Shia Islam in the Indian subcontinent

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Shia Islam was introduced to the Indian subcontinent during the final years of the Rashidun Caliphate. The Indian subcontinent with Hindu Kush and Baluchi Hills on the west and the great Himalayas on the north and the Indian Ocean in the south, was the best place for the Shias escaping persecution under Umayyad and Abbasid rule. They could hide in the large and resourceful lands with fewer attacks from foes. However, it also detached them from their ideological and cultural centers in Medina and Kufa. This resulted in the evolution of a unique Shi'te tradition. Shias of Pakistan are thus, different from Shias of the middle east: they are scattered between the Sunni Muslim majority of some 150 million. However, this majority is not hostile towards the Shias as Indian Sufi-Islamic tradition has special respect for the family of Prophet. While they are the second largest Shia community after Iran, unlike middle east, Shias of Pakistan are not concentrated in one geographic setting, rather they are a minority present in every locality. Another aspect which distinguishes Pakistan's Shia tradition is that it has adjusted itself to the multi-cultural setting of the subcontinent. Shia culture and belief has also left its influence all over the subcontinent with Imam Hussein ibn Ali becoming the revered personality in India not only for the Muslims but also the Hindus who participate in ceremonies commemorating Hussein ibn Ali's martyrdom on the Day of Ashura.


Islam had made contact with the subcontinent during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad as Arab merchants traded with India and introduced the new faith. In the last few years of the Prophet's life, there was a group of companions who were loosely termed as the shi'at-i ahl-i bait or shi'at-i ali,. They included Abuzar al-ghifari, Ammar ibn Yasser, Malik Abu Yaqzan, Salman al-Farsi, Zubayr ibn Awam, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Huzaifa ibn al-Yaman, Miqdad bin Amr al-Aswad, Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari and some others. The Prophet used to say:

"Ali! Verily you and your Shi'a will be in Paradise"[1][2].

While there is difference of opinion between the Shia and the Sunni interpretations of the term Shi'a used by the Prophet, after his death a group of Muslims who believed that Ali was the most worthy of holding the political authority, came to be knows as Shi'at-i Ali.

Rashidun Caliphate (632–661 AD)[edit]

Rashidun Caliphate (632-661 AD)

The connection between the Indus Valley and Shia Islam was established by the initial Muslim missions. A companion of Prophet Muhammad, Hakim ibn Jabalah al-Abdi (حکیم ابن جبلہ عبدی), who travelled across Sind up to Makran in the year 649 AD and presented a report on the area to the Caliph,[3] was an early partisan of Ali ibn Abu Talib. He entered Sindh via Balouchi hills and his impression of the area was:

"water is scarce, the fruits are poor, and the robbers are bold; if a few troops are sent they will be slain, if many, they will starve[4]."

He, with a number of Sindhi Jats, fought and died for Ali at the Battle of Jamal in 656 AD[5]. During the reign of Ali, many Jats came under the influence of Shi'ism[6]. Harith ibn Murrah Al-abdi (حارث ابن مرہ عبدی) and Sayfi ibn Fil' al-Shaybani (صیفی ابن فیل الشیبانی), both officers of Ali's army, attacked Sindhi bandits and chased them to Al-Qiqan (present-day Quetta) in the year 658[7]. Sayfi was one of the seven Shias who were beheaded alongside Hujr ibn Adi al-Kindi[8] in 660 AD near Damascus.

Umayyad Period (661–750 AD)[edit]

Battle of Karbala

Under the Umayyads, many Shias sought asylum in the region of Sindh, perhaps to live in relative peace among the Shia Jats. Ziyad Hindi is one of those refugees[9]. The second wife of the fourth Shia Imam, Ali ibn Hussain, Jayda al-Sindi, was from Sindh[10]. She is the mother of Zayd ibn Ali. Sindh was conquered and added to the Islamic world by Muhammad ibn Qasim in 711 AD. Persecution of Shias in the Umayyad dynasty reached its peak in the times of Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik, especially at the hands of Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. An aged supporter of rebels and a Shia notable of the time, a disciple of the companion of Prophet Jabir ibn Abd Allah al-Ansari and a famous narrator of Hadith, Atiyah ibn Sa'd was arrested by Muhammad bin Qasim on the orders of Al-Hajjaj and demanded that he curse Ali on threat of punishment. Atiyyah refused and was flogged by 400 lashes and his head and beard shaved for humiliation. He fled to Khurasan[11][12]. Attiyah is regarded a credible source of Hadith by both the Sunni and the Shia[11]. However, Neither Sunnis nor Shias narrated any Hadith from Muhammad bin Qasim.

Abbasid Period (750–1258 AD)[edit]

After the brief Umayyad rule in Sind had came to an end, history counts ten among the seventy notable Muslims of the eighth and ninth centuries bearing a Sindhi family name (14.3% of all individuals) to be Shi'ites[13]. In the initial excavation of the urban complex of Brahmanabad-Mansurah-Mahfuzah, A. P. Bellasis uncovered a seal bearing the Arabic inscription "Imam al-Baqir"[14] which appear to belong to the fifth Shi'ite Imam Muhammad al-Baqir(677-733 AD). Some students of Imam Jafar Al Sadiq had Indian family names, e.g. Aban Sindi, Khalid Sindi and Faraj Sindi[15].

Abdullah Shah Ghazi[edit]

The first Shi'ite revolutionary wave that touched the shores of Sindh was the movement lead by Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyah ibn Abdullah ibn Hasan ibn Hasan ibn Ali, his son Abdullah al-Ashtar and his brother Ibrahim. Around the year 761 AD, they came by sea from Aden to Sind to visit a partisan, Umar ibn Hafs Hazarmard. The next year, Ibrahim went to Kufah and Nafs al-Zakiyah to Medina and started planning the revolt. Abdullah al-Ashtar, also known as Abdullah Shah Ghazi, stayed in Sindh, married a local Muslim woman and had children by her. Ibn Khaldun and Ibn al-Athir say that the governor had Shi'ite inclinations[16]. Abdullah al-Ashtar had around 400 troops of the Shi'ite Zaydiyah branch, who at the time were active supporters of Ahlulbayt, ready for armed struggle. However, the governor received word from his wife in Basrah that Nafs Al-Zakiyah had been killed in Medina (14 Ramadan 145/6 December 762). Confused and undecided, he told Abdullah Ashtar that:

The tomb of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi

"I know an influential Hindu king in a district of Sindh who has a strong army. Despite his polytheism, he greatly honors [the family of] the Prophet. He is a trustworthy person. I will write to him and try to arrange an agreement between you and him. You will know that this is the best place for you and your followers"[17].

The Hindu king agreed to offer asylum. Abdullah al-Ashtar spent some years there, probably from 762 AD to 769 AD. Eventually, the news of his safe escape reached the caliph al-Mansur who deposed Umar ibn Hafs and appointed Hisham ibn Amr al-Taghlibi on the understanding that he will arrest Abdullah al-Ashtar, kill or disperse the Zaydiyah troops, and annex the Hindu dynasty. When Hisham also hesitated to carry out the massacre, his brother Sufayh did it in his place, killing Abdullah along with many of his companions[18].

When the historian and geographer al-Masudi arrived in Sindh in the year 915 AD, he met a number of Shias there, who were descendants of Umar ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib and Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, al-Hanafiyah[19]. The poet Abu Dulaf Misar ibn Muhalhil al-Yanbui, who came to India around 942 AD, noted that the 'ruler of Multan was a descendant of Umar ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib (عمر الاطراف)[20]. Perhaps the Shi'ites were quasi-independent in a sector of the province of Multan.

