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The Dangerous Divide
By M. Zeyaul Haque

The Milli Gazette has written an editorial on it, and Aljamiat has devoted a special issue to the subject

M. Zeyaul HaqueOf late the differences between the Hanafis and Ahl-e-Hadith have begun to take on the contours of a dangerous schism that look as menacing and unhealable as that between Shias and Sunnis. So far these two schools of thought within Sunni Islam were supposed to be differing only in matters of insignificant detail like repeated rafa' yadain (raising of hands) during namaz and the pitch of saying aamin (amen) in prayers.
The older group, the Hanafis, who constitute a majority of the sub-continent's Muslim population, thought raising of hands was necessary only once at the time of beginning the prayers, but accepted the Ahl-e-Hadith (and Shia) practice of raising hands more often during the prayers also as valid. As for aamin the Hanafis said it sub-vocally, while the Ahl-e-Hadith said it more audibly, which the Hanafis accepted as legally valid.

There were differences of detail on divorce, on tarawih prayers during Ramadan and other issues, all taken as matters of detail and accepted as valid virtually by all Sunnis. However, of late a vicious campaign of slander has been launched by mischief-makers sitting in countries of the Middle East targetting Hanafis of all kinds, and going to the extent of denouncing then as kafirs. The targets include the late Ali Mian (Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi), Maulana Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, Chairman of Muslim Personal Board and the leaders of Tablighi Jamaat, to name a few.
Books and pamphlets, originating from the same sources, have flooded the sub-continent. One book, Al Deobandiyah in Arabic, specially targets the Deobandi sect as apostates and mushriks (poltyheists) worshipping graves. The Hanafis have also been described as qubooriyeen (grave worshippers) for their veneration of prophets and saints and for the practice of offering fatiha (the opening verse from the Qur'an) on the final resting places of the great souls.

Although this practice is more pronounced in the Barelwi sect of the Hanafis, the former sect has been subsumed under the larger ruberic of al Deobandiyah (the Deobandis) for the purposes of this discourse. Even the revered Ali Mian has been denounced as a closet quboori for his practice of sitting reverentially before the final resting place of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in Madina in muraqaba (meditation). The Hanafis of both the Deobandi and Barelwi sect argue that there is nothing wrong in venerating the prophets and the saints. They argue that there is a clear distinction between veneration and worship in Islam -- veneration for any revered soul, worship for Allah alone.

The Hanafi argument is that even an object can be venerated like the hajr-e-aswad (black stone) in the Kaaba at-Mecca which the Muslims kiss with reverence following the Prophet's (PBUH) practice without worshipping it. Interestingly, there is some confusion on this score among a sizeable section of non-Muslims in India as well.

Some early Arya Samajis used to vehemently argue that Muslims too were ‘idol worshipper’ because they worshipped keeping the Kaaba in Mecca in front (qibla). To this the usual Muslim counterargument is that Muslims travelling alone in isolated areas generally put their belongings (including their shoes) in front before starting their prayers. (This they do so that someone does not run away with their belongings while they are in prayer.) So, from the early Arya Samaj point of view this should mean that the Muslims worship their belongings (including their shoes), which is not really the case. This is so because putting something in front does not amount to worship in Islam. Nor does veneration.

Sadly, however, this Hanafi versus Ahl-e-Hadith dispute has gone beyond the limits of mere disagreement which is taken as a blessing in Islam because it promotes a healthy debate and a more rigorous search for the truth. What is actually happening is in the nature of an internecine strife, against which the Prophet (pbuh) had warned his followers.

The hottest battleground for claiming souls are the madrasas which are being targetted for conversion from one sect to another. It is these placesof Islamic learning where the books and pamphlets are being sent. The whole thing has turned into an acrimonious quarrel that threatens to blow into a full-fledged schism.

As a countermove the Jamiatul Ulema organized a ‘Save the Sunnah conference’ at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi from May 18 to 24. A large number of Hanafi Ulema cogitated over measures to be taken to tide over the massive onslaught. They passed a number of resolutions, including one asking Hanafi parents not to send their children to Ahl-e-Hadith madrasas, and another requesting the Saudi government to curb anti-Hanafi campaigners working from Saudi soil.

The Jamiat also objected to the publication of a book in Arabic in Saudi Arabia called Juhud Ulama-al Hanfiyah fi Ibtaal Aqaed al Quburiyah on which the author Shamsuddin Afghani has got a doctorate from the Islamic University of Madina. Afghani has condemned not only the most revered ulama of Deoband as quburiyah (grave worshippers) but also damned such all-time greats as Imam Kirmani, Imam Suyuti, Allama Ibn Hajr and Sheikh Abdul Haq Muhaddith Dehlawi.

However, this may not be enough. In fact, it could be counterproductive, driving the two sides further apart. What is required is a dialogue between the two sides and a deliberate attempt to tone down the rhetoric and stop the chorus of condemnation of revered ulama.

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