Muslims of Azamgarh: who are they, what are they?
By Dr. Razi Raziuddin
The district of Azamgarh has been much in the news at present, mostly with terror and violence-related events and episodes. Earlier, Azamgarh had been in the news for its scholars, its poets, its freedom fighters, and its institutions and religious seminaries.
These days it has become fashionable, especially
with the media, to relate Muslim fundamentalism related pro-activism (in the
These too many references to an obscure eastern UP’s mediocre district and its Muslims naturally draws curiosity and urge to know as to why this particular district has attracted the news media and the Law & Order agencies’ interests so much.
I am a native son of Azamgarh, born and brought up
to adulthood in my hometown. Since three decades I live in
So let me construct a composite sketch of Azamgarh and its Muslims—in a manner which provides the curious populace some clues and impressions of the past and present backgrounds of its Muslims.
On the canvas, geographically and demographically; it is a large district of eastern U.P. with a roughly 30% Muslim population. This Muslim population is segmented into three living zones; majority in its villages, a significant portion in its four-five big Tehseel-town bazaars, and the rest huge population in the city mohallas. Majority of its Muslims claim to be converts from Kshatriyas/ Rajputs around the period spanning from Jahangir to Aurangzeb. Among the rest, are those who associate themselves as Ansaris, Syeds, Qureshis and Idreesis. The overwhelming dominant segment of the Muslim society belongs to this majority Rajput converts, a great majority of whom are from the farming background, from small land owners to middle level landlords.
Azamgarh Muslims’ modern anthropological story runs in two parts- late 19th to mid 20th century, and post-independence to the present time.
In the first part of the story, post 1857-1957,
the area witnessed resurgence in Islamic revivalism, but with a clear mark of
reform and community-cum-nationalistic aspirations. Many religious and
non-religious intellectuals became visible in this process of renaissance, the
tallest among them the famous Islamic historian and academician Allama Shibli
Nomani. His close association with the Aligarh Movement and with Sir Syed Ahmad
Khan, and later on his stewardship of Nadwatul Uloom became the central
character which laid the groundwork in infusing the spirit of reform and of
modern education among the Muslims of Azamgarh, who whole-heartedly embraced
Allama Shibli Nomani’s signature campaign of; educational aspirations in
occidental as well as oriental learning and in active participation in the
national freedom movement. Following in his footsteps many other joined him at
Nadwatul Uloom seminary at
Then in the mid 20s-30s an influential seminary,
Al-Islah was established by Shibli’s cousin, Maulana Abdul Hameed Farahi, the
pre-imminant Arabic and Islamic scholar of the time. In fact these three
centers became the inspiration and magnet for higher learning for a much
broader group of Muslim population from even other regions. These centers served
as the prime “Feeder Institutions” from where thousands and thousands of Muslim
youths of Azamgarh went to join
These newly empowered youths loaded with tools of
modern as well as oriental education spread around everywhere including in
Azamgarh. The district felt their presence in almost every arena; in courts, in
schools, on streets, in hospitals. These personalities and institutions also
inculcated in them a character of nationalistic connectivity. The impact of
frequent visits of Maulana Azad , Nehru and other prominent political and
religious leaders’ stays at
The combinatorial or cumulative outcome of the
last three decades of the second and third generation of Azmis is the enormous
amount of wealth and resources that it has accumulated from all directions;
from the West, from the Middle-East, and from the
There is no doubt that at present there are strong corridors and channels in Bombay, Delhi, Middle-East which have a lot of Azmis, who earn a lot of money, and which finds its way in Azamgarh, and which sustains Azamgarh’s businesses, real estates, its madrassas, its schools and what not. It is also this period which has produced some bad apples, criminals like Abu Salem, aggressive politicians like Abu Aasim, un-regulated money transfer schemes like hawala. So it is this part of the Azamgarh story which catches enormous attention.
In this saga and journey of an entire community’s upward
mobility, two other characteristics remained prominently consistent; the
secular culture of Azamgarh, Azmi Muslims and their relationship with the Azmi
Hindus, and least level of migration to, or affiliation with
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