The Buyids and the Fatimids[edit]

Buyid Dynasty (934–1055 AD

In the Abbasid Caliphate, various Shiite groups organised secret opposition to their rule. In the tenth and eleventh centuries,The Twelver Shias of the Buyid Dynasty (934-1055 AD) managed to establish their rule over much of Iran and Iraq without removing the Abbasid Caliph from his throne. Parallel to it was the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171 AD) in Egypt and North Africa. This was the golden age of Islam as scientists like Ibn Sina (980 -1037 AD), ibn al -Haytham (965 -1040 AD), Al-Biruni (973–1050 AD) and hundreds of others enjoyed the intellectual freedom and contributed to Philosophy, Medicine, Physics and other disciplines of Science. During the mid-11th century, the Buyids gradually fell to the Ghaznavid and Seljuq invasions, and with it started the decline of the Islamic Golden Age. In 1091 AD, the famous Sunni theologian, Imam Al-Ghazali, declared that Philosophers like Ibn Sina were heretics. His book Tahāfut al-Falāsifa proved to be the final blow to science education in Islamic world[21].

The Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171 AD)

Around 958 AD, a Fatimid missionary converted a local Hindu ruler, and an Ismaili state was established in Sind, with its capital in Multan. They converted locals to Ismailism en masse, while the khutba was read in the name of the Fatimid Caliph[22]. It was during this period that the earliest public mourning of Muharram and the Shia call to prayer (Azan) was introduced to the Indus valley (present-day Pakistan)[23][24].

The Ghaznavids and the Ghurids[edit]

Ghaznavid Empire 975–1187 (AD)

In 1005 AD, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna invaded Multan. The Shi'a mosque was destroyed and reduced to a barn-floor[25]. Five years later, he attacked again and annexed the territory completely. Ismailism managed to survive in Sind and enjoyed the protection of the Soomras, a dynasty based in Thatta for almost three centuries starting in 1051 AD. Small pockets of Ismaili community also thrived in Uchh, Aror, Mansura and Bhakkar[24].

The Ghaznavid Empire was overthrown in 1186 AD when Sultan Mu'izz ad-Din Muhammad of Ghor conquered the last Ghaznavid capital of Lahore[26]. He was a great military leader and unlike Ghaznavids, he founded an empire in India, the Delhi Sultanate. Sultan Muhammad Ghuri lead many military campaigns in north India. On his way to Ghazni from India in 1206 AD, he was killed. Some sources claim that he was assassinated at the hands of a devotee of the so-called 'mulahida' (a derogatory term used for Ismailis in medieval history)[27], others claim that it was Khokhars who killed him[28].

Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526 AD)[edit]

Delhi sultanate (1206–1526 AD)
Medieval minature of Muinuddin Chishti.

The predecessors of the Delhi Sultanate were the Ghurids. To understand the Shia-State relations in Medieval India, it is necessary to look at the nature of Sunni Islam that was brought to this region following the conquest of the Ghurids. Pashtun tribes crossed the Hindu kush mountains to present day Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province) between 13th and 16th century, and mixed with the locals. The Ghurid tribe had embraced Islam in the times of Ali ibn Abu Talib and the most of today's Afghanistan became part of the Muslim world in the reign of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz. Ghur in khurasan was the only part of Muslim world that had defied the Umayyad tradition of cursing Ali[29]. The family of the first Rashidun Caliph Abu Bakr had resisted the Umayyad rule. His daughter Aisha, his sons Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr and Abdur Rahman ibn Abu Bakr, his grandson Abdullah ibn Zubayr and the son of his nephew, Abdur Rahman ibn muhammad al-Ash'ath are the prominent Sunni opponents of the Umayyad rule. The Sunnis of Khurasan were as opposed to the Umayyad rule as the Shias were. They had been instrumental in overthrow of the Umayyad dynasty and in Abbasid rule under the Shia commander Abu Muslim al-Khurasani. The influential Muslim theologian, Imam Abu Hanifa (699 - 767 AD) was born to an Afghan family living in Kufa, he had great regard for the Ahlulbayt and supported the Shi'ite revolt lead by Zayd ibn Ali. The Delhi empire carried this legacy of attachment with Ahlulbayt and the family of Caliph Abu Bakr. It was during the early years of the Delhi Sultanate that the great Sufi saint, Moinuddin Chishti (1142–1236 AD) set his foot in India and converted many locals to Islam. His famous couplet reads:

شاہ است حسین، بادشاہ است حسین

Hussain is our King, He is the Emperor

دین است حسین، دین پناہ است حسین

He is Faith, and the guardian of Faith

سر داد، نداد دست درِ دست یزید

He preferred death over submission to Yazid

حقا کہ بنائے لا الہ است حسین

Indeed, Hussain is the foundation of the Shahda

During the early years of the establishment of Delhi ultanate, a number of Ismaili Shias had settled around Delhi. Ismaili faith was also introduced to Gujrat during these years. Ismaili missionaries spread across Gujrat and managed to establish the Nizari Ismaili Khoja community and the Mustali Bohras. Till the reign of Iltutmish, they remained politically inactive, preaching their ideology secretly. In contrast to Ismailis, history does not record the presence of mainstream Twelver Shi'ism in the first phase of Delhi sultanate. One reason could be Taqiya, because the Shias fleeing persecution in the middle east settled in the subcontinent as local minorities cautious of threats to their survival. The other reason for this is that the love of Ahlulbayt and the commemoration of Muharram by the Sufi's helped the twelver Shias integrate well into the Sunni Muslim minority of India and not claim a separate political identity. For example, during the Gwalior campaign of Iltutmish, special sermons by the name of "tazkirs" were delivered in the military camps during the first ten days of Muharram[30]. Ibn Battuta came across Syed families in Delhi that had originally migrated from Hijaz and Iraq in the reign of Mumamad Tughluq (1324 – 1351 AD)[31]. They might have fled persecution carried out by Ibn Taymiyyah and the Mamluks. Twelver Shias seem to be enjoying freedom and equal-before-the-law status during this period[32]. However, when Sultan Feroz Shah (1351–1388 AD) assumed power, he persecuted them. His order inscribed on the Firozshah Kotla Mosque, reads that ‘Shias had published tracts and books on their creed, and engaged in the preaching the faith’. He claimed that he had seized all such Shia missionaries, paraded them for humiliation, executed the prominent ones, while burning their books[33]. This was a rare incident of its kind in the medieval India. In 1380 AD, the Sufi saint, Syed Muhammad Ashraf Jahangir Simnani introduced the alam-i Abbas to the subcontinent, the black signature flag of the Muharram commemorations[34].

By the end of fourteenth century AD, the Delhi sultanate disintegrated and three separate kingdoms emerged: Jaunpur Sultanate in the east and the Bahmani Sultanate and Vijayanagara Empire in the southern part of India.

