Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi on Sh. Ibn Taymiyyah

By Prof. Khaliq Ahmad Nizami

It was in the eighteenth century, when Shah Wali Allah (1702-1763) was prominent on the South Asian intellectual scene, and Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab in the Arab world, that Ibn Taimiyya’s thought came to be seriously studied in academic circles. Shah Wali Allah’s stay in Hijaz afforded him thorough insight into the thought of Ibn Taimiyya of which his teacher, Shaikh Abu Tahir Kurdi of Madina, was an ardent advocate. But the latter was an admirer of Ibn al-‘Arabi as well as Ibn Taimiyya. Shah Wali Allah imbibed this approach of evaluating conflicting ideological positions in an objective and dispassionate manner.

Ibn Taimiyya’s impact on Shah Wali Allah’s thought is clearly discernible in some of his writings. His discussion of khilafa and khilafa al-Rashida in Izalat al-Khifa and Qurrat al-‘Aynayn echo the ideas propounded in Ibn Taimiyya’s Minhaj al-Sunnah; while some of his discussions in Hujjat Allah al-Baligha seem inspired by Ibn Taimiyya’s Fatawa.92 Similarly, Shah Wali Allah’s campaign against bid’at, emphasis on ijtihad and involvement in the political struggles of the time93 are not unrelated to Ibn Taimiyya’s teaching on these questions.

Makhdum Muhammad Mu’In Sindhi, author of Darasat al-Labilb, wrote to Shah Wali Allah, seeking his opinion about some of the views of Ibn Taimiyya. Shah Wali Allah wrote in reply:

My approach about all Muslim religious thinkers is that they are ‘udul, that is, they possess correct faith and proper conduct. This is as the Prophet has said: ‘In every age people with piety and faith will represent [interpret] the religion.’ They may believe in certain things on which there may not be unanimity, but if such matters of their belief are not against the clear Qur’anic injunctions, the sunnah of the Prophet and the consensus of the community {ijma’), [criticism of them is not justified]. Our assessment of Ibn Taimiyya after full investigation is that he was a scholar of the ‘Book of God’ and had full command over its etymological and juristic implications. He remembered by heart the traditions of the Prophet and accounts of elders (salaf) and understood well their etymological and juristic purpose and meaning. He was a recognized scholar of syntax (nahw) and semantics (lughat). He was an authority on the Hanbalite jurisprudence and its principles and branches. He excelled in intelligence and brilliance. He argued in defence of ahl al-Sunnah with great eloquence and force. No innovation or irreligious act is reported about him. Only certain matters on which he was harassed by his contemporaries have been reported to us. But there is not a single matter on which he is without his defence based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. So it is difficult to find a man in the whole world who possesses the qualities of Ibn Taimiyya. No one can come anywhere near him in the force of his speech and writing. People who harassed him [and got him thrown in prison] did not possess even one-tenth of his scholarly excellence … In this matter the differences of the ‘ulama’ resemble the differences of the Companions of the Prophet and it is necessary to abstain from making any comments on such matters.94

Shah Wali Allah then referred item by item to objections against Ibn Taimiyya—his anthropomorphic ideas, his views about visiting the tomb of the Prophet, his position vis-a-vis Qutb, Ghawth, Khizr, etc, and his assessment of the Caliph ‘Ali—and showed that, though one might disagree, Ibn Taimiyya could not be charged with blasphemy or heresy on that account. He concluded: ‘I exhort Muslims in the name of God, against maligning him as ‘alim and mujtahid on such matters of difference of opinion.’

This defence of Ibn Taimiyya’s ideological position had an impact on contemporary religious thought in South Asia. As his seminary, Madrasah-i-Rahimya, was the hub of intellectual life in the country, ideas adumbrated there quickly flowed to wider academic circles. Shah Wali Allah’s son, Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, seems to have been impressed by Ibn Taimiyya’s commentary on Surat al-Nur in his Bustan al-Muhaddithin, but in Fatawa-i ‘Azizi, he appears critical of some of his views.

Footnotes:

92 Compare, for instance: Minhaj al-Sunnah, (134—40) and Qurrat al-‘Aynayn, (236-46).
93 See Shah Wali Allah kay Siyasi Maktubat, ed. K. A. Nizami, (Delhi, 1969).
94 Maktubat-i Shah Wali Allah (Ahmadi Press, Delhi), 26-9.

Nizami, K A. (1990). The Impact of Ibn Taimiyya on South Asia. Journal of Islamic Studies. 1 (1), 120-149.

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