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.

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