Shi'ism in Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan[edit]

In 1381 AD, after Timur invaded Iran, Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, an Iranian Sufi arrived in Kashmir with a large number of disciples and preached Islam. He instilled the love of Ahlul Bayt in the hearts of the new converts and wrote many books and tracts. Shi'ism was properly introduced by Mir Shams-ud Din Iraqi[35] whose grandfather Syed Muhammad Noor Bakhsh belonged to the Sufi order of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani and had huge following base in Iran, Qandhar, Kabul and Kashmir. Mir Shams-ud Din arrived in Kashmir in 1481 AD and then returned to Iran. Twenty years later in 1501 AD, he came to Kashmir again, along with 700 Shia Sufis, scholars and missionaries. In 1505 AD, the King of the Shah Mir Dynasty converted to Shi'ism and so did the Chak clan of Kashmir. He traveled in the valleys of Himalayas and spread Shi'ism from Skardu to Tibet, converting thousands of Hindus and Budhists to Shi'ism. In 1516 AD, the Shia Chak dynasty was established and forcible conversions of Hindus began. In 1532 AD, Sultan Said Khan dispatched an army under the command of Mirza Haider Dughlat that attacked Kashmir from Kashgar[36]. He hated Shias and therefore went on a killing spree. Soon he suffered a military defeat and fled to the Mughal King Humayun in Lahore. He returned in 1540 AD, accompanied by Mughal troops, at the invitation of one of the two rival factions that continually fought for power in Kashmir. He put an end to the Chak rule. His reign was a reign of terror and Shias had no choice but to practice Taqiyya[36]. In 1550 AD, he killed Mir Danial, the son of Mir Shams-ud Din Iraqi. This sparked an all-out revolt and he was killed by the end of the same year. Chak dynasty was re-established and in 1586 AD, it merged with the Mughal Empire. Mughals appointed talented officers and contributed greatly to the cultural and economic life of Kashmir. In the following four centuries, Sunni Ulema and militia of the area and abroad, led ten campaigns of terror against Shias known as "Taraaj-e Shia" in the years: 1548 AD, 1585 AD, 1635 AD, 1686 AD, 1719 AD, 1741 AD, 1762 AD, 1801 AD, 1830 AD and 1872 AD; during which the Shia villages were plundered, people slaughtered, women raped, libraries burnt, corpses mutilated and their sacred sites destroyed[37].

Shia Rule in South India (1490–1687 AD)[edit]

Ibn Battuta reports a settlement of Shi‘as at Quilon in Kerala in the first decades of the fourteenth century, where they ‘proclaimed their affiliation openly’[38]. The Bahmani kingdom (1347–1526 AD) in the Deccan, had its capital in Gulbarga and then Bidar (in Karnataka) ruled by a dynasty of Persian origin. It patronized men of scholarship and hence Shia missionaries and scholars arrived in Deccan. In the phase of decline, it split up into five smaller kingdoms, three of them ruled by Shias.

The Adil Shahi Dynasty (1489–1686 AD)[edit]

Yusuf Adil Shah of Ottoman Turk origin, the adopted son of a Shia scholar Mahmud Gawan, declared autonomy in Bijapur in 1489 AD after his father was executed by the drunk king, and proclaimed Shi‘ism as the state religion in 1502 AD. Bijapur became the first Twelver Shia state in India, with Ja'fari, Hanafi and Sha'fi schools of Islamic law, each applied to its followers. It was the first time in India that Shia Adhan was called on the state pulpits and names of the twelve Shia Imams be included in Khutba. However, he strictly banned the practice of tabarra[39]. In 1579 AD, the king Ibrahim II adopted Sunni sect, but the people were allowed to follow their own. The Adil Shahi dynasty stayed independent until 1686 AD when it was annexed to the Mughal Empire by Aurangzeb.

The Qutb Shahi Dynasty (1512–1687 AD)[edit]

The longest surviving Shia-ruled state in southern India was that of the Qutb Shahs. Its founder Sultan Quli Qutb Mulk was of Turkoman origins. He ordered the Khutba to be read in the names of the twelve Shia Imams. This kingdom was known for its wealth: it is the only one among the Deccan sultanates to have a currency of Gold coins. It became the hub of Shia culture in India, later surpassed only by Lucknow. Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (1565–1612 AD) is the first Urdu poet to have compiled and published a divan[40] and also the first to write a Marsiya in Urdu. A Shia scholar and scientist, Mir Muhammad Momin, came to Golconda in 1581 AD, and was assigned the task of designing the new capital Hyderabad, which was built in 1591 AD. The first Imambargah in India, by the name of "Badshahi Ashurkhana" was built along with other monuments like Charminar, gardens of Ilahi Mahal, Jama Masjid, Colleges and Hospitals. In 1592 AD, the flag Alam-e-hussaini was erected at the Ashurkhana, witha ahand shaped pinnacle made of metal. Syed Ali Asgar Bilgrami in his book, "Landmarks Of The Deccan", describes that:

"The inner hall is the oldest portion of this building. It was built by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah V, at a cost of RS. 66, 000. It will be apparent from the above inscription that the construction of this building remained current from 1001 AH (1592 AD) to 1005 AH 1596 AD)"[41].

In 1595 AD, the construction of Dar-ush Shifa Hospital commenced. It had a spacious square courtyard with a double-storeyed structure, with eastern and western wings having twelve and northern wing having eight rooms on both floors. The hospital was also a college of medicine, where the learned staff experimented with new drugs[42].

Another building, Khudadad Mahal, was eight storeys high. It contained a library, papermaking and bookbinding sections and a section for miniature painting[43].

The kingdom was the at center of diamond production and trade, not Asia alone but worldwide. rich in agriculture as it was, it was also famous for its weapons industry, cloth, carpet, agriculture, diamond and gold mines[44]. Its riches lured Mughal Empire into attack and Shia religious and intellectual culture lost state patronage after it was annexed by Aurangzeb in 1687.

The Nizam Shahi Dynasty (1490–1633 AD)[edit]

Another dynasty in the Deccan, the Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar, was founded in 1490 AD by Ahmad Nizam Shah, the son of a Hindu convert to Islam. His son Burhan Shah became staunch Shia under the influence of Shah Tahir Junaidi[45]. Their independence was lost when the Mughal Emperor Akbar forced them to pay tribute. In 1633 AD their kingdom was finally annexed by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

Mughal Empire Phase-I (1526–1707 AD)[edit]

In March 1526 AD, Babur defeated the last monarch of the Delhi Sultanate, Ibrahim Lodhi, at Panipat and one years later defeated the Rajput hero Rana Sanga near Sikri. He became the first Mughal Emperor of India but died shortly after, in 1530 AD at Agra. Majority of his army commanders were Turani Begs, however, some of them were Iranians. His son Humayun succeeded him, who inherited his military and Sufi-hanafi orientation. However, he met a crushing defeat at the hands of Sher Shah Suri in 1540, due to disputes among his brothers, and fled to Iran where Shah Tahmasp welcomed him warmly. In 1545 AD, Hamayun with the help of Iranian military genius Bayram Khan, launched attack on Qandhar and then seized Kabul. He conquered Delhi in 1555 AD and died the next year, leaving the throne to his young son Akbar, who was to rule India for almost half a century and become one of the greatest Emperors, Plato's philosopher king of India. Him and his contemporary in Deccan, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, are perhaps the most enlightened and progressive Kings in Indian history.

In his childhood, two influential Sunni clerics persuaded him to turn a blind eye to their atrocities against Shias. In 1564 AD, a Shia philosopher and mathematician, Mir Murtaza Shirazi, moved to Akbar's court. When he died in 1567 AD, he was buried near the great poet Amir Khusrow. Shaykh Abd un Nabi and Mulla Makhdum-ul Mulk insisted that his dead body be taken out and buried somewhere else, the young Emperor ordered and his grave was dug up. Around 1570 AD, a Shia jurist, Mir Habsh Turbati was killed, and in Kashmir, Akbar's envoy Mirza Muqim[46]. The two clerics would not tolerate difference of opinion, and using their influence in the court of the young king, they forced Fayzi and Abu-ul Fazl into going underground. However, soon the king had enough of their bigotry and he started questioning what he had been taught. In 1575 AD, he built a debating hall by the name of Ibadatkhana, where he would hold discussions between men of knowledge from all backgrounds[47].

