Sufism and Revivalism in South Asia

Sufism and Revivalism in South Asia: Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanvi of Deoband and Mawlana Ahmad Raza Khan of Bareilly and their paradigms of Islamic revivalism
Original Article T ufism S 2009 XXX UK © he Muslim 1478-1913 0027-4909 World The Muslim World MUWO Hartford Seminary Oxford, and Revivalism in Blackwell Publishing Ltd South Asia

Fuad S. Naeem
Georgetown University Washington, D.C.

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uch modern scholarship concerned with the Islamic world in the modern period has relatively neglected the continuing significance and presence of the ‘ Ulama’ in Muslim societies. A similar neglect is visible in acknowledging the presence and significance of Sufis in modern Muslim societies. There are many reasons for this neglect. While many of the most important ‘ Ulama’ and Sufis of the classical period (roughly to 1300 CE in most treatments) have been canonized as ‘great men’ central to the formation and development of the Islamic intellectual and cultural traditions, most later figures have not met with the same fortune, despite their continuing influence in Muslim societies. A chief reason for this was that the texts of the classical period were largely seen and studied by the Orientalist tradition as definitive of Islam and Islamic civilization as a whole. Later Islamic history was often
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seen through the lens of the popular thesis of perpetual Muslim decline over the last several centuries. Later Muslim history became the provenance of colonial officials and, later, diplomatic and political historians, all of whom were not primarily interested in Muslim intellectual and cultural productions. The preference for change over continuity in modern scholarship has been another factor in the neglect of the ‘ Ulama’ and Sufis of the later period.1 A preference for originality over ‘tradition’ led to an overemphasis on modernist figures, on the one hand, and Islamist or ‘fundamentalist’ figures and movements, on the other, often combined with a tacit supposition that the ‘ Ulama’ and Sufis represented ‘medieval’ discourses that would not long survive the triumph of modernity. Despite a shift away from the paradigm of perpetual progress and the frameworks of classicist Orientalism in the last few decades, a general neglect of the ‘ Ulama’ and Sufis in modern Muslim societies has been endemic to scholarship on the modern Muslim world, although this is beginning to change. In the case of South Asia, the development of the twin nationalisms of united India and the two-nation theory, realized respectively in the current nation-states of India and Pakistan, has also contributed to the sidelining of the ‘ Ulama’ and the Sufis, as they have not been assigned important roles in the nationalist narratives of the two states. This is partly due to various forms of modernist presumptions that took them as irrelevant to modernity and its concerns and partly to nationalist canonizations of political and military figures above scholars and mystics. More recently, studies on the ‘ Ulama’ and Sufis in the modern period are beginning to proliferate as their importance in modern Islamic societies comes to light.2 Part of this renewed interest has come from a challenging of assumptions related to viewing tradition as static and monolithic; some now see tradition as a dynamic category which interweaves continuity and change (for example, Marilyn Waldman, drawing on the work of Marshall Hodgson,3 has identified tradition as a modality of change4 and one can similarly see change as an intrinsic mode of tradition) and which contains multiple competing discourses that interact at various levels with each other and with other discursive practices, including those associated with the modern world.5 A proper mapping of the Muslim intellectual landscape in the modern period is possible only by fully locating and understanding the place and influence of the ‘traditional’ discourses of the ‘ Ulama’ and the Sufis. Key to my argument is the significance of a development in the Islamic world of the later period that has been understressed: the overlapping of the functions and discourses of the ‘Ulama’ and the Sufis into a synthesis where they are devolved into a single person who is both fully an “alim and fully a Sufi, using these discourses for mutual illumination and support. This “alim-Sufi amalgam, an increasingly pervasive orientation in post-classical

