Br.JinnZaman blog is one of the most interesting on the internet and well worth the read for anyone. He combines meticulous research, interesting topics with insightful commentary. This piece is a good break down on the similarites and differences that plague the two largest trends in the sub-continent and immigrant communities that bring their baggage from home to America.

Firstly, it should be known what the differences are not about: it is not about fundamental differences in theology (such as between Sunnis and Shias) or law (such as between Muqallids and Ghair Muqallids). Deobandis and Barelwis share the same intellectual heritage in so far as they both (a) are Maturidi, (b) Hanafi, (c) accept the Qadiri, Chisti, Suhawardi, and Naqshbandi Sufi tariqas, and (d) have immense respect and deference to the elders of Indian Islam such as Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah.

Secondly, the differences are over issues that have been debates by Muslim scholars throughout time and geography. While the disputes themselves are over particular issues, they reflect a wider disagreement over methodological reasoning. Thus, one sees similar tensions as far as Western Africa between Shaykh Uthman Dan Fodio and other Muslim Scholars, Imam al-Sanusi in Northern Africa, Shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris, the Al-Azhar scholars, the Madinan scholars, and as far off as in Indonesia. This difference of interpretation is not merely a “Salafi v. Sufi” beef, as the Salafi dawah has a separate intellectual lineage. These differences have existed before and independently of the manhaj of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah and Shaykh Muhammad Ibn AbdulWahhab. In fact, it would be more apt to describe the intellectual evolution of Shaykh Muhammad as a by-product of this larger schism with Ahl us Sunnah wa’al Jam’ah rather than a cause of this schism. This schism has to do with the revival of the science of hadeeth which has spawned an increased urge to engage in independent juristic reasoning (ijtehad) as opposed to taqleed (stare decisis) on previous questions. From a historical perspective, neither the Deobandis nor the Barelwis represent a “new” methodology but different approaches to this legal tension. This tension is the real source of the differences between Deobandis and Barelwis and goes back to the era of the Salafus Saleh in the form of the conflict between two groups categorized as “Ahl ul Rai” and “Ahl ul Hadeeth” which, in reality, were the same groups that stressed reason and revelation on different issues. Thus, portraying Deobandis as “Wahhabis” and Barelwis as “Sufis” would be historically inaccurate and nonsensical.

The central difference is over what constitutes Sunnah and what constitutes Bid’a.

In terms of the actual differences, I think the best list of the differences has been compiled by the Deobandi Scholar Maulana Ludhianvi in his work “Differences in the Ummat”:

(1) Was the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) Noor (celestial light) or a human being?(2) Was the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) knower of the unseen or not?(3) Is the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) all-seeing or not?

(4) Has the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) complete choice and control or not?

(5) The permissibility of saying “Ya Rasulullah” beyond poetic license (i.e. thinking that the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) hears and responds to invocations) and making Tawassul through other than the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam), the Anbiyah (alaihi mus salam), and the Sahabah (radhi allahu anhum)

(6) Practices at graves

(7) Celebrating the Mawlid(8) Making congregational du’aMany of the differences of opinion on these issues are not limited between Deobandis and Barelwis. Shaykh Uthman Dan Fodio wrote a rather detailed book entitled “The Revival of the Prophetic Sunnah and the Destruction of Satanic Innovation.” In it, he discusses points 6 and 8 and rejects many of the practices that Barelwis engage in at graves and also rejects the practice of congregational du’a on a regular basis. Another Maliki scholar, Qadhi Iyadh, wrote about the differences of opinion concerning the tafseer of verses of the Qur’an referring to the first point of the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) as light. Qadhi Iyadh, who lived in Spain in the medieval area, stated that believing the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) was made of light was a minority opinion. If this was a minority opinion according to a scholar from Andalus whose work is considered extremely authoritative even in our time, then how can we say that the issue itself is only one that came up recently? Concerning questions 2 and 3, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi held the view that Prophets did not necessarily have knowledge of all past and future events. If a great Indian scholar that preceded both Deobandis and Barelwis held this view, this shows that the issue itself is part of a larger discourse that transcends our times. If scholars from Spain, Western Africa, Northern Africa, the Hejaz, the Levant, India, and even as far off as Indonesia have differed over these issues, it illustrates that these issues are not necessarily limited to just Deobandis and Barelwis.

One cannot bring about unity between two groups without first understanding what each group believes in. This is a necessary step before any reconciliation is possible. If both groups understand that their opinions are valid points of ikhtilaaf, then perhaps the reactionary takfeer will stop as well.

May Allah (SWT) (subhana wa ta’ala) raise up a leader from amongst us who will unite our Ummah. Ameen.