This article takes up the occluded history of a particular category of migrant—the migrant scholar—in late Ottoman Mecca. It does so through the trajectory of the prominent Indian religious and anti-colonial scholar Muhammad Rahmatullah al-Kairanawi (1818–1891) and the afterlives of al-Sawlatiyya, the school he founded in 1873 in Mecca, where many South Asian and other scholars and rebels sought refuge in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through his teaching and public activism in Mecca, he built the scaffolding of a long intellectual and political legacy. Kairanawi and other scholar-activists brought with them a panoply of anti-colonial and modernist ideas—secular and religious, reformist and revolutionary. Exposing the centrality of migrant scholars to the social, intellectual, and political fabrics of Arabian and South Asian lifeworlds reveals another Arabia, one that demolition and historical revision—now mundane universal practices—seek to permanently erase. Doing so also delivers profound lessons on the figure of the migrant as scholar, on the imperative of transcending national history, and on thinking of history itself as punctured by continuous crises.

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