The Mujtahids and the West: From Accommodation to Annexation and Revolt
The growth of a Shi‘i state and of a Shi‘i religious establishment in Awadh occurred at a time of European colonial expansion, giving events there a unique twist. The Safavids and the medieval Indian Shi‘i states dealt with mercantilist Europeans, but their main foes were Sunni land-based powers. From late in the eighteenth century, Nishapuri Awadh, like Qajar Iran, moved primarily in a diplomatic, military, and economic world dominated by the British. Both Iran and Awadh allied themselves with the British in the face of external threats (the Russians for Iran, the Marathas and Afghans for Awadh), and both saw their British ally become itself a threat to their independence. Awadh, uncomfortably close to Calcutta, felt British influence and pressure more acutely than did Iran. The British residents in Lucknow became far more than ambassadors, gaining influence over Awadh notables, over government monies, and over the Awadh military's hired British troops.
The British encirclement of Awadh raises the question of how the Shi‘i religious establishment responded to the European presence from the late eighteenth century through annexation and the revolt ("Mutiny") of 1857-59. Some important Shi‘i ulama in Iran took a strong anti-Russian line in the 1820s, although the full story of their complex relations with the Western powers in the first half of the nineteenth century has yet to be told. How did
Awadh's Shi‘i ulama view British power, British economic imports, and the impact of mercantile and then industrial capitalism? How did they respond to British interference in Awadh's internal affairs, and how did they react to the 1856 annexation? What role did the Shi‘i ulama play in the Awadh revolt of 1857-59? These crucial questions appear not to have been posed, much less answered.
The British Impact
The strategic decision Awadh's rulers made from 1766 to ally themselves with the Bengal-based British East. India Company proved fateful. Since their treaty with the EIC limited their armed forces, the nawabs had to rely on the British for their own external security. The East India Company remained a highly ambiguous ally, and the nawabs found themselves riding a tiger. The Nishapuris did draw some benefit from the alliance. In 1774 Shujacu'd-Dawlah drew the British into helping him annex the Ruhilkhand. Twenty years later Asafu'd-Dawlah again mounted a joint venture, the invasion of Rampur. On the negative side of the ledger, however, Barnett has demonstrated that after 1775 the governor-general's demands on the Awadh treasury for tribute grew insatiable. By 1779 the sums demanded quadrupled, amounting to half the gross income of the nawabi government. Awadh notables responded by hiding revenue locally, resisting further British demands.
At the same time that the East India Company attempted to extract revenue from the nawabi government, private British traders sought profits through penetrating the region's markets. Early British residents in Lucknow gained a monopoly over Awadh's most lucrative export, saltpeter for the manufacture of gunpowder. Shujacu'd-Dawlah, conscious of the Bengal precedent, strove to keep EIC and private merchants out of his realm, with only mixed success. The Commercial Treaty of 1788 disengaged the residents from such enterprises, but opened the way for increased European private trade. Private merchants, excluded from the rich Bengal market by the com-
pany, expanded into Awadh. Merchants trading in textiles or indigo built up alliances with local magnates or actually exercised political power in the towns that produced the commodities in which they traded.
Marshall has shown how imports into Awadh from Bengal doubled in the period 1786-1796, and Awadh's exports to Calcutta increased about five times during the same period to five million rupees. Europeans fostered and carried on much of the trade. The value of cheap Awadh piece goods exported from Calcutta grew six times in 1786-1796, to three million rupees. Raw cotton constituted another important export, and indigo cultivation spread into the Doab region of Awadh in this period. High duties and frequent local imposts, in addition to the ever-present fear of arbitrary, expropriation, often made life miserable for the European merchants involved in this rapid trade expansion. They "loudly" complained to the resident of infractions against the Commercial Treaty, and of high duties in Awadh despite their permits from the Commercial Office.
Awadh's incorporation into the world market proceeded unevenly. In 1801 Governor-General Wellesley annexed nearly half of the region from Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan on the pretext that the nawab's government had fallen hopelessly behind on payment of its tribute to Calcutta and only annexation could ensure revenues for the British. The move left the nawab "reserved territories" surrounded on three sides by the British and on one by Nepal and the Himalayas. Wellesley thereby ended the subsidiary alliance, disencumbering the British of many obligations. Thirty-five years earlier, officials of the East India Company felt too weak to absorb Awadh, needing time to consolidate their hold on Bengal. They then found that threats such as the Marathas and the Afghans could be dealt with by British and British-trained arms, and the need for Awadh as a buffer state correspondingly declined. Mukherjee has stressed the futility of attempting to separate economic and imperial motives in the annexation. Wellesley acted to ensure the receipt of huge revenues, as well as for strategic advantages. The British probably took too seriously, for example, the threat of an invasion from Afghanistan.
The 1801 annexation left old Awadh not only divided between two states but also partitioned into two economies. Awadh under its Indian rulers remained a stable agrarian state with successful rainfall-based agriculture producing an abundance of grain for local consumption and regional export.
The Ceded Provinces, however, underwent rapid and radical evolution. Within a year of cession raw-cotton exports to China jumped, and finished textile goods slumped as a proportion of the total exports. The class structure of the annexed area began to change. British officials insisted that large landholders back up their revenue assignments by bank credit, strengthening immeasurably the hand of the bankers and moneylenders who guaranteed the revenues, and often allowing them to foreclose in bad years. This policy transformed some petty tax-farmers into landholders at the expense of village holders.
Peasants began cultivating indigo extensively for export through Calcutta. Cheap British broadcloth began to affect the weavers in North India after 1800, though it hardly wiped them out, and it had a larger impact from 1833. In the first decade of the century, increased imports of manufactured cloth, twist, and yarn from an England undergoing the Industrial Revolution hurt spinners and began to depress the local cotton market. But with the end of the Napoleonic wars, European demand for raw cotton rose, and its cultivation in the Ceded Provinces spread rapidly, The British gradually incorporated the annexed half of old Awadh into the world market as a producer mostly of raw materials. Although from 1815 to 1828 such cash-crop agriculture grew lucrative, it also proved subject to cycles of boom and bust. The depressed cotton and indigo markets after 1828 created a crisis that drought years like 1833 exacerbated.
Although nawabi Awadh did not altogether escape the penetration of European capital and the influx of cheap British manufactures, it remained a far less open market than the Doab. In 1830 the British resident in Lucknow lamented the demise of the 1788 Commercial Treaty. Landholders exacted imposts on goods passing through their estates, and the government taxed British merchandise heavily. Between the British commercial center Kanpur and Lucknow, only fifty miles away, a merchant bearing Manchester's textiles had to pay taxes to twenty different landlords in addition to a duty charged for entering the capital. British goods cost double in Lucknow what they did in Kanpur. Still, the demand for English manufactures remained considerable.
The Response of the Shi‘i Ulama to the West
European domination in North India provoked a severe crisis of identity for the Muslim notable classes who formerly ruled the area. Sunni landholders and administrators in Delhi watched helplessly as the British extended their rule to the former capital in 1803. Religious spokesmen for these classes in decline, such as the Sunni Sufi Shah ‘Abdu'l-‘Aziz Dihlavi, declared in exasperation that India had become a Realm of War (daral-harb ) for Muslims. The commands of the Mughal emperor were ignored, Christians controlled taxes and criminal justice, municipal authorities could level mosques, and Muslims like Vilayati Begam of Farrukhabad could come to the capital only with the permission of the Christian British authorities. In Hyderabad, Awadh, and Rampur Muslim rulers had capitulated to the British. Dihlavi admitted that the British allowed Friday congregational and holy day prayers to be held, but said this alone could not make British India a Realm of Peace (daras-salam ) for Muslims. Shah ‘Abdu'l-‘Aziz, in redefining the political environment, did not call for holy war against the British, something some of his young disciples would later consider. Rather, he seems to have aimed primarily at allowing Sunnis to charge interest on loans, which they could do in a Realm of War.
