Syed Ahmad Barelvi

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Syed Ahmad Shaheed (of Rae Bareli) (1786–1831), also called Syed Ahmed Barelvi, was a Muslim activist from Rae Bareli, India. and founder of the “The Way of the Prophet Muhammad” (Tariqah-i Muhhamdiyah), a revolutionary Islamic movement. His supporters designated him an Amir al-Mu’minin (“Commander of the Believers”)[citation needed] and he proclaimed a jihad against the Sikhs in the Punjab.

Syed Ahmad was influenced by Shah Abdul Aziz, son of Shah Waliullah and touredAfghanistan and the areas occupied by the Sikhs raising the banner of jihad and rallying the Pashtun tribes to his banner. It was only after Maharaj Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839 that the city of Peshawar came under the influence of Syed Ahmads movement, due to unclarity and dispute over the next heir of the Sikh Kingdom.

Syed Ahmad was captured by some locals who opposed his movement, and was killed by the Sikhs along with hundreds of his troops and followers in Balakot, Mansehra District in 1831. His defeat ended the dream of establishing an Islamic state in Peshawar, now Pakistan. His followers upheld the doctrine of tawhid (the oneness of God). He is called as Syed Ahmad Barelvi because he used to live in rae bareli, They rejected bid’ah (innovation) but unlike Saudi Wahhabis accepted Sufism and features of mystical Islam such as the belief in the intercession of the saints and the strict following of a school of jurisprudence. He is thought by some  to have anticipated modern Islamists in his waging of jihad and attempt to create an Islamic state with strict enforcement of Islamic law.  The Islamic challenge to an expanding Sikh empire gained momentum in late 1826 when Sayyid Ahmad Shah arrived in Peshawar valley. He was accompanied by numerous disciples and supported by a highly developed network of personal friends and partisans spread across northern India organized to recruit and despatch men and financial aid. Sayyid Ahmed was a direct spiritual descendant of the Delhi Sufi scholar Shah Walliullah (1703–1762),through his disciple Shah Abdul Aziz (1746–1824).Sayyid Ahmad successes and failures revealed the various conflicting interests and the contradiction that fragmented the anti-imperialist coalition. His story illustrated how in this era even popular religious idealism could not supersede Peshawar valley elite political networks linked to imperial patronage and able to appeal, across class and power divides, to customary social practices and ethnic ties.

Syed Ahmad believed in religious and social agenda that had come down to him through his spiritual lineage. Seeking a return to an imagined original Islamic purity,he preached adherence to the ‘Sharia'(Islamic law) rather than mystical union with God. He rejected the compromises of faith discernible in established ‘Ulema'(religious leaders).He defended monotheism (tauhid)and denied innovation(bid’at). Personal reasoning(Ijtihad) was necessary to deal with new and unforeseen events. Importantly, Syed Ahmad was exposed to shah Walliullah’s interpretations of the nature of society and relation between religion and state. The Islamic state was to be organized by a ‘Khilafat -e- Khasa and a ‘Khilafat Amma’, the former is conceived as a spiritual super-authority regulating the affairs of the latter,which may be equated with temporal rulers and chiefs. Society was composed of various occupational groups,soldiers,artisans,traders and agriculturalists as well as the ‘Ulema’. ‘Sufia’ and members of aristocracy, whose performance of their duty kept society in equilibrium. This disruption had occurred. Monarchy, as opposed to the early elective tradition of Islam and the cessation of ‘Ijtihad’ had much to do with prevailing state of affairs.(Ahmad 94:25).

Before the journey to the Peshawar region,Sayyid Ahmad had served in imperial army of Amir Khan of Tonk in Northern India. He had performed the hajj(pilgrimage) to Mecca with many supporters and spent two years organizing popular and material support for his Peshawar campaign. Arriving in Peshawar valley in late 1826, Sayyid Ahmad and one thousand followers made their base in Charsadda village in Hashnagar. In December 1826 Sayyid Ahmad and his followers clashed with Sikh troops at Akora but with no decisive result. The inability of Sayyid Ahmad to shape local Pakhtun villagers into a disciplined and effective military force led to an 1827 decision consistent with his sense of proper relationship between religious and secular leadership. “It was accordingly decided by all those present at the time, faithful followers,sayyids,learned doctors of law,nobles and generality of Muslims that the successful establishment of ‘Jihad ‘ and the dispelling of disbelief and disorder could not be achieved without the election of an ‘Imam'”.(Ahmad 94:50).

This moment of religiously inspired unity attracted the allegiance of maliks, shareholders and even the governors of Peshawar. But the illusion was soon shattered when,during the next clash with Sikh troops,at the south of Akora,the Peshawar rulers withdraw and Sayyid Ahmad and his followers had to retreat in the hills of north of Peshawar. In their fine details, the events of these years revealed a fragmented Yusufzai and Mandanr support for Sayyid Ahmad’s movements. Social concerns,and a combination of pressure and support from Sikh generals and Peshawar governors,forced a range of local decisions while presenting new opportunities. In 1829 at the peak of his local influence, Sayyid Ahmad obtained agreement that the khans and general public would administer their principalities according to the laws of the Shariat and would give up the customary practices.(Nichols 2001:98).  The decisive moments for Sayyid Ahmad came in 1830.In addition to the stated social agenda,Sayyid Ahmad also attempted to collect the Islamic tithe(usher) of ten per cent of crop yields. In coercing the reluctant Khans to pay,Sayyid Ahmad antagonized the chief of Hoti, Mardan and who then formed a power alliance with Sultan Muhammad,governor of Peshawar. The union was defeated and the Islamic reformers finally occupied Peshawar. Over several months during 1830 Sayyed Ahmad tried to conciliate established power hierarchies. But before the end of 1830 an organized uprising occurred and the agents of Sayyid Ahmad in Peshawar and in plain villages were murdered and the movement retreated to hills and where finally Sayyid Ahmad was killed in Balakot by Sikh Army in 1831.(Ahmad 94:55)

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