Shah Waliullah Muhaddith Dehlvi was an Islamic scholar and reformer. He worked for the revival of Muslim rule and intellectual learning in South Asia, during a time of waning Muslim power.He despised the divisions and deviations within Islam and its practice in India and hoped to “purify” the religion and unify all Indian Muslims under the “banner of truth”. He is also thought to have anticipated a number of progressive, social, economic, and political ideas of the modern era such as social reform, equal rights, labour protection, welfare entitlement of all to food, clothing, housing, etc.
Shah Waliullah is a descendent of the Quraish tribe of Arabia and his genealogy can be traced to the second khalifa of Islam, Umar on his paternal side. His father, Shah Abdur Rahim, named his son ‘Qutbuddin Ahmad’. He was dubbed as ‘Shah Waliullah’ because waliullah means “friend of God” and he was a pious individual. He was from the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah and was an adherent of Hanafi jurisprudence. His complete name was Shah Waliullah Qutbuddin Ahmad and he was born in Phulat, a town in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India on February 21, 1703.
Shah Waliullah received his education at Madrasa Rahimiyya. His father was his teacher and source of spiritual guidance. He commenced his studies at the tender age of five and completed the recitation and memorization of the Qur’an by the age of seven. Thereafter, he commenced primary lessons in Persian and Arabic, which were completed in a year. Then, he studied the grammar and syntax of Persian and Arabic. He completed his studies in philosophy and theology at the age of fifteen and then commenced his studies in mantiq, fiqh, hadith, tibb, algebra, mathematics, kalaam, spirituality, mysticism, oratory and metaphysics under his father. Thereafter, he was inducted into the tradition of bay’at by his father and, by the age of seventeen, he was permitted to provide spiritual guidance to and reform his fellow Muslims.
On the death of his father when he was hardly seventeen years old, he became a mudarris (teacher) at Madrasa Rahimiyya. He held this position for twelve years. Then, in 1731, Shah Waliullah performed Hajj. He reached Makkah on May 21 and performed Hajj, after which he proceeded to Medina. There, he attended Shaikh Abu Tahir Muhammad bin Ibrahim Kurdi Madani’s discourses on hadith. Shah Waliullah studied Sihah Sitta, Mu’atta Imam Malik, Masnad Da’armi, and Imam Muhammad’s Al A’saar under him. Thereafter, he returned to Makkah, performed another Hajj, studied Mu’atta Imam Malik for a second time under Shaikh Wafadullah Maliki Makki, and attended the discourses of Shaikh Tajuddin Hanafi Qala’i Makki on Sihah Sitta. Then, he was permitted to teach all of the kitabs of hadith by Shaikh Tajuddin.
Thereafter, Shah Waliullah returned to India. His journey back to India lasted six months and he reached Delhi on January 1, 1733.
During his sojourn in Makkah, Shah Waliullah had a dream in which Muhammad(S.A.W) commanded him to reform the organization and emancipation of Muslims in India. Thus, after he returned to Delhi, he started his work in earnest. This was in a period when Muslims in India were passing through the most critical phase of their history and their entire social, political, economic and spiritual fabric was torn to pieces. On his arrival in Delhi, he started to train his pupils in diverse branches of Islam and entrusted them with the mission of enlightening people with the true nature of Islam. He embarked upon the task of authoring standard works on Islam and was able to complete a number of works on Islam.
Shah Waliullah rose to be an eminent scholar of Islamic studies. He was a prominent intellectual figure whose mission was to reform the Muslims he saw as misguided. His activities were not confined to spiritual and intellectual spheres only. He lived in troubled times and witnessed a number of rulers occupying the throne of Delhi. With his keen political insight, he observed the deterioration of Muslim rule in India and wrote to a number of political dignitaries to attempt to bolster the political life of Muslims in India. He established several branches of Madrasa Rahimiyya in Delhi in order to effectively disseminate his knowledge.
Shah Waliullah was a prolific writer as well. In the realm of Islam, he produced a number of memorable literary works and, within a period of thirty years, he wrote a total of fifty-one works of merit, twenty-eight in Arabic and twenty-three in Persian. Some of these are still unsurpassed in the domain of Islamic literature. His most valuable service to Islam was that he codified the vast store of Islam under separate heads. Both in thought and prediction, his works occupy an outstanding position.
His works can be classified into six categories. The first deals with the Qur’an. It includes his translation of the Qur’an into Persian. According to him, the object of studying the Qur’an is to reform human nature and correct wrong beliefs and injurious actions. The second category deals with hadith, in which he has left behind several works such as commentaries on Mu’atta Imam Malik in both Arabic and Persian. Shah Waliullah also wrote a number of works and pamphlets on hadith. The third category deals with fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, which includes lnsaaf fi Bayaan-e-Sahoobul Ikhtilaf, a brief yet informative history of Islamic jurisprudence over the five centuries before his life. The fourth category deals with mysticism. The fifth category pertains to his works on Muslim philosophy and kalaam. He also wrote a pamphlet on the principles of ijtihad (independent interpretation) and taqlid (conformity). In his principles of ijtihad, he clarifies whether it is obligatory for a Muslim to adhere to one of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence or whether he can exercise his own judgment. Shah Waliullah’s greatest work is Hujjatullahil Baligha, which deals with such aspects of Islam that are common among all of the Muslim countries. The sixth category deals with his works on the problems between Shias and Sunnis. His theories pertaining to economics and socialism are of revolutionary nature. The miserable condition of Indian Muslims inspired him to improve their character, raise their morale, and inculcate a feeling of selflessness and love for their fellows in them. He overhauled the educational system and separated faith from unlawful invented traditions and unnecessary and unwanted suspicions regarding Islam. He presented what he considered pure and pristine Islam to people.
Shah Waliullah had a son, Shaikh Muhammad, and a daughter, Ammatul Aziz, from his first wife. His second wife bore him four sons: Shah Abdul Aziz Muhaddis Dehlvi, Shah Rafiuddin, Shah Abdul Qadir, and Shah Abdul Ghani.
On August 20, 1762CE (19 Muharram 1176AH) Shah Waliullah died and was buried in the graveyard of Munhadian, beside his father.