Barelvi (Urdu: بَریلوِی‎, Barēlwī, Urdu pronunciation: [bəreːlʋi]) is a movement following the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence, with over 200 million followers in South Asia.[1] [2] The name derives from the north Indian town of Bareilly, the hometown of its founder and main leader Ahmed Raza Khan (1856–1921).[3][4][5][6][7] Although Barelvi is the commonly used term, the followers of the movement often prefer to be known by the title of Ahle Sunnat wa Jama'at (Urdu: اہل سنت وجماعت‎) or as Sunnis, a reference to their perception as forming an international majority movement.[8]

The movement emphasizes personal devotion to God and the Muslim prophet Muhammad, adherence to Sharia, and Sufi practices such as veneration of saints.[9][10] Because of this, they are often called Sufi.[11] Ahmad Raza Khan and his supporters never used the term 'Barelvi' to identify themselves or their movement;[11] they saw themselves as Sunni Muslims defending traditional Sunni beliefs from deviations.[11] Only later was the term 'Barelvi' used.[citation needed]


The Barelvi movement is named after the town of Bareilly, India, from where this movement was originated.[12][13]

To its followers, the Barelvi movement is the Ahle Sunnat wal Jama'at, or "People of the traditions [of Muhammad] and the community," and they refer to themselves as Sunnis. This terminology is used to lay exclusive claim to be the only legitimate form of Sunni Islam in South Asia, in opposition to the Deobandi, Ahl-i Hadith, Salafis and Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama followers.[8][14][15]


The Barelvi movement became known as Barelvi due to their leader Ahmad Raza Khan[16][17][18][19] who established Islamic schools in 1904 with the Manzar-e-Islam.[14][20] The Barelvi movement formed as a defense of the traditional mystic practices of South Asia, which it sought to prove and support.[21]

Although the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama was founded in 1893 to reconcile South Asia's Muslim sectarian differences, the Barelvis eventually withdrew their support from the council and criticized its efforts as heretical, radical, and counter to the Islamic values.[22]

In contrast with the Deobandi movement, the Barelvis showed unequivocal support for the Movement for Pakistan. In the aftermath of the 1948 Partition, they formed an association to represent the movement in Pakistan, called Jamiyyat-u Ulam-i Pakistan (JUP). Like ulema of the Deobandi and Ahl-i Hadith movements, Barelvi ulema have advocated application of sharia law across the country.[23]

As a reaction to the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, a conglomerate of forty Barelvi parties called for a boycott of Western goods, while at the same time condemning violence which had taken place in protest against the film.[24]


India Today estimated that over two-thirds of Muslims in India adhere to the Barelvi movement,[25] and The Heritage Foundation, Time and The Washington Post gave similar assessments for the vast majority of Muslims in Pakistan.[26][27][28][29] Political scientist Rohan Bedi estimated that 60% of Pakistani Muslims are Barelvis.[2] Barelvis form a majority in the Punjab, Sindh and Azad Kashmir regions of Pakistan.[30]

The majority of people in the United Kingdom of Pakistani and Kashmir origin are descended from immigrants from Barelvi-majority areas.[8] The Barelvi movement in Pakistan has received funding from Barelvis in the UK, in part as a reaction to rival movements in Pakistan also receiving funding from abroad.[31] According to an editorial in the English-language Pakistani newspaper The Daily Times, many of these mosques have been however usurped by Saudi-funded radical organizations.[32]


Like other Sunni Muslims, Barelvis base their beliefs on the Quran and Sunnah and believe in monotheism and the prophethood of Muhammad. Although Barelvis may follow any one of the Ashari and Maturidi schools of Islamic theology and one of the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali madhhabs of fiqh in addition to optionally choosing from one of the Sunni Sufi orders like the Qadiri, Chishti or the Suhrawardi tariqas, most Barelvis in South Asia follow the Maturidi school of Islamic theology and the Hanafi madhhab of fiqh.[33][34]


Several beliefs and practices differentiate the Barelvi movement from others (particularly Deobandis, Wahhabis, and Salafis), including beliefs in Nur Muhammadiyya (Light of Muhammad), Hazir-o-Nazir (Multipresence of Muhammad), the knowledge of Muhammad, and the intercession of Muhammad.[35][36][37][38]

Light of Muhammad (Nur Muhammadiyya)

A central doctrine of Barelvi is that Muhammad is both human and light.[36] Muhammad's physical birth was preceded by his existence as a light which predates creation. The primordial reality of Muhammad existed before creation, and God created for the sake of Muhammad.[39] Adherents of this doctrine believe that the word Nur (light) in the Quran5:15 refers to Muhammad.