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Islamic history, is central to understanding Islamic revivalism in the modern period. The term revivalism, the way that I will use it, functions as an analogue to terms in Muslim languages such as ‘tajdid,’ renewal, and ‘islah,’ rectification, both signifying the reassertion and reformulation in a new situation, and sometimes new form, of ideas and practices essential to the traditions which are under threat. The terms in their original connotations thereby suggest both continuity and change. This, I believe, roughly corresponds to the understanding of these terms as used in the discourses of the ‘Ulama’ and Sufis (as opposed to the rather different understanding of islah in Islamic movement and Salafi literature, often stressing reconstructed ‘pure’ forms of Islamic practice against customary and traditional practices). It can be argued that the vast majority of movements of Islamic revival came from figures who personified the “alim-Sufi combine. Even when this is acknowledged, the significance of Sufi discourses and practices in these orientations and movements is often either not well-understood or downplayed in favor of a scripturalist or legalist emphasis. I would like to consider two of the most important and influential late nineteenth and early twentieth century figures of Indian Islam that are an embodiment of the “alim-Sufi amalgam and have been at the forefront of movements of Islamic revival in South Asia: Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanvi (1865 –1943) and Mawlana Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi (1856 –1921). Both of these figures are understudied and this is even more glaring as regards the Sufi dimensions of their discourses.6 By examining their investment in Sufi discourses, we can see how significant the influence of Sufism was for Islamic revivalism in Muslim India. Moreover, I believe similar examples can be found in many other areas of the Islamic world where Islamic revivalism has been spearheaded by figures deeply immersed in and informed by Sufi discourses.7 Thanvi and Ahmad Raza have been seen by their followers and by scholars as opponents, but without denying the significance of their disagreements, it must be stressed that structurally, their roles and importance for Sufism and revivalism in Muslim India have, as we shall see, many commonalities. In addition to many smaller common points of reference, they can both be seen as the founts of communities of discourse and practice that fuse Sufism and revivalism. Two works loom large when one speaks of ‘Ulama’ and their roles and significance in Muslim South Asia: Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revivalism in British India 8 and Muhammad Qasim Zaman’s The “Ulama” in Contemporary Islam9. Both works, though different in their approach and conclusions, have greatly enriched the discourse on the ‘Ulama’ in the modern period. Metcalf’s thesis revolves around the process of interiorization that occurred among the Indian Muslim elite in response to the challenge of colonialism and modernity. Metcalf’s argument has been interpreted as implying that after the disastrous
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aftermath of the uprising of 1857, the ‘Ulama’ undertook an “inward turn” focusing on cultivating a perfect Islamic life and practice instead of involving themselves with the external exigencies of British rule and impending modernity. Zaman critiqued this view stressing the continuing participation of the ‘Ulama’ in the public sphere, in British India as well as the nation-states of Pakistan and India as part of a continuous strategy to engage with the modern world. Part of this seeming contradiction comes from the fact that Metcalf focuses on the early period until 1900 in her treatment of the Deobandi ‘Ulama’, when there may have been less visible participation in the larger public space of British India, while Zaman begins in the early twentieth century and pushes his argument into the present, when the ‘Ulama’ have been increasingly engaged in a large variety of activities in the public domain.10 This issue, which has further dimensions, may be illuminated by a consideration of the significance of the relationship between Sufism and revivalism in the lives and discourses of the ‘Ulama’, as exemplified in Thanvi and in rival Barelvi mode, in Ahmad Raza. Whereas Metcalf stresses the importance of Sufism for the Deobandi ‘Ulama’ as part of their turn inward but does not explain how this enabled them then to turn outward and play the often very active role they did in the public domain, Zaman, for his part, almost completely ignores the significance of Sufism in their discourses or their revivalist activities.11 I would like to use a cue based on Plato’s Republic interpreted through the lens of ethical philosopher and psychologist Jonathan Lear to shed light on a manner of stating the relationship between Sufism and revivalism that situates them in a dialectical process and demonstrates how the turn inward and outward actively complement and re-enforce each other, instead of harboring a contradiction due to a supposed opposition. Lear reads the relationship in the Republic between the psyche and the polis as better understood not by an analogy between microcosm and macrocosm, as it is often interpreted, but as a dialectic of internalization and externalization.12 The psyche, or in Sufi parlance, nafs, the soul or self, internalizes what it receives from the outward and then, in turn, externalizes that into the polis, or society, and the process keeps repeating itself. Envisioned in this way, Sufi doctrine and practice enables the Muslim to turn inward, to reform and perfect his or her self in a process of internalization and upon accomplishing this, to turn outwards toward the larger Muslim community to effect outwardly what has been learned inwardly. In other words, the subject is exposed to a discourse that he first internalizes in order to be able to externalize it, which is then internalized by others allowing them to externalize and so on. One can view the use of Sufism as a means of internalization and self-rectification that would eventually lead to exteriorization in the rectification of Muslim society.13 Such a

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perspective, I believe, correctly identifies the import and significance of Sufism in the lives of ‘Ulama’-Sufis like Thanvi and with the correct adjustments toward a more mediational model, Ahmad Raza demonstrates how it informed their revivalist orientations, which were further carried out in their name by full-fledged movements that explicitly or implicitly relied on Sufi discourse for their self-understanding. I will not spend too much time on the biographies of these scholars (since they are available elsewhere)14 but would rather outline the significance of Sufism in their life and work and connect it with the significance of revival in their work. Born in 1865, Mawlana Thanvi was educated at Deoband and took initiation on the Sufi path at the hands of Hajji Imdadullah, the Chishti-Sabiri shaykh who was the spiritual guide, murshid, of many ‘Ulama’, particularly those of Deoband. After graduation from Deoband, Thanvi taught for a few years in Kanpur before settling at Imdadullah’s Sufi lodge (khanqah) in Thana Bhavan, where he lived until his death in 1943. It was here that Thanvi carried out the bulk of his Sufi and revivalist activities, particularly the composition of a large number of works in a wide variety of fields, including Qur’anic commentary, jurisprudence, theology, and Sufism, and the training, in person and through correspondence, of a large number of disciples to whom he served as a Sufi master. Mawlana Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi lived from 1856 to 1921. In Sufism, he took initiation at the hand of Shaykh Al-e Rasul, a Qadiri pir of the Barakatiyya family. Although he was largely self-educated, he achieved mastery in a variety of fields, particularly jurisprudence, to which most of his written work is devoted, largely in the form of fatawa. He was widely active in revivalist activities in the name of the ahl-e-sunnat wal jama”at at a time of great ferment in Muslim South Asia but at the same time, he continued to train disciples and articulate his particular spiritual vision.

