Ahl-i Hadith

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Ahl-i Hadith or Ahl-e-Hadith (Persian : اهل حدیث, Urdu : اہل حدیث, people of hadith) is a religious movement that emerged in Northern India in the mid-nineteenth century from the teachings of Syed Nazeer Husain and Siddiq Hasan Khan. [1] [2] [3] Adherents of Ahl-i Hadith profess to hold the same views as the early Ahl al-Hadith movement. [4] They regard the Quran, sunnah, and hadith as the sole sources of religious authority and oppose everything introduced in Islam after the earliest times. [5] In particular, they reject taqlid (following legal precedent) and favor ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) based on the scriptures. [3]

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is one of the Western Iranian languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Syed Nazeer Husain Dehlawi (1805–1902) was a leading scholar of the reformist Ahl-i Hadith movement and one of its major proponents in India. Earning the appellation shaykh al-kull for his authority among early Ahl-i Hadith scholars, he is regarded, alongside Siddiq Hasan Khan (1832–1890), as the founder of the movement and has been described as "perhaps the single most influential figure in the spread of the Ahl-i-Ḥadīth".

Siddiq Hasan Khan

Siddiq Hasan Khan was a both celebrated and controversial leader of India's Muslim community in the 19th-century, often considered to be the most important Muslim scholar of the Bhopal State. He is largely credited alongside Syed Nazeer Husain with founding the reformist Ahl-i Hadith movement, which became the dominant strain of Sunni Islam throughout the immediate region.


In recent decades the movement has expanded its presence in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, [3] [5] and has drawn both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia. [6]

Pakistan federal parliamentary constitutional republic in South Asia

Pakistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a country in South Asia. It is the world’s sixth-most populous country with a population exceeding 212,742,631 people. In area, it is the 33rd-largest country, spanning 881,913 square kilometres. Pakistan has a 1,046-kilometre (650-mile) coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China in the far northeast. It is separated narrowly from Tajikistan by Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor in the northwest, and also shares a maritime border with Oman.

Bangladesh Country in South Asia

Bangladesh, officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a sovereign country in South Asia. It shares land borders with India and Myanmar (Burma). The country's maritime territory in the Bay of Bengal is roughly equal to the size of its land area. Bangladesh is the world's eighth most populous country as well as its most densely-populated, to the exclusion of small island nations and city-states. Dhaka is its capital and largest city, followed by Chittagong, which has the country's largest port.

Afghanistan A landlocked south-central Asian country

Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in South-Central Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and in the far northeast, China. Its territory covers 652,000 square kilometers (252,000 sq mi) and much of it is covered by the Hindu Kush mountain range, which experiences very cold winters. The north consists of fertile plains, while the south-west consists of deserts where temperatures can get very hot in summers. Kabul serves as the capital and its largest city.

The movement has been compared to Saudi Wahhabism, [7] or a variation on the Wahhabi movement, [8] [9] but the movement itself claims to be distinct from Wahhabism, [6] and some believe it possesses some notable distinctions from the mainly Arab Salafis. [10] [11] [12]


In the mid-nineteenth century an Islamic religious reform movement was started in Northern India that rejected everything introduced into Islam after the Quran, Sunnah and Hadith. [5] Syed Nazeer Husain from Delhi and Siddiq Hasan Khan of Bhopal drew primarily on the work of hadith scholars from Yemen in the early years of the movement, reintroducing the field into the Indian subcontinent. Their strong emphasis on education and book publishing has often attracted members of the social elite both in South Asia and overseas; [13] University of Paris political scientist Antoine Sfeir has referred to the movement as having an elitist character which perhaps contributes to their status as a minority in South Asia. [14] Folk Islam and Sufism, commonly popular with the poor and working class in the region, are anathema to Ahl-i Hadith beliefs and practices. This attitude toward Sufism has brought the movement into conflict with the rival Barelvi movement even more so than the Barelvis perennial rivals, the Deobandis. [15]

Quran The central religious text of Islam

The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God (Allah). It is widely regarded as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. The Quran is divided into chapters, which are subdivided into verses.

