Ahl-i Hadith

This article is about the modern South Asian movement. For the early Islamic movement and theological school, see Ahl al-Hadith.

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.[1] Adherents of Ahl-i Hadith profess to hold the same views as the early Ahl al-Hadith movement.[2] They regard the Quran, sunnah, and hadith as the sole sources of religious authority and oppose everything introduced in Islam after the earliest times.[3] In particular, they reject taqlid (following legal precedent) and favor ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) based on the scriptures.[1] The movement's followers also call themselves Salafi, while others refer to them as Wahhabi,[4] or consider them a variation on the Wahhabi movement.[5][6] In recent decades the movement has expanded its presence in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan[1][3] and has drawn both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia,[7] but the movement itself claims to be distinct from Wahhabism,[7] and some believe it possesses some notable distinctions from the mainly Arab Salafis.[8][9][10]


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.[3] 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;[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

In the 1920s, the Ahl-i Hadith opened a center for their movement in Srinagar. Followers of the Hanafi school of law, forming the overwhelming majority of Muslim 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.[14] 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.[12] Following other South Asian Islamic movements, the Ahl-i Hadith now also administer schools and mosques in the Anglosphere. In the modern era, the movement draws both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia,[15] now being favored over the rival Deobandi movement as a counterbalance to Iranian influence.[16]


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.

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,[17][18] with which the Ahl-i Hadith consciously identify themselves.[10]

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.[11] 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.[11] While the movement has been compared to Salafist movement in Arab nations and been branded as Wahhabist by the opposing Barelwi movement,[12] the Ahl-i Hadith remain similar to yet distinct from Salafists.[19]

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.[20]


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.[11]

While the terrorist 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.[21]


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.[22] One member organization of the 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.[23]

In 1930 Ahl-i Hadith was founded as a small political party in India.[12] In Pakistan, the movement formed a political party, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, which unlike similar Islamic groups opposed government involvement in affairs of sharia law.[24] Their leader, Ehsan Elahi Zaheer, was assassinated in 1987. The Ahl-i Hadith oppose Shi'ism.[3]

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.


During the rule of the British Raj, no accurate census was ever taken of the movement's exact number of followers.[13] In the modern era, the number of followers of the movement in Pakistan constitute 4% of the Muslim population, 25-30 million followers in India,[25] and 27.5 million in Bangladesh.[26]

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.[27] 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.[27]

Notable adherents


See also

External links


  1. 1 2 3 John L. Esposito, ed. (2014). "Ahl-i Hadith". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (subscription required (help)).
  2. Inayatullah, Sh. (2012). "Ahl-i Ḥadīt̲h̲". In P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam (Second ed.). Brill. (subscription required (help)).
  3. 1 2 3 4 Olivier, Roy; Sfeir, Antoine, eds. (2007). The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism. Columbia University Press. p. 27.
  4. Rabasa, Angel M. The Muslim World After 9/11 By Angel M. Rabasa, p. 275
  5. Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, pg. 427. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780199927319
  6. Lieven, Anatol (2011). Pakistan: A Hard Country. New York: PublicAffairs. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-61039-023-1. Ahl-e-Hadith ... a branch of the international Salafi ... tradition, heavily influenced by Wahabism.
  7. 1 2 Rubin, Barry M., ed. (2010). Guide to Islamist Movements. Volume 1. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. p. 349. ISBN 0-7656-1747-1.
  8. Dilip Hiro, Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia, pg. 15. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780300173789
  9. Muneer Goolam Fareed, Legal reform in the Muslim world, pg. 172. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
  10. 1 2 Daniel W. Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought: Vol. 5 of Cambridge Middle East Studies, pg. 32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 9780521653947
  11. 1 2 3 4 Hewer, C. T. R. Understanding Islam: The First Ten Steps. Books.google.com.my. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Olivier Roy; Antoine Sfeir, eds. (2007-09-26). The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism. Books.google.com.my. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
  13. 1 2 Arthur F Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: the Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh, pg. 179. Part of the Studies in Comparative Religion series. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. ISBN 9781570032011
  14. Yoginder Sikand, "Islamist Militancy in Kashmir: The Case of the Lashkar-e Taiba." Taken from The Practice of War: Production, Reproduction and Communication of Armed Violence, pg. 226. Eds. Aparna Rao, Michael Bollig and Monika Böck. New York: Berghahn Books, 2008. ISBN 9780857450593
  15. Rubin, Barry M., ed. (2010). Guide to Islamist Movements. Volume 1. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. p. 348. ISBN 0-7656-1747-1.
  16. Sushant Sareen, The Jihad Factory: Pakistan's Islamic Revolution in the Making, pg. 282. New Delhi: Har Anand Publications, 2005.
  17. Brown, pg. 28.
  18. M. Mahmood, The Code of Muslim Family Laws, pg. 37. Pakistan Law Times Publications, 2006. 6th ed.
  19. Mathieu Guidère, Historical Dictionary of Islamic Fundamentalism, pg. 177. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2012. ISBN 9780810878211
  20. Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought - Page 38, Daniel W. Brown - 1999
  21. Geoffrey Kambere, Puay Hock Goh, Pranav Kumar and Fulgence Msafiri, "Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)." Taken from Financing Terrorism: Case Studies. Ed. Michael Freeman. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2013. ISBN 9781409476832
  22. Mohsin, K. M. (2001). "The Ahl-i-Hadis Movement in Bangladesh". In Ahmed, Rafiuddin. Religion, Identity & Politics: Essays on Bangladesh. Colorado Springs, CO: International Academic Publishers. p. 180. ISBN 1-58868-080-0. It was ... not an easy task for the Ahl-i-Hadis preachers to go against the powerful sunni ulema ... They encountered frequent opposition from the latter ... In order to consolidate their efforts, the leading members of the movement decided to form an all-India organization, called the All India Ahl-i-Hadis Conference in 1906, in Lucknow, India.
  23. Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A., eds. (2012). "Ahl-e-Hadith". Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  24. Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam, by Olivier Roy, translated by Carol Volk, Harvard University Press, 1994, p.118-9
  25. Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadees Archived January 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  26. "Ahle Hadith: New moves in religion-based politics". PROBE News Magazine. 23 September 2010. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012.
  27. 1 2 Gilliat-Ray, Sophie (2010). Muslims in Britain. Cambridge University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-521-53688-2.
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