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1 Middle Eastern Roots of Awadh Shi‘ism
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Middle Eastern Roots of Awadh Shi‘ism

To provide a background to an understanding of its place in eighteenth-century North India, Iran, and Iraq, it will be necessary to put Shi‘ism in its historical context. But first, in order better to comprehend the role of Shi‘i Islam in the cultural conflict between Asian societies and the imperial West, some general features of Middle Eastern and South Asian history since 1500 may be recalled. Although most Westerners think of the period after 1492 as a time of untrammeled Christian European expansion, they focus solely upon the New World and the oceanic trade empires, first of the Portuguese and Spanish, then of the Dutch, and finally of the French and British. If one concentrated instead on the Afro-Asian land mass, one would be struck by the startling rise of prosperous, dynamic Muslim empires. True, these empires (with the partial exception of the Ottomans) based their power on land, neglecting the maritime periphery—to their ultimate peril.[1]

From 1500 to 1600 the Ottoman Empire expanded from Anatolia into eastern Europe and conquered Syria (1516), Egypt (1517), and Iraq (1534). The Safavid Empire, based in Azerbaijan, subdued the Iranian plateau. The Mughal Empire reached from Kabul down into the Gangetic plain, uniting most of northern India. These three Muslim states, their power based partially on borrowed Chinese and European technical advances in artillery,


Map 1
The Shi‘i World in 1582


each originated in a tribal alliance, which rulers replaced in time by settled bureaucracies and standing armies. They provided a Pax Islamica to the southern regions of the Old World, which encouraged trade and security, allowing a population increase in sixteenth-century Anatolia and probably elsewhere, certainly in some Arab cities. In the sixteenth century these Muslim empires experienced economic advances, territorial expansion, and religious revival.[2]

Ottoman Istanbul, Safavid Isfahan, and Mughal Agra dazzled travelers with their splendor in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their wealth, based primarily on agriculture and only secondarily on trade and manufactures, is indisputable. But their rulers and craftsmen borrowed technology from Europe instead of innovating, so that they gave the world few new developments in weaponry or industry. From at least the fifteenth century, Europe produced more made goods, including, for instance, silk textiles, whereas the Middle East and South Asia sent raw materials (raw silk, spices such as pepper) to Europe. But the western European edge in mechanical inventiveness and the ability to accumulate capital only manifested itself with full force after 1760. Until the late eighteenth century, manufacturing and agricultural productivity, and transportation costs and speed, did not improve dramatically in Europe.

The political and economic flowering of the three sixteenth-century Muslim empires in South and Southwest Asia had a religious impact. The Ottomans promoted the Hanafi rite of Sunni Islam as their state religion, developing a highly institutionalized and bureaucratic religious establishment. The Safavids and their Shi‘i Turkoman followers from Anatolia made Twelver Shi‘ism the religion of state and heavy-handedly imposed it on Sunni Iran. They brought in Arab Shi‘i clerics from southern Lebanon and southern Iraq to man the fledgling religious institution and relied also on notable clerical families within Iran who embraced Shi‘ism. The Mughals, originating in largely Turkish-speaking Central Asia, promoted Hanafi Sunnism. Religious ideology and a corps of ulama organized around institutions useful to the state played an important political role in each of the three Muslim empires.


Of these religious ideologies, Twelver Shi‘ism is the least known. Twelver Shi‘is dwelt in each of the empires. Under the Ottomans, they lived in Jabal ‘Amil (now in Lebanon) and in Iraq. In the Ottoman Arab lands the Twelvers maintained a form of their religion that might be called sectarian, in that they experienced a high degree of friction with the state and with the majority Sunni society around them. They also avoided the development of a great degree of religious organization and structure. Twelver Shi‘is, originally a minority community in Iran, came to form a majority of Iranians under the Safavids, where they elaborated a formal religious establishment, which for the most part cooperated with the Shi‘i state. Organized Safavid Shi‘ism, with its professional clerics and its legitimation of the state, differed starkly from the conservative creed held in most Arab Shi‘i communities.

In South Asia, Twelver Shi‘ism spread on two levels. Iranian merchants and immigrants promoted it among Muslim notables in southern India, so that Shi‘i dynasties came to power in Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, and Golconda. Likewise, a Shi‘i dynasty ruled briefly in sixteenth-century Kashmir. Urban tradespeople and some peasants also created their own form of Twelver Shi‘ism, based especially on mourning rites for the Prophet's martyred grandson, Husayn. The rise of Sunni Mughal power circumscribed the south Indian Shi‘i states and deprived Shi‘is in northern India of governmental protection. The Sunni Mughal Empire gradually absorbed the Shi‘i-ruled polities of the south into itself, disestablishing the rival branch of Islam in the subcontinent.

Early Shi‘ism

Twelver Shi‘i jurisprudence probably began in the eighth century A.D. , when men close to the Imams began arbitrating disputes within their communities.[3] Gradually a body of men grew up who had memorized the oral reports attributed to Muhammad and to the Imams. These believers likewise studied the legal reasoning employed by the sixth Imam, Jacfar as-Sadiq (d. A.D. 765). Roy Mottahedeh has pointed out that the "learned," or ulama, included not only professional religious officials who taught or gave legal judgments, but also part-time scholars and even hobbyists.[4] Out-of-power Shi‘is were even more likely to have "informal," part-time ulama than the dominant groups who evolved into the Sunnis. Partisans of the Imams endured the hostile rule of the Umayyads until the middle of the eighth century A.D.


when a Shi‘i-tinged revolution brought the Abbasids to power. The Abba-sids, however, also refused to recognize the right of the Imams to rule, and often kept them under house arrest as dangerous rivals.

