The two assailants who have claimed responsibility for the gruesome murder of a tailor in Udaipur belong to the Sufi-Barelvi sect. Blasphemy against Islam is the group’s rallying carry and it believes that there is only one punishment for the crime – death
The gruesome murder of a tailor, Kanhaiya Lal, in Udaipur which was recorded on camera by two assailants is being treated as a terror incident. The Ministry of Home Affairs has ordered a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into the killing.
The two accused Riyaz Attari and Ghous Mohammed slit the tailor’s throat for supporting now-suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma’s controversial remarks on Prophet Muhammad. They were arrested by the Rajasthan police after videos of the killing and threats issued to Prime Minister Narendra Modi were widely circulated on social media.
The duo has been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Early investigation has revealed that the two radicalised Islamists belong to the Sufi-Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam and have close links to the Pakistan-based extremist religious group Dawaat-e-Islami.
What is the Sufi-Barelvi sect?
The Barelvi sect originally followed Sufi mysticism with an emphasis on a spiritual connection to God. The Barelvi movement is named after the 19th-century founder Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi. Its origins can be traced to Uttar Pradesh’s town of Bareilly.
It is followed by a large population of Muslims across South Asia and is characterised by a reverence for saints and veneration of the Prophet Muhammad, which often inscribes miracles to the prophet and other holy figures in Islam, including the Sufis. Given its Sufi influences, and inspiration from Indic religions, cultures, and practices, Barelvi Islam has often been described as a more inclusive brand of the religion, according to a report in The Diplomat.
Sufi practices like Qawwali music and placing chadors on tombs are all part of Barelvi Islam.
How did the sect become radicalised?
In Pakistan, the Barelvi groups were reduced to the fringes in the 1980s and were dubbed the “softer version of Islam”, often compared to the militant Deobandi Islam, which follows strict Islamic rituals. The Taliban and the Islamic State targeted the followers of Sufi Barelvi Islam for their devotion to Sufi saints, which they think is polytheistic – worshipping more than one god.
Over the years, the sect has turned radical, especially in Pakistan. It has made blasphemy against the religion a rallying cry and is of the belief that there is only one punishment for it and that is death.
The madrassas across Pakistan preaching Barelvi Islam have seen a shift to radicalism. In recent years, they have received funding from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Gulf states, which has increased the influence of the more extremist Salafi Islam on the Barelvi group, reports The Diplomat.
The influence of the Barelvi sect on Pakistan politics
Radical Barelvi Islam preachers like Dawat-e-Islami believe that the Pakistan government is not doing enough to punish blasphemy and hence take matters into their own hands. The Dawat-e-Islami is the extremist religious group with which the Udaipur murderers have reportedly been linked.
The group influenced Mumtaz Qadri, a former policeman, who assassinated Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab, in 2011 for his critique of Pakistan’s contentious blasphemy law. Qadri was executed as a terrorist but has a tomb in Islamabad which is considered a shrine, The Diplomat report says.
As the Barelvi sect turned more radical, it gave birth to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right Islamic extremist political party in August 2015. Led by the cleric, Khadim Rizvi, the group comprises supporters of Qadri and its key agenda is to defend the country’s blasphemy laws. Since its formation, it has brought the state to its knees several times.
The TLP has created a furore every time Pakistan’s blasphemy laws come up for discussion. In 2017, they accused the law minister of blasphemy and demanded that he step down for suggesting changes to the oath document used for the swearing-in of ministers. The military had to step in after the protests turned violent and the government finally gave in to the TLP’s demand.
In 2018, members of the hardline TLP brought Pakistan to a standstill when they protested against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. The party struck a deal with the government, where the violent demonstrators were assured that Bibi would not be allowed to leave the country. It once again took to the streets after she was acquitted by the Supreme Court.
The TLP contested its first election in July 2018, winning two assembly seats in Sindh.
The group has been largely responsible for the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. It has taken responsibility for the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris in 2020 and led violent anti-France protests across Pakistan in April last year, leading to a ban by the government.
The TLP has radicalised Barelvi Islam in Pakistan and neither the government nor the military has been able to rein it in, as it grows from strength to strength, bullying those in power and spreading terror against those who do not agree with them.
The Barelvi sect and India
In India, while the sect’s influence is growing, it has largely stayed out of politics. Ittehad-e-Millat Council, a regional party in Uttar Pradesh formed by Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi’s great-grandson Tauqeer Raza Khan has remained a fringe organisation.
However, Khan has been booked for remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020 and has been involved in clashes with the rival Sufi factions in the UP, reports The Diplomat. Rallies and billboards demanding that those guilty of blasphemy be beheaded do come up in India from time to time and can be linked to the sect.
“[While Tauqeer Raza Khan’s] organisation fielded [unsuccessful] candidates in UP Assembly elections, every political leader including Arvind Kejriwal made the political pilgrimage to Bareilly to garner his support,” Anil Maheshwari, the author of “Syncretic Islam: Life and Times of Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi,” told The Diplomat.
Now with the assailants in the murder of the Udaipur tailor linked to the sect, the spotlight is on its rise in India.
The other sects
The rise of the Barelvi sect has a lot to do with its marginalisation and being branded soft. Even as it turns to radicalism, terror organisations like the Taliban and Islamic State follow their own brand of Islam, with extremist interpretations of Deobandi and Salafi Islam.
Deobandi Islam is the religious ideology followed by the Taliban. It emerged in India in 1867 during the colonial rule.
Two Muslim clerics, Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi and Maulana Rashid Muhammad Gangohi were behind the setting up of the Deobandi school. They aimed to indoctrinate Muslim youth with an austere, rigid and pristine vision of Islam, according to a report in The Conversation.
It follows Orthodox Islamism and insists on adherence to the Sunni Islamic law or sharia. It believes jihad is the sacred duty to protect Muslims across the world.
The first madrassa to educate Muslim youth in the Deobandi tradition was set up in Uttar Pradesh toward the end of the 19th century. It spread across the continent over the years and got a fillip after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Many of the Taliban’s key leaders and fighters, including Mullah Omar, the founder of the organisation, had studied in the Deobandi seminaries in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the report says.
The Islamic State believes it is the representative of authentic Islam as practised by the early generations of Muslims – Salafism. It draws on an especially strict brand of Salafism in particular, Wahhabism, which follows the literal interpretation of the Quran.
The word “Salafi” comes from the Arabic phrase, “al-Salaf al-Salih”. It refers to the first three generations of Muslims, starting with the Companions of the Prophet, known as the “righteous ancestors”.
Salafism aims to bring Muslims back to what they see as the true faith practised by the Prophet Muhammad and his followers, reports the BBC.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Islamic State have their beliefs rooted in Salafi Islam.
Salafism is flourishing in the United States, Germany and Britain and is also on a rise in China.
According to The Spectator’s Gavin Mortimer, Salafism “has inspired the global jihad that has killed tens of thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims this century”.
With inputs from agencies
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.