Some history of their genesis is required to disabuse ourselves of many things, especially the notion that Barelvis are somehow ‘moderate’.
Both the Barelvis and the Deobandis have a common ancestry, to start with. That goes back to Shah Waliullah Dehelvi (1703-1762) of Delhi, who was born in a Naqshbandi family (Sufis frrom Central Asia). He grew up at the time of the declining power of the Mughal empire after Aurangzeb's (1618-1707) cruel rule. The Hindus (Marathas & Jats) & Sikhs (under Guru Gobind Singh, whose father Guru Tegh Bahadur had been beheaded by Aurangzeb publicly) were revolting and gnawing away the fading Mughals. This was also the time the Christian East India Company was making a presence in India. It was in this milieu that Waliullah, born in the Naqshbandi sect, grew up. He was educated in Makkah and Madinah. He had a close relationship with ibn Abd Al Wahhab. Both were born in the same year and Waliullah spent considerable time in the company of Wahhab in Saudi Arabia. Waliullah's argument was that the decline of Islam could be arrested only by making it more rigorous.
He was pained by the decline of the Muslim rule. He felt that it was because of a lack of fervour among his co-religionists especially because of the liberal rule of Akbar. The Mughal court was dominated by the high-caste Muslims of Turk, Central Asia & Arab descent, referred to as ashraf
. The large Muslim population was otherwise Hindu-converts. Waliullah's aim was to rid the low-church ajlaf
Indian Muslims of their Hindu practices. He wanted to get rid of the Hindu practices that might have corrupted Islam. He wanted an intensification of Aurangzeb’s efforts. He helped the Afghan king Ahmed Shah (also known as Ahmed Shah Durrani or Ahmed Shah Abdali) to overcome the Mahrattas in the (Third Battle of) Panipat war in 1761. In his letter to Abdali requesting him to attack Hindustan, he asked him “. . . to fight a jihad against the infidels of this region. . . "
After Waliullah's death, his son Abd al-Aziz assumed his father's role. For his part, he considered the Indian subcontinent as no longer Dar-ul-Islam
and laid the groundwork for jihadism. His disciple Saiyid Ahmad of Rae Barelli founded the Barelvi sect. He created Tariq-e- Muhammadiyah (Way of Muhammad) that combined sufism and orthodox Islam. Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Maharajah of the Punjab, began to conquer Afghan territories west of the Indus. In 1820, Kashmir became his vassal state. Sayyid declared jihad against the Sikh rulers and wanted to establish an Islamic state in the Indo-Afghan border where he emigrated to with his followers, a la hijra of Prophet Muhammad, in circa 1826. The Yusufzai tribes rebelled against him for his attempts to enforce rules contradictory to the Pashtunwali code. Maharajah Ranjit Singh exploited the situation and his army ambushed the forces of Berelvi near Balakot and killed his followers along with the grandson of Shah Waliullah, Sayyed Ismail. Berelvi was defeated and then executed by the Sikhs in circa 1831. There is evidence that the British, in order to protect their geopolitical interests, actually helped Sayyid Ahmed to fight the Sikhs, especially because the Sikh rulers had turned to the French. It is in Balakot where Jaish-e-Mohammed runs an important terror training camp aptly named Madrassa Syed Ahmed Shaheed
. Getting inspired by Waliullah, two other disciples, Muhammad Qasim Nanauti and Rashid Ahmed Gangohi setup Deoband Madrassah on May 30, 1866.
This came after the Second (or Third, according to some) War of Independence (by the sepoys) of c. 1857 which eroded further faith among the Muslims to re-establish an Islamic rule in Delhi. Deoband, Saharanpur Distt. of UP, largely teaches Islam based on the interpretation of Waliullah. Shah Waliullah's grandson Shah Ismail (1781-1831 AD) was attracted to Ibn Taimiyya (1263-1328 AD) whose teachings were also to inspire Abdul Wahab (1703-1792 AD), the spiritual guide of the House of Saud.
The followers of Sheikh Waliullah are known as Dehelvi Ulema
. He apostatized the Shi’as and called them as zindiq
(heretics and innovators in religion). From his thoughts emerged four different schools of thought in India, Deobandis, Ahl-e-Hadiths, Tableeghis and the Berelvis.
Four mighty rivers, the Indus, the Sutlej, the Brahmaputra and Karnali originate around Mt. Kailash and from near Lake Manasarovar. Now compare that with the four sects that Waliullah contributed to. Pardon me for inappropriate comparison.
Thus Waliullah is responsible for most of the Islamist extremism we see in India & Pakistan today.
The Barelvis are no less capable of extremism as we have seen in the Qadri case (Salman Taseer's assassination) and the naked support the Barelvi organizations gave him. The right-wing religio-political Islamist parties hailed the killing of Taseer and described the killer as a ghazi and warned people not to eulogize the slain Governor Salman Taseer as that would amount to blasphemy. Fearing this decree by the Berelvi cleric, the Chief Minister of the Punjab province decided not to attend the funeral services. The COAS, Gen. Kayani said that he did not publicly condole with Taseer's family because there were too many soldiers in the ranks who sympathised with the killer. Within two months of Taseer’s killing, a federal minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated in broad daylight on March 2, 2011 in Islamabad, again by Barelvis, for being vocal about the release of Ms. Aasia Bibi, the same person whom Salman Taseer also stood up for. The judge who gave death sentence to the killer, Qadri, had to be relocated out of the country.