Sahl al-Tustari, the ninth-century Sufi Quran commentator, describes the creation of Muhammad's primordial light in his tafsir.[40] Mansur Al-Hallaj (al-Tustari's student) affirms this doctrine in his book, Ta Sin Al-Siraj:[41][40]

That is, in the beginning when God, Glorified and Exalted is He, created him as a light within a column of light (nūran fī ʿamūd al-nūr), a million years before creation, with the essential characteristics of faith (ṭabāʾiʿ al-īmān), in a witnessing of the unseen within the unseen (mushāhadat al-ghayb bi’l-ghayb). He stood before Him in servanthood (ʿubūdiyya), by the lote tree of the Ultimate Boundary [53:14], this being a tree at which the knowledge of every person reaches its limit.

When there shrouded the lote tree that which shrouded [it]. This means: "that which shrouded" the lote tree (ay mā yaghshā al-shajara) was from the light of Muḥammad as he worshipped. It could be likened to golden moths, which God sets in motion towards Him from the wonders of His secrets. All this is in order to increase him [Muḥammad] in firmness (thabāt) for the influx [of graces] (mawārid) which he received [from above].

According to Stūdīyā Islāmīkā, all Sufi orders are united in the belief in the light of Muhammad.[42]

Multipresence of Muhammad (Hazir o Nazir)

Another central Barelvi doctrine is that Muhammad can witness and be present in multiple places as the same time (Hazir o Nazir).[37] The doctrine appears in Sufi works predating Barelvi, such as Sayyid Uthman Bukhari's (d. ca. 1687) Jawahir al-Quliya (Jewels of the Friends of God), describing how Sufis may experience the presence of Muhammad.[43] Proponents of this doctrine assert that the term Shahid (witness) in the Quran (33:45, 4:41) refers to this ability of Muhammad, and cite hadiths to support it.[44]

Muhammad's Knowledge of the Unseen (Ilm e Ghaib)

A fundamental Barelvi belief is that Muhammad has knowledge of the unseen, which is attained from God (ata'e) and is not equal to God's knowledge.[35] This relates to the concept of Ummi as mentioned in the Quran (7:157). Barelvis do not interpret this word as "unlettered" or "illiterate", but "untaught". Muhammad learns not from humankind, but from God; his knowledge is universal, encompassing the seen and unseen realms. This belief predates the Barelvi movement, and is found in Sufi books such as Rumi's Fihi Ma Fihi:[45]

Mohammed is not called "unlettered" [Ummi] because he was incapable of writing or reading. He is called "unlettered" [Ummi] because with him writing and wisdom were innate, not taught. He who inscribes characters on the face of the moon, is such a man not able to write? And what is there in all the world that he does not know, seeing that all people learn from him? What can the partial intellect know that the Universal Intellect [Muhammad] does not possess?

Intercession of Muhammad

A fundamental belief of those within the Barelvi movement is that Muhammad helps in this life and in the afterlife.[38] According to this doctrine, God helps through Muhammad (Tawassul). Sunni Muslims of the Barelvi movement believe that any ability that Muhammad has to help others is from God, who helps through Muhammad. The help received from Muhammad is therefore considered God's help.[38] Sunni Muslims of the Barelvi movement also commonly say Ya Rasool Allah ('O Messenger of Allah'), addressing the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in the present tense with the belief that he is able to listen. Sunni Muslims of the Barelvi movement believe that Muhammad is a Rahmah (mercy) to all creation as mentioned in the Quran 21:107.[38] Muhammad therefore is a means by which God expresses his attribute, Ar-Rahman, to creation.[38] Proponents of this belief look to the Quran 4:64 as a proof that God prefers to help through Muhammad.

