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Barelvi (Urdu: بَریلوِی‎, Barēlwī, Urdu pronunciation: [bəreːlʋi]) is a term used for the movement following the Sunni 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]

Even though the movement has little to do with the practices and Sufism of Classic Islamic Mystics, it is often referred to as a Sufi movement. It is thought that the movement was 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 consists of the Ahle Sunnat wal Jama'at "People of the traditions [of 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, Salafis and Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama followers.[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] The Barelvi movement formed as a defense of the traditional mystic practices of South Asia, which it sought to prove and support.[16]

Unlike most other Muslim movements in the region, the Barelvis opposed the Indian independence movement due to its leadership under Mahatma Gandhi, who was a Hindu and not a Muslim. On the other hand, Khan and his movement were largely responsible for pulling Muslims into conflict with Hindus and supported of the Pakistan Movement.[17] The Barelvis were joined in this by all major Islamic movements in the South Asia, including Twelver, the Ismaili Shi'i Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims except the Deobandis.[17][18][19]

Although the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama was founded in 1893 to reconcile South Asia's Muslim sectarian differences, the Barelvis eventually withdrew their support from the council and criticized its efforts.[20]

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.[21]


India Today estimates that the vast majority of Muslims in India adhere to the Barelvi movement,[22] and The Heritage Foundation, Time and The Washington Post give similar assessments for the vast majority of Muslims in Pakistan.[23][24][25][26] Political scientist Rohan Bedi estimates that 60% of Pakistani Muslims are Barelvis.[27]

The majority of Pakistani and Kashmir origin Britons in the United Kingdom are descended from Barelvi-majority areas.[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.[28] 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.[29]

Beliefs and practices[edit]

Part of a series on
The Barelvi movement
Tomb of Ahmed Raza Khan
Founders & Central figures

Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi
Hamid Raza Khan
Mustafa Raza Khan Qadri

Notable Scholars

Maulana Abdul Hamid Qadri Badayuni
Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari
Muhammad Muslehuddin Siddiqui
Qamaruzzaman Azmi
Ameen Mian Qaudri
Syed Shujaat Ali Qadri


Jamia Naeemia Lahore
Jamia Al-Karam, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia
Manchester Central Mosque
Jamiatur Raza, Manzar-e-Islam
Al Jamiatul Ashrafia, Al-Jame-atul-Islamia

Literature & Notable Works

Kanzul Iman, Fatawa-e-Razvia
Bahar-e-Shariat, Husamul Haramain


Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, Jamaat Ahle Sunnat
Sunni Tehreek, Sunni Ittehad Council
Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme Nabuwwat
All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board
Muslim Students Organisation of India

Like other Sunni Muslims, Barelvis base their beliefs on the Quran and Sunnah and believe in monotheism and the prophethood of Muhammad. Barelvis follow the Maturidi school of Islamic theology and the Hanafi madhhab of fiqh in addition to choosing from the Qadiri, Chishti or Suhrawardi tariqas.

Beliefs regarding Muhammad[edit]

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

  • He is a human being but created from light.[30]
  • He is present in many places at the same time.[31]
  • He is still witnessing all that goes on in the world.[31]
  • He has knowledge of that which is unknown, including the future.[32]


  • 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 some opponents call "shrine-worshipping" and Grave worshiping and consider to be un-Islamic.[38][39][40][41]


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 Barelvis, went as far as to declare all Deobandis infidels and apostates.[48]

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. Saying that Kashmiris can ill afford sectarian strife after two decades of bloodbath. [49]

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.[50]

Conflicts with the Deobandi[edit]

The conflict with the Deobandi movement has been particularly heated and uncivil.[51] While both the Barelvi and Deobandi movements tend to prefer the Hanafi madhhab[52] and accept Sufism, their fundamental beliefs and way in practicing Sufism has kept them at odds.[7] 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.[53] 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.[54]

Historically, relations between the Barelvi movement and the British administration of India have been better than those of other Islamic movements.[7] R. Upadhyay and Rajesh T. Krishnamachari of the India-based South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) have denied that a simple comparison exists between Barelvism and Deobandism on any scale of tolerance or moderation.[17][55] According to the same SAAG analysis, the "Deobandi-Barelvi rivalry is also known to be rooted to their ethnic rivalry."[17]

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.[56] 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.[57]

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."[58]

In 2009 another prominent Islamic scholar and mufti, or jurisconsult, of the movement, the late Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi, issued a fatwa denouncing suicide bombings,[59] 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.[60]

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,[61] while others describe it as being effected by intolerance and radicalism in ways similar to other Islamic movements in the region.[17][26][62][63][64][65]

In the 1990s and 2000s, sporadic violence resulted from disputes between the Barelvi and Deobandi movements over control of Pakistani mosques,[66] with the conflict coming to a head in May 2001 when sectarian riots broke out after the assassination of Sunni Tehreek leader Saleem Qadri.[67] 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.[68][69] 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.[70] 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.[71]

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.[64][72] Over five hundred scholars of the Barelvi movement voiced support for the crime and urged a boycott of Taseer's funeral.[17][26][63][65][73] According to Time, Sunni Tehreek rewarded the assassin's family[74][75] and threatened Taseer's family,[64][76] while another Barelvi group abducted Taseer's son.[77] Supporters attempted to prevent police from bringing the perpetrator to an anti-terrorism court, blocking the way and cheering on the assassin.[78] During the same period, a number of Barelvi scholars also condemned the assassination.[79][80]


Some commentators see the Barelvi movement as a radical movement which does not accept the views of the Deoband Ulama, the Ahl al-Hadith and some others.[81]

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]

  • Kanzul Iman, an English/Urdu Quran translation by Ahmad Raza Khan
  • Nahdlatul Ulama, an Indonesian traditionalist movement formed in reaction to Wahabbism


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External links[edit]