Shah Waliullah — Revisiting a stalwart
One of the Islamic figures of the South Asia on which almost all schools of Islamic theology could have a broad consensus is undoubtedly Shah Waliullah (1703-63) of Delhi. However, scholars of a particular orientation have been trying to peg down his teachings to fanaticism and extremism of our times without taking into account the larger political and socio-economic contexts of the eighteenth century. The irony is that a particular stripe of scholars and commentatorseven trace the trajectory of ‘Pan-Islamism’ to Shah Waliullah’s teachings. Theargument gets substantiated by categorically mentioning his letters to Ahmad Shah Abdali and Najibuddaula that asked for these two kings’ help for defeating the Marathas and the Jats in the wake of Mughal Empire’s ‘disintegration’after the demise of Aurangzeb in the early eighteen century. Did these two kings, in actuality, raid India because they received letters from a religious scholar of the time? For the sake of argument, one would ask: Did Khaljis, Lodis, and Baburalso get any letter fromsome prominent personalities of their time? This line of thinking is deeply problematicthat leads to highly implausible explanations. Irfan Habib has written somewhere that Shah Waliullah’s letter doesn’t have a date on it, and this fact that the particular letter was meant for Ahmad Shah Abdali is only an inferenceas thatparticular letter doesn’t have the name of the king on it. Moreover, this backward projection as well as deployment of the ‘modern’ categories of political and non-politicalfor understanding the past is an exercise in futility.In fact, the vested interest in projecting Shah Waliullah as a political figureeither by his admirers or his opponents itself calls for a political explanation.
The book under review is the sixth part of a seriesthat is devoted to the study of Shah Waliullah. It is an Urdu translation of his Arabic andPersian works.In a brief preface to the book Maulana Mufti Ataur Rahman informs us about the academic activities being undertaken by New Delhi-based Shah Waliullah Institute since its inception.
Here, one comes across translation of Shah Waliullah’s four monographs, and two tracts. Two translations are by Maulana Syed Muhammad Farooque Qadri while the other four have been translated by Maulana Muhammad Hanif Nadvi, Syed Abdul Ghani Jafri Kaleemi, Maulana Muhammad Ali Muzaffari, and Abdul Hameed Sawati. It begins with a succinct introduction of Shah Waliullah’s life and works by Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, India’s well-known freedom fighter.
The first chapter of the book is Shah Waliullah’s important monograph that he had penned after encountering Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in a series of dreams, orin a state of consciousness where hereceived guidance and advice on varied nuances and subtleties of Shariahfrom the Prophet.
Maktoob-e madaniis the next tractthat deals with Shah Waliullah’s understanding and explanation of vahdat al-vajud (Ontological monism) and vaḥdat al-shahūd (Phenomenological monism).In fact, this piece is a reply to a question that he was asked on the issue.
The third chapter deals with Sufism, its different branches, and its varied stations. Here, one finds a detailed commentary on bait (oath), saalik (the seeker after truth), and the spiritual world of the Qadriyya, the Chistiya, and the Naqshbandiya Sufi orders.
The next chapter dwells upon Shah Waliullah’s relationship with, as well as his commentary on, a host of Sufi silsilas (genealogy), viz., Waliullahi, Qadriyya, Naqshbandiya, Chishtiya, Suharwardiya, Kibriya, Madeenya, Shadhilia, and Shattarya. One also learns about Shah Waliullah’s teachers and mentors, and a personal note on his own life.
Al-Balagul Mubinis the fifth chapter of this book.It contains Shah Waliullah’s more than one hundred fifty clarifications on various religious issues. Some of them are: the visitation from saints, the idol worship, the story of Cain and Abel, the Staff of Moses, and a slew of such issues.
The last tract that is nine-pages long thoroughly deals with basic tenets of the Islamic faith.
The argument presented in the book could be a source of anxiety and obfuscation to those who are not aware of this Islamic tradition. And, to the uninitiated, it might look ‘irrational’ as it doesn’t stand to reason and rationality, which are products of colonial modernity. However, for ‘interpretive communities’, who associate themselves with the tradition that possesses within it many traditions of Islam, these discourses make complete sense and are part of their lifeworld.
This is a highly beneficial series for students and scholars who are not well-acquainted with the Arabic and Persian languages and at the same time seek to engage with the thought of Shah Waliullah.