The Shi‘i ulama in what was left of Awadh perceived the situation differently. First, they continued to see the nawabs of Awadh as Muslim rulers (and, until the 1819 declaration of independence, as first ministers of the Mughal Empire). The Imami jurists rejected the notion that they were under de facto British rule. Lucknow's chief Shi‘i ecclesiastic, Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali Nasirabadi, divided the lands of India into three sorts, those under the dominion of the Sunni Mughal emperor (including Awadh), those ruled by unbelievers against whom Muslims must war (e.g., Punjab under the Sikhs), and those ruled by the Christian British. He commended the British for dealing with Muslims according to Muslim, including Shi‘i, laws. Although this paragraph described the actual situation, it might be noted that the three areas mentioned conformed to the traditional Muslim legal categories of the Realm of Peace, where Muslims ruled, the Realm of War, where defiant infidels held sway, and the Realm of Truce (dar as-sulh ), where People of the Book ruled and were in treaty relations with Muslims. Nasirabadi, however, did not explicitly use this last term.
Since Shi‘is believed contact with non-Shi‘is to be polluting, the Euro-
pean presence in North India presented them with social difficulties. Nasirabadi, asked about the propriety of attending a banquet (sur ) thrown by Christians or Jews, said to avoid it. A believer asked him if one might pray in stockings (muzah ) brought from Europe. He equivocated, saying that the most renowned stance on this issue was that anything received from an unbeliever is ritually impure, but he added that the question was not altogether resolved. But in another case he ruled that one might buy a cloak from foreigners, and might pray in it before washrag it.
Was it permissible, someone queried, to usurp the belongings of Christians, People of the Book, or unbelievers, through ruse and fraud, causing them financial damage? Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali replied that one could not use the wealth of others without strong grounds. He said he had seen no evidence for such behavior with the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) and other sorts of unbeliever in the time of the Imam's Occultation. The Lucknow prayer leader's conservative attitude toward private property even overruled his conviction of Muslim superiority.
When Nasirabadi's upper-class friends pressed him for a ruling on the legality of working for the British as tax collectors, secretaries, police, attorneys, and physicians, he expressed reservations, though he did not absolutely forbid it. A man asked him whether it was permitted to keep the company of and enter into the employ of Christians. He pointed out that the British surrounded and dominated them, and the notables found it difficult if not impossible to get along without their favor. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali responded that the employment must not involve the commission of forbidden acts, such as murder or the purchase of liquor or pork. If the work simply consisted of performing a service for a Christian, such as writing a book for him or tailoring his clothes, it was entirely proper. But he found it difficult to sanction full-time salaried employment with a European, owing to the Qur'an verse "And God will not grant the unbelievers any way over the believers" (4:140). Yet he could not pronounce such employment altogether forbidden (haram ).
This answer, given in the first decade of the nineteenth century, demonstrates the ambivalence Awadh's Shi‘is felt in seeking employment with the East India Company. Economic necessity forced many notables and small landholders into such a career, particularly after the cession of 1801. Some preferred to work for the nawab. The brothers Taju'd-Din Husayn Khan and Subhan ‘Ali Khan collected revenue for the East India Company at Agra in the opening years of the nineteenth century, acquiring a knowledge of British procedures. Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan requested that Taju'd-Din Husayn Khan come to Awadh, where he hired him at Rs. 300 per month.
Subhan ‘Ali Khan, envious, asked some notables at Lucknow to intercede with him for the Nawab, who at length offered him a smaller salary of Rs. 200 per month because he asked for the job.
The Shi‘i families that were clustered in Banaras division and in the upper Doab, living under British rule, had more incentive than the subjects of the nawabs to establish links with the East India Company. Mawlavi Zakir ‘Ali Jaunpuri (d. 1796) tutored one of the residents in Lucknow. Sayyid Gulshan ‘Ali Jaunpuri (1800-74), trained in Lucknow by Usuli students of Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali, served as a judge in British-ruled Jaunpur, then as a revenue collector in the area. He subsequently took a post with the local government of the Maharaja of Banaras. He visited Iraq twice, in 1844 and 1864-71, the second time serving as the deputy resident for the British in Baghdad. His youngest son, Sayyid Muhammad Hashim, went to England to study mathematics in 1872, serving for a time as a revenue collector (tahsildar ) for the British government in Jalaun and Agra.
Even religiously committed Shi‘is from within nawabi Awadh often had dealings with the British or emigrated to find employment with them. Mir Hasan ‘Ali (d. 1858) of Lucknow, whose father led prayers in the household of Awadh administrator Almas ‘Ali Khan, taught British officers Arabic in Calcutta, then taught Urdu in the Military College, Addiscombe, in England in 1810-16, where he married an Englishwoman. They lived in Lucknow for a while, then he served as revenue collector for the British in Kanauj. He later took up employment briefly with Hakim Mihdi ‘Ali Khan, an Awadh notable who had indigo interests in Farrukhabad. Mir Hasan ‘Ali's English wife divorced him when she discovered that he had another wife. A pensioner of the British government, he moved back to Lucknow in 1843, where he accepted a post with the Awadh rulers.
An even more striking example of this phenomenon, S. Muhammad Quli Kinturi (1773-1844), derived from a landed family in the small town of Kintur in Bara Banki. He traveled widely as a youth, in search of knowledge, and trained in Lucknow with Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali as an Usuli mujtahid. In 1806 he hired on with the British government of Delhi in the parganah of Meerut as a court official. Ultimately rising to principal sadramin (able to judge property disputes up to Rs. 5,000), he gave legal .judgments in criminal cases accord-
ing to Shi‘i law—something he could not have done at that time even in Awadh. At his peak he earned Rs. 400 per month at the post, retiring in 1841.
Shi‘i clerics expressed few anti-British sentiments as long as the East India Company respected Shi‘i law and maintained all alliance with the Shi‘i nawab of Awadh. In Bengal, ulama teaching at the Hooghly College, in-eluding Shi‘is, actively sought m attend the government's public audiences (darbars ) and m receive robes of honor from the East India Company. In contrast, Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali forbade ulama in Awadh m accept robes of honor from the nawab's government, claiming that this practice befitted soldiers but demeaned the high station of mujtahids, the general representatives of the hidden Twelfth Imam.
Perhaps because of the increasing number of Shi‘is who worked for the British, one of Lucknow's chief mujtahids gave a ruling in the 1830s that strongly justified taking employment with foreigners. Asked to what extent one might earn one's living through Christians, he replied that as long as one did not become an accomplice m any forbidden act, working on a salaried basis for the British in such fields as revenue collection was permitted. (Note that Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali had not sanctioned taking a salary from Christians.) The mujtahid ruled that although disapproval attaches to performing even permitted acts for unjust rulers (hukkam-ijawr ), the disapproval is lifted if one does so to aid Shi‘is. The attitude of the Shi‘i hierarchy on this issue changed over time. They originally questioned its propriety, but allowed it in the 1830s.
The religious scholars also changed their position on loaning money on in-
terest to Christians. Someone asked Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali if he might take interest on loans to idolaters (Hindus) and to the People of the Book (Jews and Christians). Nasirabadi replied that Shi‘i scholars had reached a consensus that interest could be taken from idolaters. But they differed over whether it could be charged People of the Book. He offered his own ruling that the most cautious path was therefore not to take interest from Jews and Christians. The influx of British capital into North India, first through private traders in 1785-95, and then through the East India Company as well from 1801, created many opportunities for local bankers and moneylenders. British insistence that bank credit secure revenue assignments likewise strengthened these classes.
