Relationship with the Shi‘i Centers of Iraq
The rise of a full-fledged Shi‘i religious establishment in Awadh raises the question of the Indian Usulis' relationship with the great jurisprudents of Najaf and Karbala. Although mujtahids were forbidden to practice emulation (taqlid ) of other jurisprudents. the Usuli emphasis on the greater authority of the most learned (al-aclam ) jurisprudent led to the emergence of a small number of pace-setters whose judicial opinions commanded wide respect and around whom a new consensus often formed. In the 1840s a convention existed that of all the great centers, Najaf was preeminent, so that the head of the religious establishment in that city was considered the leader (ra'is ) of all the Shi‘is. In a biographical notice of Shaykh Muhammad Hasan an-Najafi, one of his students wrote in 1846 (1262), "Upon him devolved the leadership of the Imamis, both Arabs and non-Arabs, in this, our own time."
The relationship of the high ulama in north India to the mujtahids in the shrine cities remained a complex one. They all addressed each other as the "best of the mujtahids," the "exemplar of the people," the "heir of the
prophets," rendering the superlatives no more than pleasantries. A story from Sayyid Husayn Nasirabadi's biography illuminates the relationship. Shushtari wrote that Sayyid Husayn allowed the deputation of judicial authority (al-istinabah fi'l-qada ), considered a very minority opinion that seemed to contradict Shi‘i consensus. After Muhammad Hasan an-Najafi took the same stance in his Jawahiral-kalam , others in Awadh changed their views, agreeing that such deputation was permissible. Sayyid Husayn, on the other hand, not once changed his mind on a major position. The story demonstrates that an-Najafi's authority as a mujtahid and source for emulation (marjacat-taqlid ) carried weight with many north Indian ulama in the 1840s, but that the Nasirabadis maintained their independence. Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, after all, maintained that he was esoterically taught his knowledge by the Twelfth Imam himself.
After an-Najafi's death, Murtaza Ansari, who controlled 200,000 tumans per year in charitable donations, emerged in Najaf as the most widely recognized jurisprudential source for emulation in the Shi‘i world. Later in the nineteenth century Muhammad Mihdi Kashmiri of Lucknow wrote of Ansari, "His cause attained renown throughout all horizons, and he was mentioned in the pulpits in a manner unparalleled before him. He was an exemplar to the Shi‘is in their entirety, in their religion and in their worldly affairs." Again, although such sentiments in favor of Ansari clearly existed in Awadh, it is unlikely that any of the leading members of the Nasirabadi family acknowledged anyone else as more learned than themselves.
For their part the jurisprudents in the shrine cities did not simply dismiss the Indian mujtahids as rustic bumpkins, at least to their faces. Shaykh Muhammad Hasan an-Najafi continually asked the Lucknow mujtahids to send copies of their compositions to Najaf, where they were read and circulated, early Awadh use of the printing press making Shi‘i authors there accessible to readers in the Middle East. When he read Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi's book in defense of temporary marriage, he called it the "crown of Shi‘ism and referred to the author's father, Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali, as "the seal of the mujtahids." Elsewhere he noted that Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali's long work on the principles of religion entitled "Mirrors for Minds" had arrived, upon which he lavished effusive praise, attributing the brilliance of the fami-
ly's compositions to their descent from the Imams.
The anecdote from the life of Sayyid Husayn about judicial deputation indicates that many Shi‘i ulama in India accepted even controversial rulings as authoritative when issued by the leading mujtahid in the Iraqi shrine cities. The top mujtahids in Awadh, however, never changed their views on another's authority. The lower ranks of mujtahids everywhere may have shown more deference to an-Najafi (and then to Ansari) as the most learned exemplar than did the chief mujtahid in each major city.