Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sources on the North Indian Shiʿi Hierocracy II: Aḥsan al-wadīʿa

Most people who study Shiʿi Islam in its Persianate contexts will be familiar with the biographical dictionary Rawḍāt al-jannāt fī aḥwāl al-ʿulamāʾ wa-l-sādāt of Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir Khwānsārī Iṣfahānī (d. 1313/1895). It is an essential source that also has its own quirks such as an uncompromising defence of the uṣūlī method coupled with a harsh critique of akhbārīs and shaykhīs. Of course, the process of reading any source - not least one heavily committed to producing in effect a history of their class, of the Shiʿi hierocracy - requires a careful consideration of the construction of the narrative and the framing of the lives as good and exemplary. 

However, perhaps lesser known is the work of his great-nephew Sayyid Muḥammad Mahdī Iṣfahānī Kāẓimī (d. 1391/1971) known as Aḥsan al-wadīʿa fī tarājim mashāhīr mujtahidī al-shīʿa, which in many ways is an appendix to Rawḍāt on the key figures of the 19th and 20th century. His grandfather Sayyid Muḥammad Ṣādiq was the brother of Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir, the author of Rawḍāt al-jannāt. Born in Shaʿbān 1319/November 1901 in Kāẓimīya, he began his studies there with Mīrzā Ibrāhīm Salmāsī and Shaykh Ḥusayn Rashtī. Later he studied in Karbala with Sayyid Hādī Khurāsānī Ḥāʾirī (d. 1368/1948) and then in Najaf with his cousin Sayyid Abū Turāb Khwānsārī (d. 1346/1926) and Shaykh ʿAlī Māzandarānī. He wrote a number of works in law and jurisprudence as well as in history and biographies of luminaries including at least one other biographical dictionary entitled Aḥsan al-dharīʿa. He received ijāzāt from his cousin and Khurāsānī as well as the leading mujtahid Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥusayn Kāshif al-Ghiṭāʾ (d. 1373/1953), and the leading uṣūlī Shaykh Ḍiyāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿIrāqī (d. 1361/1941). So he was trained in biographies as well as in law and hence had the ability to spot juristic talent and know the requirements for recognition in this area. 

I first came across the work when researching the Indian mujtahid and epigone of a major lineage of ʿulamāʾ Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī Naṣīrābādī (d. 1235/1820), finding a PDF of an old Baghdad lithograph online, and I mentioned it in a previous blog post. The text was completed on 17 Rabīʿ I 1347/3 September 1928 and first published in Baghdad in 1348/1929 replete with errors; a corrected edition was printed in Najaf in 1377/1957. This latter was reprinted in 1993 by the well known Shiʿi publisher Dār al-Hādī in Beirut. This printing is edited by Sayyid ʿAbd al-Sattār al-Ḥasanī and published by Muʾassasat turāth al-shīʿa in Qum in 1394 Sh/2015.

This work is important not only for its extensive inclusion of his own wider family and the major figures of Kāẓimīya where he lived as well as the wider Majlisī-Khātūnābādi clan, but also for its use of Indian sources and its extensive inclusion of major Indian figures in the dictionary that signals at least at one level their scholarly, social and monetary influence (the latter through the Oudh Bequest monies) in the Shiʿi shrine cities of Iraq. 

All of the major figures of the family of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī are included as is a major entry on Sayyid Ḥāmid Ḥusayn Kintūrī. Apart from his direct acquaintance with some later figures, his major sources for these biographies are:

1) Shudhūr al-ʿiqyān fī tarājim al-aʿyān of Sayyid Iʿjāz Ḥusayn Kintūrī (d. 1286/1869) which was written in three parts as a sort of Indian appendix to Amal al-āmil of Shaykh al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī. A codex of it is available through the former Āṣafīya library in Hyderabad; another copy is in the Buhār collection in the National Library in Kolkata. [al-Dharīʿa XIII, 43 no. 141]

[Incidentally one wonders what account for the centrality of Amal al-āmil - there is a Taʿlīqa, a Tatmīm and two large Takmila-s of this text]

2) Kashf al-niqāb of Sayyid ʿAlī Naqī Naqvī (d. 1988, himself a descendent of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī. This text was published in Najaf in 1927. However, the text is well known seems to be a refutation of Wahhābīs. It could be that this is something different. He also tells us that for some biographies he corresponded directed with Sayyid ʿAlī Naqī (for example, on the biography of Sayyid Ḥusayn b. Dildār ʿAlī). 

3) Nujūm al-samāʾ fī tarājim al-ʿulamāʾ of Mīrzā Muḥammad ʿAlī Kashmīrī which was first published in two volumes through the Marʿashī Library in Qum in 1970-80. There is a newer edition by Mīr Hāshim Muḥaddis which came out in Tehran from Sāzmān-i tablīghāt of the Ḥawza in 1387 Sh/2009.

Despite all this, and the value of this source for Indian ʿulamāʾ, it is somewhat of a shame that in the final section of the text on places of learning, Lucknow - or indeed anywhere else in South Asia such as Rampur, Hyderabad, Arcot etc - is not mentioned. 

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