Commentaries Religion

Pakistani Ulama and Their Rhetoric (1): Maulana Asmatullah

(From Mashal Books)

This is the first recorded sermon that we are posting on our website. As you read the transcript and listen to the audio, it is important to keep the speaker’s sectarian affiliations in mind. This sermon is by a scholar from the Deobandi group of Indian Islam. Trained according to the curriculum and vision of the Darul Uloom, Deoband, the Deobandis are opposed to celebrating the “Milad,” the day of Prophet Muhammed’s birth as a public celebration. A brief commentary is provided at the , but you can follow these link to read up on Deobandi School and the Barelvi School.

Maulana Asmatullah

Speaker: Maulana Asmatullah
Location: Jamia Masjid Faisal Gate, Gujrat
Sect: Deobandi
Language: Urdu
Time: June 2010


[audio:|titles=Molana Asmat Ullah]


Hurling abuse is no great art. We Deobandis never indulge in cursing others. If you have proof, then teach us about Milad (birth anniversary of the Prophet PBUH). But taking out procession of the Birthday of the Prophet PBUH and hurling abuses at others is not a good thing. Playing loud music and using musical instruments may be your (rival’s) way but it is not our way. On the Day of Judgement the Deobandis will enter reciting the Quran.

Today I will confront you (Barelvis) with the truth. If you want to hide your sins by accusing us (Deobandis) of not celebrating the Birthday and by insulting the Prophet PBUH, then listen to what I say now: You are misguided. Ask me how to acknowledge the Prophet PBUH and I will tell you that we acknowledge him as the best of everything in the Universe. He is only less than Allah. The truth is that Barelvis don’t believe this despite the music they play for the Prophet PBUH, something that the Prophet PBUH never taught. We don’t believe in the beliefs and misdeeds of the Barelvis. Why should we believe something about which the Prophet PBUH did not teach?

Once I asked Allah please tell me how to say namaz. And Allah replied it will be tough for Me because in it one has to bow and prostrate oneself. And Allah cannot bow and prostrate Himself in front of anyone. I challenge the Barelvis to prove from Quran and Hadith that 12 Rabiul Awwal Birthday of the Prophet PBUH (Milad) has to be celebrated. Prove it to me from the great collections of hadith and from even the Founder of Barelvism Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi. If you succeed in doing so I will take out a Milad procession from Faisal Fate myself. Instead you have burned our mosques out of enmity which is against the Prophet’s custom of forgiveness. You have no argument and will not bring one to convince me. This is what Syed Inayatullah Shah Bukhari used to say.


This sermon relies on a binary structure, hyperbole, and alliteration to enhance its affective value. The cumulative effect of the sermon, as the tone and passionate delivery suggest, is to present the opponents (Barelvis) as not only absolutely wrong in their practice but also as people who rely on unjust and uncivilized language in their criticism of the Deobandis. The sermon stats with one single assertion “To curse is no skill” and immediately follows it with a competing assertion: “We are not those who rely on such language.” To the Deobandi audience of the scholar, this reinforces the binaries by positing Barelvies as deviant and uncouth, and, in contrast, the Deobandis as civilized as well as those whose practices are somehow more Islamic.

The basic difference between the two schools is about the celebration of Milad, the day of Prophet Muhammed’s birth. While the Barelvis insist on public celebration of the day and also seek solace by visiting the shrines of various Muslim saints, the Deobandis see this as an un-Islamic practice and a corruption of true religion. of course, the audience is aware of this doctrinal difference, for that is why they are at a Deobandi mosque. So, if the scholar is already preaching to the “choir” then what is the purpose of this speech?

We must also note that the scholar does not address an individual Barelvi maulvi but rather collapses them all in a single pronoun: Tum, You. The tone of the sermon, a fluid diatribe against this supposed Tum, then shapes and aligns the sympathies of the audience, their feelings, against this generalized foe. The binaristic argument of the speech leaves no middle ground and declares the followers of Deobandi school as the only one on the true path and thus deserving of just deserts.

Important also is to note that the scholar imagines a life in the hereafter where God will ultimately sanctify their practice by choosing them as the holders of truth. As a result of this passionate sermon (you can feel the passion even if you do not know Urdu) the audience is likely to leave the mosque deeply affected by the speech: aware of their own righteousness and also highly sensitive to the wrongness of their opponents practices.

Now the question that we must ask is simply this: how does this help create a more accepting and civilized public sphere in Pakistan?

By M R

Originally from Pakistan, Dr. Masood Ashraf Raja is an Associate Professor of Postcolonial Literature and Theory and the editor of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies.
Raja tweets @masoodraja

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