The Barelwī group is one of the largest Takfīrī-cults. Their leader and the one they regard to be “mujaddid”, Aḥmad Riḍā Khān Barelwī (1856 – 1921), declared four imāms of Ahl al-Sunnah to be Kāfirs and Murtadds, namely:
- Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī (1829 – 1905)
- Mawlānā Qāsim Nānotwī (1833 – 1880)
- Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī (1852 – 1927)
- Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī (1863 – 1943)
These esteemed scholars belong to the Deobandī school. Barelwīs allege that they are “Wahhābīs”, yet these scholars profess the Ash‘arī and Māturīdī schools of ‘aqīdah and adhere strictly to the Ḥanafī madhhab. In some of their detailed works related to ‘aqīdah, e.g. Juhd al-Muqill of Shaykh al-Hind Mawlānā Maḥmūd Ḥasan Deobandī (1851 – 1920) and Ikfār al-Mulḥidīn of Mawlānā Anwar Shāh Kashmīrī (1875 – 1933), works of Sunnī Kalām – like Sharḥ al-Mawāqif, Sharḥ al-Maqāṣid, Sharḥ al-‘Aqā’id al-Nasafiyyah etc. – are quoted extensively as authoritative references on ‘Aqīdah. The Deobandī scholars were also major exponents of Taṣawwuf. Thus, to allege that they are “Wahhābīs” could not be further from the truth.
However, the scholars of Deoband spoke strongly against innovated practices as well as exaggerated and misguided beliefs/practices directed towards the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) and saints; hence, they were branded “Wahhābīs” by Barelwīs. Deobandīs, for example, spoke against the false belief that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) was endowed with the knowledge of the Final Hour or was endowed with detailed knowledge about all creation – these are beliefs adhered to passionately by Barelwīs. Deobandīs also spoke against the popular practice of calling out to dead saints for help.
Based on such differences, Aḥmad Ridā Khān Barelwī and individuals who share his outlook had some antipathy towards the Deobandī elders. In the case of Aḥmad Ridā Khān Barelwī, however, this led to a campaign of mass-Takfīr: declaring the four abovementioned imāms to be Kāfirs along with anyone who does not recognise them to be Kāfir! He of course gave some “justifications” for his Takfīrs, but these are completely without merit or sound basis. Detailed responses have been given to the false allegations of Kufr made against the abovementioned imāms on this website and elsewhere. Since these false allegations are repeated till this day, the following provides a quick breakdown of the four allegations together with a brief response to each.
Allegation Against Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī
Allegation: Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī, in a fatwā, did not censure the view that lying has actually occurred in Allāh’s speech, and in fact lent support to it.
Response: Aḥmad Riḍā Khān states he has seen this alleged “fatwā” in the handwriting of Mawlānā Gangohī and with his seal. Moreover, he states that the fatwā along with its refutation has been published several times. The reality, however, is that this so-called “fatwā” was circulated only amongst detractors of Mawlānā Gangohī. It is not found in any of his published fatwās, nor is it recognised by any of his students. (al-Shihāb al-Thāqib, p. 249, 259) In fact, in direct contradiction to this alleged “fatwā”, Mawlānā Gangohī explicitly said in his published Fatāwā that the one who believes an actual lie has occurred in Allāh’s speech, or that Allāh is characterised by “false speech”, is a Kāfir. (Ta’līfāt Rashīdiyyah, p. 96; al-Shihāb al-Thāqib, p. 260)
Mawlānā Gangohī himself was unaware of this allegation until the last moments of his life. In the year 1905, Mawlānā Gangohī’s student Mawlānā Murtaḍā Ḥasan Chāndpūrī (1868 – 1951) became aware of this alleged “fatwā” and the claims being made. He immediately sent a copy to Mawlānā Gangohī and asked for clarification. Mawlānā Gangohī replied: “I had no knowledge of this. This allegation is…an error. Allāh forbid that I can say such!” Mawlānā Murtaḍā Ḥasan Chāndpūrī documents this in his Tazkiyat al-Khawāṭir which can be found in Majmū‘ah Rasā’il Chāndpūrī, 1:106.
But if for argument’s sake, the fatwā is assumed to be genuine, and really was authored by Mawlānā Gangohī, his explicit denial of it is in itself tawbah. It states in Khizānat al-Akmal (2:301), quoting from Imām Muḥammad: “When a man alleges another has spoken Kufr and he denies it, his denial of it is tawbah.” (وفي نوادر ابن سماعة عن محمد: إذا ادعى على رجل بالكفر وقال تلفظت بالكفر، وجحد ذلك فإنكاره توبة منه)
In short, the allegation against Mawlānā Gangohī is based on a fabricated fatwā that he himself denied, that is not known to his students and that contradicts his explicit fatwās.
