The Importance of Hujjat Allāh al-Bāliga (The Conclusive Argument from God)

The Importance of Hujjat Allāh al-Bāliga (The Conclusive Argument from God)

This is widely considered to be the magnum opus of the eighteenth century scholar, Shāh Walī Allāh of Delhi (1703-1762). He attempts to integrate mystical, intellectual and traditional textual approaches to the Islamic intellectual tradition, while unravelling the wisdom and inner meanings behind the hadith reports of the Prophet Muhammad, and the divine law in general. The word “hujjah” in the title is suggestive of an argument or debate where one side has presented a convincing argument or proof. In this case, this refers to the inner meaning of religious obligation and recompense and the inner dimensions of the divine law.

The theoretical foundations are set out in the first volume where Shāh Walī Allāh mentions a particular concept, maslaha, which is translated as ‘beneficial purpose.’ [1] Working within a metaphysical structure, Shāh Walī Allāh elaborates on “the internal dynamics within systems of experience” which consists of levels or systems that are initially composed of parts in conflict. This conflict requires resolving towards a higher purpose via restoring harmony and balance in the system. Once this is achieved, the “inherent perfection of the ideal form implicit in the person… is fulfilled.” The system or the entire form is then able to expand or move up to a higher order.

What the above theory means, in a sentence, is that there are conflicting forces and then there is the one great force that harmonises these conflicts and drives the entire universe to “the highest salutary purpose (maslaha kulliyya).” This is what the religious legislation (sharia) aims to achieve. Though the term maslaha has been used in Islamic jurisprudence in the sense of “public interest,” for Shāh Walī Allāh, this term conveys a broader sense – the highest level being the fulfilment of the “one great universal purpose (maslaha kulliyya) of the cosmic order.”

The first section of the book concerns the metaphysical aspects of causation beginning with creation. A key dimension of Shāh Walī Allāh’s psychological and moral framework is the idea that human beings are composed of both a higher and a lower side, which he terms the angelic and the animalistic component. Each human being possesses an intrinsic nature of these two components to varying degrees. The human moral and spiritual development is put into practice by completing religious obligations. This can be taken further through higher development and Sufi spiritual practices. [2] The second section elaborates on the recompense for thoughts and actions in this life and the life to come.

The third section, deals with civilizational development, or irtifaqāt, which presents the development of human societies through four stages: following natural or instinctive laws, integrating family life and social transactions, developing a political order, and finally the extension of this to the international level.

The fourth section discusses the ways to achieve human felicity through cultivating four particular virtues (khisāl): purity, humility before God, magnanimity, and justice. The three veils that prevent acquiring this felicity are the veils of custom, conventions and misunderstanding the nature of God.

Reminiscent of Imām al-Ghazali’s Ihyā Ulūm ad-dīn, The fifth discussion looks at piety and sin and performing the various religious practices with the correct understanding and attitude. The sixth section, which elaborates on the policies of religion looks at: prophecy, the development of religious tradition in its historical context, the situating of specific religious rulings within such a context, and finally Islam’s relationship to other faith traditions.

The seventh section takes us to the central topic of the volume, the hadith reports of the Prophet Muhammad where we are treated to the traditional elements of the discipline, methods of evaluation and interpreting the hadith reports, and surveying the historical development of this field and its major works. The final section brings us to the juristic disagreements within the four Sunni legal schools (madhāhib). This is where we find Shāh Walī Allāh’s position on ijtihād and taqlīd.

[1] It is worth noting that al-Shātibi and al-Ghazāli have their own conception and use for this term.

[2] See Shāh Walī Allāh’s Hama’at and Altāf al-Quds for more on his esoteric ideas.

The Indian Subcontinent: The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire: A Brief History from the Tenth to the Nineteenth Century.

The Indian Subcontinent: The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire: A Brief History from the Tenth to the Nineteenth Century.


