Despite polemical arguments between the Barelwis and Deobandis and the presentation of the idea that the Barelwis are grave and saint worshippers and that the Deobandis are wholly something else, this is not quite true. Amongst the Deobandis is a fair share of what is with the Barelwis, and this is because the roots and origins of both groups are the one and the same, they are Sufi Maturidis (both also ascribe to Abu Hanifah (rahimahullaah) in fiqh). The following are some points that have been made by some of the scholars to highlight the similarities and differences:
- In terms of exaggeration (ghuluww), then the Barelwis have exceeded in ghuluww with respect to the righteous dead, they are the extreme ghulaat. As for the Deobandis, they do not reach this level, they have ghuluww with them.
- The Barelwis say that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) knows everything that occurred and is to occur, unlike the Deobandis.
- The Barelwis believe that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) is light (nur) and not human (bashar), unlike the Deobandis.
- The Barelwis are very explicit in their grave-worship and openly call to it, making it clear that they believe in invoking the righteous dead for aid, assistance, rescue and benefit. As for the Deobandis they appear to proclaim Tawhid.
- The Barelwis are consistent and uniform in their grave-worship, they do not fall into contradiction, unlike the Deobandis. For the Deobandis refute the grave-worshippers at one time and then at another they also carry the same ideas as the grave-worshippers. Their connection to the Barelwiyyah is like the connection of the Ash'aris and Maturidis to the first Jahmiyyah.
- Amongst the Deobandis were those who came across the books of the Scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah in matters of Tawhid and thus, they acquired grounding in many areas of Tawhid al-Uluhiyyah and embarked upon refuting the grave-worshippers. However, some of the Barelwis, in turn, authored works exposing the contradiction amongst the Deobandis, citing from their books such as al-Arwaah al-Thalaathah and al-Sawaanikh al-Qaasimiyyah, and Ashraf al-Sawaanikh, and al-Anfaas al-Qudsiyyah, and al-Karaamaat al-Imdaadiyyah, and Tadhkirah al-Rasheed and Naqsh al-Hayaat and Hayaat al-Wali and others, and indicating that they are upon the same doctrines, beliefs and practices. And this forced some of the Deobandis to acknowledge this is a matter of fact and that their roots are the same as those of the Barelwiyyah. Further, the Deobandis also have works in defence of pretty much what the Barelwiyyah are upon, from them al-Muhannad alaa al-Mufannad and al-Shihab al-Thaqib.
- Some of the Deobandis likewise came across and read the works of the Sunni Salafi Scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah and were influenced that regard, and this comes across in some of their writings where they either acknowledge or support certain positions, but this is limited to individuals amongst them and is not a school-wide influence.
- The Barelwis are very excessive in takfir, in fact they are ghulaat in takfir, despite accusing Ahl al-Sunnah and the people of Tawhid of the very same. This is not the case with the Deobandis even if they share with the Barelwis in their animosity and hatred towards Ahl al-Sunnah and the scholars of Tawhid. Historically, the Deobandis have received the wrath of takfir from the pens of the Barelwis due to the polemical arguments that took place with respect to certain issues. There is not to be found takfir such as what is found on the tongues and pens of these Barelwis - and it is ironic that they accuse the people of Tawhid of takfir. In contrast to them, the people of Tawhid have usool (foundations, principles) when it comes to takfir of specific people, and they do not make mass takfir of the common-folk, even if they fall into affairs that entail kufr. This is because they distinguish between takfir bil-itlaaq (a generalized ruling pertaining to beliefs, statements and actions being disbelief) and takfir bil-ayn (a specific judgement on an individual that he has become a disbeliever).
In short, one should not be deceived by the apparent polemics between the Barelwis and Deobandis, they have a common origin - Sufi Maturidism and have similar underlying orientations. Historically, some of the Deobandis came across the da'wah of Tawhid and recognized it's truth, and were affected by it but this is not the norm. The Deobandis in general, like their Barelwi counterparts are opponents and disputants to Ahl al-Sunnah, from two angles, a) the first because they are Ahl al-Kalaam, and build their aqidah upon the kalaam condemned by the Salaf, they are followers of the aqidah of the Maturidiyyah who are from the offshoots of Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah and b) because they are upon Sufism and exaggeration in tasawwuf and something of attachment to the righteous dead, even if they do not reach the level of the Barelwis in all respects and do not have the extremism of the Barelwis.
Important: A closing note is that because of the variable influences that can come upon schools and their adherents (due to factors of location, person, time etc.), not everyone amongst them can be characterized in the same way. For there have been Deobandis who have gone against the grain and refuted the grave-worshipping elements and matters of exaggeration found with them, only to be shunned, excommunicated from the Deobandi school and counter-refuted by other prominent Deobandis. So you will find amongst them Deobandis those who refute grave-worship and others who counter-refute and support the general underlying ideas (common to both Barelwis and Deobandis) from which their actual misguidance stems. There may also be variations amongst them depending on which part of the world you are looking at.