The events following the death of the eleventh Imam, Hasan al-‘Askari, in Abbasid Iraq in A.D. 873 or 874, are obscure and yet of great importance for the history of Twelver Shi‘ism. Several schisms occurred, with some groups saying that Imam Hasan al-‘Askari had left no heir. Others, especially wealthy Shi‘is close to the Abbasid court, proclaimed that the Imam had had a small son, who supernaturally disappeared and who would one day return to restore the world to justice. A series of agents (wakils ) arose to lead the Twelvers, saying that they transmitted messages from the hidden child-Imam. After the death of the last special agent, Imami Shi‘is found themselves cut off from any direct charismatic authority. Yet during the time of the agents a saying attributed to the hidden Twelfth Imam began to circulate, declaring that men who related oral reports from the Imams had the deputyship (niyabah ) of the Imams.[5] Obviously, the relaters (muhaddithun ) of Imami oral reports were making a claim to leadership of the community in the wake of the Imam's disappearance. They did not assert as close a relationship to the Imams as did the four agents, since their only link to the Imams was through the Imami sayings as this body of believers had memorized and transmitted them.

The end of the line of Imams came as a powerful shock to the Twelver community. Early Shi‘i thinkers living after the Occultation, or disappearance, of the Imam felt leaderless. In the absence of the infallible Imam, they believed that no one could conduct Friday congregational prayers, lead believers in an aggressive holy war (jihad ), or collect certain types of land taxes (kharaj ).[6] In short, they felt a profound alienation from the world and generally adopted a quietist political policy.

Under the Shi‘i Buyid dynasty (A.D. 932-1055) in Iraq and Iran, Twelver scholars freely collected and studied the oral reports from the Imams. They came from the old Shi‘i centers of Kufa and Qumm to the Buyid capital of Baghdad. In Baghdad, some wealthy Shi‘i intellectuals began employing the cosmopolitan tools of Greek rationalism in Imami theology. But most Shi‘i scholars rejected rationalism in favor of simply quoting the sayings of the Imams as their authority. In this period, the rationalist theologians began to be called Usulis, whereas those rejecting human reasoning in favor of a literalist


adherence to the words of the Imams became known as Akhbaris. Akhbaris were almost certainly the great majority. At that time, it is important to note, most Shi‘i scholars agreed on the invalidity of such Greek rationalist tools as syllogism in deriving legal judgments. The dispute centered on their use in theology.[7]

The more cosmopolitan, rationalist theologians often had good relations with the Buyid state. Although they considered secular governments to be ultimately unjust (ja'ir ), Shi‘i scholars sometimes felt that there was no objection to working fox the state so long as one's principles were not compromised.[8] The victory of the Saljuq Sunni Turks over the Shi‘i Buyids in the middle of the eleventh century scattered Shi‘i scholars for a time, denied them patronage, and forced them into a low profile. Gradually, however, Shi‘i communities under the Saljuqs reorganized themselves and placed considerable wealth in the hands of their ulama for religious institutions.

The Mongol conquest of I ran and Iraq two centuries later freed Twelvers in many ways from the restrictions placed upon them by the strongly Sunni Saljuqs. In the second half of the thirteenth century, some wealthy Shi‘i scholars, who enjoyed the patronage of the Mongols and based themselves in the Iraqi trading center of al-Hillah, began applying the tools of Greek rationalism to law, rather than solely to theology. This probably reflected the need of dynamic Twelver communities, such as that of al-Hillah in the Mongol era, for a more flexible law. From this period the rationalist Usulis and the strict-constructionist Akhbaris constituted rival schools of jurisprudence.

The conflict between the Akhbaris and the rationalist Usuli jurisprudents centered on two sets of issues. The first concerned the sources of law, with the Akhbaris restricting them to the Qur'an and oral reports (akhbar ) from the Prophet and the Imams. The rationalists saw the consensus of the jurisprudents as another source of legal judgment, as they did the independent reasoning (ijtihad ) of the jurist. The Usulis divided all Shi‘is into formally trained jurisprudents (mujtakids ) and laymen, stipulating that the ordinary believers must emulate the mujtahids in matters of subsidiary religious laws.

The rationalists asserted that the mujtahids, as general representatives of the Hidden Imam, could substitute for him in performing such tasks as giving legal judgments, implementing rulings, collecting and distributing alms (zakal and khums ), mandating defensive holy war, and leading Friday congregational prayers. Although Akhbaris allowed the relater of oral reports from the Imams to perform judicial functions, they often disallowed some or all of the other functions in the absence of an infallible Imam. Akhbaris further re-


jected any division of believers into laymen and mujtahid-exemplars, holding that all Shi‘is must emulate the Twelve Imams. In practice, of course, Akhbaris also made interpretations.

Safavid Iran: Shi‘ism, State, and Society

During the Safavid period the Usuli school, associated with the ruling establishment, burgeoned. In 1501 Shah Ismacil, chief of the militant Safavi Sufi order, became Shah of Iran with the aid of Turkish-speaking Shi‘i tribesmen from Anatolia. The new rulers imposed Twelver Shi‘ism on Iran, ideologically reinforcing their territorial victory. They required that imprecations be ritually pronounced upon caliphs holy to Sunnis, burned Sunni mosques, and expropriated the land of Sunnis. Shi‘i folk practices spread in Iran, such as the feast of the killing of Umayyad commander ‘Umar b. Sacd, an enemy of Imam Husayn. Meetings (rawzah-khvani ) for the recitation of the sufferings and death of Imam Husayn began to be held. Religious processions began to be taken out during the mourning month of Muharram, commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn on the tenth day (‘Ashura').[9]

From the reign of Shah Tahmasp (1533-76), the second Safavid monarch, a corps of Shi‘i ulama attracted from southern Lebanon and Iraq began making extensive changes in the practice of Twelver Shi‘ism which reflected the change in the religion's status from persecuted minority to reigning orthodoxy. The immigrant Arab Twelver clerics went far beyond the Hilli school, or the simple recognition of independent legal reasoning in jurisprudence. They permitted the central functions of the state to be undertaken by someone other than a divinely appointed Imam, making themselves general proxies for the Imam and legitimizing the Shi‘i Safavid regime. They also moved toward the creation of a Shi‘i religious hierarchy, staffed largely by Arabs and based mostly on the newly created offices of Shi‘i prayer leader and Shaykhu'l-Islam (jurisconsult). Safavid Usulism became the ideology of the Arab immigrant ulama within Iran, who wanted upward mobility and the implementation of a new vision of Imami Shi‘ism in cooperation with the Safavid monarchy—an activist, dominating Twelver Shi‘ism rather than the quietist, sectarian version of the religion that had largely predominated before 1500.[10]