Shi‘i merchants and moneylenders also wished to profit from these opportunities, the more scrupulous of them with pangs of conscience. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali refused to assuage their guilt. Unlike the Shi‘i high ulama in Iraq and Iran, who had increasingly close ties with the bazaar classes, in Awadh the clerical establishment subsisted on the patronage of large landholders, responding mostly to their concerns.
Many Shi‘i long-distance merchants regularly lent and borrowed on interest, but the practice could cause them problems if cases went to Muslim religious courts. An example is the case of Mirza Riza, the son of Hajji Karbala'i Muhammad Tihrani, versus the heirs of Hasan Riza Khan, the former chief minister of Awadh. In the late 1780s Hajji Karbala'i lent Hasan Riza Khan Rs. 228, 436 as part of the Rs. 700,000 Awadh government donation for the building of the canal to Najaf. Mirza Riza presented letters in court, appearing to be from the chief minister, promising to repay the loan in November of 1792. Both debtor and creditor died before any further transaction took place. Mirza Riza attempted to recoup the loss from the late chief minister's estate through the government courts of Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan in 1806. He asked the Iranian ruler Fath-‘Ali Shah to intervene with Awadh's nawab on his behalf, and the Qajar monarch wrote to his fellow Shi‘i ruler supporting Mirza Riza's claims
Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan turned the case over to the mufti of the religious court, probably the Farangi-Mahalli Mawlavi Zuhuru'llah (d. 1840). Mirza Riza claimed the principal of Rs. 228,436, in addition to Rs. 150,010 interest. The mufti of the court rejected the claim on several grounds. First, he said, the dates of the copies of the letters and the replies presented as evi-
dence were confused and therefore they were of suspect authenticity. Second, the precise kind of money loaned was not specified. Third, the taking of interest on loans was prohibited according to Islamic law.
Especially in the period 1815-30 developments occurred among the propertied Shi‘is that impelled them to accept interest on loans to Europeans, though no Islamic court would have permitted interest charges among Usuli Shi‘is. The changes in the relationship between the British economy and that of India brought about by the Industrial Revolution, creating a world-dominating textile industry, strengthened the hand of the East India Company. The company, formerly merely a government-backed enterprise of circulating merchant capital, evolved into an instrument in the expansion of industrial imperialism. The terms of the game changed radically. Awadh's landed classes, sensitive to this evolution, began to perceive the insecurity of their traditional landholding forms of wealth in the new environment.
At the same time, the East India Company began its costly war in Nepal in 1814-16. Nawab Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar acquiesced in November of 1814 to the company's request for a loan of Rs. 10 million to help defray the expenses of the war. Ten individuals or families, mostly relations of the nawab, received the Rs. 600,000 in interest payments each year. Four months later Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar agreed to second loan of Rs. 10 million on similar terms. In 1825 the same ruler responded favorably to the governor-general's request for yet another loan of Rs. 10 million at the low rate of 5 percent interest, again payable by the resident to notables and relatives of the court.
These arrangements began the creation of a class of rentiers depending on payments from interest to supplement the income from their less stable landed wealth (which took the form of jagirs that could be expropriated at will by later Awadh rulers). The: British government guaranteed the stipends to the recipients and their descendants. The creditors hardly demonstrated much business sense by the low, fixed interest rates they charged. The recipients, transformed into a strange mixture of Mughal-style nobility and new bourgeoisie, passively subsisted on the periphery of the growing world market.
Although Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar earlier showed no scruples about making the loans, in contravention of Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali's ruling. when Iris treasury got low he suddenly evinced pangs of conscience. In May 1826 Lord Amherst informed the resident in Lucknow that yet another five million rupees would be needed to wind up the Nepal war. Ricketts pledged to open
negotiations, warning that drought and recalcitrant landholders (who for the first time in years did not have to worry about facing British troops in aid of government revenue collectors, owing to a policy change) had impoverished the Awadh treasury. Ricketts's talks proved successful, but Amherst felt he was doing the nawab a favor in any case. Ricketts wrote on 25 July, "Your remark that the money has been drawn from unproductive coffers is strictly correct, and so far His Majesty in point of fact is a gainer by the transaction; but the Sacrifice of his Religious tenets, which forbid interest being received, throws this advantage completely into the Shade in His eyes."
Later Awadh governments continued the practice of making loans to the East India Company, investing the interest received in religious grants to the Shi‘i shrine cities of Iraq or in public works in Awadh. Muhammad ‘Ali Shah, whom the British resident placed on the throne by armed force in 1837, initiated an ambitious building program. Soon after he acceded to the throne he spent Rs. 200,000 to have the Husaynabad Imambarah built not far from the Great Imambarah. Fearing that his good deed might fall into disrepair after his death, he wished to place the Imambarah and mosque complex under the guarantee of the British government so as to ensure the regular payment of the religious functionaries.
Finding the British unwilling to give such guarantees gratis, the king proposed to sweeten the deal by putting Rs. 900,000 in a 4.5 percent loan in perpetuity. The resident, Lt. Col. Caulfield, enthusiastically recommended that the governor-general accept the proposition, the interest demanded being so low that it was unlikely to embarrass a powerful state in the future. Moreover, part of the interest would go to Muhammad ‘Ali Shah's sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, and other dependents and relatives. Caulfield reasoned that to have a large number of notables financially dependent on the British Government would assure their loyalty and help insure more information from the interior of Awadh. Of the interest, Rs. 19,200 would pay servants to attend the Imambarah and keep its road in repair, and Rs. 6,000 per month was set aside to maintain the canals. With the sums devoted to relatives and servants, the total came to Rs. 36,000 per annum.
The deal was finally concluded, with the terms slightly altered in favor of the British. Muhammad ‘Ali Shah invested Rs. 1,200,000 at only 4 percent interest, yielding dividends of Rs. 48,000 per year to be divided between the persons named and the Husaynabad Imambarah, Rs. 24,000 being car-
marked for the edifice. The king did not name Shi‘i ulama as trustees of the Imambarah and its mosque, that honor going to the high notables Sayyid Imam ‘Ali Khan and ‘Azimu'llah Khan, and their descendants after them.
The new forms of wealth available to members or the Awadh ruling class had the slight disadvantage of being forbidden by their religion. But they apparently felt they had little alternative. The British blocked Awadh's prospects of territorial expansion, and social and economic structures within the country tended to inhibit both commercial agriculture and new industrial enterprises. Most of the soil was unsuited to cash crops like cotton, and tacal-luqdar , landholders imposed high duties on the transport of goods. Awadh notables found making loans at 5 percent interest, however religiously illicit, an attractive way of investing the wealth they extracted from Hindu peasants and rural landholders. Other Muslim governments in this period, such as Egypt, invested state funds in military modernization, state-owned industries, and in the expansion of cash-crop cultivation through irrigation works. Awadh rulers demonstrated no such dynamism, perhaps because they had already been too constricted by the British presence.
