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- Oral history with Mufti Irfan Miyan, 2013 October 8.
- Miyan, Mufti Irfan, 1936- and Alam, Zain
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- Miyan, Mufti Irfan, 1936-, Alam, Zain, Alam, Zain, and Alam, Zain
- The composition of Mufti Irfan Miyan’s full name (“Abul Hasan Nizamuddin Mohammad”) provides an excellent glimpse into his identity and the reasons for which he takes pride in the ancestral traditions he lives out to this day. Each part draws from his father and grandfather’s names. Each of their names similarly drew on their ancestry, including the great scholars of the Farangi Mahal ancestry and their Sufi saints in the Qadiri and Razaki silsilas (Sufi lineage or school of thought) from the village of Bansawi.The Farangi Mahal family is well-documented. Mufti Irfan’s brief overview begins with Hazrat Abu Ayub Ansari, a companion of the prophet who lived in Medina and housed him there. The next big figure in the family was the Sufi Khwaja Abdullah Ansari of Herat (in modern-day Afghanistan), where there remains a famous mazar (shrine and tomb) dedicated to him. Abdullah Ansari’s descendants eventually migrated to India and took residence in Farangi Mahal where they established a seminary well-known across India and the Islamic world, particularly for its madrasa curriculum, the Dars-i-Nizammiya.The family, Mufti Irfan explains, was always half Allah-wallas (those who focused on religious commitments) and duniya-wallas (those with more worldly commitments). “Our khandaan was never one of sellers or businessmen,” he takes care to note, even of those who were duniya-wallas. His own household in Farangi Mahal—where he resides to this day—leaned heavily towards the religious pursuits of Allah-wallas. In his youth he always found himself surrounded by Hadith and the Quran, the studies of which his father singularly pursued. With a tinge of sadness, he recounts that this was often at the expense of basic necessities like food, for which others in the family would sometimes pitch int o help with. Their household, fortunately, was interconnected with the rest of the Mahal, and so it felt like his father, two older sisters, and an older brother could always count on the support of their extended family.Sometimes to their material detriment, their father’s philosophy emphasized that whatever God intends to deliver to them will somehow be delivered. “The world to us was like salt compared to faith,” Mufti Irfan said of his immediate family in general. More than once they lacked food to the point that they could not feed themselves for two consecutive days.“Khana (food) is for life—life is not for khana,” continued Mufti Irfan, justifying his father’s views quickly after betraying tears when recounting the hungry days of his youth. The family ate from rations whenever they were offered in Lucknow during the more financially difficult days of young India. The local ration-walla however was sympathetic to the family’s condition. Without Mufti Irfan’s father knowing or being asked, the ration-walla would not charge them the nominal fees required to disburse the rations. This was a fine show of the Lucknowi tehzeeb (manners) that the city was once famous for, Mufti Irfan said. To ask for payment when the ration-walla knew they were unable to was too disrespectful and so he quietly offered them loans instead, extending them for months at times. Surely enough though, Mufti Irfan’s family would always find some way or another to pay the ration-walla back.Even while a student Mufti Irfan sought to support the family and took on a variety of jobs, some as unglamorous as milking and cleaning cows in the neighborhood. Soon though he turned to tutoring students in Hindi, English, and later the Farsi and Arabic he learned in the Farangi Mahal madrasa. His primary schooling was all done in this household madrasa. With focus and discipline though, he was still able to pass his exams and make it to the university.Still to this day, Mufti Irfan outwardly displays with pride that he remains a Lakhnavi man of the Farangi Mahal, sporting a sherwani and topi with no desire to in any way imitate the British and their “suit-pant” style. Similarly, his primary enjoyments come from the songs, literature, and poetry of Urdu culture. He enjoys poems especially because they are what taught him to always look behind appearances to see what’s going on. Accordingly, this behavior informs his political beliefs today and views on Partition.Mufti Irfan’s earliest memories regarding politics are of the figures who passed through Farangi Mahal before independence: Abdul Bari, the Ali brothers of the Muslim League, Nehru, and Gandhi. The