Sunnah, also sunna or sunnat, is the body of literature which discusses and prescribes the traditional customs and practices of the Islamic community, both social and legal, often but not necessarily based on the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings, silent permissions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as various reports about Muhammad's companions. The Quran and the sunnah make up the two primary sources of Islamic theology and law. The sunnah is also defined as "a path, a way, a manner of life"; "all the traditions and practices" of the Islamic prophet that "have become models to be followed" by Muslims.

Hadith collections of sayings and teachings of Muhammad

Ḥadīth in Islam refers to the record of the words, actions, and the silent approval, of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Hadith have been called "the backbone" of Islamic civilization, and within that religion the authority of hadith as a source for religious law and moral guidance ranks second only to that of the Qur'an. Scriptural authority for hadith comes from the Quran which enjoins Muslims to emulate Muhammad and obey his judgments. While the number of verses pertaining to law in the Quran is relatively few, hadith give direction on everything from details of religious obligations, to the correct forms of salutations and the importance of benevolence to slaves. Thus the "great bulk" of the rules of Sharia are derived from hadith, rather than the Qur'an.

In the 1920s, the Ahl-i Hadith opened a center for their movement in Srinagar. Followers of the Hanafi school of law, forming the majority of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, socially boycotted and physically attacked Ahl-i Hadith followers, eventually declaring such followers to be apostates and banning them from praying in mainstream mosques. [16] From the 1930s the group also began dabbling in the political realm of Pakistan, with Ehsan Elahi Zaheer leading the movement into a full foray in the 1970s, eventually gaining the movement a network of mosques and Islamic schools. [14] Following other South Asian Islamic movements, the Ahl-i Hadith now also administer schools and mosques in the English-speaking world. In the modern era, the movement draws both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia, [17] now being favored over the rival Deobandi movement as a counterbalance to Iranian influence. [18]

Srinagar City in Jammu and Kashmir, India

Srinagar is the largest city and the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It lies in the Kashmir Valley on the banks of the Jhelum River, a tributary of the Indus, and Dal and Anchar lakes. The city is known for its natural environment, gardens, waterfronts and houseboats. It is also known for traditional Kashmiri handicrafts and dried fruits. It is the northernmost city of India with over 1 million people.

Hanafi one of the four Madhhabs in jurisprudence within Sunni Islam

The Hanafi school is one of the four religious Sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence (fiqh). It is named after the scholar Abū Ḥanīfa an-Nu‘man ibn Thābit, a tabi‘i whose legal views were preserved primarily by his two most important disciples, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad al-Shaybani. The other major schools of Sharia in Sunni Islam are Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanbali.

Jammu and Kashmir (princely state) Former princely state

Jammu and Kashmir was, from 1846 until 1952, a princely state of the British Empire in India and ruled by a Jamwal Rajput Dogra Dynasty. The state was created in 1846 from the territories previously under Sikh Empire after the First Anglo-Sikh War. The East India Company annexed the Kashmir Valley, Jammu, Ladakh, and Gilgit-Baltistan from the Sikhs, and then transferred it to Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu in return for an indemnity payment of 7,500,000 Nanakshahee Rupees.


Its adherents oppose taqlid. They believe that they are not bound by taqlid , but consider themselves free to seek guidance in matters of religious faith and practices from the authentic hadith which, together with the Qur'an, are in their view the principal worthy guide for Muslim. They reject the use of kalam in theology.[ citation needed ]

Taqlid is an Islamic terminology denoting the conformity of one person to the teaching of another. The person who performs taqlid is termed muqallid. The definite meaning of the term varies depending on context and age. Classical usage of the term differs between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. Sunni Islamic usage designates the unjustified conformity of one person to the teaching of another, apart from justified conformity of layperson to the teaching of mujtahid. Shia Islamic usage designates the general conformity of non-mujtahid to the teaching of mujtahid, and there is no negative connotation. In contemporary usage, especially in the context of Islamic reformism, it is often shed in a negative light, and translated as "blind imitation". This refers to the perceived stagnation of independent intellectual effort (ijtihad) and uncritical imitation of traditional religious interpretation by the religious establishment in general.