Some few Awadh notables, dissatisfied with being rentiers, sought to enter the ranks of the new bourgeoisie. Hakim Mihdi ‘Ali Khan Kashmiri, from a family in Kashmir that came to Delhi early in the eighteenth century and married into a clan of Sufi leaders, joined the circle of the new businessmen. Mihdi's father went to Faizabad from Delhi in the time of Asafu'd-Dawlah, and after his death Mihdi emerged as a renowned physician catering to Lucknow's notables. He saved enough money to begin contracting as a revenue collector, taking on the district of Muhammadi under Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan. Growing wealthy in Muhammadi, Hakim Mihdi began taking on other districts, including Khayrabad, Bahraich, and Gonda. In 1819 he fell out with Ghaziyu'd-Din .Haydar's chief minister, Agha Mir, who ordered him from the capital to Khayrabad. He went, fearful of treachery, buying up land in neighboring British Farrukhabad and remitting Rs. 800,000 over the border. At an opportune time he slipped across, escaping the mulcting he would otherwise have faced had Agha Mir deposed and arrested him.
In Farrukhabad, the indigo market beckoned:
The prospect of quick profit attracted fortune-hunters. To mention a few names, there was George Mercer who had one or two indigo factories in Aligarh in 1810. By 1826 Mercer and Co. had extended their general trading activities to the districts of
Meerut, Agra, Moradabad, Farrukhabad, Bareilly, and Etawah; the total value of the assets of this firm was estimated at about a crore [ten million] of rupees. In 1820 Harm Mehdi Ali Khan, Nawab of Fatehgarh, formed a partnership in the indigo business with William Morton.
Morton probably brought Hakim Mihdi in as a means of raising money, an alternative to simply borrowing it. Mihdi ‘Ali Khan also set up a shawl factory employing three hundred workers and brought in wool from Kashmir. The transformation of this Kashmiri family, over three generations, from Sufi leader to physician to tax-farmer to agricultural capitalist and textile magnate was so sudden that it left intact many traditional values. The Hakim maintained great respect for Shi‘i ulama, building a congregational prayers mosque in Farrukhabad and giving patronage from 1824 to Shi‘i ulama from a Kashmiri background.
Both the move of the ruling class into the role of banker for the East India Company and the involvement of some notables in the British-ruled Ceded Provinces in cash-crop agriculture created a new economic atmosphere, presenting difficulties for the Shi‘i ulama who served these classes in transition. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali, writing before most of these developments, had cautioned against taking interest on loans to Europeans. But in the early 1830s his son Sayyid Muhammad, the chief mujtahid in Lucknow, resolved the issue by reversing his father's ruling. Asked if interest might be taken from Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Sufi Muslims, Sayyid Muhammad replied that interest could be taken from polytheists by consensus and that Sufis could be considered polytheists. As to Jews and Christians, he added, jurists differed, but the clearest view in his opinion was that they could be charged interest. Since most Sunnis were Sufis in Awadh, according to this ruling wealthy Shi‘is could loan on interest to almost the entire population of the country, excluding only a small minority of other Shi‘is.
The ideas about society borne by Shi‘i mujtahids were thus neither traditional (Usulism was a new school in Awadh) nor static. Like Christianity in Europe's own age of commercial expansion, Imami Shi‘ism demonstrated an ability to adapt itself to modern capitalism. As the patrons of the jurisprudents became more bourgeois, so too did the social ideology proclaimed by the clerical establishment.
Shi‘i clerics accommodated themselves to many things Western, but the professional clergy rejected modern science. On the other hand, as we have seen, upper-class Shi‘i intellectuals, such as Tafazzul Husayn Khan Kashmiri or Sayyid Muhammad Hashim Jaunpuri, often took an interest in Western learning. Some scientific works were translated into Persian, one Mazhar ‘Ali receiving a prize from the Asiatic Society of Bengal for his Persian treatise on cosmography, which contained a section on Western, Copernican conceptions. But one of Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi's sons, Sayyid ‘Ali Akbar, wrote a tract entitled "The Firm Proof in Refutation of the Motion of the Earth," which typified the attitude of the clerical establishment. Sayyid Muhammad himself felt secular sciences to be secondary, holding the religious sciences the most important of all. The attitude of many in Awadh was summed up by the Moradabad notable who told Colonel Sleeman that telescopes were nonsense if they revealed things contrary to the Qur'an. When in the 1850s rumors of the telegraph swept Awadh, the Shi‘i ulama openly derided the invention as impossible, to their later embarrassment."
Some Muslim reformers in North India, of course, did accept European science. The Sunni reformist thinker Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who began by rejecting the Copernican revolution, later in life firmly adopted modern scientific views, espousing a thoroughgoing rationalism that opponents stigmatized as "naturism." Another of Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi's sons, Sayyid ‘Ali Muhammad "Taju'l-‘Ulama'," vigorously attacked Sayyid Ahmad Khan's rationalist Qur'an commentary.
Ulama engaged in intellectual contest with the West an another front: polemics against Christian missionaries. Most of these polemics, written in Arabic or Persian in a rationalist, Usuli style, have yet to be rediscovered or analyzed. One incident does shed light on the sorts of encounters Shi‘is had with Christians in Awadh. The missionary Joseph Wolff in 1833 told Awadh king Nasiru'd-Din Haydar that Christ would return in only a few years, and that he knew the date (1847). The sovereign arranged a public debate between the missionary and Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, in which Wolff interpreted the Book of Daniel to show the imminence of Christ's coming. Sayyid Muhammad, who knew the Gospels in Arabic, replied that Christ had said that no man knew the hour or the day of his return. Wolff cleverly retorted that he did not claim to know the hour and the day, only the year. Sayyid Muhammad insisted that the phrase denied all such precise knowledge. This inconclusive encounter prompted the writing of several defenses of Shi‘ism from Christianity from a rationalist Usuli perspective in the late 1830s that influenced the terms of Christian-Muslim debate for the rest of the century.
In contrast to the fiery anti-British polemics produced by some Muslims, the attitude of the Shi‘i high ulama in Awadh to the Europeans was one of gradual accommodation, Some of those trained in Lucknow as mujtahids worked for the British directly as judges or even revenue officers. Even official clerics of the Awadh government slowly allowed more interaction with the foreigners, legitimizing loans to them and ultimately permitting salaried work for them. The families of the high ulama often acquired stock in the East India Company, or depended for patronage upon notables whose stipends derived from interest on loans to it. They appear to have considered the British honorable treaty allies, a view reflecting the policy of state. They rejected some British ways and nineteenth-century European science, even forbade some kinds of imported manufactures. But the xenophobia of a non-European clerisy did not extend to the political sphere before the 1840s.
The Mujtahids and the British Residents, 1842-1856
As the Shi‘i clerics moved into public office in the 1840s, they became increasingly identified with a regime constantly threatened by the expansionist designs of mid-nineteenth-century British imperialism. As government servants in the judiciary, the ulama came into conflict with British administrators who wished either to annex Awadh or to rule it by proxy. Many of the high ulama had investments in British government securities, and so hardly acted in a consistently anti-British fashion. Their disputes with the British focused on structural matters, such as the shape of the alliance with Calcutta and the degree of influence the Europeans would have over Awadh affairs.
Under Amjad ‘Ali Shah the trend was toward decentralization in the countryside, where great landholders often rebelled, loyal tacalluqdars lending their private armies to fight the recalcitrant ones. The British perceived this segmentary political system as anarchy, but the Awadh elites felt their realm to be in good order. Since the British Government of India had set limitations on the Awadh army and in any case would make immediate demands on any revenue realized beyond the normal, no administration had any impetus to attempt to impose more order.
In some ways Amjad ‘Ali Shah surprised the British resident, who had heard of his fierce Shi‘ism. When the resident placed the crown on the new monarch's head, he informed the king that past governors-general had objected when Awadh rulers proposed to entitle themselves ghazi (fighter for the Faith). Low reported that the "King replied, that as he is—and 'he thanked God for it' (that, was the expression he made use of) under the protection of, and entirely dependent upon the British Gov't, he saw the impropriety of his having such a word as Ghazee on his seal." The following year the astonished resident, Shakespear, wrote that Muharram had passed without major incident, though most in Lucknow had expected a clash, given the new monarch's unyielding Shi‘ism. On the contrary, Amjad ‘Ali Shah took measures to prevent communal riots. Whatever his personal sentiments, he had too often seen governors-general warn the Awadh government that they were prepared to take it over to present them with an excuse like public disorder in his own capital.