split of the entire extended family, he remembers, began from the moment of Partition, when, within his very household, his uncle tried to convince them that they should go to Pakistan. His uncle believed that there was nothing left for them in Lucknow or greater India, now that a separate Muslim country had been made. Because this uncle was the oldest brother of his family, he won the acceptance of Naani (their grandmother) and a few other elders. Little did these migrants know, however, that soon after they settled in Dhaka they would face yet another Partition when Bangladesh would win independence in 1971.Mufti Irfan’s father however was not won over by the Pakistani promise. He remained in Lucknow with the family. They were all overjoyed in the coming months after Partition to see that the city’s tehzeeb and religious unity still triumphed at a local level above the greater national fracture and bloodshed. Still, the presence of Pakistan left the thought of “Do we still belong here?” hanging in their minds for decades to come. The pain became more and more real as relatives in Farangi Mahal gradually began migrating to Pakistan, his father each time pleading with them not to leave. Mufti Irfan realized then what he thinks is the same now: politicals leaders manipulate the people to increase and secure their power, while the manipulated common man fights and only hurts himself.As his family’s economic fortunes and those of the Mahal saw further decline after 1947, Mufti Irfan realized that a career solely as an Allah-walla was no longer a realistic option in the modern world. How could he remain an Allah-walla at his core though, as he so desired, remaining true to his ancestors and their traditions? These were what he grew up with and what he felt were the essence of his identity, after all.As had been the case for his ancestors, he kept education the centerpiece of his life. He gained acceptance to Lucknow University, completed a combined BA in Urdu, English, and Education. This is where he met his first friends outside of Farangi Mahal. His father was quite angry when he found out about this pursuit of a BA, saying that there was no need for the academy’s confirmation, especially considering the exorbitant fees they couldn’t afford to pay. Luckily Mufti Irfan got a scholarship and a tutoring job to make up for the tuition shortfall.He then taught at Islamia College to support his family for a year and a half proceeding to obtain a Master’s and getting married. He had always hoped to pursue a Ph. D as he saw it as a reasonable, fulfilling career able to accommodate his independently-minded streak. It looked less and less likely though as financial troubles returned and grew more pressing. At one point he fell into investing and working in a doomed shoe business with a friend, after a teaching job had ended in Faizabad. The business failed. He lost money and was forced to send his wife home at one point to get his own house in order.His big break came with a senior inspector position at the Muslim Wakf of UP in 1977. His four-hundred rupee salary for the first month was all given to his father, but only through his mother because it would not have been becoming for the father to outright accept it himself. Almost four months later, Mufti Irfan’s father would die. He heard of the news at the Friday juma prayers.Mufti Irfan’s first wife Usmana Saeed died after chlidbirth. His daughter from that marriage today lives in Dewa. Another one of his children from his other wife would fall off a roof and die before the age of three. Still, he counts his blessings, still residing in his ancestral home, doing the noble Allah-walla work of a Mufti in Lucknow just like so many before him.On the subject of religion, he believes: “We are all eating the same dal chawal (lentils and rice)—everything else is just spices or chutney.” Shia, Sunni, and Hindu here have always equally cared for one another—what always matters first and foremost, he continues, was looking after your friends, family, and neighbors. “What we wanted was freedom, not division,” says Mufti Irfan. According to him, the British put Partition in the mind of Indians—an illusion that power for Muslims would only return in this kind of setup where they thought of themselves as a separate, independent nation. Partition might’ve changed some of the little ways people had of talking about “my country” or if India “is” or “is not” our place, but for him, it did not change the overall atmosphere and diversity of India—particular the city of Lucknow.
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- Bāra Banki (India : District)
- Bāra Banki (India : District), October 8, 2013
- Filmed interviews