DELDĀR-ʿALĪ b. Moḥammad-Moʿīn NAṢĪRĀ-BĀDĪ, Sayyed Ḡofrān-maʾāb (b. Naṣīrābād near Lucknow, 1166/1753, d. Lucknow ca. 1235/1820), Shiʿite cleric of northern India who helped to establish the Shiʿite form of Friday prayers and propagated the rationalist Oṣūlī school of jurisprudence in the Avadh region.

In Deldār-ʿAlī’s native village, Naṣīrābād in the district of Rai Bareli, influential sayyeds (claiming descent from the Prophet Moḥammad) perhaps first began to embrace Shiʿism in the 18th century, encouraged by grants of land from the Shiʿite nawwābs of Avadh (Sayyed Moḥammad, p. 47). Nevertheless, Deldār-ʿAlī pursued his early Islamic studies primarily with Sunni teachers in the small intellectual centers of northern India; one of them was the renowned Mollā ʿAbd-al-ʿAlī Ferangī-Maḥallī. When, in 1189/1775, Nawwāb Āṣaf-al-Dawla established his capital at Lucknow, Deldār-ʿAlī made his way there and soon entered the circle of the chief minister, Ḥasan Reżā Khan. The leading state functionaries were looking for young Shiʿite talent, and Deldār-ʿAlī struck them as promising. A notable offered to pay for his studies in Iraq, where he spent the years 1193-95/1779-81 at Najaf and Karbalāʾ, forsaking the conservative Aḵbārī legal teachings then popular in northern India for the rationalist Oṣūlī school (Āʾīna, fols. 44-55; Kentūrī, I, pp. 1315-36; Ardestānī, I, 92-91 [pages of Persian text numbered in Western sequence]).

On his return to Lucknow Deldār-ʿAlī accepted the patronage of the notables; beginning in 1200/1786 he was pressed into performing Friday prayers, despite initial reservations about whether such prayers were permissible during the occultation of the twelfth imam. His teaching and writing helped to spread Oṣūlī rationalism among young clerics in Avadh. He opposed the influence of both Sufis and Aḵbārīs and succeeded in gaining perquisites for Shiʿite clerics that had earlier been monopolized by less professional groups; for instance, earlier in the 18th century such Islamic charitable and other taxes as zakāt and ḵoms had been collected and distributed informally by Shiʿite physicians. The nawwāb granted him nine tax-free villages, as well as an annual stipend of Rs. 5,000 (Āʾīna, fols. 65-67; Cole, pp. 179-80).

Deldār-ʿAlī also promoted the establishment of Friday prayers throughout the realm and set up an informal network of Shiʿite higher education in the homes of clerics whom he himself helped to train. He and his students issued informal legal rulings for Shiʿites and discouraged them from appealing to the courts, which were still manned largely by Sunni judges. He refused, however, to establish a formal Shiʿite court system for Avadh, fearing that such an institution would bring him into conflict with the authoritarian nawwābs, who were not always attentive to the rule of Islamic law. He also refused to challenge their intervention in religious matters, as when one nawwāb insisted on celebrating ʿīd al-ażḥā (the main Muslim feast day) a day too early. Deldar-ʿAlī argued that Shiʿite clerics should acquiesce, as Avadh was still part of the Sunni Mughal empire and clerics were obliged to practice pious dissimulation (taqīya) of their true opinions even from Shiʿite nawwābs. As a result of such attitudes Persian clerics like Aḥmad Behbahānī (q.v.) criticized Deldār-ʿAlī for what they regarded as excessive subservience to the state (Āʾīna, fols. 142b-46a; Behbahānī, fols. 166b-68b).

Deldār-ʿAlī had five sons; the eldest, Sayyed Moḥammad Naṣīrābādī, succeeded him as leader of the Friday prayers at Lucknow.

Deldār-ʿAlī was a prolific writer. His works include Fawāʾed-e āṣafīya wa mawāʿeẓ-e ḥasanīya (Nāṣerīya Library, Lucknow, Hadith Shiʿa, ms. no. 152), a collection of Friday sermons in Persian made in 1200/1786); Asās al-oṣūl (Lucknow, 1320/1902) and the more mature Montaha’l-afkār (Lucknow, 1330/1912), on Oṣūlī principles of jurisprudence, both in Arabic; Merʾāt al-ʿoqūl (3 vols., Lucknow, 1320/1902), on oṣūl al-dīn, in Arabic; Resāla fī aḥkām al-arażīn (Raza [Reżā] Library, Rampur, ms. no. 2182), his most important work on land tenure, in Arabic; Ṣawārem al-elāhīyāt and Ḥosām al-Eslām (both in Persian; Calcutta, 1218/1803), Ḏu’l-feqār (in Persian; Ludhiana, 1281/1848-49), al-Šehāb al-ṯāqeb (in Arabic; India Office Library, London, ms. no. 2182), and Resāla dar radd-e maḏhab-e ṣūfīya (in Persian; Nāṣerīya Library, Kalām Shiʿa, ms. no. 111), all anti-Sufi polemics; and Najāt al-sāʾelīn (Nāṣerīya Library, Feqh Shīʿa, ms. no. 256) and Ajwebat al-sāʾelīn (Asiatic Society of Bengal Library, Calcutta, Curzon ms. no. 1016), which are collections of his legal rulings.



Sayyed ʿAbbās Ardestānī, al-Ḥeṣn al-matīn fī aḥwāl al-wozarāʾ wa’l-salāṭīn, National Archives of India, New Delhi, ms. no. 235a-b.

Āʾīna-ye ḥaqqnemā, Nāṣerīya Library, Lucknow, Rejāl Shīʿa, ms. no. 1 (the major source for Deldār-ʿAlī’s life, written in Lucknow around 1816 by an anonymous disciple).

Āqā Aḥmad Behbahānī, Merʾāt al-aḥwāl-e jahānnemā, British Library, London, Add. ms. no. 24052.

J. R. I. Cole, Roots of North Indian Shiʿism in Iran and Iraq. Religion and State in Awadh, 1722-1859, Berkeley, Calif., 1988.

Sayyed Eʿjāz Ḥosayn Kentūrī, Šoḏūr al-ʿeqyān fī tarājem al-aʿyān, National Library, Calcutta, mss. nos. Buhar 278-79.

Āḡā Mahdī Lakhnavī, Sawāneḥ-e ḥayāt-e ḥażrat-e Ḡofrān-maʾāb, Karachi, 1982 (a somewhat hagiographical treatment).

S. A. A. Rizvi, A Socio-Cultural History of the Isna ʿAshari Shiʿis in India, 2 vols., Delhi, 1986.

Sayyed Moḥammad, Maḵzan-e aḥmadī, Agra, 1299/1882.

(Juan R. I. Cole)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 21, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 3, pp. 237-238