The 'Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia
By Francis Robinson.
This is one of my favourite books, which I am re-reading for the umpteenth time. It describes the habitus and yichus of a family resident in Awadh (Lucknow) since 1695, who excelled at the literate arts of Muslim scholars.
As a taste, which may give a sense of why I like this book, this passage from the introduction: "As many Muslim families do, they trace their line back to the time of the Prophet: in this case to Ayyub Ansari, the host of the Prophet in Medina. Thus when Mawlana 'Abd al-Bari of Farangi Mahall contemplated his third Hajj in 1912-13 he sought permission to visit the shrine of Ayyub Ansari at Eyup on the Golden Horn outside Istanbul."
Now note that Eyup is simply the Turkish phoneticization of Ayyub (thus Abu Ayyub Ansari, in Turkish becomes Ebu Eyup El-Sari). Ayyub, the companion of the Prophet, was killed in the Muslim assault on Constantinople in 668 C.E. , but the magnificent Mazar-Mosque marking his grave wasn't built until 1485, shortly after the Ottomans finally conquered Constantinople. The district of Eyup was of course named after the man entombed within its precincts. The mosque is (probably) the oldest masjid in the city.
Mawlana 'Abd al-Bari descended from 'Abdullah Ansari of Herat (Sheikh al Islam Abu Ismael Abdullah Ansari al Harawi bin Abu Mansur Muhammad Ansari, 1006 CE to 1085 or 1090 CE), a Sufi mystic, and hafiz of note. Four and a half centuries after Abdullah Ansari al Harawi died, his descendants entered Hind, where within only a few generations they established themselves among the top ranks of Islamic scholars and jurists. A remarkable family, whose activities are well documented.
Though the book touches lightely on the individuals and the family history, it alas mentions not at all how they lived, and how that compared to other Musharrafi groups in Lucknow and the Awadhi hinterland.
A slight impression of the life-style of that class during their heyday can be found in Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh, a delightful cookbook by Sangeeta Batnagar and R. K. Saxena.
The name Farangi Mahall refers to the original owner of the muhalla, that being a European merchant whose property was sequestered. The emperor Aurangzeb granted the property to the Ansari family after Qutb ad-Din Ansari was killed in a real-estate dispute.
Even Ulama lead exciting lives.
About which more later.