ʿIlm al-Kalām, usually foreshortened to Kalām and sometimes called "Islamic scholastic theology", is the study of Islamic doctrine ('aqa'id). It was born out of the need to establish and defend the tenets of Islamic faith against doubters and detractors. A scholar of Kalām is referred to as a mutakallim, and it is a role distinguished from those of Islamic philosophers, jurists, and scientists.

Due to their reliance on the Qur'an and Hadith only and their rejection of analogical reason in Islamic law, the modern-day Ahl-i Hadith are often compared to the older Zahirite school of Islamic law, [19] [20] with which the Ahl-i Hadith consciously identify themselves. [12]

While their educational programs tend to include a diverse array of Muslim academic texts, few adherents of the movement ascribe themselves to one school of Muslim jurisprudence, placing a greater emphasis on personal responsibility to derive judgments and ritual practice. [13] While the movement's figureheads have ascribed to the Zahirite legal school, with a great number of them preferring the works of Yemeni scholar Shawkani, the generality of the movement is described as respecting all Sunni schools of Islamic law while preferring to take directly from the Qur'an, prophetic tradition and consensus of the early generations of Muslims. [13] While the movement has been compared to Salafist movement in Arab nations and been branded as Wahhabist by the opposing Barelwi movement, [14] the Ahl-i Hadith remain similar to yet distinct from Salafists. [21]

In the 19th century, the Ahle Quran formed in reaction to the Ahle Hadith, whom they considered to be placing too much emphasis on hadith instead of Quran. [22]


Like other Islamic movements, the Ahl-i Hadith are distinguished by certain common features and beliefs. The men tend to have a particular style of untrimmed beard often considered a visual indicator. In regard to ritual acts of Muslim worship, the movement's practices are noticeably different from the Hanafi legal school which predominates in South Asia; the men hold their hands above the navel when lined up for congregational prayer, raise them to the level of their heads before bowing, and say "amen" out loud after the prayer leader. [13]

While the organization Lashkar-e-Taiba has recruited followers of the Ahl-i Hadith movement in the past, the organization's views on jihad are thought to alienate the mainstream of the movement. [23]

According to one source (Yoginder Sikand), "from the 1970s onwards", as Ahl-i Hadith began to access to funds from Saudi Arabia, it began to be "transformed" and doctrinal differences with ‘Wahhabis’ began to disappear "so much so that the Ahl-i Hadith came to present itself as a carbon copy of Saudi-style ‘Wahhabism’, with nothing to distinguish itself from it and upholding this form of Islam as normative." [24]


Leading proponents of the movement joined forces against the opposition they faced from established ulama (religious scholars) and in 1906 formed the All India Ahl-i-Hadis Conference. [25] The Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadees was respresented in the All India Azad Muslim Conference, which opposed the partition of India. [26] One member organization of the All India Ahl-i-Hadis Conference is the Anjuman-i-Hadith, formed by students of Sayyid Miyan Nadhir Husain and divided into Bengal and Assam wings. After the 1947 separation of India and Pakistan, the Pakistani Ahle-Hadith center was based in and around Karachi. [27]

In 1930 Ahl-i Hadith was founded as a small political party in India. [14] In Pakistan, the movement formed a political party, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, which unlike similar Islamic groups opposed government involvement in affairs of sharia law. [28] Their leader, Ehsan Elahi Zaheer, was assassinated in 1987. The Ahl-i Hadith oppose Shi'ism. [5]

The number of Ahle Hadith madrassa in Pakistan has grown from 134 in 1988 to 310 in 2000. The group has 17 organisations active in Pakistan, "looking after their own seminaries," three of them involved in jihad.[ citation needed ]


During the rule of the British Raj, no accurate census was ever taken of the movement's exact number of followers. [15] In the modern era, the number of followers of the movement in Pakistan constitute 4% of the Muslim population,[ citation needed ] 25-30 million followers in India, [29] and 27.5 million in Bangladesh. [30]

In the United Kingdom, the Ahl-i Hadith movement maintains 42 centers and boasts a membership which was estimated at 5,000 during the 1990s and 9,000 during the 2000s. [31] Although the movement has been present in the UK since the 1960s, it has not been the subject of extensive academic research and sources on the movement are extremely limited and rare. [31]

Prominent Ahl-i Hadith figures



See also

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