Amjad ‘Ali Shah, at first compliant with British wishes, eventually came into strong conflict with the resident over policy. At the beginning of his reign he offered to put Rs. 1,000,000 into another 5 percent loan to help out with the Afghan and Sikh operations. Ironically, the gradual conquest of the Punjab caused a diplomatic tiff. The news of the capture of Lahore reached
Lucknow on the tenth of Muharram, and the British wished to celebrate with an artillery salute. The king objected, but finally gave in.
The office of the chief minister became a source of contention, with Amjad ‘Ali and the chief mujtahid favoring Aminu'd-Dawlah for the post, and the resident opposing him. In 1843 the resident backed the dismissal of Aminu'd-Dawlah because of revenue shortfalls. He felt that the chief minister had been retained on the advice of the king's courtiers and of Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi. Only shortly before the monarch reaffirmed Aminu'd-Dawlah in office, "the High Priest's opinion was applied for as to the selection of a new minister, five names being sent to him, two of which (Moonawaroodawlah and Mooeenoodawlah) were given at length and the other three merely denoted by an initial letter." The resident grew so dissatisfied with the faults he perceived in the Awadh administration that he bluntly informed Amjad ‘Ali Shah that he did not intend to be present at the annual coronation ceremony that year. The king reacted with shock and asked for advice. The resident suggested that he reappoint Sharafu'd-Dawlah to the chief ministership, but Amjad ‘Ali Shah declared that this candidate's adherence to the Sunni branch of Islam "was in itself an insuperable bar to his reappointment."
The British resident, appalled at what he perceived as the disorder in the countryside and the shortfall in revenue, dismissed the Awadh government's innovations in the judicial sphere as a waste of money and a means for the deputy chief minister, Sa'idu'd-Dawlah, to mete out summary justice. Ironically, the British would later accuse the government of Awadh of lacking a judicial system. Awadh certainly possessed a functioning judiciary, however colored by communalism, at several levels of its administration. Indeed, the mujtahid judges clashed with the resident on several occasions.
With Sleeman's arrival in Lucknow as resident, conflict with the Awadh government reached a high point, and the mujtahids were drawn into these disputes. One disagreement concerned the trial of Muhammad Husayn Khan, the governor (nazim ) of Bahraich. He became indebted to Ramdut Pandey, a banker and agricultural capitalist in the district, to the amount of Rs. 80,000. What happened thereafter remains murky to this day. The gov-
ernor's detractors charged that he lured the Hindu banker to his camp, pressed him for more money, and when Pandey refused, killed him to escape the previous debt. His defenders said that Pandey himself was in arrears, and when the governor pressed him to settle his accounts he became violent and had to be killed in self-defense. The inescapable fact of the dead banker in the governor's tent, however, forced Muhammad Husayn Khan to surrender himself to Lucknow for trial. Reports reaching Sleeman from eyewitnesses among the banker's retinue stated that the governor's men cut the defenseless Hindu down and that the governor helped finish him off with a sword.
Any issue impugning the fairness of Awadh's administration immediately became grist for the British mill, aiding their quest for more control over the country. Vajid ‘Ali Shah sought to defuse the matter by having Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, with his reputation among Shi‘is as a paragon of integrity, try the case. Sayyid Muhammad, according to his biographer, "repeatedly refused owing to his farsightedness and his friendship for the English Government." Kashmiri wrote that only when Nasirabadi received informal assurances from the governor-general that the British had no objections to his proceeding did he consent to conduct an investigation. If true, this indicates that Sayyid Muhammad had his own lines of communication to Calcutta, circumventing the resident, and that he felt confident any judgment he made would be upheld.
Sayyid Muhammad, after hearing many depositions, rejected the testimony of three eyewitnesses from Pandey's retinue that Muhammad Husayn Khan and his attendants murdered the capitalist, on the grounds that they contained minor discrepancies. He did, however, order that Pandey's goods, plundered after the killing, be returned to his family. Sayyid Muhammad's biographer noted that it would have been impermissible to make a believer pay blood money for the murder of an infidel.
Sleeman, furious at the decision, fired off a letter to Vajid ‘Ali Shah demanding custody of the three men accused of murder, saying persons of influence had shielded them. He then wrote Governor-General Dalhousie in Calcutta, criticizing the acquittal and charging that it had been engineered by the chief minister. He noted that "the Mujtahid himself, his son and brother hold high & lucrative Offices, and almost all the members of his
family enjoy stipends at the pleasure of the Sovereign & his Minister for the time being, & the present Minister has certainly been an accessory to this murder after the fact." The resident noted (correctly) that even had the chief mujtahid found Muhammad Husayn Khan guilty of killing a Hindu, he would not have punished him.
The governor-general replied that he agreed with Sleeman's assessment, but since the British Government had itself requested the governor's trial in Awadh courts, it could not very well insist on a retrial in the British judicial system. Moreover, it seems that Dalhousie had in mind a better use for the incident. He instructed Sleeman to protest the acquittal to the king and to add "that such acts as these are rapidly filling up the treasure of the King's misgovernment, which His Majesty has been already warned must end in the entire subversion of his kingly power." Sayyid Muhammad's decision assumed a disproportionate importance in that it gave substance to an image, already formed in Calcutta, of corruption in high places and tyrannical government. Vajid ‘Ali Shah defended the integrity of the chief mujtahid, who he said had passed a death sentence on one of the chief minister's servants in a murder case. He neglected to say, however, whether that case involved a Hindu as well, or was an inter-Shi‘i affair (a quite different matter). Sleeman clashed with Sayyid Muhammad on several other issues as well while he was resident.
The Awadh administration in the 1840s and 1850s fought off increasing British demands for control. The Shi‘i ulama, as judges in state employ or clients of notable patrons in government, joined the fray on the side of the Awadh monarchs. They lobbied to have their favorites installed in high posts and attempted to carry out their judicial duties without the resident's interference. The mujtahids' insistence on implementing Shi‘i law, despite its relegation of non-Shi‘is to second-class citizenship, provoked a number of clashes with "even-handed" residents. In the last such major conflict, over the Hanumangarhi, the Shi‘i ulama took the Muslim side against Hindus, but the British overruled their policy recommendations. Yet investment in British bonds and collection of interest on loans to the East India Company gave many Shi‘is, including some of the high ulama, reasons to feel ambivalent toward the British.
British interference in Awadh aimed at securing greater control of the country. Some officials of the British Government of India adopted a forward policy, aimed at absorbing Awadh altogether. Some thought (mistakenly) that a great deal of cotton could be grown in a British-controlled Awadh, and others eyed the revenue the province would provide to the indebted Government of India. In a letter written on 23 September 1855 Governor-General Dalhousie, a forward-policy advocate, showed disdain for East India Company officials in London who feared Parliament's disapproval should he annex Awadh, pointing out that it had acquiesced in other annexations. In the same letter he worried that Hindu-Muslim violence, such as occurred over the Hanumangarhi, could recur and "spread very wide." Dalhousie, knowing he had to retire from his post in favor of Lord Canning late in January 1856, pressured the Council in Calcutta to approve a draft treaty that would finalize the British take-over of Awadh. The resident, Outram, presented the treaty on 30 January to the shocked Awadh government, which later rejected it. Nine days later Dalhousie, having unilaterally annexed the country, wrote, "So our gracious Queen has 5,000,000 more subjects and £l,300,0 more revenue than she had yesterday." Nishapuri Awadh became British "Oudh."
