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Local Nodes of a Transnational Network: a case study of a Shi‘i family in Awadh, 1900–1950



This article studies two generations of the Mahmudabad family, which was one of the largest Muslim landholding families in India: Maharaja Sir Muhammad ‘Ali Muhammad Khan and Raja Muhammad Amir Ahmad Khan. The family were Twelver Shi‘as and hailed from Mahmudabad in Awadh. Specifically, it shows how intra-community links of marriage and kinship facilitated a flow of ideas, information and people and therefore created new networks. The article then explores these connections through the example of the Madrasa’t-ul Wa‘izeen, which was founded by the Maharaja and its two main publications, Al-Wa‘iz, an Urdu magazine and the English language The Muslim Review. The founding of the madrasa also demonstrates the importance of ideology, pilgrimage, preaching and their corresponding networks. These relationships are analysed keeping in mind local, national and transnational institutions and the role these played in creating ties between Mahmudabad, Lucknow and the wider Muslim world. This article thus presents a typology of a particular kind of Muslim transnationalism, showing how family, marriage, ideology and the importance of preaching mutually reinforced each other. The larger goal is to show how this family could be both ‘rooted’ in the local while also being part of the transnational Muslim community.



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1 Athar ‘Abbas Rizvi, Saiyed, A socio-intellectual history of the Isna ‘Ashari Shi‘is in India (Delhi, 1986); Cole, J., Roots of North Indian Shi‘ism in Iran and Iraq: Religion and State in Awadh 1722–1859 (Berkeley, 1988); Jones, J., Shi‘a Islam in colonial India: religion, community and sectarianism (Cambridge, 2012).

2 Robinson, F., Islam and Muslim History in South Asia (Oxford, 2000), p. 200 .

3 For further information about this period, see Cole, Roots of North Indian Shi‘ism.

4 Litvak, M., Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq: The ‘ulama of Najaf and Karbala’ (Cambridge, 1998), p. 18 .

5 Ibid ., p. 4.

6 Litvak, M., “A Failed Manipulation: The British, the Oudh Bequest and the Shi‘i ‘ulama of Najaf and Karbala”, The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 27, 1 (2000), p. 69 .

7 Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, p. 18.

8 The shamshir, a curved sword similar to a scimitar, was originally given to the treasury of the shrine of Imam ‘Ali in Najaf by Fateh ‘Ali Shah Qajar and according to its cartouches, or toranj in Farsi, was crafted by a man called ‘Imad Isphahani on the orders of Shah ‘Abbas-i Safavi I (1571–1629 ce) who referred to himself as the Banda-i Shah-i Wilayat, the servant of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. Perhaps the sword was ordered when the Shah moved his capital from Qazvin to Isphahan in 1598. It is still worn by the Raja of Mahmudabad during various ceremonies in Muharram or on days when the martyrdom of one of the Imams is commemorated. The sword is symbolic of a direct link between the wearer and the shrine of the Imam but is also a sign of the authority it bestows on the owner because of its belonging to the treasury of the Imam.

9 Original sanad document of the Waqf-i Madrasa-i Ahmadiya in the archives of the office of the Madrasa’t-ul Wa‘izeen.

10 ‘Ali Hasan, Shaikh, Tarikh-i Mahmudabad (MS, Raja Mahmudabad Library, n.d.) Vol. 1, p. 2 .

11 The Shaikhzadas of Lucknow including Shaikh Muhammad Mu‘iz al-Din Khan are mentioned in Sharar, A.H., Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, translated by E.S. Harcourt and Fakhir Husain (London, 1975), pp. 4344 .

12 The Kidwais, Farooqis and Siddiqis were Sunni families in India who traced their ancestry back to clans in the Arabian Peninsula.

13 Robinson, F., “The British Empire and Muslim Identity in South Asia”, Transaction of the Royal History Society, 8 (1998), p. 271 .

14 Fisher, M.H., “Political Marriage Alliances at the Shi‘i Court of Awadh”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 25, 4 (October 1983), p. 615 .

15 Minault, G., “Sayyid Karamat Husain and Education for Women”, in Lucknow: Memories of a City (ed.) Graff, Violette (Delhi, 1997), p. 155 .

16 A copy of this multi-volume book can be found in the archives of the Raja of Mahmudabad. The book was written in Farsi and is still untranslated and unstudied. The books have been published in Iran and Sayyid ‘Ali Milani has written Khulāsa-i ‘Abaqāt al-Anwār, as the Arabic translation of the original.

