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Sayyids and Social Stratification of Muslims in Colonial India: Genealogy and Narration of the Past in Amroha

  • SOHEB NIAZI (a1)


While Islamic scriptures like the Quran and Hadith are often quoted to negate the existence of social stratification among Muslims, authors of genealogical texts rely on the very same scriptures to foreground and legitimise discussions on descent and lineage. In the South Asian context, several conceptions of hierarchy as practised by Muslims in north India evolved over the course of colonial rule and were deployed interchangeably by Sayyids. These were based on notions of race, ethnicity, respectability and nobility, and occupational distinctions as well as narratives that referred to the history of early Islam. This article contributes to the study of social stratification among South Asian Muslims by exploring the evolution of Urdu tarikh (historical texts) produced by Sayyid men in the qasbah of Amroha in the Rohilkhand region of the United Provinces during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Sayyid authors narrated the past through the medium of nasab (genealogy). While their texts place emphasis on lineage and descent to legitimise a superior social status for Sayyids, they also shed light on the changing social and material context of the local qasbah politics with the discourse on genealogy evolving into a form that engaged with social contestations.

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Thanks to Laurence Gautier and Julien Levesque for their detailed comments on earlier drafts of this article.



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1 From the Last Sermon of Prophet Mohammad delivered on the Ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah, 10 ah (623ad) in the Uranah valley of Mount Arafat in Mecca, as quoted in Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi's work on the conceptual history of the term ‘Sayyid’, see Abbasi, M. A., Tahqiq sayyid o sadat: Qur'an, hadis, tarikh va ansab ki roshni mein (Karachi, 1979), p. 37. Original Urdu: “Ai logo! Khub jan lo ki tumhara parvardgar bhi tanha [ek] hai aur tum sab ka bap [Adam] bhi ek hai – kisi ‘arabi ko kisi ‘ajami par aur kisi ‘ajami ko kisi ‘arabi par, kisi gore ko kisi kale par aur kisi kale ko kisi gore par koi bartari nahi” (Tahqiq sayyid o sadat, p. 37). All translations from Urdu to English are mine, unless otherwise specified.

2 Specifically the passage from his last sermon quoted above.

3 As is well documented in Marlow's, LouiseHierarchy and Egalitarianism in Islamic Thought (Cambridge, 2002).

4 Hodgson defines ‘Islamicate’ as referring “not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and Muslims themselves and even when found among non-Muslims.” See Hodgson, G. S. Marshall, The Venture of Islam (Chicago, 1974), p. 59.

5 On Hadramaut Sayyids, see for instance, Burja, A. S., The Politics of Stratification: A Study of Political Change in a South Arabian Town (Oxford, 1971), and on Central Sahara, see Scheele, J., ‘Embarrassing Cousins: Genealogical Conundrums in the Central Sahara’, in Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past, (ed.) Sarah Bowen Sawant (Edinburgh, 2014), pp. 89101.

6 For the formation and development of the science of genealogy in medieval Muslim societies, see Morimoto, K., ‘The Formation and Development of the Science of Talibid Genealogies in the 10th & 11th Century Middle East’, Oriente Moderno 18, 2 (1999), pp. 541570; Morimoto, K., ‘Keeping the Prophet's Family Alive: Profile of a Genealogical Discipline’, in Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past, (eds.) Savant, S. B. and Felipe, H. de (Edinburgh, 2014), pp. 1123; Szombathy, Z., Zoltán, , ‘Genealogy in Medieval Muslim Societies’, Studia Islamica 95 (2002), pp. 535; Ho, E., The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility Across the Indian Ocean (London, 2006) for the deployment of genealogy by Hadramaut Sayyids across the Indian Ocean. See also Savant, S. B., Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past (Edinburgh, 2014) for a wider application of genealogy in Muslim societies to understand the past.