Mawlana Thanvi
The importance of Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanvi for twentieth century South Asian Islam is beginning to be understood among scholars, but to date, very little has been written on him and particularly his Sufi aspects. A number of sources identify Thanvi as a, if not the, pre-eminent Sufi in late British North India. This designation is borne out by his large numbers of disciples, including many ‘Ulama’ who were to play a major role in subsequent South Asian Islam, the extent of his influence among ‘Ulama’, Sufis, various Islamic movements such as the Tablighi Jama’at and the general Muslim public (as attested to by, for example, the Bihishti Zewar (Heavenly Jewelry) as a normative bridal gift for many North Indian women),15 and by his prolific written output (a substantial portion of it being transcriptions of his lectures and discourses).
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According to a categorization by Paul Heck, Sufism can be usefully characterized as having the following four normative dimensions: intellectual discipline, spiritual practice (echoing the classical distinction between doctrinal Sufism, tasawwuf-e-nazari and practical Sufism, tasawwuf-e-amali), literary tradition, and social institution.16 Mawlana Thanvi integrally participated in all of these dimensions. In the intellectual domain, his writings include a number of works on speculative Sufism such as his most comprehensive work, which contains discussions of Sufi ontology and cosmology among many other subjects, at-Takashshuf “an muhimmat al-tasawwuf, (Unveiling the Important Matters of Sufism), his commentaries on Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Fusus al-Hikam (Ringstones of Wisdom) as well as his defense of the latter entitled al-Tanbih a†-†arabi fi tanzih Ibn “Arabi (Delightful Counsel on the Transcendence of Ibn al-“Arabi). Also falling in the intellectual dimension are scholarly works on Sufism such as at-Tashsharuf bi-ma”rifa(t)i-ahadith al-tasawwuf (Gaining Nobility through Knowledge of the Traditions of Sufism), a four-volume dissertation on Prophetic sayings found in the corpus of Sufi writings together with an explication of their authenticity, status, and meanings, and Al-Sunna al-jaliyah fi al-Chishtiyyah al-”aliyyah, (Manifest Tradition concerning the Great Chishtis), an explication of defense of the Chishti masters regarding controversial elements found in their hagiographies. Mawlana Thanvi’s contributions to the Sufi literary tradition include his multivolume commentaries on the Mathnawi of Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207 –1273), and the Diwan of Hafiz Shirazi. It is in the practical dimensions of Sufism, consisting of writings on practical Sufism and participation in the institution of Sufism as a spiritual master (murshid or pir), that Mawlana Thanvi’s significance becomes especially apparent. The majority of his works on Sufism are concerned with practical Sufism, focusing on the inculcation of spiritual virtues, the annihilation of vices, spiritual exercises to control and cultivate the self, and the maintenance of spiritually conducive attitudes. The unity of inward and outward reform in his method can be seen in that these spiritually oriented topics, usually confined to Sufi manuals and treatises, are to be found throughout his works, even those written for the widest audience such as Bihishti Zewar, Hayat al-muslimin (The Life of Muslims), Ta“lim ad-Din (Teachings of Religion), and Furu“ al-iman (Branches of Faith), all works dedicated to explaining Islamic beliefs and duties to the ordinary Muslim.17 One of his most important works of practical Sufism, and among the most important in twentieth century South Asian Islam in the genre of letters of Sufi masters, is the multi-volume Tarbiyat al-Salik (Nurturing the Spiritual Traveler), which consists of thousands of letters from his disciples on numerous aspects of the spiritual path and the interior life together with

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his replies. Thanvi’s written output on spiritual practice is formidable, ranging from short epistles to lengthy monographs. Some of the best-known of these works are Qasd al-Sabil (Embarking on the Path), Masa”il al-Suluk (Problems of Spiritual Journeying), and Haqiqat-e-tasawwuf-e-taqwa (The Reality of Sufism and God-consciousness). As for participation in the institutional aspect of Sufism, Mawlana Thanvi was initiated into the spiritual path by Hajji Imdadullah, the shaykh of many Deobandi ‘Ulama’, including its founders, Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Muhammad Qasim Nanautvi. He later became one of Imdadullah’s most influential spiritual successors (khulafa” ) and took up residence in Imdadullah’s khanqah at Thana Bhavan. It was here that Thanvi developed both aspects of his teachings to their fullest – training disciples, who reputedly numbered in the tens of thousands, in the Sufi path and making efforts for the revival of Islam. Activities related to the latter included everything from the translation of classical Islamic texts, including many Sufi texts, undertaken by him and his disciples, to the writing of various pedagogic works to inspire the ordinary Muslim, to missionary (tabligh) activities among newly converted Indian Muslims, to the refutation of modern ideas and practices brought in by the British and adopted by modernist Muslims that he believed threatened the integrity of Islamic culture and thought. Particularly important was Thanvi’s establishment at the khanqah of a scholarly program in which he and his disciples, among them many scholars of repute, produced numerous original works as well as Urdu translations of and commentaries upon classical Islamic texts. Notably, Thanvi only indirectly participated in politics, through contributing to the effort to create a Muslim homeland in India through his disciples such as Shabbir Ahmad Usmani (d. 1949) and Zafar Ahmad Usmani (d. 1974), who played active roles in support of the Muslim League in opposition to the majority opinion of the Deobandi school, as exemplified by its then leader Husayn Ahmad Madani (d. 1957), who sided with the Congress Party and pushed for a united India. Perhaps one reason for Thanvi’s guarded political involvement was due to his overarching vision that the reform of Islamic society was dependent on the reform of hearts and actions of Muslims, a bottom-up approach in contrast to the top-down approach of some modern Muslim movements, which seek to establish an Islamic political order first and expect that that will result in the reform of individual Muslims.18 One way to understand how Thanvi understood the close relation of Sufism and Islamic revival is to examine the Aristotelian methodological foundation of his division of the Islamic sciences, which yields his five-fold division of the Shari’ite sciences.19 Thanvi, in his philosophical tract al-Intibahat al-Mufida “an al-ishtibahat al-jadida (The Beneficial Intimations Regarding the Newly-Arisen Doubts), states:
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What the Greek and Muslim philosophers call ‘Hikma’ (wisdom), or philosophy, is a general term which does not exclude any science or branch of knowledge, and the Shari“a is also included in it . . . Philosophy is the knowledge of real entities as they are, the object of such knowledge being that the self acquires thereby some kind of excellence. Thus, every science deals with the characteristics of a certain form of reality.20

