the movement, the late Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi, issued a fatwa denouncing suicide bombings,[56] as well as criticizing Taliban leader Sufi Muhammad by saying he "should wear bangles if he is hiding like a woman". Naeemi added: "Those who commit suicide attacks for attaining paradise will go to hell, as they kill many innocent people". Naeemi would himself be killed by a suicide bomber.[57]

Sectarian violence[edit]

Analysts and journalists have produced conflicting opinions about the underlying nature of the Barelvi movement, with some describing the group as moderate and peaceful,[58] while others describe it as being effected by intolerance and radicalism in ways similar to other Islamic movements in the region.[16][24][59][60][61][62]

In the 1990s and 2000s, sporadic violence resulted from disputes over control of Pakistani mosques between the Barelvi and Deobandi movements,[63] with the conflict coming to a head in May 2001 when sectarian riots broke out after the assassination of Sunni Tehreek leader Saleem Qadri.[64] In April 2006 in Karachi, a bomb attack on a Barelvi gathering in celebration of Muhammad's birthday killed at least 57 people, including several central leaders of the Sunni Tehreek.[65][66] In April 2007, Sunni Tehreek activists attempted forcibly to gain control of a mosque in Karachi, opening fire on the mosque and those inside, killing one person and injuring three others.[67] On 27 February 2010, militants believed to be affiliated with the Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba attacked Barelvis celebrating mawlid in Faisalabad and Dera Ismail Khan, again sparking tensions among the rival sects.[68]

Reaction to Blasphemy Law[edit]

On 4 January 2011, former governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by a member of the Barelvi group Dawat-e-Islami due to his opposition to the blasphemy law in Pakistan.[61][69] Over five hundred scholars of the Barelvi movement voiced support for the crime and urged a boycott of Taseer's funeral.[16][24][60][62][70] According to Time, Sunni Tehreek rewarded the assassin's family[71][72] and threatened Taseer's family,[61][73] while another Barelvi group abducted Taseer's son.[74] Supporters attempted to prevent police from bringing the perpetrator to an anti-terrorism court, blocking the way and cheering on the assassin.[75] During the same period, a number of Barelvi scholars also condemned the assassination.[76][77]

Notable scholars[edit]

Early scholars[edit]

Present scholars[edit]

Notable organizations[edit]

In Pakistan, prominent Sunni Barelvi religious and political organizations include:

In India:

Main institutions[edit]

See also[edit]


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  18. ^ A History of Pakistan and Its Origins By Christophe Jaffrelot page 223
  19. ^ Anti-Islam movie: Barelvi parties call for Western boycott. The Express Tribune, 5 October 2012.
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  28. ^ Editorial: Britain, Al Qaeda and Pakistan. Thursday, 26 March 2009. Accessed Sunday, 19 May 2013.
  29. ^ Ahmed Raza. "Noor o Bashar ::Islamic Books, Books Library". Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
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  33. ^ Sirriyeh 1999: 49
  34. ^ Sirriyeh 2004: 111
  35. ^ Martin Parsons (1 January 2006). Unveiling God: Contextualizing Christology for Islamic Culture. William Carey Library. pp. 149–. ISBN 978-0-87808-454-8. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
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  38. ^ "". Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
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  44. ^ [1]
  45. ^ Arun Shourie, The World of Fatwas or the Sharia in Action, pg. 135. ASA Publications, 1995. ISBN 9788190019958
  46. ^ Shamin Akhter, Faith & Philosophy of Islam, pg. 271. Volume 2 of Indian religions series. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, 2009. Accessed February 18, 2013. ISBN 9788178357195
  47. ^ Kenneth W. Jones, Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India, Part 3, vol. 1, pg. 71. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  48. ^ Sheikh Qayoom, Kashmir’s Barelvi, Ahle Hadith leaders deny sectarian tension. Thaindian, courtesy of Indo-Asian News Service: Saturday, 28 April 2012.
  49. ^ Sushant Sareen, The Jihad Factory: Pakistan's Islamic Revolution in the Making, pg. 282. New Delhi: Har Anand Publications, 2005.
  50. ^ Ashok K. Behuria, Sects Within Sect: The Case of Deobandi–Barelvi Encounter in Pakistan. Strategic Analysis, vol. 32, no. 1. Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, January 2008.
  51. ^ Haramayn refers to the Masjid al-Haram ("Sacred Mosque") in Mecca and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi ("Mosque of the Prophet") in Medina. Dictionary of Islamic Architecture
  52. ^ Gregory C. Doxlowski. Devotional Islam and Politics in British India: Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi and His Movement, 1870-1920. The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Oct–Dec, 1999
  53. ^ Indian Muslims protest against Talibani terrorism. 17 June 2009
  54. ^ Pakistan’s Sunnis unite against Talibanisation. Thaindian News. 9 May 2009
  55. ^ Clashing interpretations of Islam. Daily Times (Pakistan), 5 May 2009
  56. ^ Bombers target two Pakistani cities Al Jazeera
  57. ^ Anti-Taliban views cost Mufti Naeemi his life – Daily Times
  58. ^ See:
  59. ^ Syed Hamad Ali, Why are Pakistan's 'moderate' clerics defending Salman Taseer's murderer? The Guardian, Wednesday 12 October 2011.
  60. ^ a b The Jamestown Foundation, Sufi Militants Struggle with Deobandi Jihadists in Pakistan, 24 February 2011. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 8. Accessed 11 March 2013.
  61. ^ a b c Omar Waraich, Why Pakistan's Taliban Target the Muslim Majority. Time, Thursday, 7 Apr. 2011.
  62. ^ a b Pervez Hoodbhoy, A long, sad year after Salman Taseer's killing. The Hindu, 4 January 2012.
  63. ^ Rana Tanveer, Rites and wrongs: Mosque sealed after Barelvi-Deobandi clash. The Express Tribune, 20 September 2011.
  64. ^ "Serious threat to Pakistan's civil society". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 18 April 2006. 
  65. ^ Bomb carnage at Karachi prayers, BBC Online, 11 April 2006
  66. ^ Special Coverage of Nishtar Park bombing, Jang Group Online
  67. ^ "One dead as ST tries to take control of Ahle Hadith mosque" Daily Times (Pakistan), 11 April 2007
  68. ^ Sectarian clashes kill seven in Pakistan, Agence France-Presse via Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 2010
  69. ^ "Assassin linked with Dawat-i-Islami". Dawn (newspaper). 4 January 2011. 
  70. ^ See also:
  71. ^ ST offers Rs200m blood money for Qadris release. The Nation, 8 October 2011.
  72. ^ PPI, Sunni Tehreek rejects capital punishment to Mumtaz Qadri. Dawn, 1 October 2011.
  73. ^ Taseer's daughter warned to back off, The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 January 2011.
  74. ^ Rana Tanveer, Shahbaz Taseer abduction splits Barelvi group. The Express Tribute, 4 September 2011.
  75. ^ "Demonstrators Prevent Court Appearance of Alleged Pakistani Assassin". Voice of America. 6 January 2011. 
  76. ^ The Assertion of Barelvi Extremism. Current Trends.
  77. ^ Taseer no blasphmer, claim Barelvi ulema. The Nation, 14 October 2011.
  78. ^ [2]


External links[edit]