Syed Ahmad Barelvi

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Not to be confused with Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi.

Syed Ahmad Barelvi
Born 1786
Died 1831
Balakot
Known for Jihad Movement against Sikhs

Syed Ahmad Barelvi (1786–1831), was a revolutionary Islamic activist in India. His supporters designated him an Amir al-Mu'minin ("Commander of the Believers") and shaheed ("martyr"). He is thought by at least one scholar (Edward Mortimer), to have anticipated modern Islamists in his waging of jihad and attempt to create an Islamic state with strict enforcement of Islamic law,[1] and by at least one other (Olivier Roy), to be the first modern Islamic leader to lead a movement that was "religious, military and political," and to address the common people and rulers with a call for jihad.[2]

Syed Ahmad was influenced by Shah Abdul Aziz, son of Shah Waliullah. He toured India preaching Islamic renewal and jihad, and built a highly developed network of personal friends and partisans spread across northern India organized to recruit and dispatch men and financial aid. In 1826 he provided an Islamic challenge to an expanding Sikh empire when he and numerous disciples, supported by his network, arrived in Peshawar, (now in Pakistan), to establish an Islamic state among Pashtun tribes in the area.

Syed Ahmad and hundreds of his troops and followers were killed by the Sikh army in Balakot, Mansehra District in 1831, but a number of his followers survived and continued to fight on, taking part in tribal uprisings in the North-west province as late as 1897.[2]

Militia Service[edit]

At the age of twenty-five, Sayyid Ahmad joined a militia as a cavalry man. The militia was led by Amir Khan, in Northern India, one of the many military adventurers of this period, who had organized a body of free-floating demilitarized soldiers of the area to raid and conquer, with the ultimate goal of setting himself up as a prince. Barbara Metcalf theorizes this period in Sayyid Ahmad's life as a time of maturation, when he began to synthesize his experience in state-making and his pious commitment to the Sharia.[3] After about six years of service, however, he left the militia because Amir Khan chose to make peace with the British in return for the rule of a small estate. From Sayyid Ahmad's perspective, this was a strategic disaster because it amounted to surrendering to the greatest threat that Muslims faced in India.[4]

Return to Delhi[edit]

Upon leaving the militia, Sayyid Ahmad returned to Delhi and visited his former teacher Shah Abdul Aziz, who was so impressed by Sayyid Ahmad's charisma and maturation over the years that he advised his nephew Shah Ismail and his son-in-law Maulvi Abdul Hayy to take spiritual allegiance (bay'ah) with him. These two would go on to become Sayyid Ahmad's most trusted disciples. This endorsement by Shah Abdul Aziz only added to Sayyid Ahmad's reputation, and his popularity grew with adherents flocking to him by the thousands.[5]

Reform/Resistance Movement[edit]

According to Olivier Roy, Barelvi was "the first person to realise the necessity of a movement which was at the same time religious, military and political." He also was the first to address the people, not traditional leaders in his call for jihad. His evangelism—based on networks of preachers, collectors and judges—also addressed the common people and not the rulers' courts.[2]

His first target was the Sikh kingdom of Ranjit Singh, which was expanding towards Afghanistan, further into Muslim land. It is thought that Barelvi intended to establish a Muslim bastion on the north-west frontier in the Peshawar valley from whence to attack the British colonialists after defeating Sikh forces.[2] Prior to this he performed the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca with many supporters and spent two years organizing popular and material support for his Peshawar campaign.[6] He carefully developed a network of people through the length and breadth of India to collect funds and encourage volunteers, traveling widely throughout the subcontinent of India attracting a following among pious Muslims.[2]

Arriving in Peshawar valley in late 1826, Sayyid Ahmad and one thousand followers made their base in Charsadda village in Hashnagar.[6] Barelvi preached jihad amongst the local Pashtun tribes, demanding they renounce their tribal customs and adopt the shariat. The traditional khan were replaced by ulama (clerics) and a system of Islamic taxes was established to finance the jihad. Only after this evangelist campaign and sharia system was had set up was jihad declared.[2] The jihad did not succeed however, due to the "treachery of the local khan".[2]

In December 1826 Sayyid Ahmad and his followers clashed with Sikh troops at Akora but with no decisive result. The inability of Sayyid Ahmad to shape local Pakhtun villagers into a disciplined and effective military force led to an 1827 decision consistent with his sense of proper relationship between religious and secular leadership. "It was accordingly decided by all those present at the time, faithful followers, sayyids, learned doctors of law, nobles and generality of Muslims that the successful establishment of 'Jihad ' and the dispelling of disbelief and disorder could not be achieved without the election of an 'Imam'".[6]

This moment of religiously inspired unity attracted the allegiance of maliks, shareholders and even the governors of Peshawar. However, during the next clash with Sikh troops at the south of Akora, the Peshawar rulers withdrew, leaving Sayyid Ahmad and his followers to retreat to the hills north of Peshawar. Yusufzai and Mandanr support for Sayyid Ahmad's movements was fragmented. In 1829 at the peak of his local influence, Sayyid Ahmad obtained agreement that the khans and general public would administer their principalities according to the laws of the Sharia and would give up the customary practices.[7] The decisive moments for Sayyid Ahmad came in 1830.

In addition to the stated social agenda, Sayyid Ahmad also attempted to collect the Islamic tithe (usher) of ten per cent of crop yields. In coercing the reluctant Khans to pay, Sayyid Ahmad antagonized the chief of Hoti, Mardan and who then formed an alliance with Sultan Muhammad, governor of Peshawar. The alliance was defeated and the Islamic reformers finally occupied Peshawar. Over several months during 1830 Sayyed Ahmad tried to conciliate established power hierarchies. But before the end of 1830 an organized uprising occurred and the agents of Sayyid Ahmad in Peshawar and in plain villages were murdered and the movement retreated to hills. There in the town of Balakot in 1831, Sayyid Ahmad was killed by the Sikh Army.[6][8]

Legacy[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mortimer, Edward, Faith and Power, (1982), p.68-70
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Roy, Olivier (1985). Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan. Cambridge University Press. pp. 57–8. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Metcalf, Barbara Daly (2002). Islamic revival in British India : Deoband, 1860-1900 (3rd impression. ed.). New Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 0195660498. 
  4. ^ Bashir, Aamir (2013). Shari'at and Tariqat: A Study of the Deobandi Understanding and Practice of Tasawwuf. Dar al-Sa'adah Publication. 
  5. ^ Abbott, Freeland (1962). "The Jihad of Sayyid Ahmad". The Muslim World 52 (3): 216–222. doi:10.1111/j.1478-1913.1962.tb02616.x. 
  6. ^ a b c d Wahhabi movement in India. Qeyamuddin Ahmad, (1994, p.50). open library
  7. ^ Nichols, Robert, Settling the Frontier: Land, Law and Society in the Peshawar Valley, 1500-1900, Oxford University Press, 2001| p.98
  8. ^ Qeyamuddin Ahmad, Wahhabi movement in India, (1994, p.55)

Further reading[edit]

  • Adamec, Ludwig, Historical Dictionary of Islam, Scarecrow Press, 2001

External links[edit]