Shattering the Myth that Shah Isma’il Shaheed rahimahullah was a Wahhabi

[By Saad Khan]

A salient feature of the innovators of this age is to hurl charges of “Wahhabism” against the great scholar, muhaddith[1], sufi, reformer and mujahid, ‘Allamah Shah Muhammad Isma’il Shaheed Dehlwi (rahmatullah alayh). It is interesting to note that when in 1821 Shah Isma’il Shaheed and Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed (rahimahumullah) left for Hajj[2] along with 757 of their followers, the Holy Lands were under Ottoman rule and the followers of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab had already been driven out. They had managed to control the Holy Lands for only a short amount of time. It would be contrary to logic and analogy to argue that Shah Isma’il Shaheed and Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed (rahimahumullah) were influenced by a movement whose influence did not prevail in the Hijaz and the Holy Lands. Rather, the followers of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab were vilified and defeated.

It is unlikely therefore that in such an atmosphere the two respected shaykhs were influenced by an ideology which not only lacked influence in the region but was at the same time ostracized and demonized.

To show the fallacy of this claim, it would be beneficial to list those issues over which there is difference between Shah Muhammad Isma’il Shaheed and what the followers of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab generally believe. It will become clear to the readers that these charges of Wahhabism have no basis.


In Taqwiyat al-Iman, Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) strongly condemned practices prevalent amongst the laymen where they would seek help from the saints by uttering statements such as “O Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir Jaylani! Give me something for the sake of Allah” – this is istighathah and completely impermissible.

Regarding such a practice he writes, “one should refrain from such statements which reek of shirk and are disrespectful towards Allah Most High” (Taqwiyat al-Iman, p.123).

However, regarding tawassul Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) states: “But if it is said, ‘O Allah, give me for the sake [i.e., for the sake of his close relationship to You and his virtuous deeds] of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir’, then this is allowed” (Taqwiyat al-Iman, p.123). He has also discussed the permissibility of tawassul in his book, Mansab Imamat.[3] Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and most of his followers are, however, against this type of tawassul through the pious servants of Allah.

Sufi Orders

Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) was bay’ah in the Naqshbandi tariqah whereas many followers of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab are against tariqah-based tasawwuf. He gave bay’ah to Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed (rahimahullah) at the advice of his uncle Imam Shah ‘Abd al-’Aziz Dehlwi (rahimahullah).

The Kitab al-Tawhid Myth

An unsubstantiated claim, by the likes of Maulvi Fadl Rasul Badayuni[4], is that Taqwiyat al-Iman is a commentary of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawhid. Maulana Muhammad Manzur Nu’mani (rahimahullah) mentions that only a person who has not read Kitab al-Tawhid can make such a bold and baseless claim. He adds that Taqwiyat al-Iman was written for the laymen of the subcontinent in a very simple and easy language but with Faruqi[5] grandeur; whereas the readership of Kitab al-Tawhid were those scholarly men from Najd, Hijaz, the Levant, Iraq, etc. whose minds were not clear regarding tawhid and shirk or they were supporters of some polytheistic or seemingly polytheistic practices.

Kitab al-Tawhid is an academic work unlike Taqwiyat al-Iman, which is aimed at laymen. The approach of Taqwiyat al-Iman is to list some verses of the Qur’an, few hadiths from Mishkat al-Masabih with an easy translation and a brief commentary. On the other hand, the commentary of the Qur’anic verses and hadiths in Kitab al-Tawhid is academic and much more detailed. Maulana Nu’mani mentions that keeping this in mind, a commentary of Kitab al-Tawhid in the language of Taqwiyat al-Iman would have exceeded more than 10 volumes ( Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab aur Hindustan kay ‘Ulama Haq, p.65-68).

While some, like Maulwi Ahmad Rida Khan, have claimed even more preposterously that Taqwiyat al-Iman is a translation of Kitab al-Tawhid! Any serious scholar can easily glean from reading the above two books that Molwi Ahmad Rida Khan had only heard the name of Kitab al-Tawhid but had not read it.

The issue of Wahdat al-Wujud

Al-‘Abaqat (Diffusions of Perfume), by Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah), is one of the most comprehensive works on tasawwuf. ‘Allamah Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani writes, “We have not found an elaboration of the laws of tajalli (divine manifestation – in Sufi terminology) and a realization of its essence in a manner the heart finds rest and by which the chest expands, in spite of an extreme search and intense investigation in the books of the Folk (i.e. Sufis), except what the magnificent ‘Allamah, the noble Gnostic, the incomparable [scholar] of his time and amongst his contemporaries, my master and my support, Muhammad Isma’il al-Shahid al-Dahlawi (Allah sanctify his soul) verified in his book Al-’Abaqat… an extremely rare book that has no equal.” (Fath al-Mulhim, 2:315) In this work, Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) discusses at length one of the most burning issues of tasawwuf, namely Wahdat al-Wujud and Wahdat al-Shuhud.

