Shi‘i, Sunni, Hindu: Communal Relations in Awadh
Religious communalism and separatism have dogged the history of modern South Asia. Various schools of thought have sought to explain this phenomenon differently, but three elements appear generally important. The first—the increasing organization of religious communities for political action and competition for resources—began toward the end of the nineteenth century, helped by growing literacy and mass communications. Second, local community leaders mobilized their religious communities as a means of gaining power. The third is the role of the British, sometimes simplistically depicted as manipulating communal divisions so as to rule more easily. A more sophisticated approach sees post-1858 British attempts at an "even-handed" policy toward religious communities as exacerbating tensions by questioning the dominance of the Muslims and initiating shifts in the communities' relative power.
This book looks at the period before the politicization of religious communities under the British. Yet some preindustrial processes occurred in Shi‘i Awadh which laid the groundwork for greater religious communalism. The Usuli rationalization of government judicial policy emphasized religious affiliation as grounds for discrimination, and the Awadh government often pursued policies inimical to the interests of Hindus and Sunnis. Incipient Shi‘i communalism benefited the Usuli ulama, who promoted it. The British residents in Awadh often intervened in Awadh's communal conflicts, sometimes out of less than altruistic motives, and it is important to discover their effect on communal relations.
The large Hindu and Sunni communities in Awadh posed problems for the Shi‘i ulama and, to a lesser extent, for the Shi‘i state. Both secular and religious ruling institutions have an interest in speading their favored religion. Yet despite that interest, Awadh's nawabs and mujtahids failed in promulgating Shi‘ism as a mass religion. Moreover, the coexistence of vastly different mythologies in one culture, the surreal juxtaposition of Krishna's plain of battle, Kurukshetra, with Husayn's Karbala, demanded either a loose syncretism or a powerful delineation of community boundaries in order to avoid cognitive dissonance. The syncretic solution, often adopted in medieval India, clashed with the rationalizing tendencies of the growing Usuli hierocracy.
Imamis and Hindus
Shi‘i clerics exhibited intolerance of Hinduism, although the Awadh government co-opted rural Hindu elites and employed Hindus in the bureaucracy. Indeed, Shujacu'd-Dawlah's powerful eighteenth-century state owed as much to Hindu ascetic warriors as to the Shi‘i Qizilbash cavalry, as Barnett has shown. Awadh's rulers never resolved the contradiction between ulama hostility to Hindus and relative state tolerance of them. As the Shi‘i ulama began to influence state policy in the 1840s, however, their attitudes toward Hindus became important. Hindus constituted 87 percent of Awadh's population (which probably stood around ten million in the 1850s), and the mujtahids strove to keep Shi‘i practices pure and scriptural in this infidel environment. They also wished to bring Hindus into the Shi‘i fold, to offer them conversion or death.
The Shi‘i concern with Hinduism began at home, since Imami clerics had to define the limits of their community so as to exclude Hindus and their practices. In 1803 MawlavÏ Samic posed this sort of problem for Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali Nasirabadi, pointing out that most Muslims in India disregarded the laws of Islam. Some Shi‘i laymen mourned the Imam Husayn in the Indian manner. He noted that many Hindus, including courtesans, spent great amounts of money and energy to observe the rites of Muharram. He wanted to know whether such groups were ritually pure, allowing association with
them. Nasirabadi replied that a born Muslim who could not be proved to reject any essential doctrines had to be judged a Muslim. But until one knew for sure that someone born an unbeliever had accepted all necessary beliefs, he had to be judged an infidel even though he mourned Imam Husayn.
Mawlavi Samic criticized the behavior of Shi‘i women, saying that most women and even some men, including some from the noble castes, associated with Hindus and followed their ways, believing in astrology and idol worship. Muslim women worshiped the goddess Kali Durga in secret when their children fell ill. Nasirabadi replied that a Muslim woman could only be considered an apostate after investigation had demonstrated her heresy conclusively. He further ruled that a Muslim with right views did not depart from Islam in merely adopting some Sufi or Hindu behavior, short of idol worship. On the other hand, a Hindu of illegitimate birth who converted to Shi‘ism would be saved and considered legitimate because of his love for the Imams. Nasirabadi drew the lines so as to make it hard to exclude a Shi‘i from the community, but possible though difficult to include a Hindu of even doubtful origins. His criteria for membership fell closer to the universality of a formal religious establishment than to the exclusivity of a sect.
The court eunuchs served as another interface between Hinduism and Shi‘ism. The nawabs and their begams enslaved these boys, most often sons of Hindu Rajput warriors captured in battles with the central government, castrating them and bringing them up in their own households. Owing to the patrimonial nature of the Awadh state, the notables often entrusted their eunuchs with official duties, such as managing their owners' estates or even tax-farming entire provinces, transforming them into a mamluk (slave-ruler) substratum of the government. The slave eunuch officials accumulated vast properties that legally belonged to their masters, although they often could influence the disposition of their property, maintaining close ties to their Hindu relatives. When, for instance, a British subject pressed claims against the great tax-farmer Almas ‘Ali Khan, whom Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan owned, the ruler refused to intervene, on the grounds that if he put too much pressure on him the eunuch might transfer his property to Bahu Begam (the nawab's mother) in Faizabad, resulting in a serious loss to the nawab.
The Hindu origin of some important Shi‘i notables led to anomalous inheritance situations. Babu Bacchu Singh, Hindu grand-nephew of Darab ‘Ali Khan, owned the mosque and imambarah of Javahir ‘Ali Khan in Faiza-
bad, where Shi‘is held holy day prayers. The case of Tahsin ‘Ali's estate further attests the continuing ties between the eunuchs and their Hindu relatives: The supervisor of Asafu'd-Dawlab's old harem in Faizabad, he held a land grant (jagir ) in addition to large amounts of movable property. In 1813 he fell seriously ill and informed the British resident that he wished to dispose of his property in a will and without the interference of the nawab. The resident recognized that the nawab had the right to resume his land grant, but at first supported Tahsin ‘Ali's attempt to pass on his movable property to Hindu nephews. He only later realized that according to Islamic law non-Muslims could not inherit from a Muslim. The nawab repossessed his slave's estate, though, under British pressure, he did give the Hindu nephews a stipend.
A second issue was the attitude of Shi‘i clerics, government officials, and laypersons toward Hindus. The clerical attitude can be easily summarized. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali Nasirabadi harbored an almost violent animosity toward Hindus, arguing that the Awadh government should take stern measures against them. He divided unbelievers into three kinds, those (harbi ) against whom Muslims must make war, those (dhimmi ) who have accepted Muslim rule and pay a poll-tax, and those (musta'min ) whom their Muslim rulers have temporarily granted security of life. He insisted that Imami Shi‘ism accepted only Jews and Christians as protected minorities (dhimmis ), and even they could only achieve this status if they observed the ordinances governing it. He differed with Sunni schools that considered Hindus a protected minority.
He wrote that Muslims could only grant infidels personal security (aman ) in a country they ruled for one year, lamenting that the government had long treated as grantees of personal security the Hindus of northern India, who openly followed their idolatrous religion, drinking wine, and sometimes even mating with Sayyid women. He complained that the irreligious Sunni Mughal rulers of India neither made war against the Hindus nor forced them to accept Islam. Legally, nonetheless, the lives and property of Hindus could be licitly taken by Muslims. Nasirabadi shared this rather bloodthirsty attitude with other Muslim clerics, of course. The Sunni Naqshbandi thinker Shah Valiyu'llah (1703-62) wanted the Mughals to ban Hinduism.