7 The reasoning that caste and hierarchy existed within Indian Islam as a result of its contact with Hinduism can be discerned from the writings of colonial ethnographers. See W. Crooke, The Tribes and Castes of North Western India (1896); J. C. Nesfield, Brief View of the Caste System of the North Western Provinces and Oudh (1885); and J. Beames, Memoirs on the History, Folk-Lore, and Distribution of the Races of the North Western Provinces of India (1869). Such reasoning also permeated many of the writings of those who advocated for a modernist interpretation of Indian Islam. See Ahmad, A., Studies in Islamic Culture in an Indian Environment (Oxford, 1964), and Mujeeb, M., The Indian Muslims (London, 1967).

8 ‘Hindustan’ is the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century usage for India deployed by vernacular Urdu sources explored in this article. For more on the usage of the term, see Naim, C. M., ‘Interrogating “The East,” “Culture,” and “Loss,” in Abdul Halim Sharar's Guzashta Lakhnau’, in Indo-Muslim Cultures in Transition (ed.) Patel, Alka (Leiden, 2012), pp. 190191.

9 For debates on caste and social stratification among Muslims in South Asia, see Ansari, G., Muslim Caste in Uttar Pradesh: A Study of Culture Contact (Lucknow, 1960); Ahmad, I., ‘The Ashraf-Ajlaf Dichotomy in Muslim Social Structure in India’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 3, 3 (1966), pp. 268278; Ahmad, I. (ed.), Caste and Social Stratification Among Muslims in India (Delhi, 1973); Lindholm, C., ‘Caste in Islam and the problem of deviant system: A critique of recent theories’, Contributions to Indian Sociology 20, 1 (1986), pp. 5973; Vatuk, S., ‘Identity and Difference or Equality and Inequality in South Asian Muslim Society’, in Caste Today, (ed.) Fuller, C. J. (Delhi, 1996), pp. 227262; Falahi, M. A., Hindustan mein zat pat aur musalman (Delhi, 2007); and Buehler, A. F., ‘Trends of Ashrafization in India’, in Sayyids and Sharifs in Muslim Societies: The Living Links to the Prophet, (ed). Morimoto, K. (London and New York, 2012), pp. 231246. Lee, Joel, “Who Is the True Halalkhor? Genealogy and Ethics in Dalit Muslim Oral Traditions”. Contributions to Indian Sociology 52, 1 ( 2018), pp. 127. Lee, Joel, Caste, in Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, (eds.) Kassam, Z. R. et al. (Dordrecht, 2018), pp. 167176.

10 Metcalf, B. D., Islamic revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900 (Princeton, 1982); Pearson, O. H., Islamic reform and revival in nineteenth-century India: the Tariqah-i Muhammadiyah (New Delhi, 2008); Sanyal, U., Devotional Islam and politics in British India: Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi and his movement, 1870–1920 (Delhi, 1996); Robinson, F., The Ulama of Firangi Mahal and Islamic Culture in South Asia (Delhi, 2001); Pernau, M., ‘The virtuous individual and social reform: debates among North Indian Urdu speakers’, in Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in nineteenth-century Asia and Europe, (eds.) Pernau, M. et al. (Oxford, 2015), pp. 169186. Ingram, Brannon, Revival from Below: The Deoband Movement and Global Islam, (Berkeley, 2018).

11 See Pernau, ‘The virtuous individual and social reform’.

12 For instance, the leading Deobandi alim, Ashraf Ali Thanawi in many of his writings and sermons elaborates on notions of superior and inferior Muslims based on their genealogical descent, often providing citations from the Hadith and claiming such distinctions to be legal according to the Shariah. See Falahi, Hindustan mein zat pat, pp. 287–295.

13 Several such historical works were produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in various qasbah towns of the United Provinces, such as Badayun or Bareilly. Further studies focusing on historical works in Urdu on local qasbah would add to a growing field. For one recent insightful work on qasbah life and society, see Rahman, R., Locale, Everyday Islam, and Modernity: Qasbah Towns and Muslim Life in Colonial India (Oxford, 2015).

