Books and Documents

Islamic Society (05 Oct 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Beyond the Moderate and Radical in Indian Islam

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

05 October 2016

Recently a leading English news channel aired a two part series called the ‘On the Trail of Salafism in India’. Considering that the journalist and the channel in question are not part of the xenophobic ultra nationalist tribe of newspersons, the series merits some serious discussion, particularly from within the Muslim community which has so far been lacking. The broad assertion of the program was that a more literalist and purist version of Islam is taking over the imagination of the Indian Muslims and that this kind of Islam is ultimately detrimental to the pluralistic culture of India.

The assertion that a literalist reading of the Islamic tradition has the effect of erasing pluralist traditions within Islam has been made time and again. However, in popular terms, there is a problem of simplification which occurs when the supposed liberal ethos of Sufi Islam is compared with the virulent traditions of Deobandism or the more recent Salafism. I have argued for some time now that the Sufi-Barelwi tradition within Indian Islam and the Deobandi-Salafi tradition should not be seen as polar opposites. Rather they should be seen as part of the same continuum. In this understanding, the Barelwi tradition becomes as much part of the Islamicate Indian culture as does Deobandism.

The difference between the two is not a matter of type but rather one of degree. Conservatism and fanaticism are not the monopoly of the Deobandi tradition alone, rather they can also be found within the Barelwi tradition. To treat them as polar opposites is an exercise in misrecognition which a lot of us end up doing under the influence of the partisan debate on moderate vs. radical Islam. The so called tolerance and pluralism of the Barelvis comes apart when we realise that they were at the forefront of calls to ban the Satanic Verses and of course indulged in the most vile celebration of murderer of Salman Taseer. On most things which one will find conservative, Indian Barelvis are on the same page as the Deobandis be that the issue of women’s access to shrine or mosque or the question of triple Talaq. Moreover, madrasas controlled by Deobandis or the Barelvis hardly differ in terms of content of the curriculum. The same collection of Hadis and the same commentaries on the Quran are prescribed in both sets of madrasas.

 The difference is only in terms of interpretation. At times, this interpretative difference is huge but in most matters of Islamic Sharia, particularly with those relating to the conduct of women, there is hardly any difference between the two. Also, we should remember that the written word itself promotes a certain textual tradition, and it is natural that some of the customary practices will be called into question. It is not surprising therefore that even within the Barelvis, some of their texts are highly critical of Indian and Islamic customary practices. Therefore, in any reasoned discussion about the nature of Indian Islam, this false binary between the Barelvis and Deobandis should be done away with.

Rather, both these religious orientations within Islam are highly critical of customary practices within Indian Muslim community: practices which have over the years due to religious and cultural sharing between various communities. Despite having differences, the Barelwi and the Deobandis both see these customary practices as alien to the Islamic experience. And it is these customary and liminal practices which are the common heritage of many communities in India, which is under threat from the collective weight of reformism from both the Deobandis and the Barelvis.

 The discussion about religious pluralism should focus on developing ways to save and strengthen these cultural and religious practices which are common to more than one religious community. By posing a largely false debate between moderate Barelvis and radical Deobandis, we are hardly even recognising the problem. It is true that Deobandis were the first to come down heavily on the customary traditions of ordinary Muslims and term them as Bidah. It is also true that they were the first to teach against these practices within their madrasas.

 However, over the years, particularly owing to the hegemonic position of the Deobandis, even the Barelvis started following them when it came to the condemnation of these customary practices. The regime of reform became common to both the Barelvis and the Deobandis, following the model of early Islam which was adopted by them both. The problem of the loss of pluralism starts from there: till that model of early Islam heavily infused with Arab cultural traditions gets questioned, there is no point pitting moderate Barelvis against the radical Deobandis.

Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-society/arshad-alam,-new-age-islam/beyond-the-moderate-and-radical-in-indian-islam/d/108766

New Age IslamIslam OnlineIslamic WebsiteAfrican Muslim NewsArab World NewsSouth Asia NewsIndian Muslim NewsWorld Muslim NewsWomen in IslamIslamic FeminismArab WomenWomen In ArabIslamophobia in AmericaMuslim Women in WestIslam Women and Feminism



  • Pluralism, moderation and rationalism should be the hallmarks of Islam in India. The incursion of a literalist and "purist" version of Islam must be vigorously resisted.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 10/5/2016 12:47:19 PM

  • It was astonishing to note that the two-part investigation did not touch upon the Salafist hardliners and their separatist preachers in Kashmir. It left many in the lurch because the channel basically wanted to assess the Indian government’s ‘concern’ over the rise of Wahhabism/Salafism in Jammu and Kashmir, as the show’s intro unravels:“From time to time, the Indian government has warned of the dangers of the rise of puritanical, Saudi-style Islam in India. Most recently, during the unrest in Kashmir, when it warned it will not allow a 'Wahhabi theocracy' to take root in the Valley”.

    In fact, there is no dearth of well-known Salafi-Wahhabi preachers and their exclusivist sermons in the Valley. But one wonders why NDTV skipped the portrayal of the Salafist preachers in Kashmir who spew venom and misguide the Muslim youth in the valley using the religious platforms.

    Just as the channel examined, in the second part of this show titled “Road To ISIS”, as to how some South Indian Salafist preachers delivered speeches filled with religious bigotry and extremism, it could have cited some instances in the Valley too.

    Much like Shamsudheen Fareed, a known Salafist cleric in Malappuram whose extremist sermons are cited in the show, the avowed advocate of Salafi mission in Kashmir, Maulana Mushtaq Veeri is not lesser hate-monger. Maulana Veeri has delivered various speeches — all of them filled with the extremist and exclusivist content — in the Valley’s Salafi mosques. Scores of his divisive speeches have been circulated on social media and are still attracting the imagination of the Kashmiri youth towards separatism. Only a single instance is sufficient and substantial evidence on how the ‘Salafi mission’ is being pursued in the religious rhetoric in Kashmir. In his religious sermon (khutba), Maulana Mushtaq Veeri dwells on “the Salafi Mission in Kashmir”. After a lengthy talk in the local Kashmiri language, he speaks in Urdu in the conclusive part of this video. Note these words in his speech:

    “Dekha Salafiyon ka kamal, jab salafi maidan men utarte hain to wapis naam lene ka kabhi sochte hi nahi. Ham Islami hukumat qaim kar ke rahenge. Iraq men dekho Abu Bakr naam ke salafi ki hukumat…..kashmir men anqareeb inshaAllah Islami jhanda gaad diya jaega….”

    (See the achievement of the Salafis! When the Salafis embark on their mission in the battlefield, they do not back out. Look at the state of the Salafist by the name of Abu Bakr Baghdadi in Iraq... God willing, we will be hoisting the Islamic flag soon in Kashmir...)


    By GRD - 10/5/2016 9:32:06 AM

Compose Your Comments here:
Email (Not to be published)
Fill the text
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles and comments are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of NewAgeIslam.com.