The dependence of Muslim rule upon an alliance with Hindu landholders
rendered any such persecution of the majority community wholly impracticable. Short of that, the jurisprudents of the growing Usuli school attempted to throw up communalist barriers between Shi‘is and Hindus. Sayyid Muhammad Quli Kinturi, who worked in the British court at Meerut, wrote a treatise aimed at convincing Shi‘is to treat Hindus as ritually impure. Imami ritual law differed from the Sunni in stressing the pollution of many objects and persons, including non-Muslims. Kinturi explained that Shi‘is, many of them immigrants ignorant of their law, had fallen under the influence of more lax Sunni attitudes. Given that the most abased of Hindu guests would refuse to touch food or utensils in a Muslim home until they were ritually purified, he lamented, it ill beseemed Muslims with their millennium of wealth and rule to neglect to reciprocate this humiliating treatment.
In the 1830s one of Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali's sons ruled that a believer should avoid praying while wearing a ring fashioned by a Hindu, for washing it with water could only expunge its outward impurity. Such ideas percolated through the community, the Hindu origins of many Muslims leading them to practice ritual pollution in any case. Parkes's Muslim servant who married a Hindu widow around 1830 insisted that she convert to Islam because otherwise eating with her would defile him.
The ulama did allow Shi‘is to give food to Hindus. A Shi‘i, citing the qur'anic sentiment that a full believer should help a hungry neighbor, inquired of Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali whether only Muslim neighbors were meant. Lucknow's chief mujtahid replied that apparently the verse meant only Muslims, although he ruled it permissible to share food with an infidel on the verge of starving to death. One of his sons allowed Shi‘is to offer Hindu guests something to drink when they came for a visit during Muharram. Moreover, contact beneficial to Shi‘i ulama was permitted. Sayyid Husayn Nasirabadi (1796-1856), Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali youngest son and a major mujtahid, allowed Shi‘is to take money for teaching infidel children Arabic and Persian.
Sunni schools did not share the Imami conception of the ritual impurity of non-Muslims, developed originally in eighth-century Iraq. Ironically, the promulgation of a stronger sense of purity among Awadh's Shi‘is by the Usuli ulama helped integrate them more fully into one of the central ideologies of
the Indian social system. For Hindus, ritual purity and the elaborate rules for social relations it implied helped underpin the caste system. Awadh's Shi‘is became a sort of caste. Like Brahmins, they would give food to, although not accept food from, outgroups. Ritual purity was only one area in which the Imamis exhibited growing tendencies toward exclusivism and communalism under the impact of nawabi rule and the growth of a Shi‘i hierocracy.
On the other hand, Shi‘is and the Shi‘i government, although they often exploited Hindus, seldom violently persecuted them. Violence most often broke out between the two communities during the Shi‘i mourning month of Muharram, as in Jaunpur in 1776 or Lucknow in 1807. Some Awadh governments showed less tolerance of Hindus than others, those of Nasiru'd-Din Haydar (1827-37) and Amjad ‘Ali Shah (1842-47) being the most anti-Hindu. In 1829 the king forced a Brahmin boy to go through with circumcision even after his family changed their minds about having him convert to Shi‘ism. He told the outraged resident that he had a divine right to dispose of his subjects as he wished. Ricketts angrily retorted that the British Government recognized no such right. When, three months later, Hindus provoked violence by defiling a mosque in Rikabganj, the king vindictively sent troops into the area, who plundered, ripped nose-rings off the faces of Hindu women, and destroyed all forty-seven Hindu temples in that quarter, putting to flight its entire population of three thousand. When rioting threatened to spread to other quarters, the British resident intervened with the king, who reluctantly sent criers through the city warning that he would punish anyone found molesting a Hindu or insulting his temples.
Most Awadh governments considered order more important than keeping Hindus in their places. When, in November 1840, some Hindus defiled a zamindar's mosque with pig's blood, his sons rounded up a crowd of angry Muslims to exact revenge. On 3; December, at the order of the heir apparent, Amjad ‘Ali Mirza, the chief of police took the ringleaders to Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, who ruled that the blasphemer should be apprehended and punished after conviction, but forbade vigilante action. The mob refused to listen to the mujtahid or the police chief. On 4 December two hundred Muslims killed cows, profaned temples, and damaged shops in Yahyaganj and ‘Ayshbagh. British administrator Colonel Sleeman saw such perils of com-
munal violence as an argument for the Indian need of British government, but he exaggerated their frequency and severity.
The last three Awadh rulers initiated programs that enhanced the prestige and the power of the Usuli ulama in north Indian society. Proclerical Shi‘is remembered the twenty years before British annexation as a golden age. Sunni and Hindu writers, on the other hand, deplored the "sectarian narrow-mindedness and crooked religious policy" of such clericalist rulers as Amjad ‘Ali Shah (1842-47). As was seen in chapter 8, Amjad ‘Ali Shah enacted anti-Hindu policies, founding Shi‘i shops to drive Hindu merchants out of business, and rewarding Hindu officials who adopted Imami Shi‘ism. The provision of government welfare monies to only the Shi‘i poor encouraged thousands of Hindus to convert to Shi‘ism in the 1840s, according to clerical sources. Awadh's fiercely Usuli governments showed little understanding of their Hindu subjects, allowing communal resentments to fester, a policy that culminated in a major battle over a religious edifice in Faizabad, discussed later.
Although the Shi‘i ulama may have preached government violence against Hindus, they disapproved of mob action. The growth of a formal Shi‘i establishment and its intermeshing with state institutions like the judiciary · made it possible at times for the mujtahids to enact highly discriminatory policies toward Hindus, whom they viewed as idolaters. The ulama practiced exclusionary closure by urging Shi‘is to treat Hindus as ritually impure (reciprocating Hindu treatment of Muslims), making Shi‘is almost a caste. They used jobs and welfare money to convert Hindu civil servants and urban poor. Since the Usulis had campaigned so hard against Sufism, few Shi‘i pits existed to mediate among Hindu and Shi‘i disciples, and the ulama strove mightily to stop Shi‘is from patronizing Hindu holy men. The Usuli destruction of mediating groups between Muslims and Hindus aided the growth of communalism, of religion-based group identities hostile to one another.
Shi‘i-Sunni Relations in Awadh
The attitude of both the state and the mujtahids to Sunnis differed starkly from their views of Hindus. The Awadh government depended on Sunni troops ever more heavily in the nineteenth century, and Sunnis dominated the middle and lower echelons of many government departments. The Usuli ulama advocated a Shi‘i-Sunni alliance against Hindus and recognized the ritual purity of those Sunnis who loved the family of the Prophet (the major-
ity in Awadh). Still, some Sunni leaders resented Shi‘i dominance, refusing the profferred alliance. Tensions between social classes, and the differential impact of Nishapuri rule. in various parts of Awadh, as well as that of the British in neighboring areas, also helped encourage resentments among some Sunni groups. The triumphalist Usuli insistence on cursing the first caliphs angered many Sunnis and engendered recurring communal riots.