One of the distinct features of Islam in India, contrary to Iran or the Ottoman empire, was that its pluralistic religious society escaped bureaucratization and state control. This history began in 711-13 when Muslim rule was established in Sind. However, it was one of the Ghurid generals, Qutb al-Din Aybeg, the conqueror of Delhi who founded the first of a succession dynasties known as the Delhi Sultanates in 1206. Under Ala al-Din Khalji (1290-1316) the Delhi regime extended its power to Gujarat, Rajhastan, the Deccan, and some parts of South India. The Khalji regime was succeeded by the Tughluq dynasty (1320-1413), which under Muhammad b. Tughluq were the first to appoint non-Muslim to military and government offices and permit the construction of Hindu temples. Following a strong Sunni policy, he was generally favourable to the Ulama (religious scholars) and he was the first to integrate Turkish warlords, Hindu feudatories, and Muslim scholars into the political elite. It is important to note that whilst the Delhi Sultanate leaned to Muslim supremacy, the provincial Muslim regimes fostered the integration of Muslim and Hindu cultures and the formation of an Indian version of Islamic civilization.

Under pressure form revolts by governors, the Tughluq Empire disintegrated while struggles over the Delhi sultanate led to the intervention of Babur (a descendant of Timur) who, after having defeated the Lodis at Panipat in 1526, became the ruler of Delhi. His son had lost the throne to the Afghan lord Sher Shah (1540-55) but was able to re-establish himself in Delhi and Agra where he handed his rule to Akbar. It was this Akbar who became the true founder of the Mughal Empire.

The policy of conciliation of Hindus and religious pluralism of the Mughal Empire lasted until Aurangzeb, who became known for sponsoring the codification of Islamic laws called the Fatawa Alamgiri. The succession struggles after the death of Aurangzeb and a succession of feeble rulers gradually led to the weakening of the Mughal Empire. Eventually, in 1772 Warren Hastings, the British governor of Bengal, took charge of the British factories (the British East India Company had been trading since 1600) and created a unified regime for the factories in India. This marks the beginning of a British Indian Empire. If anything, the Mughal era bequeathed to modern India a distinctive variant of Muslim institutions and cultures.

Taken and adapted from Lapidus, I. M. (2002). A history of Islamic societies, Cambridge University Press.

Transmission of Islamic Science into the Latin West and its influence on Medieval Christian Conceptions of Nature

Transmission of Islamic Science into the Latin West and its influence on Medieval Christian Conceptions of Nature

The first period of the transmission of Islamic science into the West began in the tenth and eleventh centuries where certain texts of astronomy and mathematics were translated from Arabic into Latin. The next period, termed as the middle period and covering the entire twelfth century, witnessed the extensive publication and dissemination of all kinds of Arabic scientific works, such as alchemy. In this period, the translation of philosophical works began to emerge. The final period that stretches from the thirteenth century onwards witnessed considerable translations of work from Arabic into Latin.

Many great scientists and philosophers of Islam, such as al-Kindī, al Farābī, Ibn Sinā, al-Ghazāli, to mention just a few, had some of their works translated. They belonged in the Islamic intellectual universe known as the school of philosopher-scientists (falāsifah), which was one of the many intellectual schools that existed around the time and had formulated a definitive and distinctive view of nature. From here, and this is important, one can see why the Latin West had only come to know one of the many conceptions of nature, in this case that of the Peripatetic school. [1] Thus, the meeting of the Latin West with Muslim Peripatetic philosophy and science led to the Aristotelianisation of Christian theology which in turn had several consequences on the general Western view of nature.

The Peripatetic perspective aims to integrate the cosmos into a rational system; nature is viewed as something to be analysed and understood, via methods of ratiocination and logic. Observation and experimentation, which for the most part stood on the side of the gnostic and mystical elements of Islam, was not a distinguishing feature of this school. The non- Peripatetic conception of nature was contemplative and symbolic in character, and has been identified with the metaphysical and mystical dimension of Islam.

The adoption of the rationalism of the classical Greek type helped promote the rise of rationalism in the thirteenth century. In Islam, however, rational philosophy was viewed differently, with figures like al-Ghazāli taking on the rationalistic tendencies of the Peripatetic school resulting in the intellectual life of Islam gravitating towards the gnostic and Illuminationist dimension associated with Sufism. Ibn Sinā, towards the end of his life moved away from rationalistic Peripatetic writings. It is claimed that the greatest exponent of rationalism, Ibn Rushd (the Latin Averroes), had been over rationalised by his Latin interpreters. [2] In any case, he was instrumental, more than anyone else in bringing the revival of Aristotelianism in the medieval West.