Here we see how Thanvi relates knowledge to a hermeneutics of the self: the purpose of every form of knowledge is to spiritually transform and ennoble the self. This ties in well with the idea that it is only selves that have acquired knowledge and have been spiritually transformed that can then impart knowledge to others to enable their transformation, which was a key argument in Thanvi’s articulation of the necessity of acquiring religious knowledge from an “alim 21 and spiritual guidance from an authentic Sufi shaykh. Hence, Thanvi’s initial opposition to the Tablighi Jama’at, whom he saw as laymen who were trying to instruct others before fully undergoing the process of the acquisition of knowledge and the transformation of the self. Thanvi believed only the “alim was qualified to do tabligh, which entails the transmission of knowledge, for only he both had full knowledge and the insight to guide people in the way that was most effective for them. Returning to Thanvi’s classification, hikma is divided into knowledge that pertains to that whose scope is under our will and power, or practical philosophy (al-hikmat al-“amaliyya) and knowledge that pertains to that which is beyond our will and power, or theoretical philosophy (al-hikmat al-nazariyya). Practical philosophy can be further divided into ethics (tahdhib al-akhlaq), domestic economy (tadbir al-manzil ), and politics (siyasat al-mudun), and theoretical philosophy can be divided into metaphysics (ilahiyyat), mathematics (riyadiyyat), and physics (“ilm al-†abi“a). The purpose of the Shari“a is to fulfill one’s obligations towards God and towards human beings (technically also animals and the natural world, which Thanvi deals with in some short ethical treatises), all in view of attaining the pleasure of God. Mathematics and physics are not directly concerned with this objective and, therefore, are not part of the Shari“a. Thus, we are left with one branch of theoretical philosophy and three branches of practical philosophy. It is from these that Thanvi derives his fivefold division of the Shari“a. He qualifies theology, or more literally, the science of beliefs, (“ilm al-aqa“id ) as a branch of metaphysics and the first of the Shari’ite sciences. The other four are taken from a different division, borrowing from the Islamic legal tradition, of practical philosophy. Thanvi divides these as the sciences that pertain to 1) the relations between the human being and

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God- “ibadat (in some works, he refers to this as diyanat); 2) the relations between the human being and society- mu“asharat; 3) the relations between one human being and another- mu“amalat; and 4) the relation of a human being to himself- akhlaq. The latter four branches can also be termed theological ethics, social ethics, political and economic ethics, and personal ethics. In his major work directly dealing with revivalist themes, Islah-e-inqilab al-ummat, its title, Rectification of the upheaval in the Muslim community, directly reflects its concerns, Thanvi discusses how a wide-ranging upheaval has disrupted centuries of normative Muslim society. This upheaval, which Thanvi attributes to the weakening of Muslim religiosity on the one hand and the invasion of anti-religious modernity, introduced by the British and adopted by Western-educated Muslims, on the other, must be reversed in order for Muslims to be freed from their present predicaments. The ‘islah’ that Thanvi advocates, then, is for the reversal of the effects of the ‘inqilab’. These effects are especially felt, according to Thanvi, in the latter three dimensions of the Shari“a, comprising social relations (mu“asharat), political and economic life (mu“amalat), and personal adab (akhlaq). These domains, as opposed to belief and worship, which have only experienced a weakening, have been completely divorced from the Islamic faith and are treated as pertaining to the ‘dunya,’ the worldly life and therefore, not to be related to ‘din,’ religion. Thanvi is obviously pointing here to the growing privatization of religion and secularization of life in the public sphere in the modernizing milieu of late British India. The introduction of the din /dunya dichotomy still widely used in South Asia denotes the creation of a sphere independent of religion, or conversely, of religion as a separate sphere outside of ‘secular’ society.22 Since Thanvi regards these different forms of social, political, economic, and personal ethics as the principal casualties in the downfall of the Muslim community, it is these forms of ethics that he believes the rectification of will lead to the revival of the Muslim community. These branches all involve certain ethical practices which can only be performed correctly through rigorous training of the nafs, the self. It is here that Thanvi’s Sufism meets his revivalism. A self, rectified through ‘islah’ by inward purification through exercises such as meditation, remembrance of God, cultivation of the virtues and spiritual education and discipline, will be able to perfect inward character, which in turn will yield a perfected outward comportment dutiable to the Shari“a in all its aspects-private and public. This will not only make possible, but already effect a transformation of Muslim society at large, individual by individual. In the Islah-e-inqilab, Thanvi describes the spiritual nature of the upheaval inflicting Muslim society:
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Know that this upheaval is a spiritual (ruhani ) ailment. Just as physical ( jismani ) ailments have causes, so do spiritual ailments. And just as physical ailments are cured through the eradication of their causes, spiritual ailments also are cured through the eradication of their causes.23

