By Usha Sanyal
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Sayyid Ahmad Khan had to concede defeat on the religious front as well. So controversial a figure was he on account of his reformist ideas that the Muslims of Aligarh and elsewhere were initially reluctant to support his new institution. The British stepped in not only with funds but in many cases with professors as well. Sayyid Ahmad did his best to reassure Muslim parents that their children would not be taught radical ideas by hiring some of his fiercest critics as professors in the religious studies department.
Although this attempt at bridge-building was not very successful, Shah Wali Ullah’s achievements in other respects – his emphasis on hadith studies, his scholarly output as an ‘alim, and his high attainments as a sufi – were remarkable. Particularly important was his role in renewal of the law, as demonstrated by his emphasis on ijtihad. In the following century, his work was continued by his four sons, especially Shah ‘Abd ul-Aziz, whom the Ahl-e Sunnat regarded as the Renewer of the thirteenth Islamic century.
For him the suspension of religious law in lands under British control meant that the normal rules of conduct in other spheres of life no longer applied either. They also boycotted the British courts, settling their differences themselves. The movement was highly successful in forging a sense of unity and self-help among poor Bengali Muslims for a while. However, British reprisals, and the lack of strong leadership after Dudhu Miyan’s death in the 1860s led to the movement’s decline (Metcalf, 1982: 68–70;Ahmad Khan, 1965).