Modern Asian Studies



Generational Changes in the Leadership of the Ahl-e Sunnat Movement in North India during the Twentieth Century


Usha  Sanyal 

Abstract

When A‘la Hazrat [Maulana Ahmad Riza Khan] was born, his . . . paternal grandfather put him in his lap and said, ‘This [grand]son of mine will be a great ‘ alim’ ...

And one day someone knocked on the door. A‘la Hazrat, who was then ten years old, opened it and saw an elderly holy man (faqir) standing outside. . . . the man put his hand on A‘la Hazrat's head and said, ‘You are a great scholar.’

Six months after [Maulana Mustafa Riza's] birth, Nuri Miyan Sahib [Shah Abu'l Husain Ahmad Nuri] came to Bareilly. Putting his finger into [the child's] mouth, [Nuri Miyan] entered him into [his] chain of spiritual authority, and gave him permission (ijazat) [to have disciples of his own] and investiture as his successor (khilafat), and he predicted that this child would be a great ‘alim in his time as well as a perfect saint (wali).

When Mutfi-e A‘zam-e Hind [Mustafa Riza Khan] was nine years old, his father A‘la Hazrat invited all the famous men and ‘ulama to Bareilly and announced . . . this son of mine is a wali. Learn from him.

This is an essay about a father and a son, who were individually revered as ‘ ulama (scholars) and pirs (spiritual preceptors), whose lives together spanned more than a hundred-year period, between 1856 and 1981. Both were leaders of the reform movement known to its followers as the Ahl-e Sunnat wa Jama‘at (lit., ‘people of the [prophetic] way and the [majority] community’) and to others as the Barelwi movement.