[By Nihal Khan]
For those who don’t know, the reason Shah Waliullah is so famous and revered within the Indian subcontinent is because he was an intellectual and theological reformer and reviver whose pen reached millions of people after his death through his intellectual masterpieces. He was famously known for translating the Quran into Farsi when the language was popular in the subcontinent, which then led his sons Shah Abdul Qadir and Shah Rafiullah to translate it into Urdu–hence, the majority of the ummah gained access to the Qur’an at a normative level for the first time in that civilization’s history (Shah Abdul Aziz had a tafsir of the Qur’an in Urdu, but not a complete translation).
At the same time, be it Deobandi, Ahle Hadith, or Barailwi–most, if not every Indian scholar’s chains of narration in hadith connect to Shah Waliullah. In many other areas of theology and jurisprudence, I would go as far as to refer to Shah sahab as India’s Ibn Taymiyyah in some areas due to his efforts at rationalizing faith and intellect in many scopes of the Islamic sciences. But comparisons aren’t always smart among scholars as each has their own individual contributions which sideliners like myself could never give back through even an iota’s worth.
[Image: The Headstone at the grave of Shah Waliullah (rahmatullah alayh)]
My visit to Quṭubuddin Aḥmad Shah Waliullah al-Dehlawi’s gravesite (1703 – 1762) ended up being much more adventurous, educational, and inspirational than I had initially anticipated it to be. Located in a lightly populated area in Delhi, Shah Waliullah’s grave is located behind Maulana Azad Medical College within the madrasa his family started in the 1600s known as Madrasa al-Raheemiyyah. It was so well hidden that many locals did not even know where the madrasa nor his grave was.
When I arrived at the gates of Madrasa Raheemiyyah, I began to walk towards my intended place whilst passing hundreds of old and new graves. There were so many graves inside that I had to stand on the side of a grave to make wudu for the prayer! I arrived at Shah Waliullah’s grave and found some men sitting around his tombstone and reading the Quran. Being acquainted with the culture of reverence of graves within India, I did not think much of it.
As I was leaving to go into the mosque next door where Shah sahab used to teach some three hundred years ago, one of the men who was sitting by the grave followed me and greeted me. He sat me down and bluntly asked who the man was at whose gravestone he was reciting the Qur’an. Whilst having lived next to this mosque his whole life and having been a frequent visitor, the only (mis)information this man had was that reading Qur’an next to Shah Waliullah’s grave heightens one’s memory. and that the first letter of the Arabic language (alif) was put into the Qur’an through Shah sahib’s efforts. It was sad that someone living so close had no idea who this man was. My dad said it perfectly: “Oh great. Talk about vanishing legacies.” After giving a brief intro to this erudite scholar’s life and correcting some of the misconceptions he had, one of the senior scholars of the madrasa approached me and invited me into his home where we ended up talking about Shah sahab’s life and contributions over tea for the next two hours.
The scholar was Mufti Aziz Ul Rahman Champaarni, a man who excused several people who came to meet him kindly just so he could sit with me and talk about Shah Waliullah (other madrasa students came to visit Shah sahab’s grave as well, but were very much unacquainted with who he was and his contributed efforts). Being in front of an Indian maulana looking like I just got out of the gym was a bit nerve racking, but that light tension went away as Mufti sahab made me feel very comfortable in his home. He was even more delighted when I told him I study at Nadwatul Ulama. After our session, he gifted me books to take back to Lucknow for myself and my teachers.
Mufti Aziz’s research on Shah Waliullah was extremely pinpointed. He had traveled throughout India to find Shah Sahab’s family line. He said that all of Shah Waliullah’s descendants are now in Hyderabad and that anyone claiming to be from his progeny in Delhi is not telling the truth or has been mistaken. What affected me the most about Mufti Aziz is seeing how humbly he lived while also producing books on his own dime. Behind him on the wall was Iqbal’s famous couplet in Urdu:
ﻣﯿﺮﺍ ﻃﺮﯾﻖ ﺍﻣﯿﺮﯼ ﻧﮩﯿﮟ ﻓﻘﯿﺮﯼ ﮨﮯ ﺧﻮﺩﯼ ﻧﮧ ﺑﯿﭻ ﻏﺮﯾﺒﯽ ﻣﯿﮟ ﻧﺎﻡ ﭘﯿﺪﺍ ﮐﺮ
“My path is not of the rich, but rather–the poor. Don’t sell yourself, instead make your name through poverty.”
It was quite emotional seeing that and the beyond humble lifestyle he had been living through those couplets.
The Muslims of India/Pakistan/Bangladesh/Afghanistan/
Bhutan/Nepal/ and other surrounding countries have the family of Shah Waliullah to thank for the spread of Islam in the subcontinent. Know yourself by knowing your heritage.