A Study of the reformative endeavours of Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb

By ‘Allamah Sayyid Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Ali al-Nadawi
Translated by Mohiuddin Ahmad

The Imam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque in Doha | Imam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Masjid Doha | Intricate detail on the Imam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque | Images for imam muhammad ibn abdul wahhab mosque | pictures for imam muhammad ibn abdul wahhab mosque | photo for imam muhammad ibn abdul wahhab mosque | wallpaper for imam muhammad ibn abdul wahhab mosqueThe great reformer and founder of puritanical movement, Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab bin Sulayman al-Tamimi al-Hanbali (1115 – 1206 H / 1703 – 1792 C) of Hijaz was a contemporary of Shah Wali Allah al-Muhaddith al-Dihlawi (1114 – 1176 H / 1703 – 1762 C). He remained alive thirty years after the demise of Shah Wali Allah. Although contemporaries and their teachings having several similar features, there is nothing to suggest that they ever met one another. Shah Wali Allah went for Hajj in 1143/1731 and remained in Hijaz for more than a year. This was the initial period of Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s reformatory endeavours and his preachings were, at that time, confined to ‘Uyayna and Dari‘yah [north-west of Riyadh]. By that time neither Amir Muhammad bin Sa‘ud had taken an oath of allegiance to the Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab nor they had entered into any agreement (for propagation of the puritanical movement and establishment of a government to achieve that end). This pact was made in 1158/1745 which, on the one hand, made Dari‘yah the centre of Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s movement of reform enjoying state support and thereby paved the way for its gaining strength and influence, on the other. It was this agreement which ultimately led to the conquest of Makkah by the successor of Amir Muhammad bin Sa’ud in 1218/1803 (twelve years after the death of Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and forty-two years after Shah Wali Allah’s demise).

The central point of the puritanical movement of Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab was to call the people back to the worship of one and only God, rejection of polytheism in any shape or form, eradication of unreceived customs and rites (which had come into vogue among certain tribes in the eastern part of Arabia owing to illiteracy of the people and their indifference to scholars), elaboration of the difference between Divine Unity (Tawhid al-’Uluhiyyah) and Divine Providence (Tawhid al-Rububiyyah) and its implications in regard to worship of God in the light of the injunctions and clarifications of the Qur’an. The success achieved by Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in his reformatory endeavour is remarkable in comparison to that of earlier reformers, although, as Dr. Ahmad Amin points out, it was due to the patronage of the State which came into existence through this movement and later wholeheartedly supported it. Be that as it may, there can be no denying the fact that Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab played the role of a revolutionary reformer, and even if one may not completely agree with the Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s thought and the manner he presented them, the need of such a movement at that time and the salubrious influence it has had on the people cannot be disputed.

The thoughts and convictions of Shah Wali Allah and Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab in regard to Divine Unity, its elaboration in the light of verses of the Qur’an and the distinction between Divine Unity and Divine Providence indicate a great deal of similarity. It was because both had delved deep into the Qur’an and the Sunnah. There was nothing exceptional in this closeness of ideas since several other thinker-scholars like Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah had, in their own times, arrived at analogous conclusions for discrediting polytheistic beliefs and practices and propagation of pure and unalloyed tawhid.

However, the range of Shah Wali Allah’s intellectual and reformative endeavour was much wider for it covered the areas of regeneration of Islamic branches of learning as well as Islamic thought, elucidation of the wisdom underlying the injunctions of Shari’ah and their integration with the teachings of Islam, criticism of blind adherence to the juristic school of one’s ancestors, harmonisation of reason and religious thought and coordination of different juristic thoughts. He also tried to arrest the decline of Muslim political power in India. His other achievements were propagation of the study of Hadith and providing guidance to the people in the mystic path of ihsan (perfection/excellence) so that they could carry ahead his mission. In the words of the poet Muhammad Iqbal, Shah Wali Allah was like the sweet and placid stream of Zamzam (symbolising love and its sweetness) in the wilderness of Hijaz (uncompromising faith in Oneness of God). The upbringing of Shah Wali Allah in an atmosphere permeated with mysticism was perhaps responsible for combining these two qualities in him which are demonstrated by his eulogies of the Messenger of God (Allah have mercy on him) and other poetical compositions. Viewed in this context it would perhaps be more fruitful to make a comparative study of the similarities and divergencies in the thoughts of Shah Wali Allah and Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah than to look for these between Shah Wali Allah and Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab. In truth and reality Shah Wali Allah and Shaykh al-Islam bear a close resemblance in so far as their depth of knowledge, capacity of arriving at independent conclusions in juristic, matters on the basis of the Qur’an and Sunnah, breadth of vision and brilliance are concerned (as already alluded to at various places in the foregoing pages). If there were some differences between the two, these were chiefly owing to different circumstances, system of education, remoteness of time and space and, lastly, the esoteric path of spirit the two had chosen to tread.

(Saviours of Islamic Spirit Volume 4, Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, 2004, p. 282-4)

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