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Firangi Mahal made Lucknow an intellectual capital

Volume: 10, No: 12 ; December-2016

Lucknow may take pride in claiming that education and research in oriental studies began from its land. Though Dewa, Jais, Gorakhpur and Banaras were also famous in promoting this field of knowledge but an institution such as Firangi Mahal was able to achieve fame and excellence which gained recognition beyond the country. Some scholars regard it as the first ‘University’ of the oriental studies in the world. If we look into the history we find that by the time of Akbar, Lucknow had become a fairly developed centre of trade and commerce. Around that time, a French trader arrived and lived in the city with permission of the Mughal administration. He specialized in the trade of horses and resided at Firangi Mahal (palace of the European/British).  Some people say that it was during the period of Aurangzeb that some French businessmen came and stayed at this palatial building. Later they left the place as their permit of residence could not be renewed.

Enjoying the patronage of Aurangzeb Mullah Nizamuddin founded a Madarsa (a college for Islamic instructions) here that became famous internationally. He developed a syllabus known as Dars-e-Nizamia that was unparalleled and remained unchallenged for years to come. It consisted of logic, philosophy, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), hadees and mathematics and host of the other field of knowledge.

By the time Asaf-ud-Daula moved his capital to Lucknow, the teachers of Firangi Mahal had already achieved a high status in several Muslim countries and its alumni had spread far and wide in all parts of the sub-continent. Nawabs of Awadh, despite subscribing to the Shia sect, had great respect for Firangi Mahal and appointed many Ulema of this institution to the exalted posts of Qazi and Mufti. The Ulema (Muslim scholars trained in Islam and Islamic law) of Firangi Mahal had a broad vision and free from narrow sectarian prejudices and that is why a number of Shia students were also coming to them and for education.

During the period of freedom movement a highly respected Islamic scholar of his time, Moulana Abdul Bari took active part in Khilafat Movement and then became a part of freedom struggle along with Mahatma Gandhi. The Maulana was a great visionary who knew that it was not good for the Indian Muslim to keep away from mainstream politics. Mahatma Gandhi had also great respect for the Ulema of Firangi Mahal and he stayed for some time in Firangi Mahal. It was during the period of Mahatma’s stay that in his respect Firangi Mahal turned vegetarian. This shows the secularism and open mindedness of Firangi Mahal. The Maulana accepted Mahatma Gandhi as the leader of the Muslims too. The Ulema of Firangi Mahal were charged to death by the British government for issuing a Fatwa of Jihaad (Freedom) against the British. Inspired by the Maulana, a whole crop of nationalist Muslims emerged from this institution. Hayatulla Ansari, Mufti Raza Ansari and some others were regarded as highly respected nationalist Muslims.

With the passage of time the Persian and Arabic language declined in India and with this the educational institutions based on them too. Firangi Mahal is no exception and today Firangi Mahal stands as a part of Lucknow’s great intellectual history. As a part of Tornos’ Heritage Walk we take you to Firangi Mahal and at times the present resident is happy to show you around the collection of old letters and pictures here.

Credits : 'The Other Lucknow' – Nadeem Hasnain


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