Religion,  Your View

Imam Ahmad Reza Khan (1856-1921): A Great Scholar Of The 20th Century

This is a guest post by Raziq and is cross posted from The Spittoon


Imam Ahmad Reza Khan was born in 1856 in a town called Bareilly, India. Because of the name of his place of birth his followers are commonly referred to as “Barelewis”.  Imam Ahmad Reza began writing fatwas at the age of fourteen then he went on to become a Hanafi scholar and a spiritual follower of Pir Abdul Qadir Jilani al-Baghdadi.  He was a prolific writer and his fatwas are still used today.  In this article I will be looking at some of the key rulings and issues he dealt with.

British India Dar al-Harb or Dar al-Islam?

According to Imam Ahmad Reza Khan’s fatwa, India under British rule was still Dar al-Islam (land of Islam).  This was because:

In Hindustan…Muslims are free to openly observe two Eids, the azan, iqamat, namaz ba-jama’at…which are signs of the shariat, without opposition.  Also the religious duties, nikah, fosterage…There are many such matters among Muslims on which the British government also finds it necessary to seek fatawa from the Ulama and act accordingly, whether they (the rulers) be Zoroastrian or Christian…In short, there is no doubt that Hindustan is dar al-Islam
(The Ahle Sunnat Movement in British India 1880-1921, Edited by Prof. Dr. Allah Bukhsh, Islamic Propagation Centre Lahore, Pg 265)

This fatwa is also supported and approved of today by the likes of Sheikh Nuh Keller, it can be found in his translation of ‘Reliance of the traveller’, whilst  Deobandi scholars gave different and contradictory opinions.  Those such as Ashraf Ali Thanawi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi were of the same opinion as Imam Ahmad Reza khan.

Was the Ottoman Empire a Caliphate?

Imam Ahmad Reza khan rejected the claim that the Ottoman Sultan was the Khalifa(Caliph) of all Muslims.  He believed that a Caliphate had only existed for the 30 years after the death of the Prophet (PBUH) and after that it had been Sultanates (monarchies):

…it was clear to all that the Uthmaniya Sultanate (Ottoman Empire), of Turkey due to her misconduct, was no more than a stain on the name of Khilafat.  Then suddenly it was rumoured, (by contriving Hindus) that the Sultan of Turkey is the Khalifah of Islam and the end to his rule is equal to assaulting Islam.
(Imam Ahmad Ridaa Khan, a Versatile Personality by Mawlana Kawsar Niazi, Pg 14, Tanda Printers)

..the khalifa had always been required to be and had historically been a member of the Quraish tribe, while “worldly” rulers such as Sultans were not limited in this way.  The institution of Khilafat had ceased to exist after  749 AD and all Muslim rulers since then had been, and presently were, rulers or sultans but not Khalifas.
(Dawam al-Aish fi’l Ummat min Quraish by Imam Ahmad Raza Khan, Pg 95, Lahore: Maktaba-e-Rizwia, 1980)

Some Muslims figures such as Ibn Khaldun had claimed that Quraishi descent was not a necessary condition for a Caliph; Imam Ahmad Reza Khan rejected this view saying that Ibn Khaldun was a historian, not a scholar, and had no right to make such judgments.

The majority of mainstream scholars in India accepted Imam Ahmad Reza’s view.

On Wahhabis and Deobandis

Wahhabis are commonly referred to as followers of Abdul Wahhab Najdi.  Imam Ahmad Reza Khan took a strict stance against Wahhabis and accused them of Kufr (disbelief).  In his opinion the Wahhabis as well as the Deobandis are the present day Khawarij:

When asked whether the Wahabis had existed during the (golden) age of the first four caliphs, he responded in the affirmative, relating a number of hadith in support of this view. The Khawarij who had seceded from Hazarat Ali’s army …had been the first..In the present time, they were known as  ‘Wahabis’
(The Ahle Sunnat Movement in British India 1880-1921, Edited by Prof. Dr. Allah Bukhsh, Islamic Propagation Centre Lahore, Pg 223)

Respect for the deceased and visiting tombs

Followers of Imam Ahmad Reza regularly observe special days to commemorate and remember the birth and death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and famous Muslim saints:

As Imam Ahmad Reza’s care in observing birth or death anniversaries such as urs, gyarween and Milad indicate, he strongly believed that the dead continued “to live” in a spiritual sense, and they retained a specially close relationship with places they had been associated with during their lives. Moreover, their spirits were especially alert and their grace heightened on certain days (their birth or death anniversaries).  For these reasons, supplicants were well advised to observe such anniversaries and exhibit the greatest respect for tombs.

The Prophet (PBUH)

Imam Ahmad Reza believed the Prophet (PBUH) had knowledge of the unseen (Ilm-e-ghaib). He was granted this belief in the unseen by God and was also by divine favour able to spiritually be almost omnipresent (Haazir Naazir).  He believed the Prophet (PBUH) was made of light whilst being a human being (Noor and Bashar).  He also believed the Prophet (PBUH) could hear those who called out his name, so it was acceptable to say “Ya rasul Allah” (Oh messenger of Allah).

His Legacy

Throughout his life Imam Ahmad Reza wrote about and corrected beliefs which he viewed as incorrect and affecting the basic beliefs of Islam. He authored around 1000 books, the most famous being his collection of Fatwas entitled “Fatawa-e-Rizwia”.  On his death bed he requested his son carry on with his work:

…by Allah’s grace, for more than ninety years the writing and sending out of fatawa (to those who had requested them) had been continuous activity in his house.  The task had been started by his grandfather, handed over after many years to his father and passed onto him when he was a mere lad of fourteen. He had continued this work throughout his life. Now he, in his turn, was entrusting it to his two sons and nephew, as part of his bequest.  If they all worked together, by Allah’s grace they would be successful
(Wasaya Sharif by Hasnain Raza Khan, Pg 5, in Rasa’il-e-Rizwia, Vol 5, Faisalabad, 1984)

Today his followers are known as the ‘Ahle Sunnah wal Jammah’ and make up over 50% of the total Muslim population in the Indian subcontinent. They also make up the majority of Muslims in the UK. The fact that the overwhelming body of British Muslims are Barelwis proves how wrong the government has been to flirt with Islamist outfits like the Muslim Council of Britain, MINAB and East London Mosque.

He has sewn shoes with the rays of sun, whatever he did, by Allah, has no parallel
(Reza Khan)