North Indian Muslims showed widespread interest in Imami Shi‘ism during the eighteenth century. The spread of Shi‘ism coincided with a relative decline in the fortunes of the Sunni central Asian and Indian propertied classes centered in Delhi and tied to the fragmenting Mughal Empire. Although some Shi‘is suffered as well, they could often more freely practice their religion under the Europeans than under the Sunni Mughals. Shi‘i Sayyids, Iranians, and Indian notables on the ascendant in Awadh, allied themselves with the British. In fading Delhi, Sufi leader Shah ‘Abdu'l-‘Aziz, who had Shi‘i in-laws, complained that in most households one or two members had adopted Imam Shi‘ism. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali's Shi‘i Sufi nemesis, Mawlavi Samic, said that during his time in India he had noticed great Sunni families gradually adopting Shi‘i ways, first in their prayers, then in marriage ceremonies, burials, and the division of inheritance (some finding Shi‘i law in the last regard more convenient). Mawlavi Samic suggested that Indian Shi‘i clerics, often influenced by their Sunni background, could not be trusted. Still, Shi‘is obviously remained a small minority.
Since the Naqshbandi Sufi order maintained close ties with the Turkish and Afghan notables on the wane, its leaders fulminated most loudly against changing social configurations in the eighteenth century, including the rise of the Shi‘is. The partisans of ‘Ali in Awadh responded vigorously to the attacks issuing from Delhi. The substance of the polemics, centering on the interpretation of early Islamic history and ritual through a biased and uncritical, traditional scholarly apparatus, holds less significance than the social tensions underlying the debate. In these works the Sunni high culture of faltering Delhi squared off against the Shi‘i ambience of vigorous Lucknow, and the Naqshbandi, central Asian tradition of strict Sunni Sufism grappled with the flourishing Usuli school of Iranian and Iraqi provenance. Sunni notables of Delhi watched the decline of the Mughal Empire, as first the Hindu Marathas and then the British East India Company reduced the Mughal
emperor to a figurehead. Crisis-stricken Sunny ulama asked with anguish if the Deity had visited these calamities upon them as punishment for lapses in the way Sunnis practiced Islam.
Within Awadh itself, disputes over the relative virtues (or vices) of Sunni Caliphs Abu Bakr or ‘Umar may have reflected the competition for wealth and power between Sunni Shaykh landholders, claiming descent from the first three caliphs, and Shi‘i Sayyids who vaunted their ancestry in the line of Imam ‘Ali. The writing of Shi‘i polemics and apologetics became a major industry in Awadh, many scholars receiving patronage from rulers and notables for defending the faith. Both Usulis and Akhbaris united in this enterprise. The Akhbari notable Subhan ‘Ali Khan, a deputy chief minister, wrote against Sunnism, sharing his works with the Usuli mujtahids and warning against Sunni attempts to play on Shi‘i divisions. Subhan ‘Ali Khan and his cousin Husayn ‘Ali held that since Abu Bakr and ‘Umar had not directly fought against Imam ‘Ali, they had not fallen into unbelief (kufr ), although the mujtahid Sayyid Husayn Nasirabadi said that even those who did not outwardly battle Imam ‘Ali could in an esoteric sense be unbelievers. The more ecumenical Akhbari stance offended Awadh's own Sunnis less, whereas Sayyid Husayn's position typified Usuli communalism. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali and his student Kinturi both defended the practice of publicly cursing the first caliphs.
Although Sunnis predominated among Awadh Muslims, the anti-Shi‘i Naqshbandi order had little strength there, and many Sunnis living under the nawabs proclaimed their belief in Imam ‘Ali's superiority (tafdil ) over the other claimants to the caliphate while not disputing the legitimacy of the three leaders who preceded ‘Ali in the office. Farangi-Mahallis such as ‘Abdu'l-Acla, son of Bahru'l-‘Ulum, excoriated ‘Ali's enemy, Mucawiyah. Mawlavi Mubin Farangi-Mahalli (d. 1810), who served Asafu'd-Dawlah briefly as judge of the criminal court in the capital, wrote an elegy (Shahadatnamah ) for the Imam Husayn, and also supported ‘Ali's superiority.
Shi‘is often extended more tolerance to Sunnis than to Hindus. The Nasirabadis lived near the Sunni seminary, the Farangi Mahall, where most Shi‘i scholars studied to master the rational sciences. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali
argued that in Awadh Sunnis should be legally treated as Muslims and as equals of the Shi‘is, even though non-Shi‘is would burn in hell in the next world. Although he stigmatized Mughal emperors as despotic pharaohs, he called for an acceptance of all Muslims in Awadh as equals under the law. He proposed an analogy for this situation, citing the early Muslim community in Medina, where the Prophet made no distinction between sincere believers and the hypocrites in their legal treatment. Later in his book on land property laws he made a distinction between Sunnis (mukhalifun ) who recognized other caliphs besides ‘Ali but did not oppose the rights of the Prophet's family, and Sunni enemies (nawasib ) of the Imams. He extended legal status as Muslims during the Occultation to the first category, but held that both kinds of Sunni erred spiritually.
Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali held as ritually pure those Sunnis who bore no enmity toward the Prophet's family, although he urged Shi‘is where possible to patronize Shi‘i artisans. The clerics forbade Shi‘i men to marry Sunni women who expressed enmity toward the Imams, and they had reservations about intermarriage with even ritually pure Sunnis. The Lucknow mujtahids held that although a Shi‘i man could marry a Jewish, Christian, or Sunni' bride, no Shi‘i woman could marry outside her faith. Only if a mujtahid allowed such a marriage could it have any legal status. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali ruled, however, that a Sunni bride who later adopted Shi‘ism did not have to divorce her husband. The Usulis were not as adamant as fierce Sunnis like Shah ‘Abdu'l-‘Aziz, who, ruled that since by Hanafi law Shi‘is were apostates, a Hanafi man should never marry a Shi‘i woman. He held that such alliances would introduce bad religious ideas into the family. Despite strict communalist attitudes among the ulama, Sunni-Shi‘i marriages remained common.
Many Sunnis served in the Awadh bureaucracy, and sometimes scored real victories there. In 1815 Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar dismissed his chief minister, Agha Mir Muctamadu'd-Dawlah, giving charge of public affairs to the proclerical Mirza Hajji, the eunuch Afarin ‘Ali Khan and the latter's agent Mir Khudabakhsh. Ardistani wrote that Mir Khudabakhsh went to
excess in cursing the Sunni caliphs, ordering their names carved into rocks at the foot of urinals. He promoted Shi‘is in the military, and forced many Sunnis to adopt Shi‘ism. In the meantime Agha Mir used his contacts near the nawab, Sunni secretaries upset at Mir Khudabakhsh's hard line on cursing the caliphs, who constantly maligned Mir Khudabakhsh and praised Agha Mir. Sunnis within the Awadh bureaucracy who had access to the nawab formed an alliance with the out-of-power former chief minister to ease out a group inimical to Sunni interests.
Perhaps one of the means employed by Sunni civil servants to combat Mir Khudabakhsh and his masters was to publicize their embezzlement of state funds. A little less than two years after he had been fired, Agha Mir came back to court as chief minister. The nawab dismissed the clique formerly in power, holding them responsible for considerable defalcations in revenue. This incident proves, not the especial corruption of the troika in power in 1815-17, but that it alienated an important and powerful group within the Awadh bureaucracy, the Sunnis.