The Mughal state was secular, perhaps the pioneer of secularism, and did not facilitate hate crimes, but a cold war between Shia and Sunni elite continued. Mughal Emperors except Aurangzeb, were indifferent to sectarian disputes and did not encourage sectarian violence.

Shia Revival in Punjab[edit]

Shrine of Syed Raju Shah Bukhari in Layyah

In the sixteenth century, some Shia phobes, the like of Mirza Haider Dughlat, appear to question the expression of love for Ahlulbayt by followers of Sufi'ism. Humayun in Kabul was visited by a cleric Shaykh Hamid who angered the king by asking him why so many of his soldiers had Ali in their names?[48]. Shia literature of the time mentions them as Kharjis. In response to this, an influential Shia saint Syed Raju Shah Bukhari of Layyah, launched a campaign against unnecessary Taqiyya among the Shias and invited them to express their love for Ahlulbayt more openly. Another saint, Syed Mahbub-i Alam Shah Jiwana (1490 - 1564 AD) settled in a village near Jhang. During this time, many saints and syeds professed their faith and identified as Shias openly. They and their disciples traveled the agricultural heartlands of Punjab and spread the message[49].

Shia Intelligentsia in Akbar's Court[edit]

During the reign of the curious and just Akbar the Great (1556–1605 AD), men of knowledge from all over India gathered at his Ibadat khana in the then mughal capital, Fatehpur Sikri. Among them were three Shia scholars: Shah Fathullah Shirazi, Qazi Nurullah Shustari and Mullah Ahmad Thattavi.

The foundations of Shi'i theology in present-day Pakistan were laid by Qazi Nurullah Shustari who stayed in Lahore from 1586 AD to 1599 AD[50]. He was born in a scholarly family of Iran in 1549 AD. In 1584 AD, he moved from Mash'had to India and arrived in Akbar's court the next year. In 1586 AD, Akbar shifted his capital to Lahore and appointed him as the Qazi (chief jurist) of the city. He accepted the position on the condition that he will follow his own judgement (Ijtihad) and not adhere to a particular school of jurisprudence. He reformed the judiciary system and made sure that justice was served to the masses. Mulla Badauni says:

"He has reduced the insolent jurists and subtle and crafty judges to order and has eradicated their corruption and has put constraints on their conduct. He is well-known for his neutrality, modesty, piety, justice, virtue, and qualities of a noble man. He is well known for his scholarship, decision power, insight, and clarity of thought. He has authored many tracts and also possesses poetic faculty[50]."

In that era, due to conflict between Ottoman Empire and Safavid Empire, several books targeting Shias were circulating in India and middle east. Shushtari set out to confront the most important of them. He opposed the practice of taqiyya in an era wherein a just King treated all his subjects equally regardless of their beliefs. He said:

"blessed be the King whose patronage in India

has allowed my faith to not depend on taqiyya"[24]

The tomb of Qazi Nurullah Shustari in Agra

He wrote "Masaib-un Nawasib" in response to "al-Nawaqiz fi Radd ala-al Rawafiz", "Sawarim-ul Mohriqa" in response to "al-Sawaiq-ul Muhriqa" and his magnum opus, "Ihqaq-ul Haq" in response to "Ibtal-al Nahjl-al Batil". He also wrote "Majalis-ul Momineen" on the history of Shias and exegesis of some parts of Quran. He was not just writing books, he was continuously in touch with Shias of India by writing and responding to their letters. They sought his guidance in religious matters. For example, his correspondence with Syed Hasan, grandson of Syed Raju Shah Bukhari, the Kashmiri Shia clergy, and his famous debate "Asa'la-e Yusufiyya", with Akhbari Shia theologian Mir Yusuf Ali Astarabadi.

Towards the end of his rule, Akbar appointed the Qazi to investigate mishandling of governments funds and property in Agra and other places. It appears that he made many enemies, while holding them accountable. After Akbar's death, in 1605 AD, life became harder for him and eventually, he was sentenced to public flogging by Jahangir. He could not tolerate this humiliation and died while bearing lashes on his back in 1610 AD at the age of sixty-one[50].

Mullah Ahmed Thattavi was son of the Sunni jurist of Thatta. He was introduced to Shia faith by an Iraqi merchant.[51] After completing his basic education in Thatta, he went to Mashhad at the age of 22 and attended a course of Ibn Sina's book on medical science, The Canon. He then went to Qazvin, Iraq and finally Makkah, visiting places and attending different courses. Upon his return to India, he first went to the Qutb Shahi court in Golkonda and then in 1583, he joined Akbar's court[52]. In the debates about the history of Islam, he used to advocate Shia point of view with missionary zeal. In 1589 AD, He was assassinated in Lahore, his grave was exhumed and his body mutilated and then put to fire by his opponents[53].

Shah Fathullah Shirazi was one of the leading intellectuals of India, expert on the books of Ibn Sina and Shaikh-i-Ishraq as well as mathematics and astronomy of the time. He lived in Bijapur city of Adil Shahi Sultanate of Deccan. Akbar invited him to his court in Fathpur Sikri. He arrived in 1583 AD. The jagirdars on his way were ordered to welcome him and escort his caravan. He was appointed the Amin-ul Mulk (trustee of the empire), Azud-ud Daula (arm of the empire) and a joint finance minister with Raja Todar Mal. He was tasked with financial reforms. In May 1589, Shah Fathullah fell ill and died, while accompanying the Emperor on his visit to Kashmir[54]. His death was a great loss for Akbar. Although his strict observance of religious discipline and rituals in his daily life was distasteful to the Emperor, he was given full freedom by the secular king. He actively took part in the discussions at the Ibadat khana. He designed and improved weapons, made new astronomical tables and researched on pedagogical approaches for children with special needs. His students kept his tradition alive and as a result, rational sciences became a part of the madrassa curriculum until 19th century AD, when Shah Waliullah's puritanism replaced them with orthodoxy[55].

Jahangir and Shahjahan[edit]

Imambargah Hussaini Dalan in Dhaka, built by Mir Murad under patronage of Shah Shuja, who was governor of Bengal in Shah Jahan's era.

Jahangir and Shahjahan, both followed Akbar's policy of coexistence and secularism. They built impressive structures, but they did not build a single University in North India, and therefore, India could not catch up with European Renaissance. Although Jahangir punished Qazi Nurullah Shushtari, but it was not for religious reasons. He disliked his father's associates and acted against them, but not out of religiosity. Most probably his nobles took revenge from the Qazi for accountability in Akbar's reign[50]. Jahangir's jailing of a zealous anti-Shia cleric, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, is also indicative of his indifference towards sectarian conflicts[56]. Pelsaert, a Dutch merchant who lived in Agra between (1620 - 1627 AD), gives an account of people openly commemorating Muharram:-

"In commemoration of this tragedy, they wail all night for a period of ten days. The women recite lamentations and display grief. The men carry two decorated coffins on the main roads of the city with many lamps. Large crowds attend these ceremonies, with great cries of mourning and noise. The chief event is on the last night, when it seems as if a Pharoah had killed all the infants in one night. The outcry lasts till the first quarter of the day"[57].

