Islamic Studies Farangī Maḥall
Francis Robinson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0024


Farangī Maḥall (the European Palace) was the name of a family of ulama that flourished in India from 1700 to c. 1950. The family acquired the name after Mullah Quṭb al-Dīn, a leading scholar of the day, was murdered in a quarrel over land in 1692 and the Mogul emperor Awrangzīb recompensed his four sons by assigning them the sequestered property of a European indigo merchant in the city of Lucknow, Awadh. In the 17th and 18th centuries the family was notable, first for developing maʿqūlāt (the rational sciences) in Indian Islam to the extent that the reception of such scholarship in Egypt and West Asia in the early 19th century led to a revival in that field, and second for the development and promulgation of the Dārs-i Niẓāmi madrassa curriculum, which was essentially a method of teaching that enabled students to learn more quickly and which has remained in use in modified form in the early 21st century. For the Farangī Maḥallīs, learning and mysticism went hand in hand. Strong supporters of Ibn ‘Arabi’s waḥdat al-wujūd, they believed that the best scholars were those whose work was informed by spiritual understanding. From the 18th century Farangī Maḥallīs spread throughout India, from Rampur to Madras and from Calcutta to Haydarabad. The family’s numerous pupils spread more widely, as did the reputation of its many scholars. These connections and their reputation meant that when some entered politics in the 20th century, they were able to persuade many to follow them. This, in part, explains the impact of Mawlānā ‘Abd al-Bārī on India’s pan-Islamic politics in the second and third decades of the 20th century and the contribution of his son, Mawlānā Jamāl Miyān, to the politics of the All-India Muslim League in the 1940s. In the mid-20th century the family lost its prominence as ulama: its brand of scholarship, embracing the rational sciences, was opposed by reformers, including, those of the Deoband school, in favor of an emphasis on Hadith and Qur’anic studies. Its preparation of students for courtly service along with princely patronage also declined in the new circumstances of colonialism; the education it provided was, in a world dominated by Western learning, no longer a route to jobs in government. The partition of India and land reform reduced its support in men and money.

General Overviews

‘Ināyat Allāh 1928, Robinson 2001, and Metcalf 1982 offer overviews of Farangī Maḥall from different angles of vision. ‘Ināyat Allāh 1928 tells the story through the classical genre of the tadhkirah, or collective biography. The fortunes of the family need to be mined from the individual lives of its members from the late 17th century, when they settled in Farangī Maḥall, down to 1928, when the tadhkirah was published. Robinson 2001 covers the history of the family; Robinson 2004 does so in brief. Metcalf 1982 creates the context of Islamic reform in the 19th century, which led to the marginalization of the Farangī Maḥall brand of Islam. Zaman 2004 offers an overview and critique of Francis Robinson’s contribution to the history of Farangī Maḥall.

  • ‘Ināyat Allāh, Mawlawī. Tadhkira-yi ‘ulamāʼi Farangī Maḥall. Lucknow, India, 1928.

    This collective biography of the family presents its history in the classical mode, which was often designed to bolster the authority of the family, locality, or religious tradition whose ulama were being covered.

  • Metcalf, Barbara Daly. Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

    This classic analysis of Islamic reform in 19th-century India sets out the context in which the Farangī Maḥallīs, who are discussed briefly, strove to maintain their more all-embracing, pre-reforming Islamic tradition.

  • Robinson, Francis. The ‘Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001.

    This collection of essays addresses the lives and achievement of Farangī Maḥallī ulama from 1700 to 1950 as scholars, teachers, Sufis, and individuals.

  • Robinson, Francis. “Farangī Maḥall.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Vol. 12 supp. Edited by P. J. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs, 292–294. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004.

    This entry offers a summary overview of the contributions of the Farangī Maḥallīs to scholarship, teaching, and mysticism since the 18th century and their contributions to politics in the 20th.

  • Zaman, Muhammad Qasim. “Review Essay: Modernity and Religious Change in South Asian Islam.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, ser. 3, 14.3 (2004): 253–263.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1356186304004109

    This overview and critique of Francis Robinson’s work on Farangī Maḥall emphasizes that there is a great deal more work to be done on the intellectual contributions of the Farangī Maḥallīs.

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