The traditional Akhbari willingness to compromise with Sunnis gave way before Usuli militancy. An important contradiction underlay Usuli policy toward Sunnis, in that the mujtahids condemned Sunni doctrines but aimed for harmonious relations with Sunnis. In one breath they consigned Sunnis to hell and denied them permission to marry their daughters, and yet proposed a practical alliance of Shi‘i and Sunni elites. The political requirements of running a Mughal-derived successor state made acceptance of Sunnis within the polity a necessity. Yet Shi‘i insistence on cursing the Sunni caliphs and disparaging Sunni beliefs guaranteed that the alliance would be riven with conflict.
Sayyid Ahmad Rai-Barelavi and Growing Sunni Militancy
The practice of exclusionary closure by the Usuli elite in Awadh put in Shi‘i hands a great amount of the country's wealth and power. Along with the
prebendal-feudal class structure wherein tax-farmers and rajas expropriated the surplus produced by Hindu peasants and Sunni artisans, a religious stratification emerged that favored Shi‘is over other religious communities. The Shi‘i rich were the wealthiest in the land, while the Shi‘i poor gained access to government-supplied alms denied to Sunnis and Hindus. A few Sunnis reacted with counterclaims to power and wealth, in effect practicing a kind of social closure that Parkin has termed "usurpation," which aims at "biting into the resources and benefits accruing to dominant groups in society."
The Naqshbandi revivalist movement headed by Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareli from 1817 to 1831 illustrates the greater impact during those years of Delhi-style Sunni communalism on Awadh, and offers a prime example of usurpationary closure. Although the movement had more impact on Peshawar than on Awadh, some comments about it are in order here. Sayyid Ahmad, born in 1786, came of a family in the Awadh town of Rai Bareli with a history of seeking outside military careers and of serving locally as Sufi pits. The family's Sufi disciples often included Afghans from other nearby towns. In the eighteenth century, Afghan soldiers and settlers came into Awadh, bringing with them anti-Shi‘i sentiments from their homeland. In early-nineteenth-century Peshawar the persecuted Shi‘is dared not admit their faith, and the fierce Sunni majority forbade them to take out processions with cenotaphs to honor the Imam Husayn. Afghan military gentry colonizing Awadh integrated themselves into the local culture and formed alliances with settled old Muslim families by joining local Sufi orders.
From the eighteenth century the central Asian Naqshbandi order began to establish itself among some Sayyids in the Rai Bareli district, at the same time as other Sayyids adopted Shi‘ism. Naqshbandi Sufism was at the nexus of relations between declining Sunni elites in the qasabahs and newly arrived Afghans, and the exclusivist Sunnism the latter brought with them from central Asia may have influenced their Naqshbandi pirs in Awadh. In North India, where Shi‘i anti Hindu usages much affected local Muslims, the breezes blowing from beyond the Khyber looked like a kind of reformism.
Although Rai Bareli lay in the fertile, wealthy Baiswara area, the Sunni Muslim service gentry based in certain of the district's small towns demon-
strably suffered financial decline in the opening decades of the nineteenth century. Indeed, many service qasabahs in North India suffered the same fate. In the 1830s Butter found Rai Bareli to be a decayed town of only 8,000 inhabitants, with only 500 to 600 Muslims. He said the population of this formerly booming textile center had declined sharply from 50,000 since the turn of the century. He saw some new Hindu temples, indicating some wealth in that community, but no new mosques. Part of the town's rapid decline derived from the excessive demands made by big tax-farmers (chakladars ) appointed from Lucknow, whose expropriations forced Mahajan capitalists to leave the place. Large landholders in the area also made the waterways accessible to Rai Bareli unusable for commerce because of the high imposts they charged boats for passing through their territories.
Politically, as well, the area's Sunni small landholders had suffered. Opportunities for military and bureaucratic service outside the area declined quickly as the East India Company gobbled up North India. In Baiswara the Hindu raja of Tiloi paid unusually low taxes to Lucknow and maintained a good deal of local autonomy as the central government grew weaker. Shi‘i Sayyids in qasabahs such as Nasirabad, from whose ranks Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali had emerged, profited most. Three-fourths of Nasirabad's Sayyids adopted Shi‘ism in the eighteenth century, being rewarded by special land grants from Nawab Asafu'd-Dawlah.
Sayyid Ahmad, his family in Rai Bareli rendered indigent by the town's decline, left it with some other adolescent companions to seek menial jobs in Lucknow as bearers or hat-seamsters, finally finding work with a notable. Perhaps finding such work demeaning, Sayyid Ahmad left for Delhi, where he employed his family's network of Sufi contacts to become a student of Shah ‘Abdu'i-‘Aziz's, the Naqshbandi leader. In 1812 he enlisted in the mercenary army of Nawab Amir Khan, who fought the British on behalf of the Marathas in central India until 1817, when Sayyid Ahmad found himself once again without gainful employment.
During the period 1817-21 Sayyid Ahmad traveled about North India as a Sufi pir, organizing on a grass-roots level. Like others in the Mujaddidi Naqshbandi line founded by Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi in the seventeenth century, Sayyid Ahmad Rai-Barelavi attacked the doctrine of existential monism (wahdatal-wujud ) and the practice of listening to music, and also attempted to
expunge from his Sunni followers what he saw as Shi‘i and Hindu accretions. He called it an error to prefer ‘Ali to the other caliphs, or to honor Imam Husayn more than the earlier companions of the Prophet. Finally, he attacked the practice of making replicas of the Imam Husayn's standard and tomb, which he placed in the same category as constructing idols. As for Hindu usages, he promoted the remarriage of widows and forbade ancestor worship. His movement came to have a social content, since he considered all traditional illicit cesses and imposts on petty traders, peasants, and artisans as anti-Islamic.
Although he succeeded in attracting as his disciples some younger members of the Shah Valiyu.llah family in Delhi, Sayyid Ahmad never emerged as a mass leader in Awadh, despite his personal popularity among some Sunni groups. The Sunni zamindars around Salon repulsed his missionaries, reaffirming their commitment to Muharram processions with cenotaphs for the Imam Husayn. The Sufi pit of Salon likewise rejected his overtures, and Butter found Awadh's Muslims less attracted to him than those of Rohilkhand to the north or Bengal in the southeast.
Sayyid Ahmad's activities in the upper Doab were traced by one of Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali's students, Musharraf ‘Ali Khan. He said Sayyid Ahmad had the cenotaphs of his Sufi followers in Saharanpur burned. The Shi‘is in the area vigorously protested, and the British therefore expelled him. He went then to Meerut, but the British judge there had already heard about him and also ordered him out. (It may be that Sayyid Muhammad Quli Kinturi, a Shi‘i court official in Meerut, helped to have him expelled.) He next went to the princely state of Rampur, but the Sunni ulama there objected to his teachings, and the nawab, then a Sunni, asked him to leave. He had a similarly brief stay in Bareilly. He then returned to his hometown in Awadh, having failed to find a secure base in British India or to attract the patronage of a Muslim ruler.