14 For an introduction to the qasbah of Amroha, see ibid., and Jones, J., ‘The Local Experiences of Reformist Islam in a “Muslim” Town in Colonial India: The Case of Amroha’, Modern Asian Studies 42, 4 (July 2009), pp. 871908; and Husain, S. M. A., Medieval Towns, a Case Study of Amroha and Jalali (New Delhi, 1995).

15 On similar cases of deploying genealogy to affect power relations and social stratification in other Islamicate societies, see Burja, The Politics of Stratification, and Marlow, Hierarchy and Egalitarianism. Nizami, Moin, Reform and renewal in South Asian Islam, (Oxford, 2017).

16 Abbasi, Maulvi Hakim Muhib-i Ali Khan, Ai'nah-i Abbasi (Amroha, 1878).

17 Naqvi, Sayyid Asghar Hussain, Tarikh-i Asghari (Amroha, 2009). First published 1879.

18 Examples of such works that are cited as sources in the tarikhs of Amroha include Abul Fazal's ʽAin-i Akbari, Abdul Al Qadir Badayuni's Muntakhab al-tavarikh, Firishta's Tarikh-i Firishta, and Ziya al-din Barani's Tarikh-i Firuz Shahi. For a brief introduction to these texts, see Hardy, P., Historians of Medieval India: Studies in Indo-Muslim Historical Writing (London, 1996).

19 For an overview of historical works in Urdu, see Khan, J. A., Early Urdu Historiography (Patna, 2005), and Habibullah, A. B. M., ‘Historical Writing in Urdu: A Survey of Tendencies’, in Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, (ed.) Philips, C. H. (London, 1960), pp. 481496. The first major historical account in the Urdu vernacular was the Asar as-sanadid, a history of the architecture and antiquities of Delhi, authored by Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who also wrote the Tarikh-i sarkashi zila Bijnor, a journalistic account of unfolding events during 1857 in the district of Bijnor. Another form of historical writing that emerged in Urdu and also picked up from the Persian and Arabic tradition was the genre of Sirat writings, or life histories of the Prophet of Islam. Sayyid Ahmad wrote his own version of the Sirat as did Shibli Numani of the Darul Musanifeen in Azamgarh. A companion and contemporary of Sayyid Ahmad, Altaf Hussain Hali composed the Musaddas (1879) and the Shikva-i Hind (1895), which were epic poems that not only caught the historian's eye but, because they were in the poetic form, encouraged oral renditions of the history of Hindustan. A full-fledged account of the history of Hindustan was produced by Maulvi Muhammad Zakaullah Khan of Delhi College, who wrote the comprehensive Tarikh-i Hindustan in ten volumes. Zakaullah was an educationist and one of the prominent figures of the College. For a discussion of his work Tarikh-i Hindustan (1915–18), see Khan, Early Urdu, pp. 210–216.

20 See Rosenthal, F., A History of Muslim Historiography (Leiden, 1968); Robinson, C. F., Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 2003); and Faruqi, N. A., Early Muslim Historiography (Delhi, 1979).

21 For a discussion of genealogy as one of the important components and sources of Muslim historiography see Rosenthal, Muslim Historiography, pp. 99–100, and Faruqi, Early Muslim Historiography, pp. 49–77. Peter Hardy discusses the work Shajara i-ansab al-mubarak shahi, a first of such texts, presented to Qutub al-din Aibak by the author in 1206, and a genealogical account of Mubarak Shah of Multan. See Hardy, Historians of Medieval India, pp. 116–117.

