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VII Alternative Tendencies within Sunni Islam: The Ahl-i Hadis and the Barelwis I fill the skirt of my garment with flowers from the garden of the Qur'an and Sunna The use of speculation and personal opinion is chaff to me; The analogy of no one will misguide the Nawwab For he has taken as proof the Traditions and the Book. —Nawwab Siddiq Hasan Khan, Ahl-i Hadis1 IN addition to the Deobandis, two other influential groups of Sunni 'ulama, the Ahl-i Hadis and the Barelwi, emerged in the late nineteenth century. All three groups concurred in identifying popularly based 'ulama as the foci of religious leadership, and all three led quasi-sectarian movements among their followers. All three placed issues of the Law, albeit based on different premises, at the forefront of their teachings. The three groups debated a wide range of issues with each other, from theories of jurisprudence to mere polemic. Initially each group appealed to somewhat different social groups and was identified with a different geographic location. Over time, however, each attracted a more geographically dispersed and more sociologically heterogeneous following. Over time, as well, they evolved similar institutional organizations so that they became more clearly "alternatives" to each other. The geographic centers of each 1. Quoted and translated from the original Persian in Saeeudullah, The Life and Works ofMuhammad Siddiq Hasan Khan, Nauiwab ofBhopat (Lahore, 1973), p. 119. 264 Ahl-i-Hadis, Barelwis group of 'ulama (and the centers of other movements discussed in Chapter VIII) are indicated on Map 7. The differences each group saw in the others were defined primarily in a legal idiom. Each accused the others of faulty jurisprudential principles and of mistakes in the domain deemed subject to legal scrutiny. The groups differed in religious style. They differed initially in social class. And they differed somewhat in their political stance in relation to the colonial power. The Ahl-i Hadis, like the Deobandis, were committed to revitalization of the Law by reform of custom. To do so, however, they denied the validity of the medieval law schools in favor of the direct use of the textual sources of the faith, the Qur'an and the hadis, which were to be interpreted literally and narrowly. Moreover, they eschewed Sufi institutions and techniques of meditation and discipline. The Deobandis accused the Ahl-i Hadis of teaching a radical approach to the Law that made individual responsibility far too great. This approach, they argued, was possible only for the elite and not for ordinary people. At least initially, the Ahl-i Hadis directed their reform to the educated and the well born. United by aristocratic social background and a high and austere standard of religious interpretation, the Ahl-i Hadis were clearly a cohesive sect, spread throughout India, and often on the defensive against criticism. Cosmopolitan in orientation, they identified themselves with similar groups in Afghanistan and Arabia. Some among them sought to retain the old style of dependence by religious leaders on princes and nobility. Given their ties to Muslim countries, their close association with Muslim princes, and their literal acceptance of the legitimacy ofjihad, they were, not surprisingly—albeit with individual exceptions— the most opposed of all these groups to the legitimacy of British rule. The contrast between them and the Barelwis was marked. The Barelwi 'ulama did not emerge out of a desire to transform standards of practice and belief but rather out of opposition to the other two groups. They held fast to Hanafi law, broadly interpreted, and to a custom-laden 265 Other Movements 7. Centers of North Indian Muslim Religious Leadership 266 Ahl-i-Hadis, Barelwis style of sufism, closely tied to the pirs of the medieval tombs. Unlike the 'ulama of the other two groups, the Barelwis placed relatively little emphasis on individual responsibility and much more on intercession of the 'ulama and the shaikL·. Nothing characterized their teaching more than hierarchy, a hierarchy that elevated the Prophet, the saints, and the 'ulama themselves as benefactors, patrons, and intercessors. The community they defined was more tied to particular shrines and fixed occasions, and tended to be rural rather than urban. True to their concept of hierarchy, they accepted the existence of the colonial authority apparently without question. The orientation of the Deobandis becomes clearer in the context of these comparable movements. All three were movements of popularly based 'ulama committed to defining what they held to be a correct basis for the Law and...


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