November 4, 2020 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 239

Mumbai-Based Barelvi Islamist Organization Raza Academy Leads Anti-France Protests Over 'Charlie Hebdo' Cartoons Controversy

November 4, 2020 | By Tufail Ahmad*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 239


Amid the ongoing Charlie Hebdo cartoons controversy in France, the Mumbai-based Islamist organization Raza Academy has emerged as one of the lead groups in India at the forefront of anti-France protests. Though it calls itself an "Academy," it has absolutely nothing to do with research and academic work. It is a religious organization with a militant intellectual outlook. In 1988, it was the first Islamic organization in the world to issue a fatwa ("religious decree") against the British-Indian author Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses – a year before Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's murder.

At a protest in Mumbai, Raza Academy workers call for boycott of French goods

In January 2012, the Indian government was forced to issue a security alert following threats from the Raza Academy to British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie.[1] At a protest in Mumbai in January 2012, the Raza Academy called for the murder of Salman Rushdie. The protest was organized against Rushdie's planned visit to the Indian city of Jaipur to attend an annual literary festival. To prevent Rushdie's visit to Jaipur, Muhammad Saeed Noori, the General Secretary of Raza Academy, announced a reward of 100,000 rupees "to anyone who would hurl a slipper on [Salman] Rushdie during his visit to Jaipur."[2] Noori successfully forced the Indian government to prevent Rushdie from visiting India. His influence is so much that the Indian government did not allow Rushdie to speak to the audiences at the Jaipur Literary Festival even via a video conference.

The Raza Academy owes its allegiance to the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam. The Barelvi movement in Sunni Islam was established by Ahmad Raza Khan (1856-1921) of Bareilly, a northern Indian town. Raza Academy has branches in dozens of countries, including in the cities of: Colombo, Sri Lanka; Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa; and Lahore, Pakistan.[3] The Barelvis call themselves Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, or the people of the Prophet's tradition. In recent years, a misconception has grown deep that the Barelvi sect is peaceful. Such a misconception emanates from the fact that Barelvi Muslims visit Sufi shrines and approve of syncretic practices such as music and dance at those shrines.

However, at the present time, Sufism and Barelvism have moved on different paths. While Sufism indeed remains committed to piety, prayer, and spirituality, Barelvism has moved into the arms of the Deobandi school of Sunni Islam with an outsized view of political Islam. Deobandis are generally supportive of jihadi organizations at least at the theoretical level. And so, even the Barelvis are supportive of jihadism, which they nurse, but might, for the reason of differentiating themselves from others, condemn it if other organizations follow the same.

Anti-France Protests Steered By The Raza Academy

Now, Barelvis are no longer different from the Deobandis, barring the fact that the latter do not approve of syncretic practices. In fact, the Raza Academy boasted of the fact that it was the first group to issue a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, stating: "In 1988, the first fatwa against the ill-famed Salman Rushdie was issued by Raza Academy after obtaining it from Jaanasheen-e-Huzoor Mufti-e-Aazam [successor to Mustafa Raza Khan, son of the founder of Barelvi sect Ahmad Raza Khan], which was published in the Daily Hindustan on 11th November '88 and on 12th November in [the Urdu dailies] Inquilab and Urdu Times."[4]

At a protest in 2012, Raza Academy demanded death for Salman Rushdie (

The Raza Academy's militant outlook has continued into the 2020s. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo's republishing of cartoons of Muhammad and the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty, this Islamist institute has once again begun radicalizing Muslim youths in India. On October 31, 2020, Raza Academy tweeted: "A Muslim will sacrifice all of his wealth, severe all of his relations and ties, and even sacrifice himself to protect the honour of our Master the most honourable Prophet, the final Messenger of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him."[5] This belief that a Muslim, acting for the sake of Islam, should severe all ties with his relatives and sacrifice himself in the path of Islam is central to the thinking of all jihadi organizations.

