Picture source: BBC Urdu
First Deoband Madrassa was established in 1866 in India. If we look at the history, Deoband is fairly new sect of Islam. Deoband sect slowly worked to make it stronger and they were very active during Pakistan movement. Jamat e Islami (India) had more of a Deoband influence rather than Barelvi. (That is why they openly opposed Mohammad Ali Jinnah due to his Shia credentials.) But both coexisted due to some similarities amongst them especially they both followed Imam Abu Hanifa in Fiqh.
Darul Uloom Deoband that is followed by Sipah Sahaba, Taliban, Ahl-e-Hadees and other Jihadi groups
Deoband came to lime light and also became a force to be reckon with in Pakistan with the advent of greatest evil this country had seen, General Mohammad Zia Ul Haq, who was also known in army circles as Butcher of Jordan.
General Zia in order to strengthen his grip on power used the Deoband mullahs. Whole Pakistan government was made to appear as one big Deoband institution. Due to Zia this deoband thought crept in army, one example is before Zia’s advent the Pakistan Army commandos used “Nara e Haidry — Ya Ali” as their morale booster but it was changed to “Allah Hoo Allah Hoo”.
During this time period of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, US also saw the opportunity and gave its backing to this rag tag sect looking for money to establish themselves in Pakistani dominantly Barelvi society. US and Saudi petro dollars started flow freely in Pakistan. We saw madrassas appearing in every nook and corner of the street and mohallah. No one said any word against it. Our own Ahle Sunnat (Barelvi) kept quiet during this influx of the Deoband madrassas.
General Zia with his own wisdom formed armed wing of the Deoband sect by the name of Sipah-e-Sahibah. This armed wing purely directed its vengeance at Shia sect. During this time Shia-Sunni tensions grew to its dangerous heights. In reality this never was Shia-Sunni tension; it was always Deoband-Shia tensions.
Shia and Sunni have lived together for centuries without any major tensions. During all this time Sunni (Barelvi) ulema kept quiet to the persecution of Shias. Deobandi and Barelvi became so much intermingled that it was very hard to recognize who is who. I even cannot believe many educated people of good families when asked which sect do you belong to they would say Ahle sunnat (Hanfi) but when you go into details of their beliefs, they are purely Deoband beliefs.
While Madrassas of Barelvi and Shia were started in many cities too, but they were very few in number. Deobandi madrassas grew phenomenally with petro dollars of Saudi Arabia and our expats living in other countries.
General Zia’s advent and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan along with Iran’s revolution created a stir in the Middle East and Pakistan. The fear of Iranian revolution aka Shia revolution (1979) to creep into its bordering countries grew. Rulers in the Middle East and Pakistan used the Deoband strategy to ward off Shia influence from Iran. Barelvi did go along with the plan. Barelvi never questioned Zia for what he was doing to the basic fabric of the society.
Rest was taken care of by the huge madrassas in remote areas who along with short cut religious education concentrated on drawing a divide with rest of the sects and military jihadi training. Simple people of villages got sucked into an extremist Deoband thought. This didn’t cause panic amongst Barelvi sect until very recently.
Barelvi always looked kindly to Deoband as their foot soldiers to tackle (the imaginary) Shia influence but in the end Deobandis turned against their own keepers.
With so many Deoband Madrassa educated moulvis working in and taking charge of Barelvi mosques in disguise created panic amongst Barelvis that their mosques are being hijacked. I know many cases in which there are disputes in courts amongst Barelvi and deoband people for control of mosques.
Deoband and Barelvi beliefs have mingled so much that it is tough for common people to differentiate and it is also difficult for ulema to take a clear stand of their beliefs.
Last night I was watching “50 Minutes” on Geo TV which was set up at Lahore’s Data Darbar. Amongst other guests there was a khateeb of Data Sahib Masjid; I assumed that he is Barelvi. He was describing something and he said Hazrat Ali (r.a.) and Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (r.a). While growing up in a small town, our Ahle sunnat Ulema never referred to Ameer Muaiwya as Hazrat and (r.a.) due to his disputes with and mutiny against Hazrat Ali (r.a), who is treated as a legitimate Guided Caliph by Ahl-e-Sunnat. It is purely a Deoband philosophy to call Muawiya and Yazeed as Hazrat and (r.a.).
At the moment, we are seeing the revival of Ahle Sunnat i.e Barelvi school of thought, and rightly so. But it has left many common people confused which way to go.
Barelvi sect will have a very tough time to ward off the Deoband extremist beliefs and have to further educate common people of the ideological and practical differences.
The constructions of madrassas and mosques should be put under some kind government control (possibly run by ulema of all sects). Now prominent intellectuals of Barelvi sect have started calling Maulana Shibli Nomani, Mauan Maudoodi, Dr Israr Ahmed and Dr Zakir Naik as scholars of Deoband sect who have infiltrated into mainstream Ahle Sunnat (Barelvi) population. Barelvis are now trying to distance themselves from the Deoband.
Barelvi ulemas have to realize that Deoband is much mor dangerous to their basic beliefs than their fear of Shia. Holy places like Ali Hajveri Data Sahib, Shah Shams Tabrez, Baba Fareed Gunj Bakhsh, Baba Buleh Shah, Shahbaz Qalandar, Bari Imam, and Bahauddin Zikria, Haq Bahu and many others are important and holy to both Shia and Sunni followers. It is Deoband who are against visiting the shrines of Allah’s holy people and consider it “Shirk”.
Deoband, Wahabi and Ahle Hadees follow similar thoughts they are born of Saudi patronage. King Saud demolished the holy shrines of Hazrat Fatima, Prophet’s wives Umhat-ul-Momineen and Prophet’s relatives in Jannat-ul-Baqee, and they are continuously destroying any place that has significance to Islam’s holy personalities.
The only reason Kaba and Masjid e Nabvi is still standing there is because it is a source of earning for Saud; otherwise according to their beliefs it is also shirk. If visiting a shrine is shirk (polytheism), then how come shrine of our beloved Prophet (pbuh) is still there among those people.