This article examines how Shah Wali Allah of Delhi (d. 1762), one of the most prominent scholars of eighteenth-century India whose thought has continued to be influential in many Muslim circles to the present day, conceptualized the interplay of political power and religious authority. Though several of Wali Allah's numerous writings have received considerable scholarly attention, this aspect of his political and religious thought has, oddly, been much neglected. A close reading of Wali Allah's writings reveals him to be keenly interested not just in the immediately relevant issues of the chronic political instability afflicting his age but also in the broader, theoretical, questions of how political power undergirds the moral force of religious norms and institutions. It is his unusually blunt but robust recognition that power is part of what enables a religious tradition to evolve and change that this article explores. That recognition—buried in writings that purport to be about the merits of Islam's first caliphs—has other important implications, too, notably for an understanding of the broad political context in which the sacred law itself undergoes change.
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