Prominent among these innovators was Shaykh ‘Ali al-Karaki (d. 1534), from Jabal ‘Amil.[11] In the first year of Shah Tahmasp's reign al-Karaki


ordered that a Shi‘i prayer leader be appointed in every town and village. Since many Shi‘i ulama held Friday congregational prayers invalid in the absence of the Twelfth Imam, this move dismayed conservatives, especially Arab Shi‘is who still for the most part labored under Sunni rule. But al-Karaki wished to create a religious institution under his own authority. The Safavids cooperated in the endeavor, since Shi‘i Friday prayer leaders throughout Iran said blessings on the Shi‘i monarchs in the Friday afternoon sermon. Al-Karaki also allowed the collection of land tax (kharaj ) in the Imam's absence, and wrote instructions for Safavid tax collectors. In so doing he opened up a source of revenue for the fledgling Twelver state. He ordered that Shi‘is stop dissimulating (taqiyyah ) their faith out of fear of Sunnis, since they now had government protection, and instituted the public cursing of the first two Sunni caliphs on a country-wide scale.

Two groups opposed these institutional innovations. Within Iran, Ar-jomand has demonstrated, the old Iranian families in charge of religious institutions such as judgeships and pious endowment supervision, many of whom embraced Shi‘ism, resented the immigrant Arab clerics.[12] Moreover, the Shi‘is of the Arab world found many of al-Karaki's innovations inappropriate to their own situation. Typical of the Arab Shi‘is outside Iran (until the sixteenth century probably the majority of Twelvers) was Shaykh Ibrahim al-Qatifi.[13] A former student turned enemy of al-Karaki, he cautiously accepted the necessity of independent legal reasoning (ijtihad ) and so could be categorized as an Usuli. But al-Qatifi, from the Sunni-dominated Persian Gulf, advocated a conservative Usulism that would not exacerbate Sunni persecution of Shi‘is and clung to the conservative political culture of minority Shi‘ism. He rejected the legitimacy of holding Friday prayers during the absence of the Imam of collecting kharaj land taxes, and of associating with rulers. After 1530 the Sunni Ottomans conquered Iraq, including the Shi‘i shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf where al-Qatifi and many other Arab Twelvers were based. Thereafter the shrine dries remained centers of a more cautious, conservative kind of Shi‘ism similar to that advocated by al-Qatifi.

In Iran, the rationalist, establishmentarian Usulism of al-Karaki largely won out. Isfahan's Imarn-Jumcahs (Friday congregational prayer leaders) from Shaykh ‘Abdu'l-‘Ali al-Karaki on adhered for the most part to Usulism, at least until the late seventeenth century. The mujtahids gained further power through becoming wealthy supervisors of pious endowment properties in the seventeenth century, and through revenue-free grants of land made to them by the Safavid shahs.[14] The Safavid capital, Isfahan, became the cyno-


sure of the Shi‘i clerisy, a center of learning with 48 colleges and 162 mosques, and a place where important career contacts could be made.[15]

The clergy became so powerful that a few openly preached the necessity for the ruler to be not only a Sayyid but also a mujtahid, or senior jurispru-dent trained in Twelver law. This stance disputed the claim of the Safavids, laymen given often to loose morals, though the shahs asserted their descent from the Prophet. The dominant Shi‘i view supported the legitimacy of Safavid rule against clerical pretenders.[16] Not everyone trusted the ulama, as a seventeenth-century folk saying from Isfahan testifies: "Keep a wary eye in front of you for a woman, behind you for a mule, and from every direction for a mulla."[17]

Most of the clergy neither enjoyed great wealth nor refused to associate with the government, since they believed it legitimate to work for the state whenever they would otherwise fear for their lives or whenever they felt they could thereby help the Shi‘i community. Clerical support for the Safavids led the Shi‘i monarchs often to persecute the enemies of the ulama, particularly the leaders of mystical Sufi orders, who competed with them for the spiritual allegiance of the masses. Since most Sufis were also Sunnis, and had a form of mass organization outside both the Safavid state and the Shi‘i religious establishment, Usuli ulama saw them as a threat.[18]

The main opposition to the Usuli school came from Akhbari revivalism. Akhbarism, as was noted above, rejected the legitimacy of independent legal reasoning and denied the need of laypersons to emulate mujtahids. A major intellectual figure in the revival of this strict-constructionist approach to Shi‘ism, Muhammad Amin Astarabadi (d. 1624), attacked the mujtahids from his base in Medina, in the Arab world.[19] Astarabadi's reformulation of conservative Shi‘i jurisprudence found great acclaim in the shrine cities of Iraq and, as Arjomand demonstrated, in Iran among ethnically Iranian religious officials in competition with the ethnically Arab mujtahids.

Although Usulism probably predominated in the Safavid capital of Isfahan, the situation outside Isfahan in the late seventeenth century is harder to gauge. In some provincial centers Akhbaris remained influential. The Imam-Jumcah and Shaykhu'l-Islam of Qumm under Sulayman Shah (1667-94), Muhammad Tahir, a committed Akhbari brought up in Najaf, caused a row with the court by censuring the monarch's morals. Al-Hurr al-‘Amili (d. 1708 or 1709) immigrated to Mashhad from Syria, becoming Shaykhu'l-Islam.


A staunch Akhbari, he disallowed the use of reason and wrote against rationalist theology. The family of the Akhbari Nicmatu'llah Jaza'iri (d. 1701) settled in the small Iranian town of Shushtar, in Khuzistan, as Akhbari prayer leaders.[20] Southwestern Iran was a major center of Akhbarism. As was noted, the Akhbari school had found favor with many ulama in the shrine cities of Iraq as well.

