Thursday, May 3, 2018

Arshad Alam - Why Indian Muslims must let go of Shah Waliullah's theological baggage

Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) is considered one of the foremost intellectual figures within the Islamic world and more so in the South Asian context. His intellectual imprint can be seen in all divisions within the sub-continental Islamic wetenschhaung: from the Barelwis to the Deobandis to the Ahle Hadees, all claim him to be their own. Within much of the literature produced on Shah Waliullah, he is considered a reformist par excellence. It is this legacy that the present article is considered about. I want to ask how his reformist ideas have panned out and whether his ideas have any value in relation to the question of diversity and pluralism. Specifically within the Indian context, I want to ask what relevance do his ideas have in the present context.

One of the first charges against Shah Waliullah is that he did not have the interest of India at heart. In trying to save the Mughals from the Marathas, he wrote to Ahmed Shah Abdali to invade India and save the Muslims here. Now, there is every possibility that one can read this act as an instance of pan-Islamism and national betrayal. But then, he is not the first or the only one to do so. We have many more such examples, where ‘foreign’ powers have been besieged by Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, to intervene for one reason or the other.

We also need to understand that the idea of nation was very feeble during the 18th century: the period in which Shah Waliullah was living. As such his call to the Afghans should not be seen as an anti-national act but rather to re-energise the supremacy of the Mughals, something which Shah Waliullah was committed to. However, it cannot be overlooked that Shah Waliullah was primarily looking at events around him through an Islamic lens. Moreover, he was convinced of the superiority of Islam over all other religious traditions. For him, the re-establishment of the supremacy of Islamic rule was a religious act and not a result of the tottering fate of an empire in India. His constant use of the word infidel to describe the Marathas and other Hindus only betrays the mind-set within which he was operating.

He was very categorical that Islam had to become the ruling dispensation of the world. And for this reason, he quite early understood the power of a centralised authority to enforce and establish Islamic regime. His notion of the caliphate therefore is central to his understanding of Islam: without the caliphate, Islam can never be enforced. Thus, rather than the caliphate being a moral compass, in Shah Waliullah, it becomes an agency in express service of Islam. Years later, Maududi would take the same concept forward and argue that the modern state was fundamentally important for the existence of Islam. For it was only through the agencies of the state that the Sharia could be implemented. Shah Waliullah would brook no opposition to the enforcement of Islam. Completely assured of the superiority of Islam, he would go on to argue that Islam had to be forced down the throat of the non-Muslims like a bitter pill. But for that to happen, leaders of non-Muslim communities who refused to accept Islam should be annihilated, the strength of that community reduced and their property confiscated... read more:

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