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.