The Safavid conquest of Iran and promulgation of Twelver Shi‘ism represented the most startling cultural revolution in the Islamic world for centuries. Neither the Ottoman Turks nor the Mughal Timurids did nearly as much to change the religious beliefs of the people they ruled. The rise of Twelver Shi‘ism is comparable in scope—though emphatically not in content—to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. In both Protestantism and Safavid Shi‘ism, regional rulers' desire for political autonomy coincided with the wish of a clerically led group, branded heretics, to establish new religious institutions. Bloody religious and political wars ensued, dividing a cultural area (western Europe, southwest Asia) that had previously been religiously more uniform.

The Deccan Shi‘i States

Indian Ocean trade routes linked the Persian Gulf with southern India, encouraging a migration of people and ideas between the two areas. Iranian notables, administrators, military men, and literati flooded into southern India, or the Deccan, during the Mongol invasions of Iran in the thirteenth century, and thereafter. Especially after the Safavid victory, these Iranian elites often adopted Shi‘ism. Diplomatically and in its elite culture southern India became a dependency of Iran in the sixteenth century. Iranian notables carried with them their new conviction in Usuli Shi‘ism, providing patronage for Friday congregational prayer mosques and other Usuli Twelver institutions.

The longest-lasting of the Shi‘i-ruled states in southern India, the Qutb-Shahi (1512-1687), began with the political rise in Golconda of a Turkoman adventurer from Hamadan, Iran, named Sultan-Quli Qutbu'd-Din. The rulers in his line gave extensive patronage to Shi‘i ulama and built mosques, buildings (cashur-khanah ) for the commemoration of Imam Husayn's martyrdom, seminaries, and Shi‘i burial grounds. They had the Friday prayer sermons said in the name of the Twelve Imams and of the Safavids. Iranians


immigrated in large numbers, many as merchants attracted by the diamond trade, and some local adoption of Shi‘ism occurred. Twelver ulama of the Usuli school predominated in Golconda. In 1636 the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, forced the Qutb-Shahis to cease their Shi‘i forms in the Friday congregational prayer sermons, including the mention of the Safavids. In 1687 the capital of Hyderabad fell to the Sunni Mughals, who extinguished Shi‘i Qutb-Shahi rule.[21]

The role of emigrant Shi‘i scholars from Iran in spreading Twelver ideas in sixteenth-century southern India is exemplified by Shah Tahir Ismacili From a prominent Ismacili family in Iran, he became a Twelver and later emigrated for political reasons to the domains of Burhan Nizam Shah (1508-53) in Ahmadnagar, southern India. There he convinced the monarch to become a Twelver Shi‘i and became a minister in his government. Shi‘ism remained influential in elite culture for several generations thereafter. The Ahmadnagar Nizam Shahs lost their independence when Akbar made them pay tribute, and Shah Jahan formally absorbed the area into the Mughal Empire in 1633.[22]

The southwestern Deccani kingdom of Bijapur also experienced Shi‘i rule and Iranian influence in the sixteenth century, 1502-34 and 1558-83, under the ‘Adil Shahi dynasty. Shi‘i Iranian merchants plied the horse trade from the Persian Gulf to Bijapur, and Shi‘i notables achieved high office there. Yusuf ‘Adil Shah (1489-1510), an Ottoman Turkish exile with tics to the Safavid Ismacil, proclaimed Shi‘ism the state religion in Bijapur in 1502, on hearing of the Safavid victory. This proclamation encouraged even more Iranians to immigrate, and the ‘Adil Shahis employed them as administrators or military men. The Shi‘i monarchs hired three hundred Iranians to curse the first three caliphs.

The ‘Adil Shahis recognized the Safavids as their ultimate sovereigns, though given their distance from Iran, this recognition remained a mere formality. Shi‘i ulama and notables often came into violent conflict with Sunnis, including local Sufi leaders, and Sunni-Shi‘i riots became endemic during the month of Muharram when Shi‘is cursed the caliphs. From 1583 local Sunni elites came back into power. The Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, com-


pelled the Bijapuris to pay tribute to him from 1636, and Awrangzib annexed Bijapur into the Mughal Empire in 1686.[23]

Although the sixteenth might be rightly called the Twelver century in the Indo-Iranian cultural sphere, Shi‘is won only limited and temporary victories outside Iran. Only in Iran did Shi‘i rulers succeed in making their creed into a mass religion, by a combination of brutal persecution, the lavishing of wealth on Twelver institutions, and their appeal to a widespread folk cult of the Prophet's family. Southern India's population, however, clung to its Hinduism, and most Sunni notable families stubbornly resisted the call to curse the caliphs. The Deccani Shi‘i ruling classes, with their Persian literary inclinations and their threnodies for the Imams in the new language of Urdu, remained insulated from the Dravidian, Hindu masses. The Mughal Timurid emperors gradually reduced the Shi‘i states of the south to vassals of a Sunni emperor, then finally they absorbed those territories and dethroned the Shi‘i monarchs.

Shi‘ism in Northern India under the Mughals

Twelver Shi‘ism in northern India under the Mughals, sometimes barely tolerated and at others fiercely persecuted. has left far fewer traces in the chronicles than it did in the south.[24] The importance of Iranian immigrants in spreading Safavid-style Twelver Shi‘ism seems indisputable, although hard to trace except at the very top of the social hierarchy. Regions of northern India, particularly Kashmir, had more Shi‘is than others. The popular classes developed creative ways of mourning the wronged Family of the Prophet, although the Mughals sometimes suppressed such displays of proto-Shi‘i piety.

