By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
08 June 2019
Shah Waliullah was one of the most important Islamic personalities in the 18th century India. He lived during the Mughal era and witnessed the rule of ten Mughal rulers from Aurangzeb to Shah Alam Sani.
During his time India was going through economic, social and moral crises. The Mughal court, particularly during the rule of Mughal Shah Rangila, had become a centre of song and dance. The Muslim community was largely illiterate and unaware of their religious legacy. Many un-Islamic practices had crept into it. Since the system of religious education was not organised, Muslims were largely unaware of the teachings of Quran and Hadith.
Shah Waliullah was born and brought up in a religious household. His father Abdur Rahim was a religious scholar and one of the editors of Fatawa-e- Alamgiri compiled during Aurangzeb's rule. He also ran a Madrasa in his house. He received his primary education from his father and a religious scholar called Haji Sialkoti. After that he went to Hijaz (now Saudi Arabia) for pilgrimage. During his stay after pilgrimage, he learnt Deen from Abu Tahir Mohammad bin Ibrahim Madani of Madina and Mufti of Makkah Tajuddin Hanafi. He also learnt Quran and Hadith from Shaikh Wafdullah. He received a certificate in Mawatta Imam Malik.
Coming back to India, he resolved to spread the knowledge of Quran and Hadith among general Muslims. During his period and before him the Quran was only received and learnt by heart. The knowledge of Hadith was also minimal. The translation of Quran in Urdu or Persian was not available. In fact, reading the translation of Quran was considered a sin. Therefore, the Quran was either kept in houses for recitation on special events or used to draw fal.
Shah Waliullah started teaching in his father’s Madrasa Rahimiya. Soon the reputation of the style oh his teaching spread far and students from far off places started coming to his Madrasa. This rendered the place insufficient. When the Mughal king, Mohammad Shah heard about the Madrasa, he donated a Haweli for it and the Madrasah shifted in the grand building. The Madrasa became a big centre of Islamic learning.
Shah Waliullah wanted to teach students Quran with its meaning. So he Translated Quran into Persian, the language of the masses. He taught students Quran with Persian translation and then Tafseer-e-Jalalayn. Hadith, history and Fiqh was also taught here. But the conservative religious circle of his time vehemently opposed the idea of teaching the translation of the Quran. According to the ulema of the time, reading or teaching translation of the Quran was a sin, a Bid'at (innovation in religion). They accused Shah Waliullah of misleading Muslim youth and declared him Wajib ul Qatl (deserving death). After that one day when he was coming out of Masjid Fatehpuri, some goons led by a mullah tried to assault him but he managed to wriggle out of the place unscathed.
Inspired by him, his sons Shah Rafiuddin and Shah Abdul Qadir later translated the Quran in Urdu. Thus, Shah Waliullah opened the door to translation and exegesis of Quran in Indian languages and started the tradition of intellectual research work on the Quran.
Shah Waliullah did not subscribe to the idea of four imams and four sects. His opinion was that all the religious issues of the Muslims should be resolved in the light of Quran and Hadith. The opinions of the four imams should be consulted only for reference and corroboration. Therefore, while resolving an issue, he would sometimes accept the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifa and on other occasions he would agree with the opinion of other imams. He opposed the division of the Ummah in four sects. He would say that the Muslims should not obey those dry headed ulema who stick to one imam and abandon Sunnah. This led ulema to brand him Ghairm U Qallad.
Shah Waliullah tried to remove the difference between the Hanafi, Ahle Hadith and other sects by writing well researched articles pointing out the flaws in their ideology in the light of Quran and Sunnah.
Another important contribution of Shah Waliullah to the Islamic thought is that he declared Sufism to be the soul of Islam. According to him, Deen had two aspects: outer and inner. The outer aspect represented dogma and religious practices and the inner aspect was Sufism. He divides Islamic mysticism into four periods. The first period was the era of the holy prophet pbuh and his companions. The second period is marked by the period of Hazrat Junaid Baghdadi. He gave a distinct form to Sufism by laying down its principles. The third period begins with Abu Sayid bin Abil Khair and Kharqani. In this period, Sufism became an altogether different way of devotion and submission to God. Trance, meditation and other spiritual exercises were resorted to as a means to achieve spiritual realisation of the Supreme Reality from which the universe has emanated. But till this period Sufis were not aware of the terms like Wahdat ul Wujud and Wahdatush Shuhud. Their devotion was based on love of God not on fear of God.
The fourth period of Sufism started with Ibn-e-Arabi or sometime before him. His philosophical treatise called Fusu sul Hikam gave birth to the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wujud in Islam. After that Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi presented the philosophy of Wahdatush Shuhud. Sufis in this period discussed these two terms and tried to understand the concept of the unity of existence.
Therefore Shah Waliullah believed that Sufism was the inner stream of Islam and the holy prophet pbuh and his companions were Sufis of the first order.
And last but not the least, Shah Waliullah believed that the period in which he lived was not an appropriate time for jihad with sword. He was not in favour of jihad with sword. He believed that it was more necessary to wage jihad against oneself first. He also believed that the Ummah should be first taught their Deen and be made aware of their duties as Muslims.
Therefore, we can say that Shah Waliullah renewed the Deenof Islam in India with ideas that can be considered progressive and even revolutionary for his time. He made remarkable contributions to the spread of Quranic wisdom, moving it from mere rote learning to learning with understanding.
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