Shah Wali Allah's Response to Ijtihad and Sunni Legal Theory

A discussion with Mubasher Hussain, International Islamic University Islamabad (Pakistan)

Shah Wali Allah (d. 1762), an outstanding religious thinker, who assumed the role of a mujaddid (renovator/renewer of religion), and a mujtahid (a highly qualified jurist), is widely considered one of the pioneers of religious reform in Muslim South Asia, because of his comprehensive contribution to and thought-provoking views on Islamic Sharia, in general, and on Islamic law in particular. He was neither a politician nor a social reformer. Nonetheless, he responded to the major issues of his time from a religious perspective in order to bring about socio-religious reform to the Muslim community at large. Though his mystical approaches as well as his religious, educational and socio-political ideas have attracted scholars from both the East and the West, his views on Islamic law have not yet received the attention they deserve.

The Shah has restricted himself to the legal framework of the Sunnite conventional theory in general; however, his legal thought apparently consists of some modern features concerning the further development of Islamic law in a modern age. Hence, his ideas led to a great deal of literature in recent decades, but some important aspects still remain to be discussed (e.g., some scholars maintain that the Shah’s legal ideas opened the gate of partial ijtihad [legal reasoning] and that the Shah never departed from the four famous classical Sunnite schools of law. But present study will show that the Shah suggested more than partial ijtihad and, disagreeing with the well-established legal opinions, he indeed departed from the Sunnite schools.). Thus, Dr. Hussain's research deals with such aspects of his legal thought with a focus on ijtihad and its scope as understood, maintained and embarked on by the Shah. An attempt is also made to analyze his views on the juristic typology as well as his response to the Sunnite legal theory, examining all of his legal writings, not only to trace the trajectories of the discourse that led the scholars to reach different conclusions, but also to show to what extent, if any, the Shah, theoretically as well as practically, departs from the conventional Sunnite legal theory.


Dr. Mubasher Hussain is an Assistant Professor of Islamic law at the International Islamic University Islamabad (Pakistan) and currently a Fulbright Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Islamic Legal Studies Program: SHARIAsource. Dr. Hussain’s academic career juxtaposes traditional madrasa education (al-Shahadat al-‘Alamiyyah from Wifaq al-Madaris al-Salafiyyah, Pakistan) and university education (Ph.D in Islamic Studies from the University of Punjab).

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Duration: (39:43)

Published: Monday, September 25, 2017