The British take-over signaled a new order and heavy reverses for the old Shi‘i elite. On 7 February Vajid ‘Ali Shah ordered his subjects to obey the British, announcing that he would set out for London to press his claims' to the crown before Queen Victoria. He asked Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi to engage in divination to determine his chances of success. The last official act of the chief mujtahid was not one of learning or moral teaching, but one of soothsaying for a fallen order.
Shi‘is from ulama families reacted differently to the annexation. Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abbas Shushtari resigned abruptly from his judicial post, although the British offered to keep him on. On the other hand, Mawlavi Sayyid Icjaz Husayn Kinturi, head clerk of the chief minister's office, stayed on to help reorganize the bureaucracy under the British Judicial Commissioner.
In many cases, the British offered ulama families no choice of continuing in their jobs. They dismantled the Shi‘i judiciary system, though the new British rulers continued to employ some local muftis. In August 1856, after months of consultation, they abolished the Shi‘i seminary, on the grounds that it benefited only the Shi‘i community and could not serve as a vehicle of liberal instruction ("its exclusiveness and its worthlessness as a place of education"). Worried about permanently alienating the influential mujtahids, however, they offered the teaching staff and administrators reduced stipends for life, though they excluded some members of the Nasirabadi family with other sources of income.
The British stopped payment for one year, however, of these government stipends and those deriving from interest on loans, to investigate and reorganize them, and the abolition of many stipends and pensions hit some Shi‘i ulama hard. The Nasirabadi family, hurt both by the later policies of Vajid ‘Ali Shah and then of the British, desperately applied to the Oudh chief commissioner for the continuation of its government stipends:
The Moojtahid and the other members of his family were constantly setting forth their great pecuniary distress and complaining of the indignities to which they were subjected from the actions filed against them in the Civil Courts owing to their inability from want of means to pay their debts.
The chief commissioner, with the governor-general's approval, forwarded Rs. 5,000 to Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi to hold him and his family over until stipends could be regularized. He also approved British government continuation of stipends to the mujtahids at Rs. 1,977 per month, and to the Sayyids at Rs. 495 per month, noting, "These men are very influential, and have been deprived of their bread in a great measure owing to our acquisition of the country." The British also hurt many Shi‘i families by their settlement policies. They scheduled the Nasirabadis' villages to be resumed within one or two generations, inducing anxiety about how the office of chief mujtahid would continue to be funded.
Continued stipends could not salve the wounds inflicted by British annexation on the Shi‘i ulama. Once the masters of the judicial system, they now faced the threat that creditors would drag them into British courts. Sayyid Muhammad pleaded with a plaintiff to settle out of court through an informal agent, because "now, going to court means going to a Christian ruler, and a lawyer (wakil ) will be ordered to appear in a European court." The loss of prestige, wealth, and power by the Shi‘i ulama at the stroke of Dalhousie's pen could not help but cause great resentments, despite later British attempts at conciliation.
Shi‘is and the Revolt in Awadh, 1857-1859
An attempt to resurrect Nishapuri Awadh, at first within the framework of a resuscitated Mughal Empire, inflamed North India with some of the fiercest battles it has ever known. Because the uprising began among Indian troops of the British army, it has become known in Western historiography as the Sepoy Mutiny—a misnomer, since the revolt drew in the great landholders and peasants of North India, as well as the old Awadh notable class, who reconstituted their kingdom under Shi‘i leadership. The role of Shi‘is and of the Shi‘i ulama in the revolt, although raised, has never been described in detail. The accounts given by Shi‘i historians after the British victory in 1858-59, and followed by some writers in English, say that the Shi‘is participated less vigorously in the revolt because of their conviction that holy war, jihad , was illegitimate in the time of the Imam's Occultation. This assertion will be tested in the following account.
It should be said at the outset that the proposition of Shi‘i quietism, however well founded doctrinally, seems unlikely to be true. Stokes characterized 1857 as "secondary resistance," and a post-pacification revolt, a second stage on the way to modern nationalism between the violent primary resistance to colonialism of traditional elites and the organized political parties of a later time. It engaged the totality of society, throwing up new forms of leadership partially rooted in religious ideology. Mukherjee has recently characterized 1857 as both a war of religion and a war of restoration, which called upon Awadh's Muslims and Hindus to rise against Christian hegemony. Given the importance of religious ideology in the revolt, and the leading role
played by a revived Awadh nawabate, that most Shi‘is showed apathy seems an extraordinary proposition, since the British annexation of Awadh, the abolition of the seminary, and the abortive 1857 invasion of Iran all affected Shi‘is directly and adversely.
Shi‘i participation in the failed revolution can best be understood if we look at the community according to its social divisions into "orders" (tabaqat ), rather than monolithically. Tradespeople and laborers (cavamm ) in the large villages and urban centers, the Shi‘i large landholders (tacalluqdars and zamindars ) in the countryside, court notables (umara' ) based in the cities of Lucknow and Faizabad, and the Shi‘i learned men, or ulama, all reacted differently to events.
The mutiny of the Indian troops began in Meerut on 10 May 1857. These troops made for Delhi, where the garrison likewise rose up and massacred the British population, placing at the head of their revolt Siraju'd-Din Bahadur Shah II (r. 1837-57), the Mughal king the British had reduced to a puppet. On 14 May the restored emperor demanded that revenue collectors submit their taxes to him. Thereafter the troops downriver along the Ganges began revolting, as word spread of the events in Delhi.
Let us consider first of all the participation of Shi‘i commoners in the Awadh revolt. The expected conflagration came in Lucknow on 30 May, as Lucknow sepoys mutinied all night. The next day a force of five or six thousand tradesmen and laborers crossed the Gomti to loot the cantonments in coordination with the revolting troops, but, finding that Lawrence's forces had dispersed them, the crowd returned to the Husaynabad quarter and ran riot. The city crowd, drawn from the poor of the old city, must have included both Shi‘is and Sunnis as well as Hindus. A firsthand Persian account suggests that such mobs typically included some notables and Muslim sermonizers who led bands of butchers, weavers, carders, and other tradesmen, and the same source says that Shi‘i commoners participated widely in the revolt. Later, during the siege of the British residency, Gubbins often heard the cry of "Ya ‘Ali" (O ‘Ali) from the besiegers. Shi‘is, the partisans of ‘Ali, were most likely to use this war cry. Therefore, Shi‘i tradesmen, laborers, and soldiers participated in the revolt without any special reservations, and these probably represented the majority of the Shi‘i community.
Events in June raise the question of the role of Shi‘i rural magnates. The
uprising now began to spread into Awadh's interior, though many waited to see what turn events would take in Lucknow, where the British reasserted control for a few weeks. The troops at Sitapur revolted, and in that and neighboring districts the Shi‘i great landlords of Mahmudabad and Bhatwamau, joined by some Hindu rajas, issued a proclamation including an oath to fight against the British, couched in both the Shi‘i terminology of Karbala and in Hindu symbology.
On 8 and 9 June the regiments at Faizabad mutinied, forcing Europeans to flee. The troops briefly placed at their head Ahmadu'llah Shah, a Sunni Sufi leader of the Qadiri order, who had been preaching holy war against the British to avenge the martyrdom of Amir ‘Ali Amethavi (whose ill-fated holy-war movement, centered on the Hanumangarhi, had led to his massacre and that of his followers seven months earlier). After two days, however, other leadership emerged in the Faizabad area, including Raja Man Singh, a dispossessed Hindu large landholder, and Muhammad Hasan Khan, a governor under the old monarchy.