22 Bowent, S. B. (ed.), Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past (Edinburgh, 2014), p. 2.

23 Pernau, M., Ashraf Into Middle Classes: Muslims in Nineteenth Century Delhi (Delhi, 2013), pp. 5785.

24 Morimoto, ‘Keeping the Prophet's Family Alive’, p. 11.

25 Szombathy, Z., The Roots of Arabic Genealogy: A Study in Historical Anthropology (Piliscsaba, 2003).

26 Szombathy, ‘Genealogy in Medieval Muslim Societies’, p.7.

27 Pernau, Ashraf into Middle Classes, pp. 63–64.

28 Szombathy, ‘Genealogy in Medieval Muslim Societies’, pp. 5–35.

29 Henceforth abbreviated as AiA.

30 AiA was published on 9 April 1878 in Nayar-i Azam (a local weekly newspaper published by the Matla-i Ulum Press in Moradabad) and printed in the form of a 44-page pamphlet. Nayar-i Azam itself was first published in 1876 and edited by S. Ibn Ali. See Israeli, A. H., Moradabad ke akhbarat (New Delhi, 2010), pp. 5759.

31 Referred to as Khan from now onwards to avoid confusion with the other author Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi.

32 Henceforth abbreviated as TiAs.

33 Mansabdar was a military unit within the Mughal administrative system. It reflected the rank, position or status of political power of the title's holder.

34 One such example being another historical work from Amroha, the Tarikh-i vastiya, as quoted in AiA, p. 114.

35 The Abbasid Caliphate was the third of the Islamic caliphates to succeed the Prophet Muhammad. The Abbasid dynasty was descended from Muhammad's youngest uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib (566–653 ce), from whom the dynasty takes its name.

36 Tarikh-i Firishta was quoted to highlight the importance of the kin of the Abbasids and the Banu Hashim during Sultan Muhammad Tughluq Shah's rule. See AiA, p. 31.

37 Ibid., p. 52.

38 For the debate on vernacular history, see Chatterjee, P. (ed.), History in the Vernacular (Ranikhet, 2008). While the debate on history in the vernacular allows us to consider the value of detailed histories from across the different regions of India, the categories that it employs for analysis—such as distinctions between early modern and the colonial modern, or the juxtaposition of the vernacular modern with colonial modern—are far too smooth and unproblematic. The argument that the vernacular modern marks a ‘difference’ of approach and form as opposed to the colonial modern needs to be problematised through close readings of historical works and tracing the specificities of the evolution of their various adaptations during the colonial era.

39 Historical dates are always provided in the Islamic year. The only occasion when a date according to the Gregorian calendar is given is in the last sentence of the text which mentions that it was published on 9 April 1878. As an appendix, the shijra of his pir, the naqshbandiya-i mujadiddiya is attached, in the form of 22 couplets, along with a ghazal of ten couplets praising the virtues of excellence possessed by his pir o murshid.

40 AiA, p. 111.

41 Between 1874 and 1886, Edwin Atikinson (1840–1890) published a series of 14 volumes under the title Statistical, Descriptive and Historical Account of the North-Western Provinces. The volume on Rohilkhand Division was first published in 1879 (with five subsequent reprints) and the volume titled ‘Shajahanapur, Moradabad and Rampur’ (with nine subsequent reprints) appeared in 1883. The revenue settlement of land in Rohilkhand began in the early nineteenth century after the Nawab of Oudh was forced to cede half of his territories to the British in 1801. The first and second land settlements for Moradabad District took place in 1803 and 1806. Subsequently land settlement reports were published for the district. The ninth land settlement report for Moradabad District, published in 1881, describes several aspects of qasbah Amroha.

Both Atkinson's reports and land settlement reports would have been available to Naqvi as he wrote his history of Amroha, as strikingly much of the demographic, geographic and statistical data matches the information in these reports.

42 Out of the 144 names listed in the appendix, 131 have the title Sayyid attached to them (six of them have the additional title of Qazi, five have Hakim, and five have Shaikh). See TiAS, pp. 238–247.

43 Final Report on the Settlement of the Moradabad District (Allahabad, 1881), p. 14 (henceforth FRSMD).

44 Ibid., p. 21.

45 TiAs, pp. 51–53.

46 Ibid. Patronage was an important aspect of Sayyid identity and both authors do not hesitate to thank their patrons. In fact, Naqvi begins his text by dedicating a section to John Strachey, thanking him as well as other colonial officials for their support.