In October (Muharram) of 1819 violence very nearly broke out in the district of Rai Bareli between Naqshbandi revivalists and Shi‘is. The dominant Shi‘i Sayyids of Nasirabad informed their Sunni cousins, who held only one of the town's four neighborhoods, that they intended to pronounce imprecations openly on the caliphs in the Sunni quarter. The Sunnis sent to Sayyid Ahmad in Rai Bareli for help, and he replied, promising he would arrive on the evening of the eighth of Muharram when the cursing would take place. He gathered a band of Sunnis from Rai Bareli and Afghans from Jahanabad,
who had been Sufi disciples of his family for generations, and set off for Nasirabad with two hundred men.
The perplexed Shi‘is sent to Lucknow for help from Chief Mujtahid Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali. Meanwhile, a district reporter got news of the disturbance even more quickly to the Awadh ruler, Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar, who turned it over to his chief minister, Muctamadu'd-Dawlah. The chief minister, aware that Nasirabad lay in the jagir of his political rival Badshah Be-gam, wished to prolong the disturbance so that he could convince the British resident to let him take over the territory and put it in order. He therefore dispatched Awadh troops to the scene of the trouble led by Sunni commanders with sympathies toward Sayyid Ahmad, and ordered Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali not to interfere. The nawab's troops arrived in Nasirabad and forced the Shi‘is to pledge not to curse the caliphs openly, which Sayyid Ahmad's forces interpreted as a victory.
Thereafter, as a peace offering, the chief minister invited Sayyid Ahmad to Lucknow, where he associated with notables and gave sermons for several weeks. Usuli students of Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali's and Sunni Farangi-Mahallis' opposed him. A popular figure, he nevertheless had little success in spreading his teachings among the masses. Pathans in the Awadh army applauded his militancy, forcing the Shi‘i government to deal with him gently. His advisers kept him from attacking Shi‘ism while in Lucknow, fearing violence. He did, however, praise the Sunni caliphs. After further organizing in Bengal, Sayyid Ahmad and seven hundred followers set out on pilgrimage to Mecca in 1821, to stress their orthodoxy. There he may have encountered the strict reformist ideas of the Arabian followers of Ibn ‘Abdu'l-Wahhab, but he had already drawn the main lines of his reformist Sufi doctrine (which owed more, I have argued, to the confluence of Peshawar and Rai Bareli than to Najd).
They returned to Awadh, but in 1826 set out on a holy war against the Sikhs. Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar reported this development to the British resident, who wrote to Calcutta:
His majesty the King of Oude has been in some alarm from an individual by the name of Syyed Ahmed, a Sectary of the Soonnee Persuasion, having seduced a great many soldiers & etc. from his Service;—and his Majesty informing me that he is a very dangerously factious person, and is about to leave Oude with many followers, and may with them join the enemies of the Government.
The Awadh ruler said he did not arrest Sayyid Ahmad, out of fear that his
soldiers might either disobey or convert to his cause. He therefore allowed him to leave Awadh quietly, but informed the British government. Sayyid Ahmad's subsequent career in Peshawar, Punjab, and Kashmir falls beyond our purview. After five years of fighting the Sikhs and attempting to organize the suspicious Pukhtuns to their north, he and four hundred fighters were massacred in May 1831 in Kashmir by an army led by Ranjit Singh's son and aided by Hindu zamindars fearful of Sayyid Ahmad's recruitment of 3,000 Muslim peasants to his revolt in the area.
Sayyid Ahmad Rai-Barelavi's Naqshbandi "Muhammadiyyah" movement represented a religious and social protest against the decline of Sunni political power, the downward mobility of the Sunni intermediate strata, the deterioration of Sunni towns, and the subjugation of Sunni peasants by the British and by Hindu and Sikh rajas. Although an urban man, he threw his lot in with Muslim tribesmen and peasants threatened with Sikh domination, becoming a social bandit and adopting messianic rhetoric. He made the Punjab a staging area for a future move against the British and Shi‘i Awadh. Afghan landholders, settled near Delhi, who chafed under British rule and resented Sikh advances, supported him financially.
Although the movement's protests against un-Islamic taxes on tradespeople and its anti-imperialist fervor or lent it a progressive aura, Sayyid Ahmad's statelet in the Peshawar region simply continued in a novel fashion patrimonial and prebendal-feudal forms of government. His Naqshbandi state would have oppressed the vast Hindu majority in North India. Despite the genuine discontents to which it appealed, Rai-Barelavi's revivalism had too narrow a base to succeed, and he attracted only a small number of fighters. This lower-middle-class Sunni attempt at usurpationary closure against Shi‘i Awadh failed. The limited effect of the movement on North India has been overblown by later writers, who have paid little attention to its social, economic, and cultural context. Still, Naqshbandi communalism emanating both from Delhi and from Rai-Barelavi's scattered initiates constituted a challenge to Awadh Shi‘is.
Sunni-Shi‘i Issues in Awadh, 1827-1847
Outbreaks of violence between Shi‘is and Sunnis in nineteenth-century Awadh depended partially on policy decisions by ruling and religious elites.
The mujtahids became even more insistent on public cursing of the caliphs, one cause of violence, after the 1819 creation of an independent Shi‘i state. Since many Sunnis revered the Prophet's family and marched at Muharram, only cursing the caliphs established a Shi‘i identity decisively. Requiring such imprecations became a means of social closure. A second cause of disputes, government policy, played an even more central role. Where the government actively persecuted Sunnis with military force, violent incidents increased. Where the government planned Muharram procession routes so as to avoid conflict and used troops to prevent it, the violence decreased.
The third factor, increasing Sunni militance on some issues, involved a stronger Sunni reply to perceived Shi‘i insults. Finally, the British resident influenced episodes of communal violence, and British motives will be explored below. Greater Shi‘i and Sunni militancy contributed in the 1820s to escalating violence among Awadh's religious communities. Mrs. Ali wrote that at Muharram every large city in India witnessed serious quarrels, often ending in bloodshed. While many Sunnis joined in Muharram ceremonies, some increasingly denounced the rites, the likely meaning of Mrs. Ali's cryptic remark that "the Soonees are violently opposed to the celebration" of Muharram. This sentiment might have resulted from Naqshbandi propaganda, but may also have simply reflected a natural Sunni reaction to Shi‘i dominance.
The frequent urban disturbances of the late 1820s coincided with an economic downturn in North India, and Awadh's rulers took a hard Shi‘i line, having little interest in mollifying Sunnis and Hindus. Even Farangi-Mahall scholars, who generally maintained proper relations with the government, experienced strains, and one Mawlana Haydar in 1824 had to leave Awadh after a dispute with the king about religion. In the 1820s Chief Minister Agha Mir allowed ritual cursing by Shi‘is in the bazaars during Muharram. Shi‘is often accosted Hindus, and people feared to come and go in the markets. When men came to blows, the Shi‘i chief of police arrested Hindus and Sunnis rather than Shi‘is. In 1827 Nasiru'd-Din Haydar, an even more extremist Shi‘i, acceded to the throne.
