A Strange Meeting: Wahabism finds an unexpected counter with a Sufi

A Strange Meeting

Wahhabism finds an unexpected counter

Ali Khan

Times of India 17th Sep 2009

A village in Barabanki district is a microcosm of the struggle between the Barelvi Sunnis and those with Wahhabi inclinations. The town’s population is largely Sunni with a Shia minority. Before partition, the rulers of the estate were Shia and a collateral branch of the Mahmudabad family. Mahmudabad’s Muharram processions are famous all over India and in some parts of the world. When proces
sions were banned in Lucknow, people flocked to Mahmudabad. Bilehra always had smaller processions but the thing that stood out was that most of the crowds were Sunni Muslims. 
With the arrival of funds from some Middle East countries as well as returning migrant workers, some of whom had spent years away from home and were influenced by their surroundings, Bilehra gradually saw the rise of Wahhabism. The crowds in Muharram diminished and the number of people who attended prayers at the Barelvi mosque also fell.

According to one young man, for a number of years the people who subscribed to the Barelvi school of thought would outwardly show loyalty to the Wahhabis.

The Wahhabis – with their puritanical behaviour and insistence that some Sunnis and all Shias are essentially infidels – have polarised Muslim societies worldwide. Their literalist interpretation of the Quran is reductionist and does not allow scope for debate, analysis or a contextual, historical and consequently nuanced understanding. They strictly forbid music, religious or spiritual, and the veneration of holy men amongst many other things.

A number of urs, gatherings around the tomb of a Sufi pir where music is performed and poetry is read aloud in remembrance of
the Prophet, his family and the pir, are held in and around Bilehra. People who attended these functions are now subject to the taunts of students at the Wahhabi mosques. During Muharram, people would be afraid of going to processions or keeping a tazia, a paper replica of the shrine of Imam Hussain in Iraq, in their houses since these acts would also mark them out for heckling and jeering. The less powerful Barelvis could not match the money or resources thrown at them. But it is not power or money that has shaken or caught by surprise the Wahhabis.

Earlier this year an individual ignored and labelled a madman roaming the streets of Bilehra became the crucial factor in the

resurgence of the Barelvis. Mastaan Baba was homeless. People remember him wandering around, sleeping under trees, eating what little he was given and never trying to gather any worldly possessions. About six months ago, he was asleep as usual underneath a mango tree in the fields adjoining the Kerbala, where the tazias are brought after the processions and buried. A little girl came and lay down next to him and when he noticed her he got upset, pushed her and asked her to go away. Apparently, when she got up, her back had straightened
and she was no longer a hunchback. 
People flocked from villages all around to see the girl and to see this man. He continued to wear what he had always worn, a dirty white kurta, a black lungi or cotton towel wrapped around his legs like a sarong. He carried a little satchel tucked under his arms. The little brick room in which he sometimes slept has now become a beehive of activity. People have set up shops around the room, a power cable that was meant to be laid a long time ago is now finally in place and there is a constant throng around him.

Politicians, IAS officers and many other officials have all come to him in different capacities. Since that night he hit the girl,
there have been more stories about his powers and how he has changed people’s lives. Hindus and Muslims both are seen around him. This article is not about whether following him is permissible in Islam. It seems that people are desperate to seek out men who have not been ‘corrupted’ by the material world. The rise of Mastaan Baba in Bilehra has had an inadvertent effect on Bilehra’s Muslims. 
People who had gone over to the Wahhabi mosque and others who had hidden their true sympathies with the Barelvis have started to drift back. Whereas the Barelvi mosque used to be nearly empty with about 30 people, recent Eid prayers saw close to 300 people in attendance.

Wahhabis in Bilehra who openly condemned anything involving the veneration of living or dead men as innovations in Islam, have found themselves drawn to a quiet, wandering man. A few refuse to acknowledge Mastaan Baba but, according to people who live there, their wives and daughters regularly and secretly go to visit him!

It seems there are now a couple of more people in Bilehra who claim to be Mastaan Baba. Regardless of whether this man is genuine or not, it seems he has managed to single-handedly and unintentionally stall the rise of Wahhabism, in and around Bilehra.

The writer is a religious studies scholar.



  1. SubhanAllah, May Allah gives us the strength to destroy the weak literal and flawed interpretation of ul Islam that plagues the muslims of today. Death to the disease that is salafi aqaid.

  2. To Stop Osama Bin Laden’s spread of his terrorist agenda to train more terrorists for his war agianst west, everyone should stop the spread of Wahabism in our country. You have to only see at our neighbouring country what years of spread of Wahabism has done to the country. I think the Govt of India should start providing monetary help to curb its spread of hateful message.

  3. Sufis hold a number of beliefs in relation to God, Almighty; of these beliefs are the following:
    a) Al-Hulool: This belief denotes that God, Almighty, dwells in His creation.
    b) Al-It’tihaad: This belief denotes that God, Almighty, and the creation are one, united presence.
    c) Wahdatul-Wujood: This belief denotes that one should not differentiate between the Creator and the creation, for both the creation and the Creator are one entity.
    Mansoor al-Hallaaj, a figure much revered by Sufis, said:

    “I am He Whom I love,” he exclaimed, “He Whom I love is I; we are two souls co-inhabiting one body. If you see me you see Him and if you see Him you see me.”
    Muhiyddin Ibn Arabi, another revered figure in Sufism, was infamous for his statements: “What is under my dress is none but God,” “The slave is the Lord and the Lord is a slave.”
    These above beliefs strongly contradict the Muslim belief in the Oneness of God, for Islam is a strict monotheism. These cardinal Sufi doctrines are not far from some of the Christian beliefs or the Hindu belief of reincarnation. S. R. Sharda in his book, ‘Sufi Thought’ said: “Sufi literature of the post-Timur period shows a significant change in thought content. It is pantheistic. After the fall of Muslim orthodoxy from power at the centre of India for about a century, due to the invasion of Timur, Sufism became free from the control of the Muslim orthodoxy and consorted with Hindu saints, who influenced them to an amazing extent. The Sufi adopted Monism and wifely devotion from the Vaishnava Vedantic school and Bhakti and Yogic practices from the Vaishnava Vedantic school. By that time, the popularity of the Vedantic pantheism among the Sufis.” Sufis had reached its zenith.” Sufi orders hold a wide variety of beliefs in relation to Prophet Muhammad, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him. Of them are those who believe that he was ignorant of the knowledge the Sufi Elders possess. Al-Bustami, a Sufi Sheikh said: “We have entered a sea of knowledge at the shore of which the Prophets and Messengers stood.”
    Sufis in general believe that one should not ask God to grant them Paradise; they even claim that the Wali (guardian) should not seek it, for it is a sign of one’s lack of intellect. To them ‘Paradise’ holds an immaterial meaning, which is to receive the knowledge of the unseen from God and to fall in love with Him.
    As for Hell, a Sufi believes that one should not try to escape from it. According to them, a true Sufi is not to be fearful of the Fire. Some even believe that if a Sufi elder were to spit on the Fire, it would be put out, as Abu Yazid al-Bustami claimed.

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