47 This underlying tension between nasab and piety—the question as to which of the two should be privileged—is a running theme in all three texts under study here.

48 AiA, p. 22.

49 Original Text – “Allah t‘ala ne kunana ko haẓrat Isma‘il ki aulad mein faẓilat di aur kunana ki aulad mein quresh ko sab se zyada faẓilat di aur quresh mein se bani hashim ko faẓilat di aur bani hashim mein se mujh ko faẓilat di”. Quoted from Muslim Sharif, as found in Khan, AiA, p. 23. See Fn. 61 for similar Hadith quotations in other texts.

50 AiA, p. 74. This evaluation is misleading. According to the 1872 census, while the total Muslim population of Amroha was counted at 69,976, the number of Sayyids was only 6,704; more than the number of Mughals or Pathans, however, a sizeable proportion of Muslims (58,354) were categorised under the Shaikh category. See FRSMD, p. 23.

51 Sharma, Sunil, ‘If There Is a Paradise on Earth, It Is Here: urban ethnography in Indo-Persian poetic and historical texts’, in Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia: Explorations in the Intellectual History of India and Tibet, 1500–1800, (ed.) Pollock, Sheldon (Durham and London, 2011), pp. 240256.

52 TiAs, pp. 80–235, and FRSMD, pp. 20–21. Each of the names of the muḥallahs was linked to the people who inhabited these spaces or to the descendants of some of its former prominent inhabitants. Shafat Pota was so called because the offspring of a Sayyid named Mohammad Shafat inhabited the locality, TiAs, pp. 154–164. Danishmand was inhabited by Sayyid Rizvis, and was so-called because its ancestors were considered wise and clever, TiAs, pp. 130–135. A part of Bhangi Tola was inhabited by the community which Naqvi calls ʽHalalkhor’, indicative of those who do menial occupations, TiAs, p. 103. For more on the Halalkhor Muslims, read the excellent work on this community, Lee, Joel, ‘Who is the true Halalkhor? Genealogy and ethics in Dalit Muslim oral traditions’, Contributions to Indian Sociology 52, 1 (2017), pp. 127.

53 Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi's works deserve an intellectual history project of its own. Besides the three volumes explored here, and his Tahqiq sayyid o sadat, he also published works on the historical figures of Muawiya and Yazid. The first volume explored here, Tarikh-i Amroha (1930), a history of the town, incorporated colonial sources and modern methods. The second volume, Tazkirat al-karam (1932) (henceforth TaK) was based on a traditional form of the tazkira genre and discussed the lineage of important individuals and families at Amroha, including notable ulema and sufi saints. The third volume, Tahqiq al-ansab (1934) (henceforth TaA), was exclusively focused on genealogy, incorporating debates and social contestation on lineages and descent among Muslim groups residing in the qasbah.

54 In an autobiographical section, reflecting on his childhood Abbasi remembered how as a child he would listen with utmost interest to the oral tales of Hazrat Abbas and other saints and prophets from his elders. See TaK, p. 28.

55 Of particular importance was Viqar ul-Mulk, an assistant and comrade of Sayyid Ahmad Khan, and a close acquaintance of Abbasi's father who took on the crucial role of a guardian. Through Viqar ul-Mulk, Abbasi was acquainted with Abdul Halim Sharar and Shibli Nomani, and it was in their company that he developed an interest in the fields of history and literature and spent time reading the various akhbarat (newspapers) and rasa'il (journals) available at his behest. See ibid., p. 30.

56 Ibid., p. 31. For more on Aligarh and its journal, Tahzib al-akhlaq, see Pernau, Margrit, ‘From Morality to Psychology: Emotion Concepts in Urdu, 1870–1920’, Contributions to the History of Concepts 11 (2016), pp. 3857.