They also believe that in the afterlife, on the day of judgement, Muhammad will intercede on the behalf of his followers and God will forgive his nation of sins and allow them to enter Jannah (paradise).[38]

The belief of Muhammad providing support and help is a common theme within classical Sufi literature. An example of this can be found in Fariduddin Attar's book The Conference of the Birds in which he details the story of a Shaykh, named Sam'an, who travels to Rome where he falls deeply in love with a Christian woman.[46] The woman after seeing his state commands him to do acts forbidden in Islam to prove himself to her and the Shaykh begins to drift away from Islam.[46] Concerned disciples and friends of the Shaykh decide to go to Makkah to pray for the Shaykh and make many supplications for him. One of them has a vision of Muhammad who says: I have loosed the chains which bound your sheikh - your prayer is answered, go.[46] They return to Rome to find that Shaykh Sam'an has returned to Islam and that the Christian woman whom he loved had also become a Muslim.

The belief of Muhammad interceding is found in various hadith as well.

A Bedouin of the desert visited the Prophet’s tomb and greeted the Prophet, addressing him directly as if he were alive. "Peace upon you, Messenger of God!" Then he said, "I heard the word of God 'If, when they had wronged themselves . . .,' I came to you seeking pardon for my mistakes, longing for your intercession with our Lord!" The Bedouin then recited a poem in praise of the Prophet and departed. The person who witnessed the story says that he fell asleep, and in a dream he saw the Prophet saying to him, "O 'Utbi, rejoin our brother the Bedouin and announce [to] him the good news that God has pardoned him!"[47][48][49]


Barelvis and Sufi tradition

Shrine to Naqshbandi saints from Allo Mahar
Shrine to Naqshbandi saints from Allo Mahar

Sufism is a fundamental aspect of Barelvi. Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi was part of the Qadri tariqa and pledged bay'ah (allegiance) to Sayyid Shah Al ur-Rasul Marehrawi.[61][62] Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi instructed his followers in Sufi beliefs and practices. Traditional Sufi practices, such as devotion to Muhammad and the veneration of walis, remain an integral part of the movement[63][64] (which defended the Sufi status quo in South Asia.[11] Barelvi was at the forefront of defending Sufi doctrines such as the celebration of the birth of Muhammad and Urs, pilgrimages to wali tombs, and tawassul.[11] According to The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism, Barelvis are often called "Sufi" because of their mystic practices but have little in common with classical Sufism.[65] Other sources say that Barelvis uphold traditional Sufi beliefs, practices,[66] and identity.[63][67][68][69]

Relations with other movements

Since Barelvi was formed in reaction to the reformist Deobandi movement, relations between the two groups have been strained; Barelvi founder Ahmad Raza Khan declared Deobandis infidels and apostates.[70] Relations with other South Asian Muslim movements have been somewhat better. Leaders of the Barelvi and Ahl-i Hadith movements in the Kashmir Valley denied animosity between the groups in mid-2012, saying that Kashmiris can no longer afford sectarian strife after two decades of war.[71]

R. Upadhyay and Rajesh T. Krishnamachari of the India-based South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) denied that Barelvism and Deobandism are mutually tolerant.[72][73] According to the SAAG analysis, the "Deobandi-Barelvi rivalry is also known to be rooted to their ethnic rivalry."[72]

Conflicts with the Taliban

Barelvi opposes South Asian Taliban movements, organising rallies and protests in India and Pakistan and condemning what they view as unjustified sectarian violence.[74] The Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), an alliance of eight Sunni organizations, launched the Save Pakistan Movement to slow Talibanisation. Calling the Taliban a product of global anti-Islamic conspiracies, SIC leaders accused the Taliban of playing into the hands of the United States to divide Muslims and degrade Islam.[75] Supporting this movement, Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi said: "The Sunni Tehreek has decided to activate itself against Talibanisation in the country. A national consensus against terrorism is emerging across the country."[76]