The Mughal, or Timurid, dynasty was begun by Babur (d. 1530), a Chaghatai Turk who originally sought to establish his own state in his native central Asia. Blocked in central Asia by the Uzbeks, he established himself in Kabul and invaded India from this base in Afghanistan. His son Humayun, expelled from India by the Afghan Suri rulers, took refuge in Safavid Iran. There Humayun gained Safavid help in reestablishing his Indian domains, at the price of pretending to embrace Shi‘ism, for which he never showed any actual enthusiasm. Given the great surpluses expropriated by ruling elites in


the agrarian bureaucracies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had Humayun actually adopted Shi‘ism he could have done much to spread it in northern India. Humayun's son Akbar (1556-1605) put the Mughal Empire on a sound footing, making coalitions with regional Hindu elites and adopting a syncretic religion of his own invention, which combined elements of Islam, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism. Akbar tolerated but did not promote Twelver Shi‘ism, appointing the renowned Nuru'llah Shushtari, a Shi‘i cleric from Iran, chief judge (qazi ) of Lahore. Tolerance of Shi‘ism in Mughal India often fluctuated according to relations with Iran. The sixteenth-century Mughal-Safavid alliance gave way in the seventeenth to disputes over Qandahar, leading to restrictions on Shi‘is in India.[25]

The only instance of state adoption of Shi‘ism in northern India occurred in Kashmir, where the Shi‘i Chak ruling house (1561-89) came briefly to power. Shi‘ism came to Kashmir from Iran, and was embraced by some Sayyids and by the Chak clan. Members of the Nurbakhshiyyah Sufi order came to Kashmir from Iran in the years just before the Safavid victory in Azerbaijan. With the rise of Shi‘i power in Iran, the pro-Shi‘i Nurbakhshis formally became Twelvers. Shi‘i Chak rule caused Sunni-Shi‘i clashes in Kashmir, however, which the Mughal Akbar made a pretext to annex the region into his empire. A minority Shi‘i community continued to exist in Kashmir, as did Sunni-Shi‘i violence. Firishtah noted continuing Shi‘i influence in the Kashmiri military.[26]

The European traveler Manucci wrote that Akbar initiated a deliberate policy of receiving even Shi‘i Iranians who fell from political favor under the Safavids and fled to India. He said that Akbar and his successors gave these political refugees official grants (mansabdari ) and sent them to the province of Kashmir, where they led a comfortable life. When one of them died, rather than repatriating his stipend to the central government, the Iranian Shi‘i political refugees divided it up among the survivors. Ultimately Awrangzib put a stop to this "inheritance" of the mansabdari .[27] Since Kashmir had been ruled by the Shi‘i Chak dynasty and had a minority Shi‘i population, it was a logical place for the Mughals to send the Iranian refugees of whom they hoped to make political use. The wealth and standing of this group probably helped Shi‘ism in Kashmir and the neighboring Punjab.

Rizvi has quoted a central Asian traveler's account of Muharram in Lahore around 1635, which reported that the first five days of the month were given over to merrymaking to celebrate the happy portions of the Imams' lives, with male and female singers and dancers giving frequent perform-


ances. From the sixth through the tenth of the month believers mourned, and Shi‘is cursed the enemies of the Imams. On the tenth of Muharram itself, Shi‘is and Hindus stayed at home, but rival Sunni groups took out processions with placards, often, clashing violently.[28]

The French traveler Tavernier noted the many Iranian nobles and military men in the service of the Sunni Mughals, comparing their numbers to those in Bijapur, which had been Shi‘i-ruled. He wrote of these Iranian social climbers:

It is true that although they regarded the Sunnis with horror they, nevertheless follow, in outward show, the religion of the monarch, believing that to make or secure their fortune they might conceal their true belief, and that it sufficed for them to cherish it in their hearts . . . . Although [Awrangzib] had, as I have said, numerous Persians in his service, he did not allow them to celebrate the festival of Hosen and Hosein, sons of All.[29]

Other travelers in the late seventeenth century also remark the presence of Muharram processions of mourning for the Imam Husayn in southern India, and their forbidden character in Awrangzib's northern India.[30] In 1668, Awrangzib prohibited such mourning processions, during which urban groups paraded decorated wood or bamboo replicas of the Imam's tomb, on the grounds that the custom had resulted in a major riot in Burhanpur among rival groups of mourners.[31]

Not only military adventurers and political refugees went to India from Iran. At least two members of the preeminent clerical family in seventeenth-century Isfahan, the Majlisis, emigrated to Awrangzib's India. A grandson of Muhammad Taqi Majlisi, Aqa Muhammad Sacid Mazandarani, emerged as a favored court poet in Delhi, with the pen name "Ashraf."[32] His brother, Aqa Hasan ‘Ali, followed in his footsteps. For sons of Shi‘i ulama to succeed socially in the strongly Sunni atmosphere of the Mughal court they had to concentrate on literary or medical pursuits, which they did with some success.

Shi‘ism thereforc had a furtive character in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mughal India, which makes its culture difficult to recover. Shi‘ism spread to a slight extent among the ordinary folk, probably from Iran and by way of transplanted Iranian notables and Iranian long-distance merchants.


Most Shi‘is in northern India, Akhbaris, opposed the holding of Friday congregational prayers in the absence of the Twelfth Imam. A minority in Mul-tan and Sindh embraced Twelver Shi‘ism after 1500, and the eighteenth-century Sunni Afghan domination of these areas and Kashmir forced many Shi‘is to migrate southward to Delhi or Awadh. Late in the seventeenth century, after Awrangzib's conquest of Shi‘i-ruled Hyderabad, Deccani Shi‘is came north to join Mughal service, spreading their rituals in Delhi.[33]

Eighteenth-Century Political Transitions and Their Effect on Shi‘ism

In the eighteenth century the three great Islamic empires that had straddled southern and western Asia and North Africa suffered political reversals both externally and internally. Local tribal and peasant groups, suffering from high taxation, pursued successful rebellions against the centralized empires and their standing armies, leading to a decline of bureaucracy in favor of tribal power based on mobility, guerrilla tactics, and hand-held firearms Empires gave way to decentralization, to be replaced by provincial powers. As will be discussed later, the Mughal Empire declined at the center and regional successor states emerged. As the century wore on, the political influence of the British East India Company grew enormously as it swallowed up Bengal and other territories.