In 1828 Muharram fell in torrid July. The monarch issued a warning "ordering those who could not passively hear the execrations against the Califs, always vented at this season, either to quit the City, or strictly confine themselves to their own homes." On the tenth of Muharram a fight broke out at the Karbala of Makarimnagar, where both Sunnis and Shi‘is went to
bury their cenotaphs. A group of Mewatis, low-caste converts to Sunni Islam from a Hindu Meo background, had a grudge with Shi‘is whom they met at the Karbala. A Mewati killed a Shi‘i with a pistol shot, and Shi‘is in turn cut him down. Mewatis, many of them soldiers and so well armed, gathered at the Karbala in great numbers, as did the Shi‘is. The ensuing battle left six killed and nine wounded.
Nasiru'd-Din Haydar, furious, ordered government troops to the quarter of the Mewatis, who, meanwhile, had fled for British territory. The king commanded Daroghah Muzaffar ‘Ali Khan to bring up artillery and plunder and destroy their dwellings. Mir Fazl ‘Ali, his chief minister, vainly opposed this course of action as invidious, but Nasiru'd-Din Haydar listened to Muzaffar ‘Ali Khan's extremist views. The army indulged in an orgy of looting, razing four hundred structures while white clouds of smoke billowed above the city. The resident feared that Sunnis might rise against the minority government and that the displaced Mewatis would turn to banditry in British territory. He intervened with the king, who defended his actions, saying the Mewatis had committed aggression. Gradually the violence ceased. The resident observed that thinking Shi‘is condemned the king's policy, and that "all other sects have a feeling of fear for what may in future be their own fate."
Muharram that year lasted for a full forty days by royal decree, as a result of a vow Nasiru'd-Din Haydar said he once took when ill. The resident pressured the king not to carry through this measure, a hardship to Sunnis and Hindus who had to postpone marriages and suffered business losses. He proved intransigent, and Ricketts determined to dissuade the king from enforcing the longer mourning period the next year. The governor-general agreed that the resident was right to intervene in the Mewati affair, expressing concern about the bloodshed in both Lucknow and Faizabad. In July 1829 Muharram passed without major incident, but Nasiru'd-Din Haydar once again extended the official mourning period to forty days. Muzaffar ‘Ali Khan convinced the king that he had to defy the resident in order to prove himself an independent sovereign. But pressure from the British (worried that religious violence might involve their troops) and from level-headed members of his own government caused Nasiru'd-Din Haydar to moderate his hard line on Muharram cursing.
Although the king often quarreled with Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, on this issue they agreed. He asked Sayyid Muhammad whether it was permissible to curse the first three caliphs openly during Muharram, in view of
the public disturbances it caused. Nasirabadi replied that Shi‘is could not practice pious dissimulation in a Shi‘i-ruled state (darash-Shi‘ah ). The Shi‘i ruler should address any public disturbances by suppressing them rather than by forsaking the ritual prescribed by the faith. He added that in early Islamic times their enemies cursed the Imams and no one went out of his way to stop them. Sayyid Muhammad's recognition of Awadh as a Realm of the Shi‘ah contrasts starkly with his father's view of it as a province of the Sunni Mughal Empire.
Colonel Sleeman, later British resident in Awadh, said that Sayyid Muhammad held cursing the caliphs to be as necessary a ritual obligation for Shi‘is as sounding the call to prayer or slaughtering the cows of Hindus. He wrote that although Shi‘is in British-ruled territory said their curses privately and in whispers for fear of the civil government, in Awadh they uttered them aloud at the encouragement of the Shi‘i rulers. Still, Nasirabadi disapproved of meetings held by notable Shi‘is who read obscenities and racy satirical verses about the Sunni Caliph ‘Umar, drawing a distinction between ritual curses and obscenities.
Some local Sunnis began to reciprocate the hard line of the Shi‘i secular and religious leaders in the 1830s. In 1833 Mirza Ahmad Faruqi, a Sunni scholar from Delhi settled in Lucknow, retold the Karbala tragedy in his sermon after Friday prayers. The sermon, written down and passed about, reached Naqshbandi leader Rashidu'd-Din Dihlavi in Delhi, who wrote Faruqi a letter asserting that the martyrdom of Husayn was not established for Sunnis. On hearing of this, Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi asked the Sunni scholars in Lucknow for a ruling on the issue, to which Mufti Zuhuru'llah Farangi-Mahalli, daroghah of the religious court, replied with a ruling that Husayn's martyrdom was in doubt.
Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi penned a long response, noting that in Awadh close contact with Shi‘is had caused Sunnis to pay more than their former respect to the family of the Prophet. He criticized Sunnis who ruled it impermissble to call Husayn a martyr, who held the Umayyad Yazid to be a rightful caliph, and who said that relating the events of Karbala in sermons showed disrespect to some of the companions of the Prophet. In this period, some Sunnis also began praising the very figures the Shi‘is cursed. Mawlavi Turab ‘Ali Lakhnavi (1798-1864), who taught rational sciences to a generation of Sunni and Shi‘i scholars, wrote a treatise on the virtues of the third
Sunni caliph, ‘Uthman. On the other hand, some Sunni figures defended mourning the Imam Husayn. ‘Abdu'l-Vajid of Farangi Mahall wrote a book in which he justified Muharram practices for Sunnis. Gharib Shah Shahjahanpuri, a Sufi leader and zamindar with Shi‘i leanings, encouraged his disciples to construct tombs for the Imam even when other Pathans abandoned the practice.
The increasing communal barriers between Sunnis and Shi‘is can be seen in a dispute that broke out when a Sunni government secretary joined congregational prayers at a Shi‘i mosque. A Shi‘i cleric objected, and the Sunni delivered a note to his house, full of abuse. The cleric asked Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abbas Shushtari to reply. Shushtari wrote that Sunni did not accept the absolute caliphate of ‘Ali, which the Shi‘i call to prayer proclaims, and that a Sunni could only pray hypocritically at a Shi‘i mosque. Moreover, he said, a Shi‘i mosque might be defiled if a non-Shi‘i entered it.
Amjad ‘Ali Shah (r. 1842-47), a blatant communalist, cut off the stipends of many Sunnis and Hindus, employing Shi‘is as the heads of every government office. Because he thought Sunnis and Hindus ritually impure, he forbade them to write the names of God, the Prophet, his daughter Fatimah, or the Twelve Imams on official letters, and hired Shi‘i secretaries to write the holy names. The heir apparent, Vajid ‘Ali, at one point forced several reluctant Sunni secretaries (munshis ) to embrace Shi‘ism.
The Awadh government, in the wake of its 1819 declaration of independence, vaunted its Shi‘ism and placed Sunnis under disabilities (such as having to listen to Shi‘i curses on their beloved caliphs). This policy. promoted by the Usuli ulama. provoked several violent incidents in the 1820s and 1830s, alarming the British residents. The British intervened to ensure order, largely out of pragmatic motives. They feared that the minority Shi‘i government might be pulled down and replaced by a more radical Sunni or Hindu state less complaisant toward the British. They also saw the possibility that persecuted Sunnis like the Mewatis would flee to British territories and form bandit gangs.
After 1837 the Awadh government, threatened with annexation by the British, sought to prevent Sunni-Shi‘i violence. In the 1840s Shi‘is expressed their triumphalism through the bestowal of more wealth, jobs, and patronage on Shi‘is than on Sunnis, and the exclusion of Sunnis from lucrative positions (including the office of chief minister). Security measures in the cities pre-
vented such invidious policies from resulting in riots, but they evoked Sunni resentment. visible in the major communal conflict of the 1850s, over a Hindu temple near Faizabad. Awadh's stridently pro-Shi‘i policies also provided the British, ever looking for evidence of Indian rulers' unsuitedness to rule, with an image of the oriental despot arbitrarily oppressing his people.
