Shah Waliullah Dehalavi | An Outstanding Islamic Thinker

Exactly two hundred forty seven years back, on 20 August, 1762, an outstanding Islamic thinker South Asia ever produced – Shah Wali Allah – passed away leaving behind a colossal legacy. Shah Waliullah had exceptional talent, ability of mind and spiritual purity. An outstanding scholar of Islamic sciences, who lived in the age of crisis and intellectual degeneration he revolutionized the philosophical, social and economic ideas within the framework of Islam.  In South Asia, understanding Islam as a socio religious movement is incomplete without studying the work of Shah Wali Allah. As the eminent Muslim Philosopher Allama Iqbal writes “ He was the first Muslim to feel the urge for rethinking the whole system of Islam without breaking traditions of past.”(Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam).

Shah Waliullah has enormous work – both academic as well as spiritual – to his credit. He inspired generation of ulama, scholars, and left a great legacy. He shaped the Islamic thought in South Asia. Almost every school of thought and Islamic movement in Islam accepts him as an authority and takes lineage in South Asia from his works. Ahli-hadeeth movement takes inspiration from him (on his work on hadith, supremacy of hadith, and his criticism on taqlid). Founders of top madrasas like Deoband, Nadwa and universities like Aligarh Muslim University were pass-outs from his madrassa – Madrassa Raheemiya – and had studied under him. They take lineage from his sources.

Founders of movements like Tablighi Jamaat (on teaching Muslims’ Islamic values and revivalism, Barelvis (on Sufism, his works on Ontological monism and Phenomenological monism and on writing amulets), Neo Motazillis ( his work on realism and finding truth in the light of reason) and extreme Quranist movements run by people like Ghulam Ahmad Parwaz also take inspiration from him and his works. Shibli and Iqbal also take inspiration from him on scholasticism and religious reconstruction. Founder of Jamaat-e- Islami Syed Mawdudi also took inspiration from his work on pan Islamism. Not only this, but pioneers of Jehad movement in India Shah Shah Ismail Shaheed and Syed Ahmad Barelvi were also inspired by his works.  Prominent Muslim scholar and historian Shibli Naumani writes “ The contribution of Shah Wali Allah overshadows men like Ghazzali and Razi. While the exposition of earlier mutakallim exclusively focuses on the questions of belief, Shah went beyond this narrow scope of theology” (Al Kalam)

Shah Wali Allah was a writer par excellence. He wrote seventy one books. He was the first person to translate Quran in any language from Asia. He translated Quran in Persian (Fath Al Rahman), the common language of that time for which he was labeled infidel and also on the belief that Quran can’t be translated in any language. Not only he, his son Shah Rafi Al Din did literal translation of Quran and another son Shah Abdul Qadir did an idiomatic translation of Quran. His other major works are Al Fauz Al Kabir on principles of tafsir and magnum opus Hujjat Allah Al Baligah on the study of sociological, religious and ethical problems. Famous Muslim scholar Manzoor Naumani writes in a special issue of Al Furqan: “Hujjat is the commentary on whole of Islam …… to comprehend Islam as a well knit scheme of Islam .” Abul Hassan Nadwi also writes about it in the same issue “ Hujjat is unparalleled and was the first book on Islamic philosophical legal system.” Iqbal writes “Islamic sociology is stagnant post Shah”

Shah Wali Allah was not only a writer and scholar but an activist also. He extensively worked on reconciliation between Shias and Sunnis when the two had confrontations. When physical violence between the two was at its peak and mystic, poet and scholar like Mirza Mazhar Janjanan was murdered he actively worked for reconciliation even though it was taken as weakness. He was labelled as shia also on this issue. His book “Izalat Al Khilafa “ is witness to his activism. In this book he wrote about the four caliphs of Islam, misunderstandings of shias and fanaticism of sunnis also.

He was a great administrator also who successfully administered his father’s madrassa Raheemiya. He re-oriented educational policy. He made it a bridge between classic and modernist thought. Unfortunately this madrassa was downed by British in 1857. Post 1857, this land was given to Lal Krishan Das.

He stressed on the need for ijtihad. He was of the opinion that old rulings and findings are not as sacred as divine revelation; older jurists were not infallible either and it is not obligatory for Muslims to follow them, however, rulings of older jurists can be used with benefit. He was of the opinion that attributes of Sufis are a great fortune but their some unislamic practices are like a disease which has affected the community. Shah Abdul Hay Al Hasani writes “In knowledge and natural philosophy Shah Wali Allah excelled both Farabi and Ibn Sena” ( Islamiya Fi’l Hind).

Shah Wali Allah’s role in the age of crisis and intellectual degeneration is exemplary. As Shibli Naumani writes, “During the last age Islam was breathing last, was born a man like Shah, whose discernments made the achievements ofd Gazali, Razi and Rushd dwindle it’s insignificance”(Al Kalam). He was a multi dimensional personality an erudite scholar,writer, activist,administrator. As Nawab Sidiq Hassan Khan Bhopali writes, “If Shah had flourished in the distant past, he surely would have been given the title of and would have been called chief head of imams” (Mafhamaat). Such was the great personality of Shah Wali Allah.