A similar liberty was noticed when Mahmud Balkhi visited Lahore in Muharram 1625 AD, he wrote:-

"The whole city was commemorating Muharram with passion and enthusiasm. Tazias were taken out on the 10th and the shops were closed. However, a stampede due to failure of crowd control resulted in deaths of around 75 people"[58].

The Shalimar Garden in Lahore

Qazi Nurullah's son, Ala-ul Mulk, was appointed tutor of Shah Shuja, the second son of Shahjahan. Ala-ul Mulk and one of his brothers lived in Dhaka and introduced the Shi'i creed there[59]. During Shah Jahan's rule over North India, Shi'ism was introduced in Bengal under patronage of his son Shah Shuja, and the second Imambargah of the subcontinent, Hussaini Dalan, was built in the capital city of Dhaka. In Shah Jahan's court, sometimes religious debates took place and the Emperor does not seems to be taking sides. The most influential Shia of Shahjahan's era was Ali Mardan Khan. He was appointed governor of Kashmir and Punjab. In Lahore, he built the famous Shalimar Garden and the Shahi Canal. He also rebuilt the road from Sirinagar to Lahore. In Kashmir too, he built gardens and a carvanserai in the name of twelve Shia Imams[60]. Another important Shia noble of the time was Mir Jumla Said Khan, also known as Muazzam Khan Khan-i Khanan. He was an influential general in the Qutb Shahi dynasty and after alienation in Abdullah Qutb Shah's court, he shifted his loyalty to the Mughal court. His role in bringing Aurangzeb to power and annexation of Deccan was instrumental[61].

Aurangzeb's Religiosity[edit]

Aurangzeb (1658–1707 AD) was hard working, clever and brilliant like Akbar, but he was totally opposite of him in his world view. Akbar's enlightenment and love were replaced by bigotry and naked force. While Akbar conquered North of India, he conquered South, but could not maintain and establish his authority. Akbar had been successful because he treated his subjects equally, regardless of their religion. Under Aurangzeb, there was no room for freedom of thought, philosophy, innovation, science, tolerance and rational dialogue, and it was disastrous for the multi-cultural society of India. He did not like monumental structures and built none. When he saw the Khudadad Mahal of Hyderabad, he called it Shaddad Mahal and ordered its destruction[43]. Aurangzeb gathered a board of Sunni jurists and tasked them with compilation of Hanafi rulings later known as Fatawa Alamgiri. This was a detailed document, consisting of some 30 volumes. It changed the statecraft of the Mughal Empire: religions other than Islam and sects other than Hanafi Maturidi sect were to face discrimination. Sunni Ulema became as powerful as Pope in medieval Europe. Shias had to practice taqiyya if they wished to be treated equally by Aurangzeb. In this regard, the best example is that of Ruhullah Khan whose Shi'ism only came to his knowledge when he was buried as a Shia according to his will[62]. As a prince, he had sought Shah Jahan's permission to attack Deccan, not only because of wealth but also because the rulers were Shias. He wrote:

Aurangzeb during the siege of Golconda, 1687.

"(Qutb-ul Mulk) popularized rifz (a derogatory term for Shi'ism) and criticism of the companions of Prophet, both being a sign of infidelity and heresy, to the extent that the entire Kingdom had abandoned the Sunni faith"[63].

Mughal Empire till 1700 AD

He hated Shias more than Hindus, however, while his actions targeted these communities on the whole, he did not let his bigotry undermine his own interests and he did appoint learned and skillful individuals from those communities as officers. Aurangzeb assassinated the leader of Bohra Ismaili Shias, Syedna Qutb-ud Din. He also assassinated the Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur, a decision that sparked communal tensions between Sikhs and Muslims. His son, the tenth Sikh guru Gobind Singh forged his followers into a militia by the name of Sikh Khalsa. However, the Emperor's sectarian stance could not stop Shias from responding to the Sunni polemics: between 1701 and 1706 AD, the Shi'i governor of Kashmir Ibrahim Khan appointed a board of Shia theologians to compile the "Bayaz-e- Ibrahimi", in which rare manuscripts were collected from different sources[64].

Destabilization of Deccan and discrimination against Hindus gave rise to a militant Hindu uprising in Maharashtra under the leadership of Shivaji Bhonsle (1627-1680 AD). Rajputs of Jodh and Mewar and Sikhs of Punjab also rose to oppose Aurangzeb. Shivaji was a religious man like Aurangzeb, and in 1674 AD, he crowned himself Chatrapati in a traditional Hindu Coronation at Rajgarh. His campaigns gave rise to Hindu communalism, which later manifested in the idea of Hindutva[65]. However, like Aurangzeb, he was wise enough to not let his religious sentiment undermine his interests: he appointed many Muslims to high positions. In 1689, Shivaji's son and the new Chatrapati Sambhaji was captured by Aurangzeb and tortured to death. The account of his death made the Maratha opposition fiercer. As a King, he spent 27 years conquering and establishing his rule in Deccan, a long war that drained the Mughal Empire of resources and started its decline.

Aurangzeb's period also saw an increasing sense of rebellion in Qandhar and Kabul. They regarded Muslims beyond the Hindukush as "others". Later these parts of India declared independence in 1747 AD, and a new country by the name of Afghanistan appeared on the map of the world. The Afghan and Maratha bid for power was the main cause that accelerated the decline of Mughal Empire.

Shi'ism in Kurram Valley[edit]

The turi Shia tribe of Turkish origin[66] were living in the tribal areas of the indus valley from medieval times as nomadic tribes, but by the end of Aurangzeb's rule, they had established themselves in Kurram valley and introduced Shi'ism in the valley[67].

Mughal Empire Phase-II (1707–1857 AD)[edit]

Imambargah Shah-e Mardan in Delhi, built around 1726 AD.

Aurangzeb's successor Bahadur Shah was a tafzili Sunni. He had made peace with Rajputs and invited Sikh guru Gobind Singh to his court. The Maratha leader Shahu was busy with crushing rebels at home. Sikhs resumed their revolt under Banda, and Bahadur Shah had to move to Lahore to contain it[68]. Aurangzeb's bigotry fueled a cold war between Shia and Sunni elite in North India. Bahadur Shah tried to sort out the Shia-Sunni problem but his death in 1712 AD left the question undecided[69]. From there on to Nadir Shah's invasion of 1739 AD, the business of Empire was taken over by conspiracies of king-makers. Religious and racial sensitivities were manipulated to meet selfish ends. This state of affairs was perfect for sectarian conflicts to grow. It seems like the Kharji's of the pre-Akbar era had re-surfaced. During Farukhsiyar's reign (1713 – 1719 AD), the most prominent Sufi saint was Khawaja Muhammad Jafar. A cleric from Multan by the name of Shaykh Abdullah visited Delhi and could not stand the reverence of the twelve Imams on his dargah. He went to Delhi's Friday mosque and started to campaign against the Khawaja, which resulted in violence. When he went back to Multan, he continued the hate speech. He was arrested and sent back to Delhi to be put behind the bars. On his way, his followers attacked the police to free him, but the attempt failed to leave many dead. The Shaykh was put in prison[70].

