Alahazrat Imam Ahmad Raza’s (may Allah be pleased with him) discipleship to Sayyid Shah Al-e Rasul, a Sayyid [descendant of the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)] and Pir of the Barkatiyya family based in a small town of Marahra near Aligarh, was of great importance to his life. The Sufi tie was important to the Ahle-e Sunnat in the larger context of ‘being’ Muslim, and what connection they saw between their claim to being the Ahle-e Sunnat or "people of the [Prophet’s] Way" and Sufi belief and practice.
|Master Sayyid Ahmed||Family Tree|
The core leadership of the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat movement in the late 19th century consisted of 'ulema' and Qadiriyya Sufi Pirs from Bareilly, Badayun, Rampur, Pilibit, and Marahra in the Rohilkhand. Their status was based on ancestral lineage (whether Pathan, Sayyid, Usmani or similar), religious learning, and social standing.
In the agriculturally-based qasbas, great Pir (an ulema) families such as the Barkatiyya Sayyids of Marahra, the Usmani Pirs of Badayun, and the Ashrafiyya Ghausiya Pirs of Kachhochaha (Faizabad district, in the Awadh region), constituted the elite in their areas, being both landowners and purveyors of baraka (spiritual grace).
Like Imam Ahmad Raza Khan (May Allah be pleased with him), they approved of and attended annual Urs (death anniversary) of Sufi Saints around Hindustan, and engaged in other mediational practices. So close knit were the scholarly and mediational aspects in Alahazrat's life and thought, that by the end of his life a Khanqah (Sufi hospice) known as the Khanqah-e Aliyya Rizwiyya had been established in Bareilly, where among other things, the annual meeting of the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat's Madrasa Manzar al-Islam took place.
Accounts based on family history, indicates some of the ways in which the Barkatiyya Pir’s regarded themselves as 'reformist', differed from or believed themselves to be different from other Sufi Pir’s in the late nineteenth century. Because the Barkatiyya Sayyids were Sufi Pirs, this played a considerable role in improving relations with their Hindu tenants and labour:
Though there always remained lines of social difference between the landholding Muslim gentry and their Hindu cultivators, and though compulsion played a considerable part n agrarian relations, gentry patronage and Hindu veneration of the shrines of Muslim Holy men significantly diminished the scope for conflict and enhanced the solidarity of the qasbah as a society until well into the colonial period. Gentry families, both Hindu and Muslim, communed in Indo-Persian literary culture, while peasants and craftsman participated in the same festivals and feast days.
[Bayly - Rulers, Townsman and Bazaars, pages 192-3]
The name 'Barkatiya' adopted by the family refers to Hazrat Shah Barkat Ullah who was especially drawn to the Qadiri Order of Sufis, although he was also initiated into other Orders such as Chishti, Suhrawardi and Naqshsbandi. He was a learned man, with many books on mysticism and poetry to his credit, and enjoyed a reputation for piety, which attracted a large number of disciples. His reputation also attracted the patronage of the Mughal rulers at Delhi, including Emperor Aurangzeb.
During the course of the 18th and 19th centuries the Barkatiyya family traditions of learning and Sufi piety continued to be handed down from father to son, and the reputation of this noble family spread. After Sayyid Shah Barkat Ullah’s demise, the Barkatiyya divided into two sarkars (‘houses’ or ‘branches’).