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Shaykh Muhammad ibn a 'Abd al-Wahhāb and Shāh Walī Allāh: A Preliminary Comparison of Some Aspects of their Lifes and Careers

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Shaykh Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhāb (1703–1791) and Shāh Walī Allāh (1703–1762) were, indeed, the two key Mujaddis in the entire eighteenth-century Muslim world. Many scholarly and amateurish works were produced in English, Arabic, Urdu and other languages on their substantial achievements, but I am not aware of any independent comparative study of their careers and thought. This paper is, however, just a preliminary attempt to construct such a comparison and contrast through studying some aspects of their colourful lives and intellectual legacies. The discourse contests, in particular, the neologism "Indian Wahhābism", which had been coined by some orientalists to designate the Indian Islamic reformist movement, because, to say the least, it implicitly, but without justification, condemned it as a carbon copy of Wahhābism, and its vanguard, Shāh Walī Allāh, as a replica of his contemporary Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhāb. The discourse suggests that the Shaykh and the Shāh founded and spearheaded distinct, but largely dissimilar, systems and schools of thought in the pre-modernist era that have had far-reaching impacts on subsequent Islamic reformist movements worldwide.


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