In 1714 AD, the Maratha civil war had ended. The weakened Mughals now recognized them as part of Mughal Empire. Shahu was given tax collecting power over the large piece of land he already controlled. But the boundaries between the provinces were always disputed, thus Marathas continued their expansion. Mughal Empire started to become decentralized and a number of successor states emerged. Their rulers had considerable autonomy and sought legitimacy by being ceremonially appointed by the Emperor. In 1723 AD, Nizam-ul Mulk, the strongest Sunni noble at Delhi's court and Mughal Viceroy of the Deccan, declared himself as a shadow king of the area, founding Hyderabad State. When the Emperor sent an army to crush his soft coup, it was defeated. However, because of constant Maratha threat, he did not claim independent and chose to stay quasi-independent. Following this the Shia Nawabs of Bengal and Nawabs of Awdh were also awarded hereditary governorship and local autonomy in their respective areas. Like Nizam, they too appointed their own administration in their state, while paying tributes to the Emperor. Meanwhile the European trading companies had started to recruit armies from local population in Bombay, Madras and Bengal. The Empire entered into an era of perpetual war, mistrust and treachery[71]. However, it was also an era of emergence of new cultural capitals, like Lucknow, Murshidabad, Hyderabad and Poone.

Shia Rule in Bengal[edit]

Nizammat Imambara of Murshidabad is the biggest imambargah in the Subcontinent.

Shi'ism was introduced to Bengal during the governorship of Shah Shuja (1641 - 1661 AD), son of Shah Jahan. However, from 1707 AD to 1880 AD, Bengal was ruled by Shia Nawabs. They built huge Imambargahs, including the biggest of the Subcontinent built by Nawab Siraj-ud Daula, the Nizammat Imambara. The nawabs of Bengal and Iranian merchants in Bengal patronized azadari and the political capital Murshidabad and the trading hub Hoogly attracted Shia scholars from within and outside India[72].

The first Nawab, Murshid Quli Khan, was adopted by a Shia merchant Haji Shafi Isfahani and was brought up as a Shia[73]. The fifth nawab, Ali Vardi Khan (1740 – 1756 AD) is among the best rulers India has produced. He was a hard working and far-sighted man. Bengal at that time was richest state of India, as the center of trade it attracted investments from Asian and European companies[74], and that was why it was attacked by the Marathas[75], the Afghan Rohillas[76] and finally the British managed to conquer it after his demise. During the Anglo-French and Anglo-Indian wars in Madras region and beyond, and their gradually increasing invisible control over these regions, Ali Vardi Khan studied the developments with the help of his spies. While he encouraged trade with Europeans, he did not let them build military-purpose fortress in Bengal. If they tried doing it, he would demolish it and say to them:

"You are merchants, what need have you of a fortress? Being under my protection, you have no enemies to fear"[77].

He was a practicing Shia, he offered prayers and recited Quran everyday and held meetings with learned men for discussions[78]. At the times of war and crisis, he used to pray whole night on a piece of earth from the grave of Imam Hussain at Karbala[79]. During his reign, many Shia scholars came to Bengal and started teaching in maktabs, mosques and imambaras[80]. He did not discriminate against Hindus or others on the basis of religion, and this was one of his points of strength. However, the British managed to create fault lines based on religion[81] and when his naive and young grandson Nawab Siraj-ud Daula came to power, many members of Hindu elite, especially Jagat Seth and Amir Chand, supported the great conspiracy of 1757 AD, and the British got hold of Bengal[74]. Keeping the puppet nawabs on their thrones, now the British were indirectly ruling parts of Southern and Eastern India without exposing themselves to the volatile power struggle between the Afghans, the Marathas and the Shias. This strategy of camouflage was adopted to gain maximum economic advantage of the situation. A decade of exploitation followed. Bengal, the once richest province of India, suffered from famine in 1770 AD, and one third of it's peasants lost their lives and others driven to cannibalism[82].

Afghan Invasions[edit]

Nader Shah finds his troops being killed in Delhi riots after rumors of his death spread. This led him to order the slaughter that took 30, 000 lives.

After the end of Safavid rule over Iran, a Sunni general of the Safavids, Nadir Shah, had crowned himself as the Emperor of Persia in 1736 AD and wrote to the Mughal Emperor to expel the Afghan rebels of Iran who had hidden themselves in areas under Mughal control. When Muhammad Shah, who was busy with revolts at home, failed to respond, he used this as a pretext to attack Delhi and plunder it. The Shia nawab of Awdh, Sa'adat Ali Khan tried to defend Delhi but was stabbed in the back by Nizam-ul Mulk, who prevented the Emperor from sending reinforcements and the nawab ended up arrested[83]. Nader Shah's campaigns to unify Iran had cost him much and he desperately needed wealth to overcome financial crisis at home, which he took from Delhi. After his assassination in 1747 AD, the commander of his Afghan troops Ahmed Shah Abdali Durrani proclaimed independence and founded Afghanistan in parts of Iran and India. To fill his treasury he attacked and looted the Indus Valley seven times. His invasions were supported by the Afghan Rohillas in Delhi who had rebellious tendencies since last days of Aurangzeb. Ahmed Shah Abdali attacked Punjab in 1747 AD and advanced towards Delhi, but the Shia nawab of Awdh and commander of the Mughal army Safdar Jang defeated him at Manpur near Sirhind. After this event, the Rohillas attacked Awdh but were pushed back. Safdar Jang made alliance with Marathas against Abdali and his Rohilla agents. Abdali invaded Punjab again by the end of 1748 AD and created havoc. In 1751 AD, he invaded Punjab the third time and this time the Mughal governor Mir Mannu ceded Lahore and Multan to him and regained governorship under Abdali.

With increasing sectarian strife at the Mughal court, the Sunni faction managed to enthrone Alamgir-II as the Emperor, and persuaded him to ban the commemoration of Muharram in Delhi. The old Emperor tried to marry a princess Hazrat Begum, who was famous for her beauty, but she prevented the marriage by threatening to commit suicide.

Indian subcontinent in 1758 AD.

In 1757 AD Abdali reached Delhi and ordered his forces to unleash carnage. For more than a month, afghans went from home to home, taking whatever wealth people had, even if it was buried in the ground, and raping women. Sikh militias attacked Abdali's forces on their way back to Afghanistan, and free some of the Hindu or Sikh women that were taken as sex-slaves. Abdali invaded Delhi in 1759 AD again, looted the city, expelled it's Shia population, forcibly married the 16 year old beauty Princess Hazrat Begum. Alamgir-II was murdered and his son Shah Alam-II exiled to Awadh and the Rohilla Najib-ud Dawla and Imad-ul Mulk were appointed as chief executives[84]. Marathas tried to liberate Delhi and the Emperor, but were defeated by the united Shia-Sunni force in 1961 AD in the historic third battle of Panipat[85]. Unlike his father, the young Shia nawab of Awadh Shuja-ud Daula supported Abdali and Rohillas against the patriotic Marathas for religious reasons, but Abdali proved to be a sectarian bigot when he expelled the Shia population of Delhi and appointed the ruthless Rohillas on the demands of Shah Waliullah[84]. Shah Waliullah died in 1762 AD, but there was no room for Shias in Delhi until the Rohilla chief Najib-ud Daula died in 1770 AD and Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1772 AD. What followed was emergence of Sikh power in Punjab and a power struggle in Qandahar which stopped his heirs from attacking Indus valley. In 1771 AD, Marathas drove Rohillas out of Delhi and put the Mughal Emperor back to throne. He appointed a Shia general Mirza Najaf Khan as his minister and the relieved Shias abolished Taqiyya[86]. The famous Shia phobic scholar, Shah Abdul Aziz Dehlavi exaggerates:-

"In the region where we live (Delhi), the Twelver Shi'ism has become so popular that there can be no house where one or two individuals have not adopted this vicious faith"[87].

