Thursday, November 29, 2012

'Abd al-'Aziz al-Dihlawi

‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Dihlawi, also known as al-Muhaddith Shah Abdul Aziz Dehlavi (1745/1746-1823/1824) was a noted Indian theologian and author of several religious works in Arabic and Persian.

'Abd al-'Aziz al-Dihlawi was one of the great Sunni Islamic scholars of hadith in India. 'Abd al-'Aziz was the eldest son of  Shah Wali Allah (Shah Waliullah).  He was only 17 years old when Shah Wali Allah died. 'Abd al-'Aziz  took over as the teacher of hadith in place of his father, and later became famous as the Muhaddith of Delhi (just like his father).

In northern India, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was a prominent Sufi ‘alim of his time, a powerful orator (khatib), an effective preacher (wa’iz), and an expert on hadith and the Qur’an. He left a deep imprint on Islamic learning through his writings and through the students who came to the Madrasah-i Rahimiyah from all over India. He was also a connoisseur of Indian vocal music and Urdu and Persian literature as well as an accomplished calligrapher and horseman.

At the age of sixteen, following the death of his father Shah Wali Allah (d. 1762), the foremost ‘alim of eighteenth century India, Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz assumed responsibility for administering and teaching at the madrasah, which had been founded by his grandfather. Author of twenty-two known works, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz wrote on topics ranging from Islamic philosophy, hadith, tafsir, and the spirit of Sunnism to rhetoric, genealogy, music, and Persian literary styles. In Qur’anic studies, his Fath al-‘Aziz (translation and exegesis of the first two chapters and the last two parts of the Qur’an in Persian, in 3 volumes) is a major contribution in its methodological framework and interpretation. He witnessed the disintegration of the social and political order, the transfer of political power into Shi‘a hands (and the subsequent ascendancy of Shi‘ism in northern India), and the British takeover of Delhi in 1803.

Against this backdrop, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s other two important works Malfusat-i ‘Azizi and Fatawa-i ‘Azizi, along with Fath al-‘Aziz, serve as comprehensive sources for religious and social reconstruction. They reflect the concerns of the Muslim community in a period of transition and expound ‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s views on how to deal with such issues as the legal status of India under British rule, social intercourse with the British, the adoption of Western dress, learning English and joining the British service, interest on loans or deposits under British rule, the marriage of Muslim women with Christians, Shi‘a-Sunni intermarriage, abortion, and the use of contraceptives.

‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s major preoccupation, however, was to restore the superiority of Sunnism by refuting aspects of Shi‘ism. Although he wrote several epistles on aspects of Shi‘ism, his most comprehensive and controversial work was Tuhfah-i isna’ ‘ashariyah, completed in 1789-1790. His concern with the “right religion” explaining beliefs and rituals and correcting misconceptions of historical realities such as the caliphate of the first three caliphs – may be seen as an attempt to preserve the Sunnis’ social identity in the changing socio-political order. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz accepted Shi‘ism as an important sect of Islam but rejected some Shi‘a practices.

‘Abd al-‘Aziz did not assume any title that might suggest that God had designated him for a specific role in the community. His contemporaries and posterity, however, bestowed upon him such titles as siraj al-Hind (lamp of India) and muhaddith (expert on hadith). Posterity acknowledged ‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s erudition and placed him in the ranks of religious reformers. Among ‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s writings, the Tuhfah (also translated into Arabic and Urdu) should be singled out for its lasting impact. This work not only demonstrates ‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s profound knowledge and understanding of authentic sources of the Shi‘a and Sunni law but also epitomizes the linear development of sectarian polemics written by Sunni ‘ulama’ in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His contemporaries among the Shi‘a ‘ulama’ in the state of Awadh vehemently refuted each chapter of the Tuhfah. However, as a sign of his enduring legacy, in the wake of sectarian strife and polemical discussions in Pakistan in the early 1990s, the Sunni ‘ulama’ have often referred to 'Abd al-'Aziz's Tuhfah as a source.

Alternative names include:

'Abd al-'Aziz al-Dihlawi
Abdul Aziz al-Dehlavi
Al-Dehlavi, Abdul Aziz
Al-Dihlawi, 'Abd al-'Aziz
Dehlavi, Abdul Aziz al-
Dehlavi, al-
Dihlawi, 'Abd al-'Aziz
Dihlawi, al-
Lamp of India

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