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Mujadid-e-Alf-Thani, Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi: The Reviver of Muslim Intellectualism in the Subcontinent

By Tahir Iqbal

July 28, 2017

Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624) was a renowned theologian and great metaphysician of the Indian subcontinent. His initial instructions in the Holy Qur’an, Hadith and theology were rendered in Sirhind, Punjab. Later, he devoted most of his time to the study of Hadith, Tafsir and metaphysics. During his era, religious imbroglio was at its peak with Muslims being so deficient in the traditions of pristine Islam. A pantheistic deity had been substituted for the monotheistic, ‘transcendent’ God of Islam. Excessive belief in miracles of saints was commonly cherished and Muslim mysticism was filled with things of alien nature.

Imbued with a sense of responsibility and purpose, Sheikh devoted himself for reforming and guiding his fellow men towards the faith and real essence of Islam. To propagate his message, Sheikh chose different ways and entered into correspondence with theologians and clerics and stressed on following the true contour of Islam. Unlike the Lutheran leaders of Protestant Christians and the way of Thomas Aquinas — a great Christian metaphysician, Sirhindi revived the Muslim intellectualism by using both his spiritual experience and religious text as well.

As part of his endeavours towards the purification of Islam, Ahmad Sirhindi vehemently rejected Ibn Al-Arabi’s ontological expositions and ‘Wahdat-ul-Wajood’ and promoted the Qur’anic doctrine of Tawheed. He stated that God is far and far above the grasp of our faculty of reason and ‘Kashf’. “Allah is beyond the beyond, and again beyond the beyond. Neither His being nor His attributes are directly knowable.” Sheikh expounded that Iman bil Ghaib (the faith in the unseen) alone is the truth. He deconstructed the whole structure of the ‘corrupted Sufism’ and tried to purify it from the pantheistic dogmas of Vedantic philosophy and the Neo-Platonism.

Sheikh Sirhindi laid great stress on the observance of Islamic teachings and started a full-fledged intellectual war against the ‘Din-e-Ilahi’ of Akbar and got its very edifice dismantled.. He criticised not only Sufis for their “transgression from the Shariah” but also the theologians for doing nothing but issuing ‘Fatwas’ and taking no pains to reform the morass of religious thought of common Muslims. It is for these great reforms, the Sheikh was given the title of the ‘Mujaddid-e-Alf-Thani’ (Reviver of the second millennium).

By explaining the truth of Tawheed and Prophethood, and expounding the Summum Bonum of Islamic ethos, Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi safeguarded the Deen of the Muslim community in India. Dr Allama Iqbal describes him as the guardian of the Muslim ‘Millah’ (community) in India.

Wo Hind Mein Sarmaya-e-Millat Ka Nighebaan

Allah Ne Barwaqt Kiya Jis Ko Khabardaar

(He the guardian of the estate of millah in India,

Whom Allah awakened at the right time)

Of Sheikh’s several literary works, the famous is Maktubaat — a compilation of his letters written in Persian to his friends, nobles, scholars, and saints in different parts of Indian subcontinent — which gives expression not only of his heartfelt emotions and thoughts but also his research in the realm of spiritual realities. These letters are filled with his views ranging from the domain of metaphysics to politics and Dawa’h activities.

Renowned Islamic scholar Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi says it is because of these ‘Maktubat’, he found the true essence of Islamic credentials. Among other works of Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi are Ithabat-al-Nubuwat, Mabda-wa-Ma’ad, and Risala-e-Tahliliya.

Tahir Iqbal is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the Higher Education Department, Jammu and Kashmir.