Syed Ahmad Barelvi

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Syed Ahmad Shaheed Barelvi (29 November 1786— 6 May 1831) was an Indian Muslim revivalist and revolutionary leader from Raebareli, a part of the historical United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. The epithet Barelvi, denoting place of origin, deriving from Raebareli. He followed Sunni (Hanafi) ideology, aligned with the teachings of Shah Abdul Aziz, son of Shah Waliullah, and was also a Sufi.


  • My real object is the establishment of jihad against the Sikhs of the Punjab and not to stay in the countries of Afghanistan and Yagistan. The long-haired infidels who have seized sovereignty over Punjab are very experienced, clever and deceitful… The ill-natured Sikhs and the ill-fated polytheists have gained control over the Western parts of India from the banks of Indus to the capital city of Delhi.
    • Syed Ahmad Barelvi. Letter written to his contemporary Muslim magnates, cited in Qeyamuddin Ahmad, The Wahabi Movement in India, Calcutta, 1966, p. 358
  • “The special benefits of jihād that accrue to the martyrs of the true faith, the Muslim ghazis, mighty rulers and brave warriors are indescribable. Jihād enables spiritualistic Sufis to rise to the position of eminent saints (wilāyat) by simple spiritual exercises. Jihād enables the ‘ulamā’ to disseminate the true faith and to promote an increase in religious education….The association of infidels with pious Sunnis and the promotion of Islamic customs and administrative laws may induce infidels to become Muslims. Those who are killed fighting against the Muslims also benefit because their death reduces the time they would have remained adamant in their infidelity and therefore the burden of their punishment grows lighter. Their families also benefit for they become the slaves of the Muslims and their association with them may prompt them to embrace Islam.”
    • Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, 506-507. in Ibn, Warraq (2017). The Islam in Islamic terrorism: The importance of beliefs, ideas, and ideology. ch 15
  • One should know that jihad is an advantageous and beneficial institution. Mankind derives benefits from its advantages in various ways, just like rain, the advantages of which are imparted upon both plants, animals and men. [Barelvi promised that if Muslims waged jihad, they would receive] the blessings of heaven, [including] timely downpour of rain, abundant vegetation, growth of profits and trade, absence of calamities and pestilences, growth of wealth and presence of men of learning and perfection.
    • Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History (Mouton Publishers, 1979) 47, Quoted from Spencer, Robert (2018). The history of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS.

About Barelvi[edit]

  • Barelvi’s confidence in a jihad against the British collapsed when he surveyed the extent and the magnitude of British power in India. He did the next best under the circumstances, and declared a jihad against the Sikh power in the Punjab, Kashmir and the North-West Frontier. The British on their part welcomed this change and permitted Barelvi to travel towards the border of Afghanistan at a leisurely pace, collecting money and manpower along the way. It was during this journey that Barelvi stayed with or met several Hindu princes, feigned that his fulminations against the Sikhs were a fake, and that he was going out of India in order to establish a base for fighting against the British. It is surmised that some Hindu princes took him at his word, and gave him financial help. To the Muslim princes, however, he told the truth, namely, that he was up against the Sikhs because they “do not allow the call to prayer from mosques and the killing of cows.”
    Barelvi set up his base in the North-West Frontier near Afghanistan. The active assistance he expected from the Afghan king did not materialise because that country was in a mess at that time. But the British connived at the constant flow not only of a sizable manpower but also of a lot of finance. Muslim magnates in India were helping him to the hilt. His basic strategy was to conquer Kashmir before launching his major offensive against the Punjab. But he met with very little success in that direction in spite of several attempts. Finally, he met his Waterloo in 1831 when the Sikhs under Kunwar Sher Singh stormed his citadel at Balakot. The great mujahid fell in the very first battle he ever fought. His corpse along with that of his second in command was burnt, and the ashes were scattered in the winds. Muslims hail him as a shahid.
    • Goel, S. R. (1995). Muslim separatism: Causes and consequences.
  • As Banerjee argues, “Wahabism [sic] in India was derived from two sources, one internal, the other external: the philosophy of Shah Wali Allah and the teachings of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab.”28 Islam was no longer in a dominating position in India after the decline and fall of the Moghul Empire; India was no longer Dar al-Islam but again a Dar al-Harb, and Islam had been slowly but surely corrupted by non-Islamic traditions and customs. “Total reform of the corrupt variety of Islam and jihād against non-Muslim rule were the needs of the age. Shah Wali Allah’s works provided sanction for the ambitious programme.”
    • Ibn, Warraq (2017). The Islam in Islamic terrorism: The importance of beliefs, ideas, and ideology. ch 15 quoting A.C. Banerjee, Two Nations: The Philosophy of Muslim Nationalism, 57 ff
  • “He would never have allowed an Indian secular, or a united Hindu-Muslim, rule which did not make Islam or Islamic law predominant and where the control of the states or the sovereign authority was not in Islamic hands. His letters themselves are clear evidence against this popular myth. In fact, the Sayyid’s jihād was designed to destroy both the Sikhs and the British and to make India a dar al-Islam. Those Hindu heads of state who helped him were guaranteed their throne and a dhimmi (protected subjects [and essentially inferior]) status; the future for the others in the Sayyid’s dar al-Islam was bleak. By no stretch of the imagination [was] his jihād a war for Indian independence.”
    • Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, 535. in Ibn, Warraq (2017). The Islam in Islamic terrorism: The importance of beliefs, ideas, and ideology. ch 15
  • Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareli began his career by preaching a return to pure Islam ; he worked to purge the religion of its accretions and corruptions. This aspect of his work was taken up by various other reformers, and spread far ; sects, more or less puritanical, developed throughout North India— Ahl i hadith , Fara’id, and many others. These smouldered on for the rest of the century. The relevant point here is that the accretions which the reformers set themselves to removing from the Muslims’ religion, were practically all borrowings from Hinduism, or superstitious degradations shared with Hinduism. When a religious reformer appeared in a village, he attacked with unrestrained zeal those aspects of the Muslims’ religious practice that they shared with the Hindus, and he emphasized with the ardour of intense con¬ viction the ‘fundamentals’ of Islam— i.e ., the points at which it differed from other faiths. Lower-class Islam emerged from the reform ‘ purer ’ but more communalist.
    • quoted in [1] "Modern Islam In India (1943)" also in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857.
  • Sayyid Ahmad endeavored by all means to remind Muslims of India of the original purity of their faith, and ordered them to separate absolutely from foreign (elements) in their religion, and even to fight, in the same way they are urged to do in the Koran;...Not content to preach this doctrine, he desired to spread it by means of printing: he established himself in Hooghly a well-known printing establishment under the name of Matba-i Ahmadi (Press of Ahmad) and he intended to print various tracts in Hindustani and in Persian, all destined to spread his reforms; it also printed the Qur’an in Hindustani.'** �
    • in (New perspectives on Indian pasts) Harlan Otto Pearson - Islamic reform and revival in nineteenth-century India _ the Tarīqah-i-Muhammadīyah-Yoda Press (2008), also in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857.
  • Saiyid Ahmad Bareilly aimed not to restore the Mughals or the Mughal aristocracy, but to create a facsimile of the early Muslim community on the borders of India, in the belief that it would one day inspire Muslims to conquer India for God.
    • Hardy P. "The Muslims Of British India" [2] also in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857
  • [Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi was blessed with] "the honour of martyrdom in the company of believers of pure faith."
    • Sir Syed A. Khan quoted in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857. quoting Ashraf 2007, also in 1857 in the Muslim Historiography, Muḥammad Ikrām Cug̲h̲tāʼī.

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