By Mohammad Abbas
As a great reformer, thinker and intellectual par excellence Shah Waliullah (1703 to 1774) made a tremendous contribution toward revival of Islam in the subcontinent. He lived in an age marked by political and moral crisis following decline of Mughal power. The state of Muslim society was also perilous as a result of intellectual decay among Muslims.
Having been educated by his father and at some religious seminaries and being sensitive to what was happening to Islam and Muslims, he started proffering his analysis of the prevailing conditions and suggesting ways and means to revitalize Muslim society and treat the malaise. His approach was primarily sociological. For him religion was integral part of social structure but not a static paradigm. According to him, religion was/is a dynamic force and must offer solutions to the new emerging problems and situations.
He was against any kind of extremism and was for moderation as well as compromise, which of course should in no way violate or challenge the basics of Islam. However, the emergence of new problems necessitates reconstruction of thought and reinterpretation of Islamic paradigms was the core thesis of Shah Waliullah. Shah Waliullah was first scholar in the subcontinent who translated the Holy Qur’an into Persian despite bitter opposition of orthodox Ulema. This, to some extent broke the monopoly of theologians and enabled educated Muslims to study and understand the Holy Qur’an on their own. This was a sort of breakthrough because it encouraged study of the Holy Qur’an on much wider scale among Muslims. His son Shah Abdul Qadir translated the Holy Qur’an in Urdu. This development enabled common Muslims in every nook and corner of the subcontinent to study and understand the last revealed Book of Allah. Shah Waliullah's exegeses of the Holy Qur’an “(tafsir)” Faizul Kabir and his contribution to the study of Hadith were most significant contributions to Islamic studies in the history of Islam. In his approach to various issues such as Ijtihad, he is very modern and practical. He pleaded for Ijtihad to which door had been closed since Ibne Taimiyah.
He was of the view that on various problems and issues confronting Muslims because of new developments and changes and because of cultural variations from Arabia, Muslims should restart Ijtihad and suggest formulate to new solutions and create new paradigms. However he advised caution and care in bringing about any change in the solutions already proposed and agreed by the scholars of Islam. He had showed great respect and reverence to the Islamic thinkers of the past. His role was to suggest ways and means to counter political and moral decline of Muslims. In this endeavour, he opted for moderation, unity of thought and reconciliation among various schools of thought in Islam. To quote Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi, “the real greatness of Shah Waliullah in the field of conciliation of differing points of view is demonstrated. Shah Waliullah boldly stood out against the prevalent Sunni opinion, denouncing Shias as being beyond the pale of Islam. He wrote a treatise wherein he drew a clear distinction between the succession to the Prophet in worldly matters (Khilafat-i-Zahiri) and spiritual affairs (Khilafat-i-Batini). Shah Waliullah, thus, worked out “ a religious system on which all but the extremists could agree, and provided a spiritual basis for the building up of a nation”. Shah Waliullah strongly pleaded for mutual respect, tolerance and what he called Husn-i-Musawat (nobility in the man’s relations) and also preached full justice in all spheres of life. He pleaded for humanism, respect and tolerance for others. In his opinion, moderation however should never be defensive and apologetic.
Only moderation, equality and justice can make us a and self- respecting society. If the poor people are respected and given justice, equality, they may not mind poverty. According to Mahathir Muhammad (studies were made to determine or identify the causes of Muslim backwardness and it was found that major causes were sectarianism and ethnic prejudices and both were banned in Malaysia. To criticize the fate and belief of others was made a crime. The mosque is used not only for prayer but for creating social awareness and the religious preachers preach social welfare and creation of an atmosphere for collective welfare, peaceful living, coexistence and tolerance, respect and regard for the rights of all people. This is moderation and an enlightened one at that. Dr Iqbal’s lectures on Islam could be counted as one serious and learned attempt on reconstruction of Islamic paradigms. He emphasized the need to rethink the whole system of Islam but without breaking with the past. Iqbal agreed that the first Muslim and the last great theologian of Islam who felt the urge to change the framework was Shah Waliullah who revolutionalised the concepts and conduct of Muslims in every sphere, especially in the socio-political field.
Shah Waliullah “stands as a bridge between the classical and contemporary streams of scholarship”. His influence through his successors left a permanent influence on the Muslims’ ethos of the subcontinent, on the true perception of Islam and the application of Islamic teachings and diverse conditions of society”. Islam as a set of values, directives and commands, in the light of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah was the focus and fulcrum of Shah Sahib’s philosophical thought. According to a scholar his reformist ideas and concepts, with an eye on relevance, applicability in the given circumstances, offered a model for those who wished to make acceptable adjustments in the light of changing requirements today”. (Suleman Ahmed Meenai, the socio-political thought of Shah Waliullah Highlight Vol-XIII issue XI).