Thanvi identifies the causes as the following: firstly, there is a dearth of knowledge and widespread ignorance among the Muslims and secondly, there is a lack of determination. A lack of knowledge hides one from the truth and a lack of determination prevents practice even if the truth be known. The first problem pertains to the intelligence and the second to will. Islamic revival must then rectify both these aspects: knowledge and practice of the religion. Although knowledge is incumbent on all Muslims, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, as Mawlana Thanvi makes clear at the start of his work Hayat al-muslimin, it is the special prerogative of the ‘Ulama’ (we must remember the true “alim for Thanvi is not one who is merely an “alim al-zahir, a scholar of the exoteric, but a Sufi as well). The “alim serves as the chief authority among Muslims and the glue that holds the Muslim community together. It is through him that knowledge and education, religious and spiritual, are transmitted and mediated, especially at a time when all other sources of authority have collapsed in Muslim society. In this, Mawlana Thanvi’s orientation is not very different from that of Mawlana Ahmad Raza, who also exhibited the exemplar of the Sufi “alim in his own person and perspective. A passage from Islah-e-inqilab sums up Thanvi’s view on the significance of Sufism, and particularly the Sufi shaykh, for curing the second cause of Muslim decline, weakness of will and lack of determination in the fulfillment of religious obligations and the pursuit of spiritual perfection:
Experience has proven that the following means are especially efficacious for the strengthening of one’s spiritual will (himmat). The first of these ways is the spiritual company (suhbat) of perfect spiritual masters (shuyukh-e-kamilin), whose characteristics are the following: He possesses necessary knowledge of the religion; he firmly follows the dictates of the Shari“a in beliefs, practices, and morals; he has no desire for the world; he makes no claims to complete perfection, for these too reveal attachment to the world; he has stayed for a while in the spiritual company of another shaykh-e-kamil; the honorable ‘Ulama’ and Sufi shaykhs of his day have a good opinion of him; compared to the ordinary people (“awamm), the elite (khawwass), meaning intelligent and virtuous people, are more inclined to his company; the condition of the majority of his disciples in relation to obedience to the Shari“a and diminishing of worldly desire, is good; he is alert to the condition (hal) of his disciples and disciplines them and not leave to their own fancies; after sitting in his company for a few times, one’s love

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of the world is diminished and love of God-the Real- (Haqq Ta”ala) is increased. He engages in the invocation and remembrance of God (dhikr) and meditation and contemplation (shaghl), for it is through them alone that there is blessing (barakat) in spiritual instruction. Spiritual unveilings (kashf ), miracles (karamat), the acceptance of prayers (istijabat-e-du”a), and paranormal acts (tasarrufat) are not requirements to be a shaykh. The spiritual companionship of such a shaykh-e-kamil is exceptionally efficacious. But the prerequisite of this efficacy is that the intention of the disciple should truly be for spiritual progress and resignation before God and detestation for sin. It is essential also that the disciple keep his master informed of his spiritual conditions and should firmly put into practice that which the master prescribes.24

