Event Date: 9-10 September 2011
Royal Holloway, University of London
Contesting Shi‘ism: Isna ‘Ashari and Isma‘ili Shi‘ism in modern South Asia
The Shia dominance of the legal profession in British India :A Study of Lawyer-Politicians of Bihar
‘Ulema, religious rituals, sectarian violence and aristocrats have generally been the focus for studies on Shi‘ism and Shi‘as in South Asia, while high caste, upper middle class British educated Hindu Brahmins such as the Sapru-Nehru clan usually provide the focus for studies on lawyer-politicians. Yet some of the best barristers of British India were Shi‘as by origin or choice. A few like the Muslim modernist Syed Amir Ali and Muhammad Ali Jinnah have been the subject of several publications. In particular, the focus of this paper is on the Shi‘a Muslim Barristers of Bihar, who have received much less attention. Centred on two brothers, Sir Ali Imam and Justice Hasan Imam of Patna, and their distant younger relative Sir Sultan Ahmed of Gaya, they each rose to the apex of both the political and legal professions during the British Raj. The elder brother Sir Ali Imam headed the Muslim League, while Hasan Imam became the leader of the Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress. Sir Sultan Ahmed, in contrast to the Imam brothers, later on came to head the All India Shi‘a Conference. The descendents and relatives of the Imam brothers acquired an elite education, often at British private schools, Oxbridge and the Inns of Law, and were well represented in the Indian Supreme and High Courts until the 1970s. This paper also looks at the relations between these Bihari Syed Shi‘a barristers with the much larger Sunni community, the Hindu majority, and their co-religionists in Awadh.