Shah Waliullah (1702-1762) was among those personalities whose appearance on the scene of history in the early 18th Century marked the beginning of a new life in the Muslim East: an innate impulse in the society that was thwarted by the onslaught of European colonialism, perhaps only temporarily, and is now gradually becoming more visible again.
In ‘The Principle of Movement in Islam’, the sixth lecture in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930/1934), Iqbal offers his perception of Waliullah’s role in the genesis of modern Muslim thought in the following words:
The prophetic method of teaching, according to Shah Waliullah, is that, generally speaking, the law revealed by a prophet takes especial notice of the habits, ways, and peculiarities of the people to whom he is specifically sent. The prophet who aims at all-embracing principles, however, can neither reveal different principles for different peoples, nor leaves them to work out their own rules of conduct. His method is to train one particular people, and to use them as a nucleus for the building up of a universal Shariah. In doing so he accentuates the principles underlying the social life of all mankind, and applies them to concrete cases in the light of the specific habits of the people immediately before him. The Shariah values (Ahkam) resulting from this application (e.g. rules relating to penalties for crimes) are in a sense specific to that people; and since their observance is not an end in itself they cannot be strictly enforced in the case of future generations.