Mawlana Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi
If we try to apply Heck’s fourfold division of Sufism to Mawlana Ahmad Raza,25 we see different emphases than Mawlana Thanvi. Ahmad Raza was primarily a jurist, a poet, and a Sufi revivalist of great repute. He did not write on nearly as many subjects as Mawlana Thanvi. Most of his writings are, in fact, fatawa of varying lengths on a wide variety of subjects, including many dealing with practices associated with Sufism, particularly practices popular in the shrine culture of North Indian Sufism. In fact, his vigorous juristic ( fiqhi) defense of popular Sufism can be seen as the definitive work of its kind and is a key to Ahmad Raza’s enduring popularity, which has even made inroads today to traditional ‘Ulama’ in the Arab world. His discourses, the Malfuzat, and his still popular poems in praise of the Prophet (na”at) bring out many aspects of his thought and person that are not obvious in his often contentious juristic works. Mawlana Ahmad Raza also was a Qadiri shaykh to a number of disciples and a major revivalist figure to a larger number of people who followed his activities in defense of a certain articulation of Muslim identity based around Sufi shrine culture and the glorification of the Prophet. In his writings, as well as his fatawa, one finds the development of a unique prophetology that is central to his vision and can be viewed as an exoteric elaboration of a number of ideas that were expressed in the Sufi understanding of the Prophet Muhammad associated with the school of Ibn al-‘Arabi but had seldom, if ever, been articulated and emphasized in the manner that Ahmad Raza was to do. The exoteric aspect really came into view when Ahmad Raza started treating the elements of his prophetology as necessary articles of faith- zaruriyat-e-din- that all true Muslims were bound to profess (on the pain of takfir, as some of the Deobandi ‘Ulama’ including Mawlana Thanvi, were to find out when Ahmad Raza declared them kafir, unbelievers) rather than esoteric knowledge of the Prophet’s reality
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understood only by the khawass, the spiritual elite. These ideas included, for example, the doctrine of hazir wa nazir, that the Prophet was always and everywhere present, which may be a literal application of an aspect of the doctrine of the Universal or Perfect Man (insan al-kamil ). Similarly, Ahmad Raza emphasizes the doctrine of the Muhammadan Light, which asserts that the Prophet Muhammad is a light from God and all things were made from his light (interestingly, Thanvi begins his biography of the Prophet, Nashr al-†ib, with ahadith in support of this doctrine), again a popular Sufi doctrine in the school of Ibn al-’Arabi seldom discussed in juristic or theological terms as Ahmad Raza does. The Prophet’s knowledge of the unseen (“ilm al-ghayb) was another central concern of Mawlana Ahmad Raza and in this, he identified the Prophet’s knowledge with God’s knowledge, the only difference is that this knowledge is intrinsic only to God but has been extrinsically gifted to the Prophet by God in its totality. Other elements in Ahmad Raza’s prophetology include that the Prophet had no shadow (a literal consequence of his identification with God’s light), is still alive, as implied by hazir wa nazir and continually helping those who call upon him, hence Ahmad Raza’s emphasis on tawassul, intercessionary prayers to the Prophet and saints. Ahmad Raza also highlighted the significance of celebrating the Prophet’s birthday and in offering the highest respect to sayyids, descendents of the Prophet, who, in Ahmad Raza’s view, carried the Prophet’s intercessory power. The saints (awliya” ), as the Prophet’s spiritual descendents, held a central position in Ahmad Raza’s worldview. An important difference in the orientation of Thanvi and Ahmad Raza can be seen through utilizing the distinction Arthur Buehler has made between teaching shaykhs and mediating shaykhs.26 Thanvi, basing himself both on Sabri Chishti emphases and Deobandi norms, always stressed the former approach and was opposed to many forms of mediational Sufism while Ahmad Raza primarily stressed the latter.27 His whole teaching, in fact, revolved around the centrality of mediation: the Prophet mediated with God, the shaykh- and the saints- with the Prophet. More precisely, there were three channels of mediation and intercession for Ahmad Raza: the individual pir or shaykh, the founding saint of a Sufi order, particularly Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, who played a central role in Ahmad Raza’s practice, and the Prophet. He writes in his Malfuzat: “only the Prophet can reach God without an intermediary”28; the rest of us all need mediation and therefore, the spiritual life revolves around securing this mediation. Thus, Ahmad Raza’s method and movement should not be viewed firstly as a spiritual discipline that would cultivate a certain kind of Muslim self that would enable the revival of Islam, first in individual hearts and then in society as a whole, which is the Thanvian model. Rather, it sought to enable the cultivation of a devotional attitude