In this book Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) has reconciled the two views, and has shown that the difference is one of perception, arising from the difference in spiritual stations (maqamat). He has also differentiated between those Wujudiyyah Sufis who are orthodox Sunnis and those false Wujudiyyah who say, “there is actually nothing except this sensible universe characterized by existence”. He refers to them as “infidels, mischievous, heretics and the dirt of all the atheists”.

Good opinion of Shaykh al-Akbar

Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahomahullah) refers to Muhyi al-Din ibn al-’Arabi (rahimahullah) as Shaykh al-Akbar and exonerates him from the view that he believed in the real unity between the Creator and the created. He writes in Al-’Abaqat, “They are the chiefs of the sufis and the leaders of the saints. At first sight, some utterances of the followers of the Shaykh seem to bear resemblance to the utterances of those who believe in the real unity (between the Creator and the created, ‘ainiyyah), but when all their utterances are examined thoroughly such resemblance vanishes.” On the other hand, followers of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab did not have a good opinion of the Shaykh al-Akbar and go as far as declaring him a heretic.

Baseless charges of Anthropomorphism

Certain vile persons accuse Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) of anthropomorphism (tajsim) in the same way they accuse the followers of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. This is indeed a great slander against the Shaykh who was martyred in the path of Allah.

He states about Allah Most High, “By the perfection of His attributes, He is Independent of the praise of the praisers, and by the dignity of His essence (dhat), is above the description of the describers. The deep thoughts are burnt by the majesty of His Essence and the hard speculations are vanished under the dominion of His eminence. None is His partner in the attribute of Being and nothing is His co-sharer in the state of establishment (thubut).
The most eloquent failed to cover the field of His attributes and the master grammarians went astray in traversing the extensive regions of His essence. By the vastness of His essence He transcends both space (ihatah) and limitedness (taqyid)”. (Al-’Abaqat, XIV)

He writes in another place, “It has also been proven that the Necessary in relation to the possibilities cannot be characterized by attributes, such as, direction, the nearness and farness of place, conjunction and disjunction. It is also confirmed that there is no distance whatsoever finite or infinite between the Necessary and the possible” (Al-’Abaqat, p.43). He writes further, “By this tajalli (manifestation), it is proven, for the Divinity that it (Divinity) exists in the external, is neither confined to any direction (jihah) nor to any place. He is neither connected with anything nor is separate from it. He transcends the change in attributes, such as, the new knowledge and the will” (Al-’Abaqat, p.152). In other words, He is free from change in His attributes, because change occurs in relation to time and He is free of time.

Ash’aris and Maturidis are the people of truth

Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) referred to the Ash’aris and Maturidis as the people of truth. He writes, “It is also worth remembering that the learned in every science became divided and differed among themselves. That happened in two ways. One way was that the difference took place between the adherents of falsehood and the followers of truth. This difference is similar to the one found between the jurists of the Shi’ah and those of the Sunnis. Or it is like the difference seen between the Mu’tazilah and the Ash’aris. Or it is like the one observed between the atheists, who have identified Allah with [as] the Universe (Wujudiyyah Malahidah), and those wise ones [i.e., people of truth] who believe that Allah transcends the universe and the being (wujud) which is common to all existing things, [and that created beings are] simply a shadow of the real being (Wujudiyyah ‘Ufara’).

” … the other kind (second kind) of difference is one which is seen between the followers of truth themselves, such as, between the four Imams, or is found between the Ash’aris and Maturidis. … or is like the difference seen among the mystics of different paths. The decision in such cases is that each one of these groups is on the right path in many of the problems. ‘For everyone there is a direction to which he turns his face. Strive, then, to excel each other in good deeds.’ (Qur’an 2:148). He who followed any one of them succeeded in attaining his object.” (Al-’Abaqat, p.252-253)

Love of the Auliyah

Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) acknowledged different categories of the pious and the saints. He writes regarding these virtuous men, “But you all are, however, well aware that all the believers know for certain, that there are some persons who are named as the faithful witnesses of the truth (siddiqiyun) and the substitutes (abdal) in spite of the fact that, the Lawgiver has not formed any rule for the acquisition of the ranks of such persons, and has not invited the people to acquire them nor had held out any promise to the effect that by doing this action of by observing that litany, that rank will be achieved. It is believable that there are some other forms of perfection, the existence of which is supported by the mystical unveilings of the learned. Thus, to acknowledge them is a virtue and a sign of beauty…” (Al-’Abaqat, p.275) He has also discussed the existence of abdal, awtad, aqtab, nujaba‘ and ruqaba‘ in Mansab Imamat.

‘Allamah Anwar Shah Kashmiri’s (rahimahullah) defense of Shah Isma’il Shahid (rahimahullah)

Lastly, it would be beneficial to quote the statement of Imam Sayyid Anwar Shah Kashmiri (rahimahullah) regarding the lofty status of Shah Isma’il Shaheed and his works.

