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Monday Morning Webinar on "Is Radicalisation Rising Among Sufi-Barelvis of South Asia?”

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  • December 27, 2021
    Monday Morning Meeting
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    The Monday morning webinar on “Is Radicalisation Rising Among Sufi-Barelvis of South Asia?” was held on 27 December 2021, and Mr. Pradeep S. Gautam, Counter Terrorism Centre, made a presentation on the topic. The session was chaired by Dr. Ashok Behuria, and included Director-General Ambassador Sujan Chinoy, Dr. Adil Rasheed, Dr. Nazir Ahmad Mir and Dr. Manzoor Ahmad Bhatt in the panel.

    Executive Summary

    The discussion revealed that Barelvis have developed a reaction to their criticism by Deobandis in Pakistan, and attempted to create their political space and legitimacy. It has included endorsing their practice as truly Islamic by preserving the Indian version of Islam, and fighting the Deobandi influence in politics of Pakistan. The spread of internet and accessibility to social media platforms has worsened the radicalisation, and also led to violence. The political elite of Pakistan have also sometimes used the Barelvi pushback to balance the increasing Deobandi influence.

    Detailed Report

    The session was commenced by Dr. Behuria with an overview of rising radicalisation in the South Asia region. He pointed out that Sufi-Barelvi communities are generally considered as more liberal and eclectic unlike the Wahhabis, however, they have not been untouched by radicalisation in the region. The liberal world sponsored the radicalisation in South Asia during the cold war to fight the Soviets, and even today the region struggles with it. Dr. Behuria spoke about the rise of Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) as a prominent far-right organisation in Pakistan which espouses extremist ideas and is majorly composed of Barelvis.

    Mr. Gautam began his presentation by shedding light on the question of current status of radicalisation in these communities and attempted to address it. He said that ideological issues are intertwined with political and historical issues in case of radicalisation in South Asia. The vigilante killings of Priyantha Kumara and Salman Taseer reflect the growing use of religious violence among Barelvis. The TLP is centred on the idea of blasphemy against the prophet and his companions, and it aims at mobilising masses to create legal structures that prevent and punish such acts. This may include Shia communities as well. Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi founded the Barelvi movement in the second half of 19th century and brought different Sufi schools together as pushback against the Deobandis. Each community has called the other’s practice un-Islamicin a bid to delegitimise one another.

    Providing a historical background on vigilante activities, Mr. Gautam traced Ilm-ud-Din’s vigilante killing in the 1920s, (later hailed as a martyr), to Mumtaz Qadri who killed a sitting governor in 2011. Beginning 2000s, sectarian tensions increased heavily between Barelvis and Deobandis, and attacks on clerics and dargahs of the Barelvis increased radically. Both TLP, a Barelvi organisation, and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is a Deobandi organisation, feel that the Pakistani establishment has failed to follow the Sharia law. Hence, they consider the government as illegitimate. The problems of radicalisation have only worsened with the spread of internet and accessibility to social media.

    The Director-General Ambassador Chinoy shared his comments on the situation and brought up the banning of Tablighi Jamaat in Saudi Arabia. He said that with the spread of Islam, the interpretations may have slightly changed in new destinations of its arrival. Religion in general, even in case of Hinduism, may be shaped by local and cultural mores as it is spread to far-off lands from the place of its origin, affecting the interpretation from place to place. The Director-General reiterated Mr. Gautam’s comment on social media and the worsening of the radicalisation problem. It has become physically impossible to monitor and prevent individuals from different communities hurling hate speech over social media platforms, and that has led to instigation and violence in many cases.

    Dr. Rasheed familiarised the audience with the trajectory of Barelvi pushback. He said that since the latter part of the 19th century, Sufi-Barelvis faced heavy criticism for not following Deobandi practices. The Barelvis were also marginalised during the cold war as Deobandis took the forefront through political power. As a pushback, the Barelvis floated the narrative of Wahhabis being allies of the west meaning to destroy Islam. Adding to the discussion, Dr. Mir said that despite Pakistan’s flawed democratisation process, Barelvis have found a political space to assert themselves. They have used parts of religion to justify their movement and distinguish themselves from Deobandis and Wahhabis. Dr. Bhatt opined that socio-economic exploitation has also been responsible for increasing radicalisation of these communities everywhere. The Deobandis and Wahabbis have found political influence and power in Pakistan which has naturally overshadowed the Barelvis.

    Dr. Behuria reminded the audiences that the Sufi-Barelvis themselves are very plural and one may not make the mistake of assuming that the entire community is being radicalised. There are factions within the community which may have very different opinions on political and religious matters. For instance, there were clashing opinions on India’s independence within the Barelvi communities, however, the majority opinion was in favour of the partition, unlike the Deobandis. As the discussion moved to questions and answers, Mr. Gautam addressed a particular one on comparison between the Deobandis of South Asia and the Muslim Brotherhood. He said that while the Muslim Brotherhood is more global in its outlook and its stances are shaped by political matters to a greater extent, Deobandis in South Asia are driven by religious and legal understanding, and their actions may also have an element of religious justification.

    The report was prepared by Mr. Akash Sahu, Research Analyst, MP-IDSA.