The Safavids fell to invading Afghan Sunni tribal armies in 1722, and the Persian Gulf gradually became a British lake. Only one of the three empires, the Ottoman, survived, partially because the European powers could not agree among themselves how to divide it up. Still, the Ottomans suffered loss of control over outlying parts of the empire, such as Egypt and Iraq, with slave-soldier (mamluk ) local regimes taking effective power. These political and economic changes strongly influenced the fortunes of Imami Shi‘ism, disestablishing or crippling clerical institutions in Iran for decades, giving greater autonomy to the Shi‘i shrine cities in southern Iraq under the weak Mamluks, and pcoviding an opportunity for Shi‘i governors in Bengal and Awadh to make a bid for regional independence from the Mughals in India. Moreover, Shi‘i ideological developments in Iraq and Iran had a fateful impact on north Indian Shi‘ism later in the eighteenth century.

The political and financial support that the Safavids gave Shi‘ism and its institutions tied the fortunes of the religion to those of the dynasty. Shah Sultan Husayn (1694-1722) presided over the dissolution of the Safavid Empire. The Shah's secular policies led to weakness, and only in the religious sphere did he take forceful action, giving free reign to the bigotry of clerics such as Shaykhu'l-Islam Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1699). The last Safavid


ordered forced conversions of Jews and Zoroastrians, the expulsion of thousands of Hindu merchants from Isfahan, and the persecution of Sunni tribal groups, such as the Kurds. Changes in provincial administration and neglect of the military made Iran vulnerable to Baluchi tribal raids and incursions by the tribal Ghilzay Afghans, who seized Qandahar in 1709. An Afghan army of twenty thousand took Kirman in 1721 and marched on to Isfahan, which fell, after a long and terrible siege, to the Ghilzays in 1722. Iran also began to feel mililary pressure from the Russia of Peter the Great, and from the Ottomans.

Tahmasp II, a Safavid aspirant to the throne now occupied by the Afghans, found a military strategist to support him in Nadir Afshar. But once Nadir defeated the Afghans, he claimed the throne for himself in 1736. Nadir's military policies barked back to those of Timur ("Tamerlane") or the early Safavids, in that he put together a coalition of tribal Afghan and Qizilbash armies instead of depending on a bureaucratically ordered standing army. The tribal forces. pastoralists, could only be paid in booty and pasturage, which required constant movement and conquest. Nadir invaded Iraq twice, in the early 1730s and the early 1740s, meeting defeat at the hands of the Ottomans both times, and in the late 1730s undertook a long campaign to India, where he conquered Lahore and Delhi and made the Mughal emperor his vassal for a time. But tribal factionalism between the Sunni Afghan and the Shi‘i Qizilbash wings of his army led to Nadir Shah's assassination in 1747.

Regional contests for power divided for a decade and a half the area that had been Safavid Iran, with the Shiraz-based Zands emerging victorious west of Khurasan. Karim Khan Zand's pragmatic rule (1763-79) reunited Iran and aimed at capturing revived Persian Gulf trade by conquering Basra, Ottoman Iraq's port city. Upon Karim Khan Zand's death the Qajar tribe gained political preeminence, creating a new Shi‘i state, which ruled throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.

Qajar. Iran (1785-1925), unlike Mughal India or the Ottoman Empire, regained central-government control by the end of the eighteenth century over most of the territories held in the seventeenth. The Zands and Qajars benefited from the preoccupation of the Afghans with the Punjab, and of the British with Bengal, so that two centrifugal forces besetting the Mughals were deflected from Iran. But Iran's economy was disrupted for much of the period 1722-97, and growing Russian and British economic and military power chipped away at its territories and the Qajars diplomatic independence throughout the nineteetnth century.[34]


These political trends made a major impact upon the Shi‘i ulama.[35] Under the last Safavid ruler, Shah Sultan Husayn, the high ulama favoring the rationalist Usuli school of jurisprudence, enjoyed great influence, position, and wealth. But the Afghan conquest of Isfahan in 1722 displaced hundreds of scholarly families and delivered a mortal blow to the dynasty that had assured their fortunes. The Sunni Ghilzays and Nadir Shah expropriated the endowments supporting the clergy, leading to a relative impoverishment and a decline in the influence of this group. During the second quarter of the eighteenth century great numbers of Shi‘i clergymen and merchants fled Iran for the shrine cities of Ottoman Iraq, adding a new ethnic component to the Arab quarters of these cities.

Isfahan, although its population may have declined from 250,000 to only 50,000, remained one of Iran's larger cities and a center of rationalism and mysticism throughout this period, exercising a countervailing influence in those directions. Iranian centers of Usulism remained, though we simply do not know much about intellectual currents in Shiraz, Tabriz, and other centers in this period. The frequent description of the eighteenth century as one of Akhbari dominance appears to derive mainly from the experience of Isfahani emigrants to largely Akhbari Iraq, rather than from actual Akhbari hegemony over most major Iranian centers (though Kirman, Qumm, and Khuzistan appear to have favored Akhbarism).

The Shi‘i ulama of Iran adopted varying strategies to deal with the vicissitudes that struck their status group in the eighteenth century. These included emigration to the Iraqi shrine cities, where a constant stream of pilgrims and long-distance merchants provided them with a livelihood as legal advisers and supervisors of charitable contributions and pious endowments. Some managed to retain religious office in a declining Isfahan; others intermarried with rich merchants or well-off artisans when possible. With the decline of court patronage for scholars and the expropriation of endowments, more were probably forced into low-status trades—becoming cotton or silk weavers, smiths, dyers, bleachers, and hat makers—than would normally have been the case. Many settled in Iran's small towns and large villages, where local tribal leaders came into prominence with the decline of central government. The smaller centers were less likely to attract marauding invaders, prospering as local trade depots even as some large cities declined. Members of the Majlisi family colonized high religious office in several provincial cities and small towns. Finally, some sought employment in Bengal (governed


by a Shi‘i family from 1740 to 1757) as literary men, civil servants, and physicians.[36]