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through love of the Prophet and the saints combined with strict adherence to the Shari“a, which perfectly expressed the sunna of the Prophet and following which was a vital aspect of love of the Prophet. This would construct selves that would enable, through the continuity of right belief and right practice, the preservation and revival of the rightly guided community of ahl-e-sunnat wa jama”at in the face of numerous ‘heterodox’ challenges. Despite the significance of mediation, Ahmad Raza also insisted on inward purity and scrupulously correct conduct, which were the means to make mediation effective. In this, Ahmad Raza’s model overlaps that of Thanvi. In many ways, Ahmad Raza’s elaboration of tradition approaches what Hobsbawm has called the ‘invention of tradition’29; although Ahmad Raza did not as much ‘invent’ from scratch as widen the scope and meaning of certain traditions. As mentioned above, the doctrines that Ahmad Raza decided to focus upon, though they may have had wide assent among Sufi-minded Muslims, were never before seen as the defining doctrines he insists they are. Complementary to this is Ahmad Raza’s universalizing of practices that, though widespread in rural North India, were previously localized in particular shrines with their particular histories and forms of Sufism and Sufi practices. In a time of increasing mobility and the breakdown of traditional ties and forms of authority, Ahmad Raza took the underlying commonalities between these ways of shrine-based Islam and constructed a new identity in which all shrine-based forms of Islam were united together and identified with the ahl-e-sunnat w”al jama“at, which furthermore represented the historical consensus of the Muslim community and had the Prophetic sanction that “my community will not agree upon an error.” This identification was crucial to the authority of Ahmad Raza and his point of view since he was able to assert that he was merely doing what Muslims had always done everywhere and it was all the other groups that were involved in sectarian innovation. These sects, such as the Deobandis, whom he called Wahhabis, the Ahl-e-Hadith, the Shi‘a, the Nadwis, and others, were both in doctrinal error and threatening the unity of Islam and Muslims, a unity that only the ahl-e-sunnat w”al jama“at was qualified to preserve. It should be mentioned that both Thanvi and Ahmad Raza articulated their revivalist programs as a revival of the Prophet’s sunna, the renewal of which, according to Thanvi in his Hayat al-muslimin, is the key to re-establishing the practice of and renewing the success of Islam in modern India. Such articulations successfully established the authority of these ‘Ulama’ among their followers as representing and continuing the authority and legacy of the Prophet. In view of their spiritual authority and their revivalist efforts, both the Mawlanas have been widely seen by their followers as mujaddids, the centennial revivers promised in a saying of the Prophet.
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Afterword
Both Mawlana Thanvi and Mawlana Ahmad Raza were able to create communities of discourse consciously separate from the rhetoric of the colonial state although sometimes in tension with it. Their successors continue to have an ambivalent relationship with the modern nation-states of Pakistan and India. This conscious separation from the state should not be seen merely as quietism but as instances of particular paradigms of revival which view a focus on the inward as a necessary condition for the revival and reform of the outward; the transformation of selves inwardly eventually results in a transformation of the society they are composed of. This happens both actively, as when the reformed individuals can effect change in society through direct reformative action, and passively, in that when growing numbers of individuals are reformed, this already, through their presence, results in the reformation of the society in which they participate. These attempts on the part of the ‘Ulama’ and their followers for Islamic revival should be seen as conscious articulations of public discourses not under control of the colonial state but generated by men and women who saw themselves as heirs to and participants in a millennial tradition essentially unaffected by the workings of any contemporary worldly power. It may not be useful to use the Habermasian private/public dichotomy in order to understand South Asian society in the colonial era. A more nuanced recognition of multiple public spheres,30 which include the discourses of actors resisting the dominant discourse, such as the ‘Ulama’ and the Sufi orders, is necessary in order to understand the dynamic of colonial South Asian society.31 The examples of Mawlana Thanvi and Mawlana Ahmad Raza illustrate the deep symbiosis between the Sufi discursive tradition and Islamic revivalism. They challenge the limited dichotomies that sometimes still persist that oppose the supposed other-worldly quietism of Sufis to the this-worldly activist concerns of Islamic revivalists. Lear’s model of internalization and externalization is a useful tool in viewing anew the dialectical relationship between Sufism and revivalism in the discourses of “alim-Sufi figures that became the norm of religious authority in British India, as in other parts of the Islamic world.

Endnotes
1. See Nikki R. Keddie’s introduction to her edited volume Scholars, Saints, and Sufis: Muslim Religious Institutions in the Middle East since 1500 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978) for a discussion of this preference in modern scholarship of change over continuity.