17 Moin, B., Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah (London, 1999), p. 2 .

18 Minault, “Sayyid Karamat Husain and Education for Women”, p. 160.

19 Khan, Sa‘adat Husain, ‘Amir ul-Umara’ Raja Muhammad Amir Ahmad Khan Sahib Marhom’, Al-Wa‘iz, 51, 12 (December 1973), p. 5 .

20 ‘Ali Imam (1869–1932) was an eminent jurist and served as head of the Muslim League. His younger brother Hasan Imam (1871–1933) was also an accomplished lawyer and at one time served as President of the Indian National Congress.

21 Selected Documents from the Aligarh Archives.

22 Jones, Shi‘a Islam in colonial India, pp.153–165.

23 Registered Waqf Deed in Archives of the Office of the Board of Trustees, Madrasa’t-ul Wa‘izeen.

24 Original statement by the Secretary of the All India Shi‘a Conference, Sayyid Amir Hasan Forogh Lucknawi, Shia College News (Lucknow), 23 January 1920, p. 1.

25 Shi‘a College News (Lucknow), 9 January 1920, p. 2.

26 Jones, Shi‘a Islam in colonial India, pp.115–125.

27 Minault, G. and Lelyveld, D., “The Campaign for a Muslim University, 1898–1920”, Modern Asian Studies, 8, 3 (1984), p. 184 .

28 Raja Muhammad Amir Muhammad Khan of Mahmudabad, interview, 20 December 2009.

29 Karlitzky, M., “The Tyabji Clan- Urdu as a Symbol of Group Identity”, La Sapienza (University of Rome, n.d.), p. 191 , (accessed 21 April 2013).

30 Abbasi, M.Y., Muslim Politics and Leadership in South Asia 1876–92 (Islamabad, 1981), p. 31.

31 Records found in the archives of the Madrasa’t-ul Wa‘izeen in the Office of the Board of Trustees.

32 Although five people constitute the Board of Trustees, the registered waqf deed stipulates that the chairman and the managing trustee must be the person who occupies the Mahmudabad masnad, or ‘seat’. The Maharaja made decisions pertaining to the day-to-day running of the madrasa directly or through an authorised deputy and therefore it is assumed that the views expressed in articles in The Muslim Review were also espoused by the Maharaja. See the waqf deed present in the office of the secretary to the Board of Trustees in Madrasa’t-ul Wa‘izeen.

33 Robinson, F., Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860–1923 (Cambridge, 1974), p. 56 .

34 The increasing need felt by certain Muslim groups to send missionaries or preachers out to ‘spread the faith’ seems to have been very much characteristic of the time. Just four years later, Muhammad Ilyas founded the Tablighi Jama‘at, which perhaps most openly reflected such efforts at proselytisation. See Masud, K.M. (ed.), Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablighi Jama‘at as a transnational Islamic movement for faith renewal (Leiden, 2000).

35 Report in Al-Wa‘iz (Lucknow), 22, 55, Nov 1942, pp. 2–3.

36 Report in Al-Wa‘iz (Lucknow), 1, 2, Oct 1921, p. 2.

37 Report in Al-Wa‘iz (Lucknow), 5, 7, March 1926, p. 6.

38 Report in Al-Wa‘iz (Lucknow), 22, 55, Nov 1942, pp. 2–3.

39 A nineteenth-century sect, whose founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), claimed to be the awaited Messiah and a prophet of Islam.

40 Letter from H. Din to Haideri, L. A., The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 3 and 8 March 1931, pp. 1620 .

41 Dhamima-i Tarikh-i Mahmudabad ya‘ni safarnama-i ‘atabat-i ‘aliyat, 1922, Travel Diary compiled by ‘Ali Hasan, p. 180.

42 In more recent history, the reader will remember the murder of Saiyid ‘Abdul Majid al-Khoe’i on his return to Najaf in 2003. Al-Khoe’i had gone to meet the killidar of the shrine from Saddam's era and the crowd which later lynched both men had initially wanted al-Khoe’i to hand over Haider ar-Rufai‘i, whose family had a long tradition of being the key keepers of the shrine.

43 Dhamima-i Tarikh-i Mahmudabad, p. 181.

44 Ibid ,. p. 186.

45 “The Oudh Bequest”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 2, 3, March 1928, pp. 29–34.

46 The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 2, 3, March 1928, p. 61.

47 “His Holiness Najmul ‘ulama”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 30, 4–5, April and May 1941, p. iii.

