|Biographical detail : ||Maulana Ahmad Raza is a central figure of the Barelwi movement, more formally known as the Ahl-e Sunnat wa Jama'at. He was born in Bareilli in Northern-Central India, or UP, in 1855 and died in 1921. The town of Bareilli was a centre of Muslim power in the UP. He lived his whole life in this town, except for two pilgrimages for Hajj.
Maulana Ahmad Raza's formative years were in post-Insurrection India - that is after the so-called Mutiny of 1857. There is no evidence that his family was involved in this event on either side. His grandfather was a faqih and member of the Qadiria order. His father, Maulana Naqi Ali was also a religious scholar who wrote in defence of the practice of milad (birth anniversary of the Prophet, peace be on him) and qiyam (standing up at a designated moment during the milad). Ahmad Raza undertook the traditional dars-e nizami course under his father's supervision and thereafter was largely self-taught, not proceeding for a formal course at a dar al-ulum.
An important landmark in Ahmad Raza's early life was the assumption of responsibility from his father for writing fatawa in 1869, when he was fourteen. Fatwa-writing was to be his primary occupation for the rest of his life. Before going to his first Hajj in 1878, Maulana Ahmad Raza was accepted as a disciple of the Qadiri pir Shah Al-e Rasul.
In 1900 Maulana Ahmad Raza was proclaimed a mujaddid (renewer) of the fourteenth century Hijri by like-minded ulema meeting in Patan. In 1904 he founded a school, the Madrasa Manzar al-Islam. The position of chief administrator of this school was later to become a hereditary one within the Riza family for the next four generations.
Although the Ahl-e Sunnat failed to develop a dar al-ulum at Bareilly comparable to either the Deobandi institution or to the one established by the Nadwat al-Ulema in Lucknow, a number of madrasas were started in different parts of north India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This difference of emphasis on formal higher education is reflected in the religious ethos of the two groups: the Deobandi and Nadwa ulema today are heirs to an extensive corpus of seerah and tafsir literature. If the Deobandi approach to religion is analytical and 'rational'; the Barelwis draw on a more performative and 'ecstatic' strand of Islam in the sub-continent.
References: Devotional Islam & Politics in British India - Ahmad Raza Khan and his Movement 1870 - 1920, by Usha Sanyal