Mirza Najaf Khan's tomb, the commander-in-chief of the Mughal Armyduring 1772–1782 AD.

This tactic of presenting Shias as dangerous and spreading fear among Sunnis has been a common trait of all militant organizations targeting Shias[88]. In 1788 AD, the Rohillas sacked Delhi again, blinded the Emperor. Marathas again came to his rescue, Rohilla chief was ousted and punished. The Marathas tried to form a united Maratha-Sikh-Afghan front against the British but failed[89]. Meanwhile, Sikh militias controlled Punjab and the era of political anarchy and economic misery ended only after Maharaja Ranjit Singh united Sikh forces and founded the Sikh Empire (1799–1849 AD). He was a secular leader under whom Punjab blossomed again. Marathas had lost 75, 000 troops in Panipat, this crushing defeat exposed them to attacks from Nizam of Hyderabad in the south and a civil war from within. This offered British a chance to expand in Bombay, the Treaty of Salbai signed in 1782 AD neutralized Maratha threat for 20 years[90].

Shia Rule in Awdh[edit]

Nawab Sa'adat Ali Khan was awarded hereditary governorship over Awadh in 1717 AD after he led Mughal army against the Zamindars who had recruited their own militias and stopped paying taxes. He was son of a Safavid noble, who had left Iran after Safavid Empire started to lose political authority. He made Fayzabad his capital. Because of turmoil in Iran, many Shia scholars and Syeds immigrated to this city[91]. He died in 1739 AD and his nephew Safdar Jang was appointed the new Nawab by the Mughal Emperor. He was also appointed the prime minister by the Emperor. In 1745, he led a campaign against the Rohilla rebels near Delhi. In 1748 AD, he defeated Ahmad Shah Abdali near Sirhind. As his influence increased in the Mughal court so did the cold war between the Shia and Sunni elites. In 1753 AD, Safdar Jang was forced to leave Delhi for Awadh by the Sunni elites of Delhi. In 1756 AD, he died[84]. His son Shuja-ud Daula succeeded him.

Although Mir Jafar was made the Nawab of Bengal after his treachery at Plassey, the power and money lied in the hands of British and the responsibility to manage the people on this puppet, like in Arcot or Hyderabad. He was soon replaced by Mir Qasim who tried to regain freedom. Shuja-ud Daula and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam-II supported him in the battle. While the Mughal Empire had lost it's military strength due to series of Afghan invasions, the British had foreseen this battle and had employed locals at large scale and trained them on the lines of European warfare. The Indian alliance was defeated Buxer in 1764 AD. Awadh lost it's sovereignty and so did Delhi. The English did not annex these areas because they wanted to use Awadh as a buffer between themselves and the Marathas. According to the Allahabad Treaty signed by the Mughal Emperor and Robert Clive, the British troops and advisors, to be paid by Nawab, were deployed in Awadh. The Company's right to collect revenue from Bengal, the richest province of India, was now recognized and legitimized by the Emperor[92].

The defeated Shah Alam II appoints East India Company as his minister in Bengal.
Asafi Imambara and mosque in Lucknow

Now the Nawab of Awadh focused on cultural and economic enrichment of his state. In 1775 AD Asaf-ud-Daula, the fourth Nawab, shifted his court to the city of Lucknow from Faizabad. The judicial, financial and governmental capital of Awadh became the cultural capital of India[93]. Urdu/Hindi language started to evolve in North India as the main mode of communication. The poet Sauda (1713 - 1781 AD), who had moved from Delhi to Lucknow, revived Urdu elegies (marsiya). The seminary of Darul Uloom Firangi Mahal, established by Mulla Nizam ud Din Sehalvi in Aurangzeb's era now became the most important madrassa of Sunni theology in India. Lucknow attracted scholars, artists and poets from all over India as well as Europe. In 1784 AD, famine struck Awadh and the semi-independent nawab worked hard to relieve people of misery. One of his projects was to create jobs by building the magnificent Asafi Imambara and mosque complex[94].

Shi'ism in Mysore[edit]

A Mysorean soldier, using his rocket as a flagstaff (Robert Home, 1793/4).

Shi'ism was introduced in Karnataka in 1565 AD when it became part of the Adil Shahi Dynasty. During the American War of Independence, a similar threat to the British expansion in India emerged under the leadership of a Hyder Ali (1766–1782 AD), who was the army commander of the Wadiyar Dynasty of Mysore and then founded the Khudadad Sultanate. He and his son Tipu Sultan appeared as the most formidable resistance to the colonial occupation. He was the most farsighted Indian of his time, like Akbar the Great, he realized the importance of secularism[95], unity and modern science for the multi-cultural subcontinent[96]. He and his son Tipu Sultan were Sufi Sunnis[97] who used to commemorate Muharram[98]. They modernized the army, invented the iron-cased Mysorean rockets and significantly developed Mysore's economy. Tipu had deep love for Ali, he inscribed "Asadullah-ul Ghalib(اسد الله الغالب)" on weapons. He sent ambassadors to pay homage to Ali and Hussain in Iraq and ordered them to seek permission from Ottomon Emperor to build a canal from Euphrates to Najaf to meet the needs of clean water in the holy city[99].

Portrait of Tipu Sultan.

At that point in time, Iran was in turmoil and many Syeds and scholars migrated to different parts of India, some ended up in Mysore, which was building its military muscle. Looking for careers in military, many Syeds joined the army and some 2000 Iranian horse traders settled in Srirangapatna Fort[100]. Tipu tried to form a Mysore-Hyderabad-Pune alliance against the ever-growing colonial exploitation of the British but failed. He also contacted the French counterpart, Napoleon, the Iranian Fath Ali Shah and the Afghan Zaman Shah for help, but the British managed to encircle and defeat him. In the last Anglo-Mysore war in 1799 AD, Mir Sadiq, Purnaiah and Qamar-ud Din Khan collaborated with the British. Syed Ghaffar, Syed Hamid and Muhammad Raza remained loyal to him till the end[101]. The Syeds fought hard under Syed Ghaffar and after his death, Tipu himself lead the few soldiers defending the fort, but was unsuccessful and lost his life[102]. Although Marathas had joined the British 1792 AD against Tipu, they had stayed neutral this time. However, when the news of Tipu's death reached Pune, Baji Rao said that he had lost his right arm[103]. Marathas and Sikhs were going to be the next victims.

After the death of the tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, Shias left Srirangapatna Fort and settled in the Mysore city, and some migrated to Bangalore. A Shia scholar Mirza Zain-ul Abideen Abid was appointed Mir Munshi by the Wadiyar king and he constructed an imambargah "Rashk-e Bahisht" in Mysore around 1812 AD[100].

Many Shia theologian visited and settled in Lahore during the Mughal era. By the end of eighteenth century, Mulla Mehdi Khata'i, a disciple of Shaykh Hurr-al Amili's student Mullah Muhammad Muqim. His student, Syed Rajab Ali (1806–1866 AD) revived Shia scholarly tradition in Punjab in the nineteenth century[104].