48 For example please refer to the back inside cover of The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 8, 5, May 1931.

49 Indeed, the importance of this was later made clear when the first chapter of The Pirpur Report dealt specifically with this issue. See Mehdi, Raja Sayyid Muhammad of Pirpur, Report of the Inquiry Committee appointed by The Council of the All India Muslim League to Inquire into Muslim Grievances in Congress Provinces (Lucknow, 1938).

50 The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 8, 5, May 1931, p. 49.

51 Page, D., Prelude to Partition: The Indian Muslims and the Imperial System of Control, 1920–1932 (Delhi, 1982), p. 15.

52 Zaidi, A. M., Evolution of Muslim Political thought in India Vol. 2: Sectarian Nationalism and the Khilafat (New Delhi, 1975), p. 99 .

53 Ibid ., p. 77.

54 Ibid ., p. 78.

55 Naqavi, S. A. H., “An Appeal to Gandhiji”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 26, 1, January 1940 , p. 39.

56 Ibid .

57 Interview, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 19, 4, October 1936.

58 The declaration that is recited when converting to Islam.

59 Interview, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 19, 4, October 1936.

60 Khan, Muhammad Amir Ahmad, ‘Some Memories’, in The Partition of India, (eds.) Phillips, H.C. and Wainwright, M. D. (Aberdeen, 1970), p. 387 . Please also refer to the Pirpur Report for a more detailed discussion of the differences between Congress leaders on the language issue, see Raja Sayyid Mohamad Mehdi of Pirpur, Report of the Inquiry Committee, pp. 28–36.

61 The Times of India, Mail Edition, 4 Feb. 1928, p. 4.

62 Naqavi, “An Appeal to Gandhiji”, p. 23.

63 Ibid ., p. 55.

64 Ibid ., p. 56.

65 Khan, “Some Memories”, p. 386.

66 Ambedkar, B.R., “Abolish Hinduism”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 19, 2, August 1936, pp. 3641 .

67 Ambedkar, B.R., Words of Freedom: Ideas of a Nation (New Delhi, 2010), p. 55 .

68 Speech to the 20th session of the All India Muslim League, Calcutta, 26–30 December 1928, in Zaidi, A. M., Evolution of Muslim Political Thought in India, Vol 3: Parting of Ways (New Delhi, 1975), p. 116 .

69 “Pan-Islamism”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 8, 3, March 1931, pp. 48–51.

70 Address to 10th Session of the All-India Muslim League, Calcutta, 30 Dec 1917- 1 Jan 1918, in Zaidi, A.M., Evolution of Muslim Political Thought in India Vol. 2: Sectarian Nationalism and the Khilafat, (New Delhi, 1975), p. 73 .

71 Presidential Address to a Special Session of the All-India Muslim League in Bombay, 31 Aug - Sept 1918 in Zaidi, Evolution of Muslim Political Thought, p. 111.

72 Robinson. Separatism Among Indian Muslims, p. 135.

73 “Syria and the Pan-Arab Movement”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 9, 2, Aug 1931, p. 43.

74 “Islam and the Present War”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 30, 4–5, April and May 1941, p. 44.

75 Iqbal, M., Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930, reprint Lahore, 2006), pp. 126130 .

76 “Editorial Note”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 26, 3, March 1940, p. 57.

77 Cantwell Smith, W., Modern Islam in India (Lahore, 1946), p. 345 .

78 Letter from Jinnah to Maharajkumar, 8 April 1940, in Husain, S.I., The Life and Times of Raja Saheb Mahmudabad (Lahore, 1990), pp. 263264 .

79 “Editorial Note”, The Muslim Review (Lucknow), 16, 1, Jan 1940, p. 50.

80 Ibid .

81 Letter from Maharajkumar to Chapman, 27 March 1949, in ‘Letters from Naboo’, Chapman Papers, p. 374, Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge.

82 Ibid ., p. 349.

83 Pandey, G., “Can a Muslim be Indian?”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 41, 4 (Oct 1999), p. 617 .

84 The Raja was an Indian national until 1957 when he became a Pakistani citizen.

85 Fisher, “Political marriage alliances”, p. 593.

86 Jones, Shi‘a Islam in colonial India, pp.19–20, 225–226.

87 Minault and Lelyveld, “The Campaign for a Muslim University, 1898–1920”, p. 145.

88 Jones, Shi‘a Islam in Colonial India, pp. 114–146.

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Local Nodes of a Transnational Network: a case study of a Shi‘i family in Awadh, 1900–1950



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