The Faizabad Temple Dispute and the Shi‘i Ulama
Any exploration of communal relations in Awadh must consider the conflict over a Hindu temple, which some Sunni Muslims claimed as the former site of a mosque, and which nearly exploded into civil war in 1855. The Shi‘i government and the mujtahids had to take a stance on the dispute, so that all three of Awadh's major religious communities became involved. Moreover, the British intervened forcefully, providing insights into their role in Awadh's communal relations in the 1850s. Did they by their intervention unwittingly exacerbate communal tensions? Or did they prevent a major Sunni-Hindu conflagration?
The 1855 dispute began when a Sunni zealot named Shah Ghulam Husayn started a campaign against the Hindu temple establishment in Faizabad dedicated to the Ramayana's monkey-god, Hanuman. The Muslim crusaders claimed that the site had originally supported a mosque subsequently supplanted by the Hanumangarhi. Shah Ghulam Husayn's followers clashed in July 1855 with thousands of Hindus, ending in a massacre of the zealots in a mosque at Ayodhya, a suburb of Faizabad. The news of, this military defeat inflicted on Muslims by Hindu holy men and their supporters (among them large landholders and their peasants from the Hindu countryside) inflamed Sunni and Shi‘i passions throughout North India. Sayyid ‘Ali Deoghatavi, Faizabad's Imami prayer leader, visited the mosque during the investigations ordered by the government. The issue split the Shi‘i population between those very religiously committed and the secular officials; Faizabad Shi‘i administrators like Mirza Acla ‘Ali took measures against Sunni mobs to keep the peace.
Vajid ‘Ali Shah enjoyed Hindu festivals and plays about Krishna, but as an Usuli he believed in Shi‘i rule and superiority. Furious about the killing of Muslims by Hindus at the mosque, he nevertheless wanted Sunni ringleaders apprehended as troublemakers. His officials in Faizabad sought to defuse the situation. The governor of Sultanpur and Faizabad, Agha ‘Ali Khan,
attempted to pacify the Muslims under his jurisdiction, while the Hindu Raja Man Singh controlled Hindus.
The governor's conciliatory approach provoked resentment in Lucknow among Muslim militants, including Chief Mujtahid Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi. On 24 August 1855 he conducted Holy Day prayers at the Great Imambarah in the presence of the heir apparent, the chief minister, and multitudes of notables close to the court. At the end of the service he denounced the governor, Agha ‘Ali Khan, and all those he said had taken bribes to side with the Hindus. The officers of state greeted this outburst with embarrassed silence. A Sunni delegation then sought a ruling. from him, asking if he accounted the slain Sunnis martyrs, and whether individual Muslims should avenge their deaths. Sayyid Muhammad cautiously replied that the Muslim state had a duty to put an end to the wickedness of the infidels. He steadfastly refused to encourage mob action, insisting that the Shi‘i state had a duty to intervene on the Muslim side. The implication, that if the king refused to act, nothing could be done, angered Sunni vigilantes eager to set out independently.
On 30 August, Outram, the resident, met with Chief Minister ‘Ali Naqi Khan. The Awadh government endeavored to avoid taking a decision bound to offend Muslims or Hindus or the British by putting the whole matter in the chief mujtahid's lap. It proposed that the commission of inquiry headed by Agha ‘Ali Khan be disbanded and replaced by Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi. The chief minister also insisted that the evidence for the existence of a mosque at the Hanumangarhi was good. The resident took strong exception to both points, blaming Shah Ghulam Husayn and his followers for provoking the violence. He allowed that the chief mujtahid could take part in the investigations, but demanded that the final decision be made by the king. He further objected to Nasirabadi's rulings urging retaliation against the Hindus. ‘Ali Naqi Khan explained that given the way the questioners framed their inquiries, no other answer could have been given.
On the same day, the government investigative commission announced its conclusion that no mosque existed at the Hanumangarhi, at least in the past twenty-five to thirty years, and most probably never had. Western descriptions of the temple thirty years earlier bear out the first part of this conclusion. In Lucknow pandemonium broke loose, with Muslim vigilante groups forming. A certain militant, Mawlavi Amir ‘Ali Amethavi, among the Sunni ulama calling for holy war, had earlier been brought to the capital
from Amethi to meet with Vajid ‘Ali Shah. The king, aware of the appeal for his Sunni military men of the mawlavi's brand of communalist militancy, wished to pacify him, offering him a robe of honor and pledging to send Rs. 15,000 to Mecca on his behalf. He may also have promised him that a mosque would be built at the side of the temple. In a flash of lower-middle-class pride, the mawlavi told, the king that he was not a revenue collector, to accept a robe of honor.
When news of the commission's findings broke, Mawlavi Amir ‘Ali left for his qasabah base again with two hundred men, in protest. Court emissaries failed to convince him to return to the capital, but he did agree to wait one month to see if the mosque was restored at the Hanumangarhi. Outram, meanwhile, worried that Vajid ‘Ali Shah's Muslim troops, approving of the mawlavi's cause, might well refuse to fight him. Vajid ‘Ali's own proposal for compromise involved building a small mosque onto the side of the temple to the monkey-god, with its own door entering from the side, thus preserving the building's sanctity for Hindus while meeting Muslim demands. But the Hindu Vairagis, or holy men, at the temple rejected the proposal out of hand. In the meantime the king began pressuring prominent ulama to support the government in the face of the challenge posed to it by the holy-war movement.
The Sunni warriors thought that the king considered Hindus a protected minority (dhimmi ) in Shi‘i law and that he held holy war (jihad ) forbidden during the Occultation. Vajid ‘Ali may have held the first belief, but the Usuli ulama did not. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali denied protected-minority status to Hindus, as idolaters. Rather, the Mughal, Hanafi tradition sometimes extended protection to Hindus. The Imamis did hold that in the absence of the sinless Imam no one could lead an offensive war. From Buyid times, however, Shi‘is recognized the possibility of defensive holy war, and Usulis in Iraq and Iran emphasized defensive jihad in the nineteenth century in response to the Russian threat to lran. Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi permitted holy war in the time of the Occultation whenever the lands of Islam were attacked. No such grave situation existed in Faizabad, however, so that Shi‘is did not phrase their calls for retaliation against the Hindus in the idiom of holy war.
The Awadh government elicited a more specific ruling from Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, asking:
Q. What is your guidance concerning those who go to Faizabad to fight the Hindus? For they desire to take revenge on them for their uncivilized behavior with the mosque and the Qur'an. According to the Law is it permissible for them to go there and fight, and will this be rewarded? Or is it forbidden?
A. Without the participation and aid of the customary-law ruler or the Islamic-law ruler, such actions are in no wise permissible. God knows best.
The customary-law (‘urf ) ruler was, clearly, the king, whereas the ruler in Islamic law was the Imam (which in itself provides a clue as to how the Imami clerics really perceived their Shi‘i government).