[This issue should not be confused with an actual area of disagreement, namely the question over whether Allāh has the power to act against what He has foretold, or whether He has power to issue a statement that is false. The question over the power of Allāh is separate from the question over whether such things can actually occur. Deobandīs are clear that Allāh has power over these things but that they can never occur.]
Allegation Against Mawlānā Qāsim Nānotwī
Allegation: Mawlānā Qāsim Nānotwī, in his work Taḥdhīr al-Nās, denied the finality of prophethood and believed it was possible for another prophet to come after him.
Response: In Taḥdhīr al-Nās, Mawlānā Nānotwī did not deny the finality of prophethood. To the contrary, he explicitly states in several places of the work that chronologically, Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) is the last and final prophet; no Prophet will come after him. However, Mawlānā Nānotwī offers a wider meaning to the title “Khātam al-Nabiyyīn”. In his understanding, this title primarily refers to the exalted position of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), in that all characters and perfections of prophethood are sealed by, and culminate at, his prophethood. As he explains in the very same work, this meaning includes, either by extension or by implication, that he is the final prophet chronologically.
Thus, nowhere does Mawlānā Nānotwī deny that the Prophet Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) is the last prophet. Some scholars from the Barelwī group also admit this. For example, Pir Karam Shah Azhari (1918 – 1998) states: “I do not think it correct to say that Mawlānā Nānotwī (may Allah have mercy on him) denied the belief in the finality of prophethood, because these passage (of Tahdhīr al-Nās), by way of their clear meaning of the text and their indication, show without doubt that Mawlānā Nānotwī (may Allah have mercy on him) had certainty that chronological finality of prophethood is from the necessities of religion, and he regarded its evidences as categorical and mutawātir. He has stated this matter explicitly, that the one who denies chronological finality of prophethood of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is a kāfir and outside the fold of Islam.” (Tahdhīr un-Nās Merī Nazar Meh, p. 58)
The passage of Taḥdhīr al-Nās he goes onto quote states: “Therefore, if [sealship] is absolute and general, then the establishment of chronological finality is obvious. Otherwise, accepting the necessity of chronological finality by implicative indication is immediately established. Here, the explicit statements of the Prophet, like: ‘You are to me at the level of Hārūn to Mūsā, but there is no prophet after me,’ or as he said, which apparently is derived from the phrase ‘Seal of the Prophets’ in the manner mentioned earlier, are sufficient in this subject, because it reaches the level of tawātur. Furthermore, consensus (ijma‘) has been reached on this. Although the aforementioned words were not transmitted by mutawātir chains, but despite this lack of tawātur in the words, there is tawātur in the meaning just like the tawātur of the number of rak’āt of the obligatory prayers, the witr prayer etc. Although the words of the narrations stating the number of rak’āt are not mutawātir, just as the one who denies that is a Kāfir, in the same way, the one who denies this is a Kāfir.” (Tahdhīr un-Nās, p. 56)
In short, while Mawlānā Nānotwī offers a less common interpretation of the term “Khātam al-Nabiyyīn”, his interpretation does not violate any established belief of Islām, least of all the chronological finality of the prophethood of Muḥammad and that prophethood terminated at him. Hence, this too is a false allegation.
Allegation Against Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī
Allegation: Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī, in Barāhīn Qāṭi‘ah, said (Allāh forbid!) that Shayṭān’s knowledge is superior to the Prophet’s.
Response: In Barāhīn Qāṭi‘ah, Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī was responding to another work, Anwār Saṭi‘ah. The author of the latter work apparently argues that since the Shayṭān is known to have extensive knowledge of people’s actions and so on, such knowledge should not be denied for the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) given his greater status. Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī responds that knowledge of such things cannot be determined for the Prophet based on analogies of this nature.
As can be seen, the discussion is about a specific type of knowledge. This is absolutely clear from the context and from explicit passages of Barāhīn Qāṭi‘ah. Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī is not stating in a general and absolute sense that Shayṭān possesses greater knowledge than the Prophet. But, in matters that are not the basis of excellence or virtue in knowledge, Shayṭān may possess knowledge of certain aspects of them that the Prophet did not. For example, Shayṭān may be aware that a certain person has robbed a bank including the means and techniques by which he accomplished this, while this knowledge was not given to the Prophet; this in no way means Shayṭān is superior in knowledge to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).