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2. For examples from South Asia, see Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband 1860 –1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982); Francis Robinson, The “Ulama” of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia (New Delhi, Permanent Black, 2001); Usha Sanyal, Devotional Islam and Politics in British India: Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi and his Movement, 1870 –1920 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996); Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The “Ulama” in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). On Sufis, see Carl Ernst and Bruce Lawrence, The Sufi Martyrs of Love: The Chishti Order in South Asia and Beyond (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), chs. 6–7; Rob Rozehnal, Islamic Sufism Unbound: Politics and Piety in Twenty-First Century Pakistan (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); and Arthur Buehler Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998). 3. Even the far-sighted Hodgson, in his monumental Venture of Islam, the most comprehensive work available on the meaning of Islamic history, takes the usual Orientalist position of assigning little importance to ‘Ulama’ and Sufis in modern Islamic history. For example, in the South Asian context, he devotes space to Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Iqbal in addition to political figures like Muhammad ‘Ali Jinnah but says not a word about ‘Ulama’ and Sufis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Thanvi and Ahmad Raza, two of the most influential religious figures in twentieth century South Asia. See his The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974) vol. III, 333–356. 4. See her “Tradition as a Modality of Change: Islamic Examples” in History of Religions 25 (May 1986) 4, 318–340. 5. See especially the works of Talal Asad, particularly Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003) and The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam (Washington, DC: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, 1996). 6. Thanvi still lacks a full-length study but at least an informative introduction to his life and thought is now available: Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Ashraf “Ali Thanawi: Islam in Modern South Asia (Oxford: Oneworld, 2008). For Thanvi’s works regarding modern thought, see Fuad S. Naeem, “A Traditional Islamic Response to the Rise of Modernism” in Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition (Bloomington: World Wisdom Books, 2004) 79–116. For Barelvi, see the study by Usha Sanyal mentioned in note 2 above and her smaller but more cogent Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi: In the Path of the Prophet (Oxford: Oneworld, 2005). 7. What I would like to explore is not the incidental influence of Sufism on reformist figures like Muhammad Abduh and Hassan al-Banna, both of whom belonged to Sufi orders in their early years before turning to activist and reformist Islam, but the direct involvement of Sufi ‘Ulama’ in initiating revivalist movements. 8. See note 2 above. 9. Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The “Ulama” in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). 10. It should be pointed out that the very activities that Metcalf describes the early Deobandis as engaged in, such as the constructing of a new Islamic school within a decade of the 1857 crackdown and the public debates with Hindus and Christians constitute political acts and do not support the thesis that Metcalf continuously emphasizes the personal over the public, a charge made by Zaman in his criticism of Metcalf’s methodology. See his The “Ulama” in Contemporary Islam, 12–13.
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11. In his aforementioned recent work on Thanvi as opposed to his earlier work on the Deobandi ‘Ulama’ in general, Zaman sufficiently stresses the significance of Sufism for Thanvi but does not relate his Sufi concerns to his revivalist concerns. 12. See Jonathan Lear, Open-Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 199), 219–246. 13. It should not be thought, however, that Sufi practice was merely an instrument for Islamic reform for Thanvi and Barelvi, because both would stress that Sufi practice is only fruitful if done only for the sake of God and not for any results in this world. The point is, however, that the cultivation of perfected selves would necessarily affect Muslim society for the better as a derived benefit of Sufi practice. 14. See the works mentioned in note 6 above. 15. For more on this work and its significance, see Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf “Ali Thanawi’s Bihishti Zewar A Partial Translation with Commentary. Translation and Introduction by Barbara D. Metcalf. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). Metcalf’s introduction, however, presents Thanvi through the prism of this populist work alone, not taking into account the many other pervasive aspects of his many writings. 16. See Paul L. Heck, “Mysticism as Morality: The Case of Sufism,” Journal of Religious Ethics 34 (2006) 2, 253. 17. So for example, the Bihishti Zewar includes a section on guidance for women who may be inclined to the spiritual life on how to benefit from Sufi works and practices and what to look for in a shaykh; the Furu” al iman has a section on the validity of wahdat al-wujud (Unity of Being) alongside more normative theological topics, and Ta”lim ad-Din has a section on virtue (akhlaq) that reads like a Sufi manual. 18. One can contrast here the views of the Deobandi ‘Ulama’, who, on this point, generally agreed with Thanvi, and those of Mawdudi, who the Deobandis strongly critiqued, and who argued for the establishment of an Islamic state. For a discussion of Mawdudi and the Deobandis, see Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). 19. These divisions are not original to Thanvi, of course, and can be found respectively in the works of Islamic philosophy as regards the classification of the sciences in general and in the legal tradition as regards the Shari’ite sciences. What is new is how Thanvi applies these methodologies to the contemporary situation in British Muslim India. 20. Answer to Modernism. Translated by Muhammad Hasan Askari and Karrar Husain. (Delhi: Adam Publishers 1981) 9. This is an English translation of Intibihat al-Mufidah “an al-Shatabahat al-Jadidah (The Beneficial Intimations Regarding the Newly-Arisen Doubts). 21. This was also one of his main contentions against modernized Muslims who claimed to have the right to interpret religious sources themselves on the basis of reason rather than to the experts of the field, the ‘Ulama’, who alone had the vastness of knowledge and grounding in tradition to provide authoritative interpretation. Thanvi elaborates on this argument in several of his works including the Intibihat, his principal work against the modernists. See my “The ‘Ulama’ of the Indian Subcontinent at the Rise of the Modern Age: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanvi and his Response to Modernism” (Master’s thesis, George Washington University, 2003). 22. Zaman describes how the notion of a ‘religious sphere’ has been internalized and advocated by the ‘Ulama’ themselves in contemporary Pakistan. See his The “Ulama” in Contemporary Islam, ch. 3. Talal Asad insightfully discusses the rise of the religious as opposed to the secular in modern Europe as well as its ramifications in the Muslim world in a number of places in his works Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), particularly

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chs. 1 and 6, and Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), particularly the introduction and Ch. 7. 23. Islah-e-inqilab-e-ummat (Deoband: Talifat-i awliya’, 1972), 20. 24. Ibid., 23–24. Translations from this text are my own. 25. The principal work on Mawlana Ahmad Raza remains the aforementioned work of Sanyal, Devotional Islam and Politics in British India. Another that has the benefit of further reflection is her Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi: In the Path of the Prophet (Oxford: Oneworld, 2005). 26. See his Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: the Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998). Even though Buehler’s model is based around the Naqshbandiyya, it is widely useful for other Sufi orders in South Asia. 27. The Qadiriyya, despite the large number of its adherents and its geographical expanse, continues to be the least studied of major Sufi orders, in South Asia and elsewhere. It would be interesting to know what kind of role Ahmad Raza played in the trajectory and intra-order discourses of the Qadiri order in South Asia. 28. Sanyal, 153. 29. See Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992). 30. For a useful discussion of this issue, see Dietrich Reetz, Islam in the Public Sphere: Religious Groups in India 1900 –1947 (New Delhi: Oxford, 2006). 31. Postcolonial South Asian society seems more amenable to a Habermasian approach, as indicated by Zaman’s argument that the ‘Ulama’ of Pakistan today have internalized the din/dunya divide and see themselves as representatives of a religious ‘sphere.’ See The “Ulama” in Contemporary Islam, chs. 3–4.

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