All Praise be to Allah and blessings be on the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
The Ummah has seen so much during the last 14 centuries .It has seen the rise and fall of several sects, divisions, ideologies and groups. The Prophet ﷺ, had prophesized this and said that Ummah would split into 73 sects. He ﷺ said, “The Jews were split up into seventy-one or seventy-two sects; and the Christians were split up into seventy one or seventy-two sects; and my community will be split up into seventy-three sects.”
A couple of those groups which are quite dominant in the Indian Subcontinent and other areas are the Barelwi and the Deobandi groups. These two groups share a lot of similarities in their beliefs and their creed. It is quite observable that these two groups rival each other and there is constant friction among them.
The Barelwis are considered a Sufi sect which was founded by Ahmad Raza Khan of Bareilly, Rohilkhand, India. The term Barelvi was coined due to the fact the founder was from this place i.e Bareilly. Ahmad Raza was the central figure in creating this movement and he gained many followers during the 19th and 20th century. (Philips 51).
Their basic creed revolves around the extreme love for the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. They follow the Ashari or the Maturidi schools for Aqeedah and they are Hanafi when it comes to Fiqh. There are various beliefs which are in stark contrast to the mainstream Muslims who understand Islam in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
One of their fundamental beliefs is that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ knows the unseen, he controls the universe and they legitimize asking the Prophet ﷺ and other saints, calling upon them in times of distress. Ahmad Raza Khan said in his book Al Malfuz Ash Sharif that, “The Prophet of Allah (saw) has removed all doubts from our hearts and minds and informed us that his knowledge is comprehensive and unique which is beyond human perception. Therefore, he said, ”Everything in the universe was presented to me and I recognize them all. Nothing of the universe is excluded from my knowledge or sight”…This recognition encompasses everything hidden in the Sacred Pen (Qalam) and recorded in the Protected Sacred Tablet (Luhe-Mahfuz). This in turn encompasses everything of the past and future, from the First and Last Day. Every concealed or exposed thing is included therein” (Khan 5).
Similarly they have similar beliefs regarding the Awliya (the pious people) that they watch the whole universe and know everything. This has lead them to indulge in Shirk i.e associating partners with Allah, and they have begun to venerate the graves, bowing and prostrating to them, having music sessions, calling out to them and other similar rituals. They also celebrate the Mawlid or the birth of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ with great zeal and fervor.
The Deobandi movement started with disagreements and political differences with the Barelwi group. This disagreement led to the foundation of Darul Uloom Deoband and for the creation of Jamaat Tableegh. The foundation is accredited to Moulana Qasim Nanotwi and anyone who agrees with their ideology and creed is referred to as the Deobandi. Moulana Ilyas founded the Tableeghi Jamaat and he was a proponent of the movement. The use of the book which is their standard guide is the Fazaail Amaal or The Tableeghi Nisaab (Kayum 12)
The Deobandis, like their counterparts, are Maturidi or Ashari in their aqeedah and hanafi in their fiqh. Their beliefs include Wahdat al Wujood, which means that the creator and the creation are unified and that the creation is the manisfetation of the creator. (Kayum 17). Moreover, they believe that the Prophet ﷺ and the Awliya are alive in their graves like they are alive in this world, and they fully communicate with the outside world. They also extol the Prophet ﷺ and go into excesses in his praise. They believe that the messengers can help and benefit the living physically.
The Barelwi and the Deobandi movement have quite a lot of similarities between them. As it was said earlier, they both claim to follow the Ashari or the Maturidi creed when it comes to Aqeedah. They also claim to be following the Hanafi Mathhab when it comes to the matter of Fiqh. They both are known for excessive praise for the Prophet ﷺ and also for the righteous people and they attribute them with the knowledge of the unseen, ability to help the living in this world, etc. Hence this has lead them to venerate and revere the graves of the righteous people, although the degree of veneration might vary between these two groups.
Hence the line between the two group has become blurred since they could be called as an offshoot of a Parent sect i.e Sufism, since they both consider Tasawwuf to be a good thing.
The Differences between these two groups have caused a lot of rivalry and schism especially in the India Sub-Continent where sometimes one group calls for Takfeer for the other group.
Hence it could be said that the differences between these two groups is more in practice than in principle. Since, when the books written by the scholars of both these groups are read, the differences are mostly in the finer details.
One of the major differences could be the act of Istagaatha or seeking benefit from the dead. The Barelwi deem it permissible to seek benefit from the dead righteous individuals generally. Hence it is quite common to find a grave in almost every street in the Indian Subcontinent.
While, the Deobandis , although actually eschew calling out to the dead in public except the Prophet ﷺ, when one goes to their books, they actually deem it permissible to call out on the chosen few righteous individuals. Hence the difference is between calling out to the general Awliya versus calling out to the chosen ones. (Kayum 26)
Another, difference between is regarding considering the Prophet ﷺ as light or as a Mortal. While Barelwi tend to consider him as Noor or light and Deobandis claim that he is a Mortal.
Hence it could be seen that the differences are more out of rivalry and hatred towards each other rather than being in their creed and beliefs. Moreover, in reality, their beliefs within the group itself is not constant, since many lay Muslims are unaware of the beliefs of the group they belong.
Hence, any group which does not follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah according to the understanding of the Salaf, are destined to be misguided and deviated. As Allah says: [Or] of those who have divided their religion and become sects, every faction rejoicing in what it has. (Surah Room 30:32).
And Allah Knows Best.
Kayum, Sajid Abdul. The Jamaat Tableegh and the Deobandis – A critical Analysis of their Beliefs, Books and Dawah. Ahya Mulitimedia, http://www.ahya.org, 2001.
Khan, Ali Hassan. A gift for the Bralwiyah. http://www.umm-ul-qura.org, n.d.
Philips, Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal. Mislamic Sects Part Two . n.d.
Sunan Abi Dawud 4596 . n.d. http://sunnah.com/abudawud/42. June 2016.