Sectarian slugfest: From Shia-Sunni, Barelvi-Deoband, its now Barelvi ulema vs Ajmer Dargah’s Sufis

Shakeel Shamsi, the regional editor of the noted Urdu daily, Inquilab has written an interesting editorial titled “Maslaki Bughz-o-Inaad Ka Waseetar Hota Daira” (escalating scale of sectarianism). He laments that the sectarian conflicts among Muslims which were confined to Shias-Sunnis or later Deobandi-Barelwis are now escalating into the slugfests between Ajmer Dargah’s Sufis and the devout Barelwis.

Ajmer dargah

The puritanical Barelvi ulema, who call themselves ‘Reformist Sufis’ have denounced the mystically-inclined custodians of the Ajmer Dargah calling them Badmazhab (heretics) and Gumrah (misguided) and Rawafiz (hardcore Shias). More bluntly, in the recently concluded annual Urs-e-Aala Hazrat in Bareilly, they have asked Sunni Muslims to boycott visitations of the Ajmer Sharif Dargah.

In sharp rebuttal, the custodians of the Sufi shrine also known as ‘Khuddam’ (those in service) have disassociated themselves with the ‘fatwa factories’ running in name of Sufism.   

In his press statement, Ajmer Sharif’s Gaddinashin Khadim Syed Sarwar Chishti said, in a stern counter-attack, that Barelwiyat (the Barelwi creed) is not Sufism and that it is another offshoot of religious extremism. “Their job is just to pass Fatwas against one another”, Chishti said as reported in Amar Ujala on November 8.

Chishti argues that Sufism is service to people who celebrate their faiths and maintain communal harmony. Khwaja Gharib Nawaz’s humane compassion for and reconciliation with all (Sulh-e-Kul) is the glaring example. “But their (Barelwi Ulema’s) stances do not stand for the teachings of the Sufi saint”, he avers. 

In fact, on the occasion of the Urs-e-Ala Hazrat, Sayed Amin Mian, the chairperson of Khanakah-e-Barkatia in Marahra, accused the Ajmer Sufi custodians of making objectionable remarks against Aala Hazrat. Thus, he instructed his followers not to visit Ajmer Sharif. This statement made headlines in the local Urdu and Hindi newspapers, and the next day, the Barelwi ulema backed out and declined to accept that they had issued any instructions against visitation of the Ajmer Dargah.

This feud apart, what deserves attention and serious deliberation is the claims that the Barelwi movement in India has actually purged Sufism of its universal appeal and egalitarian values. No wonder that the Barelwi muftis have disparaged almost all contemporary Sufi-minded scholars for their pluralistic ethos and peaceful ideas.

For instance, Pakistani-origin Sufi scholar Dr. Tahir ul Qadri is seen as “Badmazhab” (follower of erroneous path) for his interfaith activism in Canada and other European countries where he frequently lectures. India’s chief Barelvi Muftis and Qazis including Allama Ziaul Mustafa (the chief Qazi of Barelwis in India) declared him an apostate during his lecture in a South African Muslim congregation. Consequently, the ulema of Barelwi faction in India and Pakistan issued several Fatwas of Takfeer (apostasy) against him on the grounds of his inter-religious dialogue endeavours like participating in Christmas celebrations and holding Sufi Music congregations (Mahfil-e-Sima’a).

Such retrogressive pronouncements or Fatwas from the Barelwi ulema were not on rise in India until they re-ideologised themselves in blasphemy laws emanating from Pakistan. Sultan Shahin, the founder-editor of this progressive forum, New Age Islam, rightly points it out:

“The fact remains that Mumtaz Quadri, the murderer of Governor Salman Taseer came from a non-Wahhabi Barelvi sect and was incited into his act and promised heaven in lieu of this murder by a Barelvi Mullah Hanif Qureshi. A shrine has now been built in the outskirts of Islamabad to worship him. Barelvis are considered Sufism-oriented and have been the main victims of Salafi-Wahhabi attacks on Sufi shrines. The half a million people who thronged the murderer Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral and the tens of thousands who are visiting his so-called shrine, however, are largely from Barelvi sect. They consider Governor Salman Taseer to be a blasphemer and his murderer an Aashiq-e-Rasool, i.e., someone who loves the Prophet (pbuh)…. The fact is Salman Taseer had merely called for the repeal of this black Blasphemy law.”