57 See ‘Letters Addressed to Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi’, in Altaf Hussain Hali, Maktubat-i Hali, Hissa Awwal, (Panipat, 1825), pp. 117–119.

58 Working for the AIMEC Abbasi travelled across the country to its various branches, organised meetings and conferences, and met important Muslim politicians and intellectuals. Abbasi remembered his time in Aligarh as intellectually rewarding. There he was acquainted with the needs and challenges faced by Sharif Muslims, especially those pertaining to their difficulties in pursuing education. At Aligarh, he was also familiarised with intellectual debates on literature, history, psychology and philosophy; recalling how he was introduced to discourses on rationalism which led to his opponents charging him of atheism. See M. A. Abbasi, Tarikh-i Amroha, (Delhi, 2014), First Published 1930. Henceforth TiA, p. 35.

59 For an excellent study of the life and networks of Sharif men in Aligarh, see Lelyveld, David, Aligarh's First Generation: Muslim solidarity in British India (Princeton, 1977), and Pernau, ‘The virtuous individual and social reform’.

60 Original Urdu: “Mashriq ke khafta aqvam ki ankhen ahl-i maghrib me mahiyural aqval karnamon aur science ki barq pash sannayiyon se kher o huri hai. Taraqqi yafta qaumon ki dekha dekhi khafgan-i hind ne bhi bedari ki karvaṭen badalni shuru ki hai, tahzib mein, tamaddun mein, mashrat mein, hatta ke moatiqadat mein inqilab-i azim barpa ho raha hai. Iqbalmand qaumon ki taqlid balki naqqali ka jazba-i khayal se guzar kar ʽamli surat ikhtiyar kar chuka hai. In halat ke andar mahaz is khayal se daur-i mazi ke vaqat aur aslaf karam ke savaneh hayat maujuda nasl ke liye shayad kuch mufid aur karamad sabit hon, tazkirah-i salf likhna shuru kiya” (TiA, p. 6).

61 TaA, p. 1. Altaf Hussain Hali's classic Urdu poem Shikva-i Hind was published in 1895.

62 Hali, , ‘Hasb aur Nasb’, in Hali, Kuliyat-i Nasr, Hali, Altaf Hussain, Nasr, Kuliyat-i, (Lahore, 1967), p. 215.

63 Falahi, M. A., Hindustan mein zat pat aur musalman (Delhi, 2007), pp. 288292. Thanawi explains that, though piety is the criteria for the highest standard in the after world, nasab was as important in this world. Altaf Hussain Hali, Kuliyat-i Nasr, (Lahore, 1967), p. 215.

64 “Know you that upholding sufficiency (kafa'ah) in matrimony is a duty. And it is by way of pedigree in four degrees, thusly. First: to be Arab. Non-Arabs are not equal to them. Second: to be of Quraish. Other Arabs are not equal to them. Third: to be of the Sons of Hashim. Others among the Quraish are not their equals. Fourth: the descendants of Fatima al-Zahra (daughter of the Prophet), through her sons Hasan and Husain; others of the Hashimis are not their equals.” As quoted in Ho, The Graves of Tarim, p. 174. Ho attributes the following passage to a Hadrami Sayyid, Umar al-Attas, in nearby Sumatra, in his rejoinder to Muhammad Rashid Rida in 1936. Abbasi quotes a similar passage in Urdu, in his discussion on the lineages of the ‘Musalmans’ of Amroha, see TiA, p. 169.

65 TaA, p. 1.

66 Ibid., p. 3.

67 See Gooptu, Nandini, The Politics of the Urban Poor in Early Twentieth-Century India (Cambridge, 2014). Rai, Santosh Kumar, “Social Histories of Exclusion and Moments of Resistance: The Case of Muslim Julaha Weavers in Colonial United Provinces.The Indian Economic & Social History Review, vol. 55, no. 4, 2018.

