It may shock many Indians to know that the massacre of the Shia in Pakistan since 2002 has been caused by edicts of apostatisation issued by a madrasa of Lucknow. One may also connect the trauma of sectarian killings in Iraq today to a fund moved from Lucknow in the 18th century to construct the Hindia Canal that turned the desiccated Shia shrines of Najaf and Karbala into agricultural land, seducing Sunni nomadic tribes into settling down as Shia farmers, and thus converting Iraq into a Shia-majority country.
A recent report on Sunni-Shia riots in Lucknow, appearing in Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalisation (2012) by Laurent Gayer and Christophe Jaffrelot (editors), speaks of the current Muslim-versus-Muslim sectarian riots in a city where literary Urdu was born at the hands of three great classical poets, Anees, Dabeer and Mir, all of them Shia. Speaking this language in a chaste accent, the majority Sunni Muslims of Lucknow fight sanguinary battles with Shias during the month of Muharram.
In his paper in the above book, “A Minority within a Minority: The Shias of Kashmiri Mohalla, Lucknow”, Gilles Verniers tells us: “Lucknow is a city of hills and dales, where altitude once defined status. The rulers of Awadh, a Shia dynasty that established itself in the city in the late eighteenth century, distributed lands and properties to their administrators and courtiers in the higher reaches of the hills. The commoners, labourers and orderlies of the state and the court were concentrated in the lower parts, darker, more congested and prone to water logging.”
Then, between 1775 and 1778, Kashmiri Pandits migrated to the city as able administrators for Asaf-ud-Dowlah, the fourth Shia Nawab of Awadh, who had shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow. They were soon joined by Muslim families, mostly Shias, who also hailed from Kashmir, and were directly or indirectly connected to the royal family and its court or served the Awadh state as high-ranking officials. Then came the British, cutting the mutinous Shia down to size after 1857. Fortunes declined in the 1950s after zamindari was abolished under land reforms and better-educated Hindus moved out to better jobs. This small area started mutating into a slum, covering an area of 12 sq km and housing a population of 39,319, mostly Shia Muslims.
Unfortunately, Lucknow has earned a bad name today, not because of Hindu-Muslim riots but Shia-Sunni violence among the poor Muslim community, reflecting, too, what is happening in Pakistan, Iraq and Syria today.
Following the 1979 Khomeini revolution in Iran, the Sunni Arabs of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia felt threatened by Iranian irredentism. They first approached Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq, and then, of all places, Lucknow. Zia imposed a new tax (zakat) continued…