Pakistan is said to have a Shia population of at least 16 million, like India.[105][106][107] However, Vali Nasr claims the Shia population to be as high as 30 million.[108][109] On the other hand, a PEW survey in 2012 found out that 6% of those who responded to its survey in Pakistan declared themselves as Shia.[110][108]

Pre-Partition Census[edit]

In British India, Shias and Sunnis were counted separately in the 1911 and 1921 census, as part of the divide and rule policy. The results were not reflective of reality as most Shias rejected the sectarian division, because Shias feared the collected data might leak to the anti-Shia forces and used to target them. For example, in 1921, in the census for Bihar and Orissa, 3711 Shias were counted, which was clearly absurd because an estimate made at the time placed the numbers at 17,000, i.e. five times the census enumeration.[111] In the report of the Superintendent of Census Operations in the Province we read that:-

"It is certain that these figures are not nearly complete, and the reason is that many Shias refused to record themselves as such".[112]

For Patna, the outcome was ten times less than the estimate.[111] It was for this reason that in the 1931 and 1941, it was decided not to count Muslims as Shias and Sunnis separately.

Political influence[edit]

An Imambargah in Islamabad

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam ("the Great Leader"), the founder of the state of Pakistan, was born into a Shia Ismaili family although later in life he followed Twelver Shia Islam.[113][114][115][116]

While in past few decades, to address the legal needs and political support of the Shi'a population in Pakistan organizations like Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan and Imamia Students Organisation were formed, while Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan, a Shia militant group, was formed to deter the militancy against Shias by Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan as well as Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, Deobandi militant groups. Although the Sunni and Shia Muslims usually coexist peacefully, sectarian violence is carried out sporadically by radical groups.

When General Zia ul-Haq, the former military ruler of Pakistan, introduced new laws to make Zakat deductions mandatory for every Muslim during the 1980s, Tehrik-e-Jafaria held a large public demonstration in Islamabad to compel the government to exempt the Shia Muslim community from this law. This protest resulted in the "Islamabad Agreement" in which the government agreed to introduce a separate syllabus for Shia students in public schools, as well as exempt the Shia community from the Zakat law, since Shia consider Zakat as a personal tax (to be paid to the needy) not collectible by the state. According to one senior Pakistani journalist who witnessed these events, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini played an important role in this agreement being reached, and he sought assurances from General Zia al-Haq that Shia demands would be met. A message from Ayatollah Khomeini was also read out to the Shia protesters in Islamabad in which he called for them to keep up their spirits.[117][118]

Discrimination and violence[edit]

Shias allege discrimination by the Pakistani government since 1948, claiming that Sunnis are given preference in business, official positions and administration of justice.[119] Attacks on Shias increased under the presidency of Zia-ul-Haq,[119] with the first major sectarian riots in Pakistan breaking out in 1983 in Karachi and later spreading to Lahore and Balochistan.[120] Sectarian violence became a recurring feature of the Muharram month every year, with sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias taking place in 1986 in Parachinar.[120] In one notorious incident, the 1988 Gilgit Massacre, Osama bin Laden-led Sunni tribals assaulted, massacred and raped Shia civilians in Gilgit after being inducted by the Pakistan Army to quell a Shia uprising in Gilgit.[121][122][123][124][125] Shia civilians in the country are regularly killed on a daily basis in an unprovoked attacks by the radical, extremist Sunni terrorist organisations such as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba and others. Consequent Sunni dominated Pakistani governments usually remain silent on the sectarian Shia killings.[126][127][128]

Pakistan Shia communities[edit]

Imambargah in Islamabad

Divisions within the Shia sect[edit]

Although the overwhelming majority of Pakistani Shia Muslims belong to Ithna 'ashariyah school, there are significant minorities of Nizari Ismailis (Aga Khanis) and the smaller Mustaali Dawoodi Bohra and Sulaimani Bohra branches.[129]

Notable Shia of Pakistan[edit]


Tazia procession in chiniot city at "Ashura"
Tazia procession in Chiniot city at "Ashura"
Eid e Ghadir Celebration in Islamabad

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, "Fadha’il al-Sahaba", Vol. 2, pp-655.
  2. ^ Ibn Hajar Haythami, "al-Sawa’iq al-Muhriqah" Ch. 11, section 1, pp-247.
  3. ^ Balâdhuri (p. 432) and Ibn Khayyat (Ta'rîkh, 1:159). As cited in: Derryl N. Maclean," Religion and Society in Arab Sind", p. 126, BRILL, (1989) ISBN 90-04-08551-3.
  4. ^ Stanley Wolpert, "A New History of India", p. 106, Oxford University Press, (2004).
  5. ^ M. Ishaq, "H'akim Bin Jabala," pp.145-50. The Chachnâmah, p. 74, has preserved one of his poems in praise of Ali ibn Abi Tâlib. As cited in: Derryl N. Maclean," Religion and Society in Arab Sind", p. 126, BRILL, (1989) ISBN 90-04-08551-3.
  6. ^ Ibn Athir, Vol. 3, pp. 45-46, 381. As cited in: S. A. N. Rezavi, "The Shia Muslims", in History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, Vol. 2, Part. 2: "Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India", Chapter 13, Oxford University Press (2006).
  7. ^ Ibn Sa'd, 8:346. The raid is noted by Baâdhurî, "fatooh al-Baldan" p. 432, and Ibn Khayyât, Ta'rîkh, 1:173, 183-84. As cited in: Derryl N. Maclean," Religion and Society in Arab Sind", p. 126, BRILL, (1989) ISBN 90-04-08551-3.
  8. ^ Tabarî, 2:129, 143, 147. As cited in: Derryl N. Maclean," Religion and Society in Arab Sind", p. 126, BRILL, (1989) ISBN 90-04-08551-3.
  9. ^ Abul Faraj al-isfahani, "Maqatili Talibiyin", Cairo, (1949). Persian translation by S. Hashim Rasuli Mahallabi, Tehran, pp-143. As cited in: S. A. N. Rezavi, "The Shia Muslims", in History of Science, Philisophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, Vol. 2, Part. 2: "Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India", Chapter 13, Oxford University Press (2006).
  10. ^ Rizvi, "A Socio-Intellectual History of Isna Ashari Shi'is in India", Vol. I, pp. 138–142, Ma’rifat Publishing House, Canberra, Australia (1986).
  11. ^ a b Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, "Tahdhib al-Tahdhib", Volume 7, pp. 226, narrator no. 413. See also: Derryl N. Maclean," Religion and Society in Arab Sind", p. 126, BRILL, (1989) ISBN 90-04-08551-3.
  12. ^ History of al-Tabari Vol. 39, pp. 228, under "Those Who Died in the Year 111", State University of New York Press, (1998). See also: Derryl N. Maclean," Religion and Society in Arab Sind", p. 126, BRILL, (1989) ISBN 90-04-08551-3.
  13. ^ Derryl N. Maclean (1989), "Religion and Society in Arab Sind", pp. 127, BRILL, ISBN 90-04-08551-3
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  121. ^ Jones, Brian H. (2010). Around Rakaposhi. Brian H Jones. ISBN 9780980810721. Many Shias in the region feel that they have been discriminated against since 1948. They claim that the Pakistani government continually gives preferences to Sunnis in business, in official positions, and in the administration of justice...The situation deteriorated sharply during the 1980s under the presidency of the tyrannical Zia-ul Haq when there were many attacks on the Shia population. In one of the most notorious incidents, during May 1988 Sunni assailants destroyed Shia villages, forcing thousands of people to flee to Gilgit for refuge. Shia mosques were razed and about 100 people were killed
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  124. ^ International Organizations and The Rise of ISIL: Global Responses to Human Security Threats. Routledge. 2016. pp. 37–38. ISBN 9781315536088. Several hundred Shiite civilians in Gilgit, Pakistan, were massacred in 1988 by Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban fighters (Raman, 2004).
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