But in a later ruling Sayyid Muhammad went beyond this terse answer, replying: "Under these circumstances the order for waging the Jehad does not apply; but the sovereign has the right to build the Musjid [mosque]—and the Hindu Ryots ought not to disobey." Nasirabadi sympathized with the grievances of the jihad movement, but he wished to obviate such vigilante tactics by putting pressure on the ruler to intervene against the Hindus himself.
The resident had objected to Sayyid Muhammad's call for the king to make Hindus pay blood money for Muslims killed at the Ayodhya mosque. But he attempted to make use of his later rulings by pressuring ‘Ali Naqi Khan, in view of the chief mujtahid's prohibition on a holy war, to declare the mawlavi and his followers traitors deserving death. The chief minister warned that premature military action would cause needless bloodshed. On the other hand, Outram took strong exception to Sayyid Muhammad's call for the government to build the mosque. Vajid ‘Ali Shah denied any intention of forcibly building a mosque at the temple site, but called ridiculous Hindu claims to whatever ground their monkey-god had trod.
With the arrival of October the resident handed the king a warning that he would be held personally responsible if he attempted to build a mosque next to the temple or if he allowed Muslims to attack Hindus. Dalhousie and Outram were warning him that his kingdom would be annexed unless he crushed the holy-war movement. Vajid ‘Ali Shah received the communication with emotion, pledging to do his duty. Outram speculated that the king had been relying on the British to quell any Hindu uprising. The chief minister had certainly asked for British help in fighting Amir ‘Ali, but was rebuffed. Although the volunteers in the mawlavi's militia tended to be lower
middle class and laborers, he received financial assistance from influential families, so that the movement began to pose a threat to Awadh's stability.
September, coinciding with the mourning month of Muharram, had brought fresh communal violence. To demonstrate their dissatisfaction, Muslims in Lucknow left fifteen replicas of Imam Husayn's tomb unburied. Sunnis and Shi‘is quarreled over greater Sunni willingness to employ Muharram symbols for protest. In Zaydpur the powerful Shi‘i Sayyids insisted on burying their cenotaphs, clashing with followers of Amethavi, who did not want them interred until the mosque was built at Ayodhya. In Sihala, the campaigners' base, the mawlavi's men attacked Hindus, breaking into temples to destroy their idols. Alarmed, Vajid ‘Ali belatedly agreed to order Hindu troops in Faizabad to guard the Hanumangarhi.
Mawlavi Amir ‘Ali moved gradually through small towns on the way to Faizabad. Vajid ‘Ali Shah threatened his governors and revenue officials with severe sanctions should they support the mawlavi , with some success. He knew that his Shi‘i troops at Daryabad could be depended upon to fight the campaigners if it came to that. Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi's commitment to law and order waivered when he saw that the king intended to bow to British pressure in neither punishing the Hindus involved in the massacre at the Ayodhya mosque (which the resident saw as self-defense) nor building a mosque at the temple site. Outram reported that Amir ‘Ali was said to be "urged on by the High Priest, who is reported to have replied insolently to the Minister's remonstrances."
A turning point came on about 20 October, when a group of Sunni ulama supportive of the government went to Daryabad to debate Mawlavi Amir ‘Ali. They included several employees of the Awadh government, such as Mufti Muhammad Yusuf Farangi-Mahalli and Mufti Sacdu.llah Moradabadi. Independent members of the Farangi-Mahall family adamantly backed the holy war, creating a split in the ranks of the Sunni ulama. The pro-government clerics successfully debated the mawlavi , undermining his support both among lay followers and in the king's army.
The lower-middle-class nature of the holy-war movement contributed to the unfolding tragedy. Many of the mawlavi's followers had given up their shops or service to follow him and now threatened to murder him if he did not proceed to Faizabad soon. When negotiations finally broke down on November 7, the holy warriors met the government's Shi‘i regulars, reinforced reluctantly by the private armies of Shi‘i tacalluqdars such as the Mahmudabads, and were mown down.
The Hanumangarhi dispute involved several levels of social closure. Social class and religious identity played a part, since the holy-war movement was spearheaded by lower-middle-class Sunni clerics and their followers, who had sold their shops or given up their service to join it and so had a total commitment to its sectarian goals. The resentments of these Sunnis against the wealthy Hindu rajas and merchants who supported the Hanu-mangarhi was fueled by Sunni loss of power in Shi‘i Awadh and by growing Hindu political influence. Amethavi's sectarian movement, in addition, attracted the support of Sunni ulama and notables not closely connected with the Awadh court, echoing the appeal thirty years earlier of Sayyid Ahmad Rai-Barelavi to some of the same, out of power, groups.
The conflict caused a split within the ruling Shi‘i establishment. The Usuli ulama and their followers supported Amethavi's demands even while deploring his vigilante tactics. The central officers of the state in Lucknow and Faizabad, on the other hand, sought compromise. Barred from that course by British support for the Hindus, they acquiesced in the resident's demand that they destroy Amethavi's movement. The British showed "evenhandedness" in affirming Hindu rights, partially out of a hard-nosed political calculation of the consequences of a major Hindu-Muslim clash in Awadh. Convinced that the majority Hindus might well win or provoke a major conflict that would draw in British forces, they forced the Muslim government to give up its privileges. Hindus sensed British support for their position, which may have made them more assertive and intransigent.
Communal relations in Awadh under eighteenth-century nawabs differed greatly from those under the "shahs" of the mid-nineteenth century. Asafu'd-Dawlah gave privileges to Hindu holy men as well as Muslim ones, to Hindu pilgrims to Allahabad as well as Shi‘i pilgrims to Karbala. Communal relations, hardly idyllic, nevertheless depended on Mughal traditions of personal status, which affirmed Muslim superiority but recognized the right of Hindus to exist. Mediators among religious communities, in the form of Sufi pirs and Hindu holy men, abounded and even won influence at court.
The Usuli ulama sought to rationalize communal relations on a different basis. They claimed a special, exclusive relationship with Shi‘i laymen (including notables), who were bound to emulate them in matters of law and ritual, and countenanced no competition from Sufis or Hindu holy men.
They legally excluded Hindus from a legitimate status under the Awadh state, although they had few means until the 1840s to interfere in the actual workings of communal law. Their demand for the social exclusion of Hindus as ritually impure idolaters received scant response from the Shi‘i-ruled state, which depended on Hindu elites to help it rule. In the process of socially excluding Hindus, ironically, Shi‘is adopted an idiom that made them more like a caste.
The contradictory policy advocated by Shi‘i ulama toward Sunnis involved the exclusion of hard-line Sunnis like the Naqshbandis, leniency toward Sunnis who participated in Muharram rituals, and a political alliance with Sunnis against Hindus. Ironically, the challenges to Shi‘i dominance in Awadh came, not from Hindus, but from Sunni sectarian movements, such as those of Sayyid Ahmad Rai-Barelavi and Amir ‘Ali Amethavi. Usuli insistence on cursing the caliphs, more strident after the inception of the Shi‘i kingdom, alienated many Sunnis and helped provoke a backlash. Violently anti-Sunni policies of the Awadh government in the 1820s and 1830s gave way under both external British and internal pressures to more juridical forms of exclusion in the 1840s and 1850s. Both Usuli communalist policies at the center and increasing decentralization in the countryside, implying greater power for Hindu rajas and merchants, help explain Sunni frustrations in the 1850s.