On Shah Waliullah and his Scholarly Approach Toward Bridging Differences

On Shah Waliullah and his Scholarly Approach Toward Bridging Differences

Waseem Iqbal

Hazrat Shah Waliullah Muhadith Dehlvi (1703-62) was a great Islamic Scholar, philosopher, politician, economist and prominent reformer of 18thcentury. His real name was Qutubuddin Ahmad, and he was born on 21st February 1703 CE at Phulat (now in district Muzaffarnagar, UP). Shah Waliullah’s father, Shaikh Abdur Rahim, was famous both for his deep knowledge of the Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence as well as for establishing Madrasa-e-Rahimiyya—the forerunner of the present-day Dar-ul Ulum, Deoband.T he aim of this institute was to reconcile the Sufis, the scholastic and the jurists with each other. Shah Waliullah received most of knowledge from his father; and later studied under Sheikh Muhammad Afzal Siyalkoti, Sheikh Abu Tahir Al Qarwi Al Madni, Sheikh Wafad-ul-Allah al Makki, and Sheikh Taaj-ud-din al Qalaei and so on.
After the death of his father in 1720 CE, Shah Waliullah took the charge of teaching. At a young age he started his life as a teacher at the Madrasa-e-Rahimiyya. Besides the teaching he devoted much of his time to writing, which he continued till the end of his life. The great Shah was a prolific writer and rose to be a great scholar of Islamic studies, brilliant with virtuous qualities. His works may be classified into six categories that deal with Quran, Hadih, Fiqh, Tassawuf, Philosophy, Shia-Sunni problems. But the most outstanding of all his works is Hujjat- Ullah-il-Balighah, which explains how Islam is suitable for all races, cultures and people of the world and how successfully it solves social, moral, economic and political problems of human beings.
Shah Waliullah’s translation of Quran Fateh-urRehman is the first translation of the Holy Quran in Persian, the official language at that time. He felt that only direct knowledge of the Quran would lead this Ummah to the right path. Therefore, he paid attention to translating the Quran into Persian. Shah Waliullah picked up the pen at a time when Muslims in India were passing through the most critical phase of their history and when the entire social, political, economic and spiritual structure was ragged. During this critical period he producing standard works on Islamic learning and, before his death in 1762, Shah Waliullah completed a large number of outstanding works on Islam.
The condition of Muslims in India during Waliullah’s time was full of confusion and instability. During the last phase of Mughal period, Muslims were a divided camp in India; they ceased to be one due to their conflicting attitudes. The Muslims were divided into different Sects and Islam within itself was also lacking unity, with the conflict between Sunni and Shi’a, the Ullama and Sufis. The interior differences of Muslims destroyed the unity of Muslims at that time. Shah Waliullah was very much worried with the lost power of the Mughal Empire.
After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, weaker Mughal rulers could not hold the empire together. As result the local powers like Sikhs, Marathas and British gain the strength and challenged Mughal authority.
Amidst such unfavourable conditions prevailing in the society, Shah was very keen to reform society. Under such conditions, he adopted the reconciliatory approach in order to bind all Muslims with the teachings of Quran and Hadith. Shah Waliullah tried to reconcile minute issues upon which Muslims disagreed such as in legal thought. He wrote “Iqd al-Jid Fi Ahkam al-Ijtihad wa-Taqlid, Al-Insaf Fi Bayan Sabab al-Ikhtilaf, and so on to reconcile the four schools of thought. He said that on the one hand, there were some who followed the Qur’an and Hadith and derived legal rulings directly from these sources. They considered taqlid to be forbidden. But he said it is impossible for everyone to exercise individual reasoning in legal matters. On the other hand, there were those who considered taqlid obligatory for every Muslim and not to use their own reasoning.
In this regard , Shah Waliullah’s view point was that for common people taqlid was necessary for several reasons. For example, one may be illiterate, or may not have the free time to engage in study and enquiry. So, for him it is best to follow an Imam. But at the same time, he also appeals for ijtihad. In his view it is the duty of religious scholars to put forth themselves for ijtihad in all times to come. He considered Ijtihad is a fardh bil kifayah in every age, only a tool left with us for solving the problems emerging in the modern times. Shah Waliullah said that there was consensus of opinion amongst the majority of Ullama that the taqleed is essential.. He said no one had any objection to the concept of taqlid but he neither viewed any Imam as infallible, nor believe that his judgment were revealed by Allah upon Him and so are obligatory for us.
In mysticism, Shah Waliullah not only bridged the gap between the Sufis and the Ulema but also harmonized the differences common among different sects of Sufis. He did not discard Sufism but trued to bring positive points from Sufism in order to develop the spirituality of the Muslims. He was aware of the services provide by Sufis in popularizing Islam in the subcontinent.Shah Waliullah wrote several pamphlets on this subject like Al-Intibah fi Salasil Awlia Allah, Al-Qaul al-Jamil Fi Bayan Sawa al-Sabil, Altaf al-Qud and so on in which he analyzed the evils and virtues of Sufism. About these books Maulana ManazirAhsan writes that the disputes between the Sufis and the Ulema came to an end.
From the above assessment, it can be deduced, very clearly, that the decline of Muslims’ power and supremacy had many reasons but the most important one was the disunity and mutual differences. There have been scholarly approaches to address these issues, and a prominent South Asian personality who tried his best to reconcile the various disputes and differences—ideological, sectarian, or political—was Shah Waliullah. The need of hour is to look for, and seek/ learn lessons from, such kind of approaches, which is a pre-requisite for present-day Muslims to shun differences and to maintain unity.

—The author holds a PG in Islamic Studies from IUST, Awantipora and can be reached at : Waseemulislam2@gmail.com