In this period one often sees mullas, clerics, tying themselves to the richer classes of the bazaar, seeking new forms of economic security when their links to the court were so disrupted from 1722 to the rise of the Zands. Their bazaar links and the relative pohtical independence this fostered were to prove crucial to the growth of ulama power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[37]

Crucial developments also occurred in Iraq during the eighteenth century. The Ottoman governor, Hasan Pasha, governed Iraq firmly (1702-24), but Iraq suffered disruptive Iranian incursions under Nadir Shah during Ahmad Pasha's governorship. Thereafter Sulayman Abu Laylah Pasha (1750-62) created a new, regionally based Mamluk state, which continued under his slave-ruler successors until the reassertion of direct Ottoman rule in 1831. The Mamluk state gained independence in all but name.[38]

The Iraqi shrine cities laboring under Sunni Ottoman rule, had remained centers of the more conservative Akhbari school. With the collapse of Shi‘i rule in Iran and the anticlericalism of the new rulers, the ulama in any case lost much of their previous opportunity for an active social role. The congregation of hundreds of Iranian clerical families in the Akhbari strongholds brought them under the conservative influence of that school. The decline of the great Shi‘i clerical centers in Iran lent the shrine cities even more glamour in the rest of the Shi‘i world, and Nadir Shah had won from the Ottomans pledges not to tax the pilgrims who frequented them. The pilgrimage trade brought wealth into Iraq from Iran and India, and the Mamluks granted the shrine cities much relative autonomy in view of the dangers of another Iranian invasion should the Shi‘is there feel mistreated. All this gave the Shi‘i ulama based in Najaf, Karbala, Kazimayn, and Samarra great wealth, power, and independence late in the eighteenth century.

Political decentralization and realignments had a differential impact upon Shi‘ism in various regions of the Middle East. In Iran, the fall of the Safavids helped disestablish the Shi‘i ulama, reducing them to comparative powerlessness and poverty. In Iraq, however, the influx of clerical families fleeing Nadir Shah, Iranian attempts to annex the shrine cities, continued pil-


grimage and trade, and the emergence of a regional Mamluk regime all contributed to the greater autonomy and wealth of the Shi‘i ulama.

Neo-Akhbari Dominance, 1722-1763, in Iraq

Against a backdrop of geographical and class dislocation, the ulama of the eighteenth century fought out a decisive battle on the interpretation of Shi‘ism.[39] The old struggle between the Usulis and the Akhbaris revived in a new guise. The Akhbarism of the eighteenth century was less conservative than pre-Safavid Akhbarism had been, most Akhbaris in Iran and Iraq having accepted the validity of, for instance, Friday congregational prayers in the Occultation. But Akhbaris still preferred a more conservative approach to juridical decision-making, excluding the rationalist techniques of the Usulis. The Usuli-Akhbari conflict has too often been seen in liberal terms as a battle of great minds. In fact, the ideological struggle reflected the competition of ulama families and of regions, and social and economic forces affected its outcome.

Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani (1695-1772), a key figure in the intellectual development of Shi‘ism, grew up in Safavid Bahrain in a family of Usuli clerics who also worked as pearl merchants.[40] He fled first to Shiraz from the 1717 Omani invasion of Bahrain, then to Karbala from the Afghan conquest of Iran. Al-Bahrani adopted the Akhbari school, rejecting his early schooling in Bahrain. As a refugee from Iran in Karbala, he would at first have been dependent on the largesse of Akhbari religious dignitaries. Moreover, the same political instability that expelled him from his homeland and deposed the Safavids apparently made an establishment-oriented school of jurisprudence like Usulism less appealing. As time went on, al-Bahrani moved away from a strict Akhbarism to a neo-Akhbari position that had Usuli elements. Nevertheless, he rejected Usuli principles of legal reasoning, the syllogistic logic Usulis allowed in interpreting the law, and the legitimacy of holy war during the Occultation of the Imam.[41] With the influx of Iranians into Karbala from Isfahan and other Iranian cities, the Akhbari teachers in the shrine cities em-


ployed their prestige and patronage to convince them to adopt the Akhbari school.

The trend to Akhbarism after 1722 may be witnessed in another major eighteenth-century figure, Aqa Muhammad Baqir b. Muhammad Akmal (1705-90), born in Isfahan and descended on his mother's side from the prominent Majlisi clerical family. His kin and social networks reached beyond the mosque, since he had half-brothers working in Isfahan and Tehran as money changers (sarraf ) and in Zand Shiraz as money coiners (zarrabi ). The young Aqa Muhammad Baqir, emigrating to Karbala in 1722, came under Akhbari influences there and changed for a while to that. school from his Isfahani Usulism.[42]

Aqa Muhammad Baqir traveled early in the 1730s to Bihbahan on the border of the Iranian provinces of Khuzistan and Fars. Many Isfahani scholarly families scattered to such small towns (qasabahs ) in southern Iran, which, though relatively near to the shrine cities, offered greater security in this period than large cities. Aqa Muhammad Baqir found the religious institutions in Bihbahan dominated by ulama from Bahrain who had newly adopted Akhbarism. Although he may at first have gotten along with them, at some point he reverted to his Isfahani Usulism and engaged in bitter polemics with the Akhbaris. He emerged as a popular prayer leader and teacher and remained for thirty years.[43]

The Usuli elite of Isfahan, dispersed to the Akhbari-dominated shrine cities and to conservative small towns in the 1720s, suffered in the 1730s further disestablishment by Nadir Shah (1736-47), who supplanted both Afghans and Safavids. He made it one of the cornerstones of his policy that Iranians should renounce the Shi‘i. practice of cursing the first two caliphs of Sunni Islam, and tried to have Shi‘ism incorporated into Sunnism as a fifth legal rite. This policy allowed him to keep loyal to himself both his Afghan troops and his Qizilbash cavalry the former fierce Sunnis and the latter staunch Shi‘is. Nadir Shah forced the Shi‘i ulama to agree to this compromise. Wherever they felt it necessary, they went along, but the assent of many surely represented no more than pious dissimulation (taqiyyah ). In addition, Nadir sought to weaken the clergy and defang any potential clerical opposition to his policies by confiscating the rich endowments that had supported the seminaries and mosques of Isfahan.[44]