On 29 July a vanguard of revolutionaries from Faizabad and Sitapur arrived at Chinhat near Lucknow, on their way to liberate the capital; they were led by Khan ‘Ali Khan, the deputy of the Shi‘i Raja of Mahmudabad. Lawrence rode out with troops to counterattack, but returned in defeat, and was killed a few days later. Victorious rebel troops entered Lucknow, looting and plundering, and jockeying for leadership began as Ahmadu'llah Shah tried and failed to establish his own police network in Lucknow. The British retreated to the residency, facing an attack on 2 July, which they drove off with heavy fire. Especially after the fall of Lucknow, rural magnates joined the revolution in great numbers. Although Hindu rajas dominated much of the countryside, some Shi‘is played a crucial role. Mihdi Husayn, the governor of Sultanpur, emerged as the "key figure, at least in southern Awadh, for the organizing of rebel forces in the districts." Shi‘i rural leaders gave no evidence of holding back because holy war was illegitimate during the Occultation; rather, Shi‘i tacalluqdars , such as Mahmudabad and Bhatwamau, moved in the vanguard of the rural revolt.
Two groups, Shi‘i urban-based notables and the learned men, reacted in a
more complex manner to the revolt, and their behavior gave rise to the characterization of Shi‘is as quietists. Even they, however, can be shown to have supported the war, by and large. Many Shi‘i notables at first had reservations about a popular revolt, for two reasons: first, they feared for their own (considerable) property should order break down, and second, they still bore allegiance to the ancien régime of Vajid ‘Ali Shah, on his way to appeal to the queen in England.
The Shi‘i notables did not long enjoy the luxury of equivocation. The liberation of Lucknow faced them with a moment of truth, for the revolutionaries, rural landholders and their peasants and rebel Indian troops, felt a need to establish their legitimacy. They wanted a member of the Nishapuri family installed as king, but the main candidate, Ruknu'd-Dawlah, was imprisoned in the residency, and others refused. Several of Vajid ‘Ali Shah's harem officials, including ‘Ali Muhammad "Mamun" Khan, then put forth Birjis Qadar Mirza, only ten years old. The son of Vajid ‘Ali Shah by a former courtesan who belonged to the second rank of the king's wives, Birjis Qadar had the advantage of being young and malleable. His mother, Hazrat Mahall, appears to have actively sought the position of king for her son, although other wives of the: king opposed the move as disrespectful or endangering to Vajid ‘Ali Shah, interred in British-held Calcutta.
The revolutionaries wished to restore an Awadh government under Birjis Qadar in a manner consonant with the ideology of the Delhi revolt, which proclaimed a resurrected Mughal Empire. They therefore reverted to the pre-1819 formulas for Awadh rule, proclaiming Birjis Qadar a nawab rather than a shah. Shi‘is found this move easier because of their widespread conviction that Bahadur Shah II had adopted Shi‘ism around 1853. In that year the powerless king of Delhi had sent a letter to Chief Mujtahid Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi expressing his love for the family of the Prophet and declaring as non-Muslims all those who did not love them. He had an offering made on his behalf to the shrine of ‘Abbas's standard, Lucknow's holiest Shi‘i shrine. A year later he sent an envoy to Tehran, who informed Iran's Nasiru'd-Din Shah of the Mughal's adoption of Shi‘ism and his request for political support. Shi‘is probably took Bahadur Shah's subsequent denials of his Shi‘ism as pious dissimulation (taqiyyah ), whereas Sunnis believed them, making the last Mughal emperor an ideal rallying point for India's Muslims.
The child Birjis Qadar was installed as Awadh's ruler on 5 July 1857, with the understanding that he would obey the orders of the Mughal emperor in Delhi and would give the revolutionary military a say in choosing the cabinet and army commanders. The "Zafarnamah" explicitly says that Birjis Qadar was made "nawab," rather than shah, and all sources agree that one of the revolutionary leaders, Shihabu'd-Din Khan, placed a turban on his head (rather than a crown, which had also been brought as a contingency). The new government rapidly appointed its chief officers, mostly former Awadh dignitaries, threatening recalcitrant candidates with execution for British sympathies if they refused to serve. They pressed Sharafu'd-Dawlah into service as chief minister, although some Shi‘i notables objected to his being a Sunni. The Hindu Maharaja Balkishen reluctantly took over the treasury department once again. Mamun Khan became overseer of the royal household, a powerful post in a patrimonial government with a child ruler. The new government rehired displaced bureaucrats and secretaries, and issued orders to revolutionary troops to cease looting, regularizing military salaries, though plundering continued and the troops retained great power. During the next several months, many of the Shi‘i notables in Lucknow recognized the new government and supported it in one manner or another.
The revolutionary government made major assaults against the British residency on 20 July and 10 August, but never succeeded in reducing the British stronghold, though by August it held most of Awadh. Outside Awadh, the tide began to turn in favor of the British. The help that the Indians expected from Shi‘i Iran never arrived. Mamun Khan sent an emissary to Bahadur Shah, requesting his approval of Birjis Qadar's installation, but he arrived after Delhi fell to the British on 20 September, and returned to Lucknow. Mamun Khan sought to suppress news of the Mughal emperor's arrest, and proclaimed that Bahadur Shah had recognized Birjis Qadar as king, having salutes fired accordingly. His regents later minted a coin with the couplet:
The emperor [badshah ] of every body, every eye, Birjis Qadar
Struck coins in gold and silver, like the sun and the moon.
This verse indicates that after the fall of Delhi the revolutionary government reverted to claims of independent monarchy in Awadh.
The Birjis Qadar government failed to prevent the "relief" of the residency led by Havelock and Outram in late September, which opened a new front at Alambagh, and the assault of Campbell in the winter of 1857-58, which in March drove the revolutionaries out of the capital. From the autumn of 1857 the Lucknow revolutionaries had split into two camps, with the Shi‘i and Hindu notables supporting Hazrat Mahall and Mamun Khan, the child ruler's regents, whereas the Sunni intermediate strata and laboring classes went over to Ahmadu'llah Shah, who in Sufi style made grandiose claims to divinity. The two camps continued to cooperate in assaulting the British position at Alambagh. From Maich of 1858 when the British reconquered Lucknow, the competing leadership cliques established themselves in different areas of the countryside, still aided by revolting tacalluqdars and their peasants, which the British did not subdue for almost another year.
What was the relationship of the Shi‘i ulama, who once wielded such power under the Nishapuris, to the new regime? The younger Nasirabadis, although they did not regain their control over the judiciary, joined the government in various capacities. Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Nasirabadi Munsifu'd-Dawlah, in constant attendence on revolutionary leader Mamun Khan, sought to regain the post of chief justice for himself; it went instead to Mir Mihdi, the Shi‘i tutor of Birjis Qadar. Mir Mihdi, however, did employ Sayyid Muhammad Baqir as an intelligence analyst obtaining information on the movement of British troops. The revolutionaries also offered him the command of a regiment, the ‘Ali Platoon, which he delegated to his half-brother ‘Ali Muhammad Nasirabadi. Sayyid ‘Abdu'l-Husayn, another son of Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, was listed by the British as a "mutineer." Sayyid Muhammad Taqi, son of the late Sayyid Husayn Nasirabadi (d. 1856), at age forty one of the more prominent Shi‘i ulama in Awadh, constantly attended at the restored court, praying for Birjis Qadar. At the revolutionaries' request he used his knowledge of divination to name the fortunate days for attacking the Lucknow residency.
