After 9/11, Barelvi condemned terrorist organizations they regarded as Wahhabi-inspired and suicide attacks, but supported jihad against the U.S. and India.
by Massimo Introvigne
Article 2 of 7. Read article 1.
As discussed in the previous article, in the late 20th century the Barelvi, a movement gathering members of several Sufi orders, became increasingly radicalized in Pakistan, contrary to the expectations of those who believed that Sufism was unlikely to produce radical political groups. There were both contingent and ideological reasons for this development.
One reason was that Barelvi had been physically attacked by rival movements opposed to popular Sufism, such as the Deobandi and the Ahl-i-Hadith, who occupied their mosques and killed dozens of their leaders. A second reason was the marginalization of the less politically active Barelvi by Pakistani’s political elite, which exasperated a community that, despite representing the majority of Pakistani Muslims, was excluded from the main political appointments.
An ideological reason of the radicalization, however, was that the Barelvi movement, precisely because it conferred a quasi-divine status to Prophet Muhammad (which was the reason why the rival movements Deobandi and the Ahl-i-Hadith, influenced by the Saudi Wahhabi, accused them of heresy and of compromising the uniqueness of God), believed that civil and political rights should be denied in a Muslim state to those they regarded as being disrespectful to the Prophet.
The Barelvi were not less vicious than the Deobandi in calling for a persecution of the Ahmadis. Barelvi believe that by claiming that their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908) was also a prophet, the Ahmadis deny and offend Muhammad’s claim to be the last of the prophets. One of the most vicious organizations calling for the extermination of the Ahmadis, Tehreek Tahaffuz Namoos e-Risalat (TTNR), was founded by Barelvi.
Barelvi also believed that, by denying that Muhammad was a prophet, Christians and Hindus were also blasphemers and should be punished. As reported in historian Ayesha Jalal’s Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2008, p. 146), the founder of the Barelvi taught that “presented with a choice of giving water to a thirsty infidel or to a dog, a believer should make the offering to the dog.”
At the same time, Barelvi also believed that the Saudis were blasphemers since, because of the Wahhabi belief that any cult of the personality of Prophet Muhammad would risk to make him similar to God and threaten Islamic monotheism, they destroyed monuments associated with Muhammad and his family, and at one stage even wanted to destroy the grave of the Prophet in Medina, although international reactions prevented them from doing it.
While continuing to defend themselves from Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith violence, and attacking Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus, in the last decade of the 20th century Barelvi militias also targeted Saudi activities in Pakistan and agitated against Saudi presence in the country. An anti-Saudi organization was formed under the name of Almi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat. Its leader was Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri, a Sufi master who will later become an important patron of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan.
In 2001, the same year of the assassination of Barelvi leader Saleem Qadri discussed in the previous article, 9/11 also happened. It was a golden opportunity for the Barelvi, including those living in the West, to position themselves as “moderate” Pakistani Muslims, whose clerics condemned terrorism and suicide attacks, and also capitalized on the notion that Sufis were by definition non-violent.
This created during the following decade a series of misunderstandings. On the one hand, it was a Barelvi cleric, Tahirul Qadri, who issued one of the most comprehensive documents condemning suicide terrorism, a 600-page fatwa tracing al-Qa’ida’s terrorism to its Wahhabi roots. Barelvi also vituperated against the Pakistani affiliates of the Taliban, who in turn organized suicide attacks against the most important Barelvi shrines in the country. In 2010, Barelvi promoted a mass march from Islamabad to Lahore asking the government to cease its support for terrorists.
At one stage, some in the United States came to regard Barelvi as potential allies in their war on terror. In India, local Barelvi organized anti-Wahhabi anti-terrorism conferences that were praised by the government. However, some foreign observers did not exactly understand the Barelvi position. They were against terrorism as something having Wahhabi and anti-Barelvi roots, but were not against jihad. Their position about Afghanistan and Kashmir was the same as their sworn enemies, the Deobandi, with respect to the ultimate aims. Where they disagreed was on the methods to achieve these aims.
Terrorism, particularly suicide terrorism, was proscribed by Barelvi as Wahhabi and anti-Islamic. They recommend instead a properly declared jihad against the United States and India. To be on the safer side, the leaders of Sunni Tehreek unilaterally declared jihad against the United States. While they continued to fight against Deobandi-inspired groups in bloody riots, the Barelvi political leadership signed with them virtually all the anti-American and anti-Indian documents produced in the 21st century.
Pakistani governments had a vested interest in promoting the Barelvi, who were after all the majority of Muslims in the country, as typical Sufis, with the implication that most Pakistani Muslims were “moderate” and against terrorism. Barelvi art and music were promoted at home and internationally.
There was more than a kernel of truth in the statement that most Sufi groups are peaceful, and it was also true that Barelvi had condemned terrorism. But they were not against other forms of violent action, as the decade of the 2010 will clearly demonstrate.