The Usuli Revival in the Zand Period, 1763-1779

Aqa Muhammad Baqir returned to Iraq sometime in the early 1760s. Bihbahani, as he was now known, found the shrine cities an extremely hostile environment for an Usuli. Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani, in his late sixties and ten years senior to the newcomer, presided over the religious establishment in Karbala as the dean of Shi‘i scholarship. Al-Bahrani's neo-Akhbaris considered Usulis to be ritually impure, touching Usuli works only with a handkerchief to shield their fingers from its polluting effects. More serious, anyone walking in the street with Usuli literature beneath his arm risked violent assault.[45] The power structure in the shrine cities consisted of an Arab landholding elite, a number of mafia-type gangs, and the leading clerics. Any important figure among the ulama would have to make alliances with the Sayyid landholders and with the chief gangsters who ran protection rackets in the bazaars. At this point, the Akhbaris had the important gangster, or luti , contacts, and could employ these to intimidate Usuli rivals.

Bihbahani at first faced so many difficulties in Karbala that he seriously considered returning to Iran. But he soon began teaching Usuli texts secretly in his basement to a select and trusted number of students, many of them former pupils of al-Bahrani. These included his own nephews. When the Iranians had originally come to the shrine cities in the 1720s, many of them penniless refugees, they had been integrated into the Akhbari ideology of their Arab hosts and benefactors. Forty years later the founding of an Usuli cell in Karbala led by members of the Majlisi aristocracy signaled the increasing financial and social independence of the ethnically Iranian quarters in the shrine cities.[46] Although the Iranian scholarly families originally depended heavily on government land grants and emoluments in Iran, which many of them lost after 1722, the history of the Majlisi family suggests that they increasingly forged links with merchants and skilled artisans in the bazaars, which gave them a new financial base. Though fallen from their notable status and dispossessed of their lands around Isfahan, many Iranian expatriates could increasingly compete with the wealth of merchant-ulama like al-Bahrani. The partial upturn in ulama fortunes in the Zand period, moreover, coincided with the economic rebound of the artisan and merchant classes, to whom they had become tied.[47]

Wealth underpinned the success of a great teacher, since he attracted students by providing them with stipends to live on. It also ensured that the


gangster bosses took his side. Aqa Muhammad Baqir's wealth probably derived from merchant in-laws, brothers-in-law serving as high administrators in Bengal, and wealthy legal clients. At some point Bihbahani began to feel that he had enough students, monetary support, and security to challenge al-Bahrani openly, an event that led to the polarization of the scholarly community in Karbala during the 1760s. In 1772, when al-Bahrani expired, Bihbahani had attained such a prestigious position that he read the funeral prayers for his late nemesis. Shaykh Yusuf's demise removed the most vigorous Akhbari leader from the field, allowing Aqa Muhammad Baqir, then sixty-seven, to spend his last clear-minded decade in consolidating his position. A number of other formei students of al-Bahrani, including Bihbahani's nephews the young Tabataba'is, and some Arab scholars, now forsook neo-Akhbarism for the Usuli school.[48] These in turn helped their aging mentor to train a whole new generation of youthful mujtahids, who came from Iran to the shrine cities in the last years of Zand dominance and the opening years of Qajar rule.

The Usuli revival was, in Iranian terms, a largely Zand-period phenomenon, .which the Qajars came to support later on. In the shrine cities themselves the Usuli victory coincided with the rise of local Shi‘i power and the decline of central Ottoman control, so that Usuli principles, such as the holding of Shi‘i congregational prayers, could be gradually implemented, something the Ottomans had not tolerated when they had a firmer hand in Iraq. Usulism was promoted in particular by ethnically Iranian immigrant families in the Arab shrine cities, but the school attracted the support of local Arab scholars as well in the 1770s. The Zands provided new patronage and economic security in Iran, encouraging the revival of activist, rationalist Usuli jurisprudence.


The fortunes of Imami Shi‘ism in Iraq and Iran from its inception depended upon two forces. The first, popular-class heterodoxy and love for the family of the Prophet, allowed it to survive among urban artisans in Iraqi and Iranian cities and among the marsh Arabs of Iraq, and to spread among the Turkoman pastoralists of Anatolia. The second, ruling-class support or tolerance, aided the religion in the Buyid period, part of the Mongol period, and under the Safavids and Zands. Popular-class adoption of the religion helped it spread even under hostile governments, such as the Sunni Ottomans and Mughals, though it suffered setbacks in such situations. In seventeenth-


century southern India, ruling-class support for Imami Shi‘ism allowed the development of sophisticated religious and cultural institutions, but failed to secure allegiance to the faith by the masses of Hindus and Sunnis.

The late seventeenth and the early eighteenth century witnessed political setbacks to Imami Shi‘ism of considerable scope. The Sunni Mughals dethroned the remaining Shi‘i monarchs of southern India, the Ottomans ruled the Shi‘i areas of southern Lebanon and southern Iraq, forces from Muscat conquered Shi‘i Bahrain, and Sunni Afghans swept into Iran, dethroning the Safavids. Everywhere Imami Shi‘ism as a religion of the ruling class met defeat, the wealth of its ulama was expropriated, and only the devotion of the common people kept the faith alive. But the second half of the eighteenth century saw a reversal of the Sunni revival. The Mughals grew weak, allowing their Shi‘i governors in Awadh and Bengal to become nearly autonomous. The Zands restored Shi‘i rule to Iran. The declining Ottomans allowed a Sunni Mamluk regime to come to power in Iraq, which granted greater freedom to the Shi‘i shrine cities. The Shi‘i ulama took advantage of the improving political climate in the second half of the eighteenth century to promote their own interests, expressed in the clerical ideology of Usuli Shi‘ism.


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