As he clarifies in a later work called al-Muhannad, Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī states that excellence in knowledge is based on greater knowledge of Allāh, His Dīn and the outer and inner aspects of Sharī‘ah. No one equals the rank of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) in such knowledge. In things that are, however, not the basis of virtue or excellence in knowledge, there is nothing surprising in another having some knowledge that is not possessed by the Prophet. Hence, al-Rāzī states: “It is possible that a non-prophet is higher than a prophet in sciences on which his prophethood does not depend.”
As can be seen, there is nothing blasphemous or insulting in Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī’s discussion.
Allegation Against Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī
Allegation: Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī, in his Ḥifẓ al-Īmān, said (Allāh forbid!) that Zayd and ‘Amr, madmen and animals possess knowledge of the unseen equal to that of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).
Response: Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī was discussing the question of using the title “‘Ᾱlim al-Ghayb” (knower of the unseen) for the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). He firstly explains that this is a technical term in Sharī‘ah, which means a being that possesses knowledge of unseen realities without the need for any means or instrument. Such a characteristic is of course exclusive to Allāh, because everyone apart from Allāh acquires knowledge of unseen realities only via a means and instrument.
He then explains that “unseen” (ghayb) can refer to things that are hidden from the senses in a general sense, whether acquired by a means or not. But even with this interpretation, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) should not be called “‘Ᾱlim al-Ghayb”. He reasons that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) of course does not possess knowledge of all unseen realities, while the quality of possessing knowledge of some unseen realities is not exclusive to the Prophet. Possessing knowledge of some unseen realities is something found in Zayd and ‘Amr, madmen and animals, because they all possess knowledge of some things hidden to others – does this now mean that they are all to be called “‘Ᾱlim al-Ghayb”?!
As can be seen, Mawlānā Thānawī does not state that “Zayd and ‘Amr, madmen and animals possess knowledge of the unseen equal to that of the Prophet” as was alleged. Rather, he simply states that they possessed knowledge of some unseen realities; and thus the mere possession of knowledge of some unseen realities is not exclusive to the Prophet.
When Mawlānā Thānawī was asked about the passage of Ḥifẓ al-Īmān and if he had ever written that “madmen and animals possess knowledge of the unseen equal to that of the Prophet” he replied: “I did not write this revolting content in any book. Let alone writing it, this thought never crossed my heart. Nor is it the necessary conclusion of any passage of mine, as I will explain later. Since I understand this content to be revolting…how can it be my intent? That person who believes this, or without belief utters it explicitly or implicitly, I believe this person to be outside the fold of Islam because he has denied decisive texts and lessened the Revered Joy and Pride of the World, the Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him peace.” (Basṭ al-Banān)
As any objective and neutral observer will conclude, the bases for Takfīr in all four cases are without merit and are completely unsound. Yet, Barelwīs made mass-Takfīr of Deobandis on such flimsy grounds, and continue to do so. And they exclude Deobandīs not just from the Ahl al-Sunnah but from Islām altogether. Such extremism is reminiscent of Wahhābī Takfīrism.
Writing about the Takfīrī attitude of Aḥmad Riḍā Khān Barelwī, Mawlānā Ḥusayn Aḥmad Madanī (1879 – 1957) writes: “Thus, in reality he [on account of his Takfīrism] is a complete follower of his Najdī shaykh, and he himself and his followers are ‘Wahhābīs’… [Aḥmad Riḍā Khān Barelwī] and his followers are undoubtedly close imitators of Wahhābīs. Taking mental leaps from afar and employing contrived imagined interpretations, they strive and struggle to make others Kāfir. They spend their day and night thinking how to make the Muḥammadan Ummah more restricted and smaller. Can these people be lovers of the Messenger (upon him peace) or supporters of the Ummah? Never! Is it the work of the ‘Ulamā’ of the Ummah to make Muslims into Kāfirs by zealously misrepresenting the meanings [of their texts] and mutilating passages? – or is it rather the demand of prophetic inheritance and knowledge of Sharī‘ah to passionately bring disbelievers into Islām, Mushriks into Īmān and Munāfiqūn into certainty? Would the Messenger of Allāh (upon him peace) support their method? Is this what the noble imāms would teach? Was this the salient feature of the pious Salaf? It is very unfortunate that the fear of God has been lifted from their hearts. A divine seal and shadow has been cast over them.” (al-Shihāb al-Thāqib, p. 221-4)