A Barelwi scholar wrote Izalat al-Khifa’ regarding the ‘ilm al-ghayb (knowledge of the unseen) of Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam). Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri(rahimahullah) penned a refutation titled Sahm al-Ghayb fi Kabd Ahl al-Rayb (The Arrow of the Unseen in the Heart of the People of Doubt)[6]. He writes in the prelude directly addressing the author of Izalat al-Khifa’, “Know that you cannot eliminate anything through which Allah guided the people at the hands of the Shaykh, the ascetic, the pious, the martyr, Mawlana Shah Isma’il. Do you think you can eradicate the mention of the one whose great life was certified by Allah? (indicating to the verse that the martyrs are alive) … Do you think anyone would abandon Taqwiyat al-Iman and Sirat Mustaqim[7] and follow an opinion whose stench returns to you like flatulence?”(Sahm al-Ghayb, p.2)

It should be obvious that the main cause behind these allegations of Wahhabism was Shah Isma’il Shaheed’s (rahimahullah) efforts to stamp out polytheistic practices and other innovations that had become widespread among the Muslim community. The innovators of the age described them as Wahhabis to tarnish their image among the Muslim community and halt the reformative work they were carrying out.



Al-’Abaqat (Diffusions of Perfume) – Shah Isma’il Shahid

Karwan Imam wa ‘Azimat – Abul Hassan ‘Ali Nadwi

Majmu’ah Rasa’il Chandpuri – Sayyid Murtada Hassan Chandpuri

Mawlana Muhammad Isma‘il Shahid aur un kay Naqid – Ikhlaq Husayn Qasimi Dahlawi

Sayyid Ahmad – Muhammad Hedayetullah

Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed say Hajji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki kay Ruhani Rishtay- Sayyid Nafis Shah al-Husayni

Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab aur Hindustan kay ‘Ulama Haq – Muhammad Manzur Nu’mani

Taqwiyat al-Iman – Shah Isma’il Shaheed


[1] During their two year stay in Hijaz, many scholars were granted khilafah by Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed (rahimahullah). Some of them include, (1) Shaykh Muhammad ‘Umar – ustadh of Shaykh ‘Abdullah Siraj, (2) Shaykh Sayyid ‘Aqil, (3) Shaykh Sayyid Hamza, (4) Shaykh Mustafa al-Hanafi, (5) Shaykh Shams al-Din al-Misri, (6) Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali Hindi, (7) Khawaja Almas – a great saint from Madina, and (8) Shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris of Maghrib who had memorized whole of Sahih al-Bukhari with sharh of Al-Qastallani by heart. During their stay in Makkah, Shah Isma’il (rahimahullah) would give dars of Hujjat Allah al-Balighah and Mawlana ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Lakhnawi, khalifah of Sayyid Ahmad Saheed and son in law of Shah ‘Abd al-’Aziz al-Dahlawi (rahimahumullah), would give dars of Mishkat al-Masabih.

[2] The author of Nuzhat al-Khawatir , Hakim Sayyid ‘Abd al-Hayy Lukhnawi al-Hussaini (rahimahullah), writes, “One of his [Shah Isma’ils’] books is Mansab Imamat in which he has discussed the post of prophethood and imamah ; this book is unparalleled of its kind.”

[3] Mawlana Hakim Sayyid ‘Abd al-Hayy Hussaini (rahimahullah) writes regarding Molwi Fazl Rasul Badayuni, “He was a faqih who was argumentative and very biased in his beliefs, he was in constant opposition of the ‘ ulama , most far away from the Sunnah and an aid to bid’ah, he encountered the people of
haqq with his lies and innovations and was a lover of the world. He made takfir of Shaykh Shah Isma’il ibn ‘Abd al-Ghani Dahlawi and he accused Shaykh Shah Waliullah al-Muhaddith Dahlawi of being a Nasibi Khariji. And he accused and spoke ill of Shaykh Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Ahad al-Sirhindi [Mujaddid al-Alf al-Thani] who was the imam of the Mujaddidiyyah and he [Fazl Rasul] would say, ‘All of them are deviated and are leading others astray’.” (Nuzhat al-Khawatir , p.1065

[4] Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) inherited this from Imam Shah Waliullah Dehlwi (rahimahullah). The Imam’s lineage traces back to Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) from his father’s side and to Sayyiduna ‘Ali (radhiyallahu anhu) from his mother’s side.

[5] Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah also talks about this booklet of Imam Kashmiri (rahimahullah). He specifically mentions that it was written in refutation of Barelwi ‘ aqidah that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) has the knowledge of ‘what was and what shall be’ (ma kana wa ma yakun ). (See Majmu’ah Rasa’il al-Kashmiri, p.24)

[6] Sirat Mustaqim is a record of the sayings of Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed (rahimahullah), compiled by Shah Isma’il Shaheed (rahimahullah) and Mawlana ‘Abd al-Hayy (rahimahullah). The book was originally compiled in Persian and first published in 1823; it was later translated into Urdu. It was translated into Arabic by Mawlana ‘Abd al-Hayy (rahimahullah), at the request Shaykh Hassan Efindi, the deputy sultan of Egypt, during their two year stay in Makkah and widely circulated among the ‘ ulama of Hijaz.


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