No doubt, there were a number of streams of thought that flowed into the intellectual universe during the thirteenth century West, [3] but the dominant one was Aristotelian scholarship and philosophy. As a consequence, this rationalistic environment was increasingly replacing the gnostic and metaphysical dimension of Christianity. Influenced by the Muslim philosopher-scientists, rational theology emerged with Thomas Aquinas, who attempted to create a philosophical synthesis [4] that collated ideas that emerged from the Latin world of his time.

During the second half of the thirteenth century, a school arose by the name of Latin Averroism that identified Averroes with Aristotle and brought debates surrounding the conflict between religion and philosophy and between reason and revelation to the fore. There was a theological reaction against the rationalism and philosophism of Averrosim with the name Averroes became synonymous with anti-religious thought. The pure rationalism of Averroism aided the future eclipse of the symbolic interpretations of nature, that intellectual knowledge which assists in resolving the conflicting claims of philosophy and theology. Men of faith and wisdom within the Christian intellectuality were still cultivating the sciences of nature during the thirteenth century. However, by then Averroism sowed the seeds of secularisation of knowledge and the cosmos and the seeds of confrontation between faith and reason in the West.

And only Gods knows best.


[1] This school was closely identified with the philosophical tradition of Plato and Aristotle. The Illuminationist school of Suhrāwardi, schools of Sufism such as that of Ibn Arabī and the neo-Pythagorean and Hermetic school of The Brethren of Purity (ikhwān al-safā) were almost unknown to the Latin West.

[2] See Wolfson (1961)

[3] See Knowles (1988)

[4] This is famously known as the Thomas synthesis.

References and further reading:

Bakar, O. (1999). The history and philosophy of Islamic science.

Dunlop, D. M. (1958). Arabic science in the West (Vol. 35): Pakistan Historical Society.

Gilson, E. (1980). History of Christian philosophy in the Middle Ages: Burns & Oates.

Knowles, D. (1988). The evolution of medieval thought (2nd ed. / edited by D.E. Luscombe and C.N.L. Brooke. ed.): London : Longman.

Nasr, S. H. (1968). Man and nature: The spiritual crisis of modern man.

Wolfson, H. A. (1961). The Twice-Revealed Averroes. Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 36(3), 373-392.

An example of the difficulties and rewards of the search for knowledge

An example of the difficulties and rewards of the search for knowledge

The Maqāmāt literature, like adab anthologies, serves to illuminate all the varieties and foibles of human behaviour in covering all the accepted notions of the difficulties and rewards of the search for knowledge. Here is an example from Badī’s Maqāmah al-ilmīyah:

“Being abroad, I once heard a man asking someone else how he had obtained knowledge, and this was the reply he received: I looked for it and found it far away, not within the reach of hunting arrows, not to be obtained through divination, not to be seen in one’s sleep, not to be retained with a bridle, not to be inherited from paternal uncles, and not to be borrowed from generous men. I got it by tramping through muddy soil and leaning upon rocks, by rejecting annoyance and taking risks, by the assiduous spending of sleepless nights and liking to travel, by much speculation and the application of thought. I found it to be something good only for planting, and only for being planted in the soul, an animal to be hunted that is caught but rarely and trapped only in the bosom, a bird that is deceived only by the snare of words and enmeshed only in the net of memory. I set it upon the spirit and bound it upon the eye. I spent (my) livelihood (on it) and hoarded (it) in the heart. I checked (on its accuracy) through research, and I went from speculation to the assurance of thorough understanding, and from thorough understanding to writing and authorship, relying upon the support of (divine) success. Thus, I heard words that impressed the ear, went to the heart, and seeped into the breast. I said: Young man, whence does the sun rise, and he started to say:

“Alexandria is my home, even though I do not remain there for long, But in Syria I spend the night, and in the Irāq, my day.” [1]

The ceaseless hunt for knowledge, its elusive character, and its conflict with material values are superbly expressed in a few words.

[1] Cf. Badī-az-zamān al-Hamadhānī, Maqāmāt, ed. M. Mu yī-ad-dīn {Abd-al-Majīd, 312–15 (Cairo 1381/1962), ed. Beirut 1965, 202, trans. W. J. Prendergast, The Maqāmāt of Badī{ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī, 152 f. (London and Madras 1915).