What of ulama outside the Nasirabadi family? Of twenty-three major Shi‘i ulama in Lucknow (mostly former teachers, and some students, at the abolished seminary) whom the British later investigated, twelve took salaries
from or actively served with the revolutionary government, two applied unsuccessfully for jobs (one for a command), and nine attended at court and prayed for the government's success. Mirza Muhammad ‘Ali used his influence to get for his brother command of the Fath Jang Platoon under Husamu'd-Dawlah. Sayyid Asghar Husayn and Mir Khadim Husayn were employed in the Najib battalion, and Mawlavi Hakim Hamzah ‘Ali by the assistant to Mamun Khan, as well as by the revenue office. Mawlavi Mihdi Shah served in the News/Intelligence Department. Little evidence is available about the activities of Shi‘i ulama outside Lucknow, but we do know that Jacfar ‘Ali Jarchavi (d. 1896), a renowned Qur'an reciter trained as a Shi‘i scholar in Lucknow under the Nasirabadis, was arrested with the Sayyids of his town in Bulandshahr in 1857 for participating in the revolution.
Some exceptions to Shi‘i ulama support for the revolution can be noted. Sayyid Icjaz Husayn Kinturi, an employee of the British bureaucracy, helped the British despite their tearing down his house near the residency. Sayyid ‘Ali Deoghatavi, Shi‘i prayer leader in Faizabad, denied involvement in the revolt.
The most celebrated instance of a major Shi‘i scholar keeping his distance from the revolutionary government, that of Chief Mujtahid Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, deserves a closer look. As was noted, one of his sons had a command, another was a "mutineer," and a third served as intelligence analyst. Sayyid Muhammad himself "made constant private visits to the Begam and Brijees Kudr," bringing along his close students to pray for the success of the revolution. The government stationed guards at his house to protect him and his great wealth. Yet he refused to call for a holy war, and during the British siege in the winter of 1857-58 he expressed disapproval of the war. This seemingly contradictory behavior puzzled British intelligence agents.
A chronological approach might help. Sayyid Muhammad often attended at court in the summer and autumn of 1857, when his sons took government service. With the British siege of Lucknow that winter, however, and the increasing power of the Sunni zealot Ahmadu'llah Shah, he may have seen the handwriting on the wall. Hindu informers spying on him from November 1857 to March 1858 reported that he
refused to give his sanction to the Rebellion raging around him. He urged when called upon to grant his Futwas that this could not be sanctioned by any passage or warrant of the Koran, that war against the infidels could only be justifiable when waged by an Emam and not otherwise. It was also reported that in his own circle the Moojtahid condemned the war as quite unjustifiable and against the spirit of the Law as contained in the Koran.
The British report noted, however, that the chief mujtahid "permitted his disciples" to preach jihad , and to enter the revolutionary government's service.
Within the Nasirabadi family, therefore, a generation gap is apparent. Younger members of the family preached holy war and took jobs with Birjis Qadar's administration. Sayyid Muhammad, not given the sort of power and recognition he had in the 1840s, gave less-devoted support to the revolutionaries. Since he had given a ruling in the 1830s allowing defensive holy war when the lands of Islam were attacked, and since many Iranian mujtahids sanctioned Iran's wars against Russia earlier in the century, Sayyid Muhammad took an extremely cautious doctrinal position in 1858. Perhaps he thereby hedged his bets on whether the British would win, or the revolutionaries. Or maybe the "large sums" he held in British Government securities divided his loyalties. Finally, in refusing to recognize the struggle as a holy war, Sayyid Muhammad may have attempted to distinguish his style of religious leadership from that of Ahmadu'llah Shah. A similar conflict took place in Allahabad, where Shi‘i ulama refused to call for jihad , although the Sunni radical Mawlavi Liyaqat Husayn did so. The important point is that Shi‘is did not need the banner of holy war in order to fight against the British, which they almost universally did.
Given the prominence of Shi‘i commoners, tacalluqdars , and troops of the restored Shi‘i government in Lucknow, and of the Shi‘i ulama in the Awadh revolt of 1857-59, one can only wonder how the story of this community's ambivalence began. The answer lies in the witch-hunting atmosphere of the victorious British raj after March 1858. The British (inaccurately) put primary blame for the revolt on Muslims, and Shi‘is who wished to keep their lives and property had a strong motivation to convince the British of their innocence. British troops vindictively defiled the Great Imambarah and the Shi‘i Friday prayers mosque, turning the complex into a barracks. But the refusal of some older Shi‘i high ulama to call for a holy war served suddenly to differentiate their community from the Sunnis. The British, seeking to rebuild their ties with local elites, swallowed the lie about Shi‘i quietism with alacrity. Although British officials in Lucknow made a rather damaging circumstantial case against Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, the governor-
general awarded the chief mujtahid his full stipend from the British government:
That which seems best supported by evidence is that he opposed the preaching of a religious war: and this, for the High Priest of Lucknow, is a great deal.
I think it not only just to give him the benefit of this, but politic; and I would seize this opportunity of finding a Mahomedan Priest who has practised moderation, and dissuaded from bloodshed & fanaticism to mark our approval of such conduct.
Sayyid Muhammad also used pro-British Shi‘i friends like Sayyid Icjaz Husayn Kinturi to pull strings for him with them. The myth of Shi‘i quietism thus cynically suited both Shi‘i ulama and notables fearful of British punishment and British officials seeking a "politic" rapprochement with local elites.
Younger members of prominent ulama families took advantage of British willingness to make up. Sayyid Ghulam Husayn Kinturi, former treasury official at the Shi‘i seminary, became deputy registrar under the deputy commissioner in Lucknow, in the chowk bazaar area. His brother-in-law and cousin, Sayyid Icjaz Husayn Kinturi, continued to work as a bureaucrat (munsarim ) for the British government of Oudh. One of Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi's sons, Sayyid ‘Ali Akbar, became the deputy commissioner for the British in Bahraich. In some ways this move into administration under the colonial masters continued earlier trends of Shi‘i ulama's becoming government judges and officials.
The Shi‘i ulama seldom showed enmity to the British in the period 1775 to 1842, gradually accommodating themselves to the presence of this European ally of their Shi‘i government. At first ambivalent about the ritual purity of British commodities, the propriety of Shi‘is working for Christians, and the legality of lending them money, they slowly came to terms with such manifestations of growing European power in the subcontinent, even investing in British securities.
In the 1840s and 1850s they came into conflict with the British government for two reasons. First, they became more intimately associated with Awadh government policy as they grew more influential and wealthy and as they gained control over the judiciary. British attempts to control or absorb Awadh became of concern to the ulama in a more direct fashion. Second, they opposed British attempts to impose an "even-handed" policy toward
Hindus on the Nishapuri rulers, as in the trial of Bahraich's governor or in the Ayodhya temple conflict.
After annexation the ulama at first sought the patronage of the British and the continuation from Awadh's new masters of the stipends and perquisites granted them by the old. The British attempted to co-opt the ulama by granting them the stipends. But they promised to do so only for a generation, and their settlement policy of taxing or resuming revenue-free grants hurt many Shi‘i learned families. The British abolished the Shi‘i judiciary and the seminary. Worst of all, they consigned the Shi‘i state, the source of the mujtahids' wealth and power, to oblivion, throwing them into heavy debt. A few rupees a month in stipends from the chief commissioner's office could never make up lost glory. Thus, the Shi‘i ulama, along with most other Shi‘is of various social stations, by and large joined in the revolt of 1857-58, though they later attempted to obscure their participation. Without the Nishapuri state the Shi‘is formed just a small minority in northern India, with their traditional privileges and forms of wealth open to being whittled away by the British and by ascendant Sunnis and Hindus.