In 2009, Islamic scholar Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi issued a fatwa denouncing suicide bombings[77] and criticized Taliban leader Sufi Muhammad by saying that he "should wear bangles if he is hiding like a woman". Naeemi added, "Those who commit suicide attacks for attaining paradise will go to hell, as they kill many innocent people", and was later killed by a suicide bomber.[78]

Sectarian violence

See also: Sectarian violence in Pakistan

Analysts and journalists have conflicting opinions about the underlying nature of Barelvi. Some describe the movement as moderate and peaceful;[79] others describe it as affected by intolerance and radicalism, similar to other regional Islamic movements.[72][29][80][81][82][83] "Staunch Barelvis" have been criticized for their excessive use of excommunication (takfir) against opponents, creating hatred and violence in the Muslim community.[84]

During the 1990s and 2000s, sporadic violence resulted from disputes between Barelvis and Deobandis over control of Pakistani mosques.[85] The conflict came to a head in May 2001, when sectarian riots broke out after the assassination of Sunni Tehreek leader Saleem Qadri.[86] In April 2006 in Karachi, a bomb attack on a Barelvi gathering celebrating Muhammad's birthday killed 57 people, including several Sunni Tehreek leaders.[87][88] Sunni Tehreek activists attempted to seize a Karachi mosque in April 2007, opening fire on the mosque and its worshipers; one person was killed and three were injured.[89] Militants believed to be affiliated with the Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba attacked Barelvis celebrating Mawlid in Faisalabad and Dera Ismail Khan on 27 February 2010, sparking tensions between the groups.[90]

Stand on blasphemy laws

Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated on 4 January 2011 by Mumtaz Qadri, a member of the Barelvi group Dawat-e-Islami, due to Taseer's opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.[82][91] Over five hundred Barelvi scholars supported Qadri and a boycott of Taseer's funeral.[72][29][81][83][92] According to Time magazine, Sunni Tehreek rewarded Qadri's family[93][94] and threatened Taseer's family.[82][95][96] Supporters attempted to prevent police from bringing Qadri to an anti-terrorism court.[97] In 2014, a Sunni mosque was built in Islamabad; named after Qadri, it became popular and began raising funds to expand.[98][99][100][101] A Pakistani Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was acquitted of blasphemy in a landmark 2018 Supreme Court decision.[102] The ruling prompted Barelvis led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi to demonstrate in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan, and clashes with police were reported. Muhammad Afzal Qadri (a TLP leader) said that the three Supreme Court judges "deserve[d] to be killed", and Islamabad's Red Zone was sealed off by police.[103] Rizvi demanded that Bibi be punished for blasphemy under Pakistan's penal code: "Our sit-in will go on until the government accepts our demand".[104] Arrested on 23 November 2018 with other TLP leaders,[105] he was released on bail in May 2019.[106]


Barelvis have been targeted and killed by radical Deobandi groups in Pakistan such as the TTP, SSP, LeJ, etc.[107] Suicide attacks, vandalism and destruction of sites considered holy to those in the Barelvi movement have been perpetrated by Deobandi extremist groups. This includes attacks, destruction and vandalism of Data Darbar in Lahore, Abdullah Shah Ghazi's tomb in Karachi, Khal Magasi in Balochistan, and Rahman Baba's tomb in Peshawar.[107] The murder of various Barelvi leaders have also been committed by Deobandi terrorists.[107]

Barelvi clerics claim that there is a bias against them by various Pakistani establishments such as the DHA, who tend to appoint Deobandi Imams for mosques in their housing complexes rather than Barelvi ones. Historical landmarks such as Badshahi Masjid also have Deobandi Imams, which is a fact that has been used as evidence by Barelvi clerics for bias against Barelvis in Pakistan.[108][109] The Milade Mustafa Welfare Society has asserted that the Religious Affairs Department of DHA interferes with Human Resources to ensure that Deobandi Imams are selected for mosques in their housing complex.[109]

Notable scholars

Notable organizations

In Pakistan, prominent Sunni Barelvi religious and political organizations include:

In India

Main institutions




United Kingdom

Republic of Ireland

See also


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