68 For Muslim politics at the local level of the municipal board during this period, see Robinson, F., Separatism Among Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces’ Muslims 1860–1923 (Cambridge, 1975). Both Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi and Haji Zafar Ahmad were Honorary Magistrates for the Amroha Bench of the District Court of Moradabad, an important institution for local politics during this time. Haji Zafar Ahmad was a member of the bench from 1934–9, while Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi joined the bench in 1940.

69 [P 520 C2] All India Reporter (Allahabad, 1924), pp. 509–510.

70 Ibid., p. 509.

71 The colonial government and courts considered the vajib al-arz, or record of rights, as an important document containing local information. It was partly a declaration of fact and partly a written agreement. The vajib al-arz was given a special value by statute, a presumption being attached to entries therein by section 46 of the Land Revenue Act, 1887. See Singh, Atul Kumar, ‘The Preparation and Maintenance of Village Land Records: A Case Study of the Office of the Patwari in the North Western Provinces, 1834–1900’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 48 (1987), p. 497.

72 All India Reporter, p. 509.

73 The High Court Judge based his three arguments on further evidence, by quoting the views of Crooke's famous work on castes and tribes. Furthermore, the judge quoted the 1921 Census, albeit uncomplicatedly, arguing that the Qasabs had returned themselves in the census as a separate category and not under the broad category of ‘Shaikh’. The judge also derived the same conclusion from the Moradabad District Gazetteer.

74 On the census as a process of ‘empiricalisation’ of textual traditions, see Samarendra, P., ‘Census in Colonial India and the Birth of Caste’, Economic and Political Weekly 46, 33 (August, 2011), pp. 5158. Colonial ethnographers such as Eliot, Beames, Nesfield and Crookes commented on caste distinctions among Muslims of India. Common to their writings was the division of Muslims into two broad categories. First, they introduced a distinction, based on descent, between those who were descendants of foreign invaders and those who were converts from Hinduism (these two broad categories were sometimes termed as the Ashraf and the Ajlaf respectively). Furthermore, among the Ashraf, a four-fold division was followed, namely Sayyid, Mughal, Pathan and Shaikh. Second, the remaining Muslims were categorised broadly as occupational classes with their names derived from specific occupations, such as Julahas or Qasabs.

75 Derived from the sections on the Musalman of Amroha in Tarikh-i Amroha and Tahqiq al-Ansab.

76 On the Talibid genealogy that traces such a lineage through Abu Mutalib, see Morimoto, ‘The Formation and Development’.

77 Hasani and Hussaini refer to the offspring of Ali. Jafar was the brother of Ali and the descendants of Abbasi are related to al-Abbas, the brother of Abu Talib.

78 Those who could marry according to the directive of kafa'ah. (On kafa'ah see Fn. 66.)

79 Tarikh-i vastiya, a Shia tract, considers only the descendants of Fatima as the authentic ahl-i bait, and disregards the Abbasi family as a rightful claimant to the title of Sayyid. See Abbasi's critique of the work, in TiA, pp. 179–180.

80 Peshevar aqvam is translated here as ‘occupational classes’. It broadly denotes the working classes and could also be translated as occupational ‘communities’ (as aqvam [pl. qaum] may be translated as communities) or, in a stricter sense, as occupational ‘castes’.

81 Abbasi quotes from T.W Arnold's Preaching of Islam, see TiA, pp. 214–215. Another term that Abbasi used to describe the occupational communities who converted from the Hindu lower castes was nau musalman (new Muslims), the idea being that these groups were Hindus and only later converted to Islam. The implicit assumption in this understanding was that Hindu upper castes exploited the lower ones and the latter's conversion to Islam was step towards greater freedom.

82 TiA, p. 218, and Beames, Memoirs on the History, p. 185.

Thanks to Laurence Gautier and Julien Levesque for their detailed comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Sayyids and Social Stratification of Muslims in Colonial India: Genealogy and Narration of the Past in Amroha

  • SOHEB NIAZI (a1)


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