Mr. Shahin also asked a pertinent question in one of his earlier editorials at
“Sectarian unity is certainly an admirable goal. The intention behind it, however, is also very important. Wahhabi, Deobandi and Barelvi sects, who call each other Kafir (infidel), are seeking to unite for some months now.  But towards what end?”
If this ‘unity’ of Ummah stands only for enforcement of discriminatory blasphemy laws in Muslim countries, it is indeed matter of grave concern. Isn’t it surprising enough that Khadim Razavi, Barelwi leader of the Tahrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) spoke in unison with the ‘father of Taliban’ Maulvi Sami-ul-Haque. The last sermon that he made to his followers before he was stabbed to death in Rawalpindi, called for a ‘painful death’ to Asia Bibi and all blasphemers. Along with Khadim Razavi, he also mobilized the protesters in Islamabad against Asia’s acquittal. He had intended to join them but he could not, as reported in New York Times.

At the same time in India, the Barelvi-controlled institutions mourned the landmark judgment of Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitting an accused ‘blasphemer’.

Much earlier in 2011, the Mumbai-based Barelwi outfit Raza Academy strongly protested in support of Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the body-guard who assassinated Salman Taseer. It echoed in India the vociferous support of Barelwi youths’ organization in Pakistan “Shabab-e-Islami” which first protested against the imprisonment of Mumtaz Qadri. They loudly claimed to be “Ahle Sunnat”, another term that Barelvi followers choose to use in the subcontinent. In fact, the Barelwi clergy were first to disparage the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province for advocating reforms in Islam’s blasphemy laws. Now they are calling Imran Khan a ‘Shaitan’ for supporting the judgment of Asia Bibi’s acquittal.

Notably, Raza Academy had got issued a fatwa against AR Rahman for composing music, which is un-Islamic in their view, for Majid Majidi’s biopic, Muhammad: The Messenger of God. Office bearers of Raza Academy publicly asked everyone associated with the film to recite the Kalima and profess Islam again. They purported to state that the entire film crew had turned apostate and hence was obliged to reiterate their faith in Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) again. Even a stern fatwa was issued by Mumbai’s Barelwi Qazi, Mufti Mahmood Akhtar Qadri, the then Imam at Haji Ali Dargah.

Contrary to that, the custodians at Ajmer Sharif Dargah as well as in various other Sufi shrines denounced this fatwa against AR Rahman Khan. They rather hailed the Indian legendry for composing music in ‘good faith’ and called him a ‘true believer’. Thereafter, Rahman wrote this statement: “I follow the middle path and am part traditionalist and part rationalist. I live in the Western and Eastern worlds and try to love all people for what they are, without judging them”.

More to the point, the Barelwi ulema abhor the cultural practices such as the first Islamic month’s commemoration of Muharram known as Tazia, women’s entry to shrines, celebration of Basant and Diwali which occur at a few Dargahs, Sufi music known as sim’a and Sufi whirling in imitation of the dervishes called Raqs. All this is at odds with the worldview of liberal and forward-looking Sufi custodians.

One of the world-renowned custodians (Gaddinashins) of Ajmer Sharif Dargah, Syed Salman Chishty who also runs Chishty Foundation based on the pluralistic principle of “Love towards all, Malice towards none” propounded by Khawaja Moinuddin Chishty (r.a). told this writer:
“As part of the larger humane cause through the platform of Chishty Foundation, we intend to promote the blessed Sufi teachings of Khawaja Gharib Nawaz, Sufi art of Calligraphy, Sufi Poetry, Sufi music and concepts of intertwined Spirituality and Music which is a deeper connection between the Higher state of awareness of the Divine presence through Sama and Qawwali–the Chishti Sufis’ food for the Soul. However, this concept is yet to have a full vision and realization for the essence of complete Sufi understanding and teachings.”

Chishty further says that it’s a universal message for the entire humanity that we love and respect Ashraf-ul-Makhluqat (the best of creations i.e. Human beings) regardless of their faith and creed. They are all equally the best creations of the One Almighty Creator, Allah (s.w.t)
Notably, the Chishty Foundation which asserts the blessed message of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz to serve the Humanity (Khidmat-e-Khalq) is all set to celebrate the 11th International Sufi Rang Festival 2018 as its eleventh edition towards realizing the blessed vision of the Chishti Sufi lineage. “In today’s troubled times, we believe that the message of the great Sufi saints is the not just a way of communication, but rather it is an essential soft power for the solution of the 21st century’s crises, a roadmap towards the Path of Love and Brotherhood among the whole Humanity”, Chishty concluded.

Regular Columnist with, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur’anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

Courtesy: New Age Islam



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