A Subcontinent's Sunni Schism: The Deobandi-Barelvi Rivalry and the Creation of Modern South Asia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Subho Basu


Bangladesh, Barelvi, Deobandi, India, Islam, Pakistan

Subject Categories

History | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


This work presents the first-ever history of the 150-year religio-political rivalry between the Deobandis and the Barelvis--arguably the most important schism in the "Muslim world," and certainly the most significant within Sunni Islam. More recently, that rivalry has often been expressed by means of bullets and bombs, especially in Pakistan. But beyond the headline-grabbing violence of the Deobandi-Barelvi schism lies the story of a century-and-a-half-long religious antagonism: at first over converts, later for competing visions of the political future, then for a place within a new "Islamic" polity--for dominance within its political structure. For Deobandis, the rivalry was defined by their struggle to propagate a "pure" Islam, as opposed to the Barelvi deviation (plus an unmitigated hatred of the British presence in India); for Barelvis, their right to speak for the "Sunni majority" was what defined the battle--a privilege that the Deobandis had long sought to usurp. Running constant throughout the rivalry's history, too, were the two schools' separate visions of a glorious future Islamic epoch, of a truly Islamic state--or, perhaps more precisely, their differences on the subject of how to get there. Of course, the rivalry did not develop in a vacuum; its participants were shaped, inspired, and manipulated by a host of outside influences, the strongest of which, perhaps, was the modern, "total" state.


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