As many of us already know, Salafi and Deobandi are two sects in the religion of Islam. Going deeper into the sectorial divisions of Islam, we can conclude that both of these groups, namely Salafi and Deobandi, fall into the primary group of Sunni’s.
Salafism, which is sometimes also referred to as Wahhabism is usually known by its strict, literalist and puritanical approach to Islam. For some people, the Salafi might bring to mind the Jihadis who wage Jihad against oppressing forces in their territory to enforce the pure form of Islamic ideology , Quran and Sunnah. On the other hand, Deobandis are more commonly known as Hanafi Muslims, a term derived from their leader and guide, Imam Abu Hanifa, who they have now followed for decades. Deobandi, under the Hanafi school of thought, is a revivalist movement in the Sunni branch of Islam and claims to be perfectly pure.
A major difference between these two sects of Islam is their opinion on guidance by an Imam. Whereas Deobandis are Hanafis and follow Imam Abu Hanifa, Wahhabis are ghair muqallid, which means that they do not follow any imam for jurisprudence. The concept of Taqleed, that is, to follow someone is strongly supported by Deobandis whereas there is a division amongst Salafis to this idea, with most of them opposing it.
The term Ahl al-Hadith (people who follow the Prophet’spbuh tradition) is commonly used in the subcontinent (which includes Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) to indicate the adherents of Salafi ideology. In the Middle-East, however, the term is more often used to differentiate the Salafi cult from the rest of the Sunni Muslims.
The roots of Salafism go down to certain groups such as Al-Qaeda, Jabha Al Nusra as well as many others who are very strong in their theology of Jihad as an obligation upon them. This is the reason that people around the world have referred to it as the basis of terrorism that unfortunately spreads outwards from the Islamic religion. This fundamentalist philosophy is an example of Salafism or Wahhabism and it is the state religion of many countries, most significantly, Saudi Arabia. The founder of Wahhabism was Abdul Wahab in Saudi Arabia. In contrast to this, the Deobandi movement, which is primarily based in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, traces back to the beginning of the 18th century. The name is paved from Deoband in India where there is the Dar-ul-Uloom school which was set up in the spirit of the inspirational Islamic reformist, Shah Wali Ullah. Influenced by the likes of Ibn Taymiyyah, Shah Wali Ullah was the founder of the Deobandi sect. Ironically, Ibn Taymiyyah was also the inspiration of Abdul Wahab!
There are considerable differences between the teachings and opinions of the two sects. To begin with, Wahhabi teachings are considered very intolerant by some people, who also say that people of this sect are very violent. Their intolerance stretches not only to non-Muslims but also to non-Salafis. The founder, Abdul Wahab, had inspired hatred against the other sects of Islam as well, including the likes of Shiite, Sunni Sufi etc. They believe that appropriate guidance of the people of Islam can only be done by the combination of Quran, Hadith, Ijma by Ulama and an understanding of Salaf-us-Salih. Deobandis, on the other hand, believe only in the first three sources of guidance and are quite tolerant towards non-Muslims and non-Deobandi.
Other important differences between the two include opposed views on Tawassul of Prophetpbuh (a religious practice in which one aspires to be close to Allah), Shuhada (those who attained martyrdom), Aulia (Sahabis and blessed companions of the Prophetpbuh) etc.
Summary of differences expressed in points:
- Salafi- Strong, strict principles-concept of Jihad extremely strong; Deobandi- less strict in each
- Concept of Taqleed(following someone such as Imam)-Deobandis, proponents; Salafis-mixed opinion with the majority opponents
- Origin and roots; Salafi-Al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups, founded by Abdul Wahab; Deobandis-17th and 18th Century subcontinent, founded by Shah Wali Ullah, Dar-ul-Uloom school, Deoband, India
- Salafi-Very intolerant towards non-Muslims and non-Wahhabis; Deobandis-considerably tolerant
- Difference of opinion on sources of guidance; both agree on Quran, Hadith and Ijma, only Salafi believe in Salaf-us-Salih
- Variable beliefs amongst the two on Shuhada, Aulia, Tawassul and other religious ideas