On October 31, Raza Academy called upon the government to expel the French ambassador from India.[6] On the same day, it published two tweets, with incorrect English spellings, issuing unspecified threats: "Our Phrophet Muhammed peace be upon him is our Hounour. Marcon the devil is intiating voilence around the world"; "Insult to any Religion is not acceptable in the world but when it comes to Islam it is called Freedom of expression..."[7] Following its militant rhetoric, there was a demand for banning the Raza Academy. In response, Saeed Noori, the institute's general secretary, declared: "Not one, [we are ready to] sacrifice 100 Raza Academies."[8]

Headline: "We will not tolerate the blaspheming of the Prophet."

On October 26, ten days after Samuel Paty's beheading, the Raza Academy called for the boycott of French products and closure of French embassies in Muslim nations. A copy of the statement in English posted on Twitter reads: "[President] Macron's strategy is clearly visible with his actions to defame Islam and create an atmosphere against Muslims in France. The republication of sketches attributed to the Holy Prophet by Charlie Hebdo and his approval is in fact a heinous conspiracy in the name of freedom of expression aimed at putting societies around the world on a bloody confrontation on social, ideological, and religious grounds."[9]

The statement, signed by Saeed Noori, called for a fatwa against Macron and added: "Hence this man needs to be stopped in his track destruction immediately [sic]. Raza Academy calls upon the heads of all Muslim countries and institutes of Islamic jurisprudence to issue a fatwa against the French president and call for a complete boycott against anything and everything related with France. All French embassies and consulates must be closed in Muslim countries until the president apologises for his remarks against the Holy Prophet and against Islam. Also all the Muslim countries must call back their ambassadors from France as a token of protest."[10]

On October 29, Raza Academy tweeted a video of a road in a predominantly Muslim area of Mumbai plastered with Macron's posters which had been trodden on by people and vehicles.[11] The posters were later removed by the Mumbai Police. A video accompanied the tweet in Hindi language describing President Macron as gustakh, slanderer or blasphemer of the Prophet Muhammad. The word is sensitive and can radicalize ordinary Muslims. On October 30, Raza Academy tweeted a page from the Urdu daily Roznama Sahafat with a report on a meeting of Islamic leaders and organizations in Mumbai.[12] According to the report, Saeed Noori told the gathering: "The terrorism by France has created a danger to peace in the entire world. The United Nations must take a strong notice of this. The open blasphemy by France has caused strong sadness and anger in the entire world of Islam."[13]

Saeed Noori, center.

On October 27, Raza Academy's Twitter handle tweeted a page from the Urdu daily Roznama Inquilab that quoted another like-minded Islamic cleric Syed Mohammad Aman Miyan Qadri Barkati, based in the northern Indian town of Aligarh, as saying in the top headline: "We will not tolerate the blasphemy of the Prophet."[14] Another headline just below it read: "The publication of the blasphemous caricatures by France is an attack on the faith of millions of Muslims in the world and the worst terrorism."[15]

On his own Twitter handle, Saeed Noori, the man leading Raza Academy, tweeted on October 26 a video statement in which he announced the Twitter hashtag #MacronTheDevil and he praised that within an hour of the tweets starting it was trending at number one in India.[16] The same day, Noori tweeted: "We can die but can never tolerate the Prophet's blasphemy."[17] On October 28, he tweeted: "Unite for the Honour of our Beloved Prophet."[18] On October 28, Noori wrote in Roman Urdu on his Twitter handle: "Our lives are [for] sacrifice on the Prophet's honor." On October 31, the Islamist leader tweeted: "A Muslim will die in honor than to see or hear the insult on his Holy Prophet."[19]

* Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative


[2] (India), January 27, 2012.

[5], October 31, 2020.

[6], October 31, 2020.

[7], October 31, 2020.

[8] (India), October 31, 2020.

[9], October 26 & 28, 2020.

[10], October 26 & 28, 2020.

[11], October 29, 2020.

[12] Roznama Sahafat (India), October 30, 2020.

[13] Roznama Sahafat (India), October 30, 2020.

[14], October 27, 2020.

[15], October 27, 2020.

[16], October 26, 2020.

[17], October 26, 2020.

[18], October 28, 2020.

[19], October 27, 2020.

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