Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scholarship in a sayyid family of Avadh I: Musavī Nīshāpūrī of Kintūr

People familiar with Shiʿi scholarship in North India will have heard of the famous polemical defence of Shiʿi theology entitled ʿAbaqāt al-anwār fī imāmat al-aʾimmat al-aṭhār or the library associated with the author and his family, the Nāṣirīya in Lucknow (presented run by Sayyid ʿAlī Nāṣir Mūsavī better known as Agha Roohi). A family of Mūsavī sayyids from Khurāsān, namely Nishāpūr, settled in Kintūr in Barabanki east of Lucknow and very much in the heart of Avadh in the 14th century (incidentally that is pretty much the same time as the main branch of my paternal ancestors Rażavī sayyids from Nishapur as well settled in the Delhi area before moving on to Allahabad and other parts of eastern UP including Ghāzīpūr). Interesting one of the descendants of this family, famous because of his own grandson, was Sayyid Aḥmad Mūsavī (d. 1869), the grandfather of Sayyid Rūḥullāh Khumaynī (d. 1989). Sayyid Aḥmad was born in Kintūr and later moved to the shrine cities of Iraq as many scholars did in around 1830 as British encroachment in Avadh increased; he later eventually settled in Khomein in 1839. On his death in 1869, his body was transferred to Karbalāʾ for burial in the shrine city.

But I want to focus to the main branch of the family. Sayyid Muḥammad Qulī son of Muḥammad Ḥusayn, known as Mīr Muḥammad Qulī (1775-1844) joined British service early on and served as a judge in Meerut. He had studied with the famous mujtahid of Lucknow Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī Naṣīrābādī (d. 1820). He was appointed to the top clerical post of ṣadr al-ṣudūr in 1837 and eventually retired to Lucknow a year before his death. A jurist in his own right, he was the author of a number of refutations of the anti-Shiʿi polemic penned by Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (d. 1823) the Tuḥfa-yi ithnāʿasharīya including Tashyīd al-maṭāʿin li-kashf al-ḍaghāʾin, al-Sayf al-nāṣirī, Taqlīb al-makāʾid (lithographed in Calcutta, 1846), and Taṭhīr al-muʾminīn ʿan najāsat al-mushrikīn. The former has been published by the press established by the Mūsawī Jazāʾirī Shūshtarī family whose branch settled in Lucknow and were related to the Kintūrīs. The best study of Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz's polemic and Shiʿi responses remains the late Sayyid Athar ʿAbbas Rizvi's Shah ʿAbd al-ʿAziz: Puritanism, Sectarian Polemics and Jihad (Canberra: Maʿrifat Publishing House, 1982). Mīr Muḥammad Qulī was one of the first Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ to recognise the threat posed by the polemic in inciting violence against Shiʿi symbols, commemorations and also people - further evidence from the past, as we see in the present that violent language of othering, of takfīr and attacks on Shiʿi symbols ultimately leads to the killing of the Shiʿa as well.

However, his two sons became far more famous. First, Sayyid Ḥāmid Ḥusayn (1830-88), the youngest son, had studied jurisprudence and fiqh in Lucknow with Sayyid Ḥusayn son of Dildār ʿAlī Naṣīrābādī (d. 1856), philosophy with Sayyid Murtażā (d. 1860) son of Sayyid Muḥammad Sulṭān al-ʿUlamāʾ and hence a grandson of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī, and literature and other humanities with Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās Jazāʾirī Shūshtarī (d. 1889),  and later went to study in the shrine cities of Iraq. He wrote Asfār al-anwār ʿan waqāʾiʿ afḍal al-asfār on his travels in Iraq, and Zayn al-wasāʾil and al-Dharāʾiʿ in fiqh. He is primarily famous for the ʿAbaqāt al-anwār which was also written in refutation of Tuḥfa-yi ithnāʿasharīya. The work consists of 12 sections dealing with 12 ḥadīth in support of the Shiʿi case and in refutation of the polemic. The first two volumes on Ghadīr lithographed at Newal Kishore in Lucknow in 1294/1877 is available here. The second volume of part five on the famous saying of the Prophet identifying ʿAlī as bāb madīnat al-ʿilm was lithographed in 1317/1898 is available here. The whole text was not completed (only 11 lithographed volumes have been published) especially there was an initial section on Qurʾanic proofs for the imamate which was never written. The contemporary scholar Sayyid ʿAlī al-Mīlānī has written both a summary and a commentary on the text. That text is available here. In search of materials for the text, Sayyid Ḥāmid Ḥusayn travelled widely and collected manuscripts - his library was inherited by his son Sayyid Nāṣir (1867-1942) and established as the Nāṣirīya library in Lucknow, was recognised as Shams al-ʿUlamāʾ by the government of India in 1916 and a major leader in Lucknow. The contemporary scholar Muḥammad Riżā Ḥakīmī wrote an intellectual biography of Ḥāmid Ḥusayn which was published in 1980.

Second, Sayyid Iʿjāz Ḥusayn was born in 1825 in Meerut where his father had been posted as a judge. He died in 1870 and was buried in Lucknow in the graveyard of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī. Unlike his younger brother he was not known as a major theologian, although he had studied with Sulṭān al-ʿulamāʾ and his younger brother Sayyid Ḥusayn, both sons of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī in Lucknow. However, he did write three significant works which are essential research tools on the networks of ʿulama and works available at the time. The first one is Kashf al-ḥujub wa-l-astār ʿan asmāʾ al-kutub wa-l-asfār first printed at the Asiatic Society in Calcutta in 1911. Before the publication of Āqā Buzurg Ṭihrānī's al-Dharīʿa ilā taṣānīf al-shīʿa and more modern works, this was the main source for research into Shiʿi texts especially those available in India. The second is Shudhūr al-ʿiqyān fī tarājim al-aʿyān, a major two volume biography of scholars. The third, although it is associated with him despite the text being anonymous, is Āʾīna-yi ḥaqq-numā, another account of scholarly networks based on the work of students of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī.

Mīr Muḥammad Qulī's eldest son is probably the least known. Sayyid Sirāj Ḥusayn (1823-65) like his father worked in the British judiciary and administration and was one of the first Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ to engage with the new learning in English and translated works of science in Persian and Urdu. He was also associated with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and encouraged by the moves to establish Aligarh (although he died before its foundation). It was his son Sayyid Karāmat Ḥusayn (1852-1917) who became a pioneer encouraging the education of girls in the next generation as one of the key responses to the shock of the loss of power and prestige with the advent of formal empire after 1857. He also served as a professor of law at Aligarh.

These are some of the key sources that one needs to draw upon for research into the intellectual history of Shiʿi Islam in India. The two volume work of Sayyid Athar ʿAbbas Rizvi still remains the standard but there is still much to do on the actual development of ideas and on networks of scholars. This is the first of a number of notes on scholarship in Avadh.


Unknown said...


I have been trying to put ulema of India on Wikipedia and in that drive I have used parts of this post in Wikipedia article for 'Syed Mir Muhammad Quli Musavi' (, as I didn't found copyright tag on your post. But now have found myself involved in 'copyright violation' case and one way to get out of this is that you allow the use of this content on Wikipedia.

Please respond on my request ASAP.

Your brother in Islam.

Sayed Mohammed Faiz Haider

Mulla Sadra said...

yes of course - no problem with copyright on this