The learned and holy men of Farangi Mahall were the consolidators in India of the rationalist traditions of Islamic scholarship derived from Iran. These were encapsulated in a renowned and widely used syllabus which they created and which became the dominant system of Indian Islamic education from the eighteenth century. These traditions represented a confident and flexible Islamic understanding which, many felt, had the capacity to preserve Islam even while selectively adopting social, cultural and technological changes from the West. Between 1780 and 1820 these traditions were arguably poised to bring forth some form of Islamic enlightenment. But over the course of the nineteenth century they were overcome by the twin forces of Islamic reformism and Western education.
This book, written over the past twenty years, is the first full-length treatment in English of this important body of Islamic scholars, teachers and leaders. Based in large part on their writings, records and private papers, it addresses a variety of issues: the establishment of specific traditions of scholarship and mysticism in eighteenth-century Awadh; the place of these traditions in Perso-Islamic culture from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries; the traditions and values of the Farangi Mahall family; and the attempts of Muslim intellectuals to respond to the challenges presented by British rule and Western culture. The work of the Farangi Mahallis is also placed in the context of an Islamic world system based on shared systems of formal and spiritual knowledge. This book is addressed to all who are seriously interested in the religious and intellectual history of India, and to students of Islam.