Endangered Speices


The Endangered


An Account of the Journey of Faith by the

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community


Hassan Ali M Jaffer

© 2012 Hassan A M Jaffer

All rights reserved.

Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book

may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or

mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and

retrieval system without express written permission from the author. .

ISBN 978-1-77136-027-2

Published by

9000 Bathursr Street

Thornhill, Ontario. Canada L4J 8A7

Dedicated to

Mulla Qadir Husein Naif - “Kerbalai”



Haji Dewji Jamal

1820 – 1905


To all pioneers who dedicated their lives in the evolution

of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Community

and who struggled to preserve and promote their faith.





Foreword by Hasnain Walji

Authors Preface

Part ONE.

The Khoja in the Context of the

Prevailing International Environment

Modern Day Muslim World - 22

Wake up call for the West - 33

Part TWO

Who are the Khoja?

Background - 46

The Origins of the Khoja - 63

Khoja Divisions – 69

Sunni Khoja - 85

Armenian and Punjabi Khoja - 97

Parsi or Turkic Linkage - 106

Muscati Khoja 116


A Journey of Faith

Evolution of K S I Community - 123

Mulla Qadir Husein in Kerbala - 130

Arrival in Bombay - 142

Burial Ground Importance - 166

Trials & Tribulations of Mumbai Jamaat Formation – 186

Threats and Assassinations - 202

African Experience - 211

Karachi Jamaat Formation - 247

Early Struggle to Learn and Practice Faith - 269

African Tabligh Approach - 277



Khoja Experience

Outreach - 286

East Africa – as little India - 292

False Sense of Security - 296

Traumatic Experience - 311

Pakistani Quagmire - 334

Jinnah – a Khoja - 359

Indian Tragedy - 397

African Settlers in India - 405


Community Perspectives

Relations with the Ismaili and the Bohra - 409

Consolidation of the Khoja Community - 422

Collective Organization - 427

Common Khoja Traits - 436

Khoja Humour and Peculiarities - 445








“This is how we ordained you

To be a people most balanced

So that you may be a model to others

and the Prophet a model to you.”

-Holy Qur’an. - Ch.2 Verse 143. 1


Holy Quran. Sura Al Baqarah, Ch.2 Verse 143. English translation of the verse from the

“Translations from the Quran” by Altaf Gauhar, Published by Islamic Information Services

Ltd,, Randor House, 91/97, Regent Street, London. First published, 1975; U.K. edition, 1977.

Commenting on the translation Altaf Gauhar writes: “I have translated the Arabic phrase

‘Ummatan Wasata’ as a people most balanced’. The phrase has been translated by others as

‘a central community’, ‘a just people’, ‘an exalted people’, and ‘an Ummah justly balanced’.

The authority and responsibility of leadership is entrusted through this verse to the Muslims

and this marks the end of the dominance of the Jews,” Page 80.

Elaborating on his choice of English words in translation, Altaf Gauhar writes: “the words

‘this is how’ point specifically to the role of leadership to the Muslims, and explain how the

Prophet helped the believers to develop into ‘a people most balanced.’ Till this time the

leadership was the privilege of Beni Israel. Now this privilege was withdrawn and awarded

to the followers of the Prophet.”

“As indicated above the words ‘Ummatan Wasata’ has been translated in a variety of ways,

but no English phrase really conveys their precise and full meaning. A community of people

most balanced must acquire the highest moral; stature and conduct itself in all circumstances

in accordance with the principles of justice, equity, tolerance and moderation. Only

then can a community occupy a central position among other nations of the world and

maintain with each one of them fair and proper relations”

Altaf Gauhar further comments: “the literal translation of the verse would be, “this is how

we made you the central community so that you may be a witness to the people and the

Prophet a witness to you.” This refers clearly to the Day of Judgment when everyone will be

called to account and the Prophet will testify that as a messenger of God, he faithfully

transmitted all His teachings and injunctions which were revealed to him and invited mankind

to adopt a just system and follow the right way of life. After the Prophet, his followers

will be brought forward and they will be called upon to show that they carried on the mission

of the Prophet, conveyed his message to others, and lived up to his teachings to the

best of their ability,” Page 81/82.



Shayad khabi afsha ho, nigaho.N pe tumhari,

Har sada waraq, jis sukha-ne kushta se khu.N hai;

Shayad kabhi us geet ka parcham ho sar afraz,

Jo aama-de sar sar ki tamanna me.N nigu.N hai;

Shayad kabhi us dil ki koi rug tumhe chubh ja-e,

Jo sang-e sar-e raah ki manind zaboo.N hai.



Some day, perhaps, the poem

Murdered but still bleeding on every page

Will be revealed to you.

Some day, perhaps, the banner of the song

Bowed low in waiting

Will be raised to its great height by a tornado.

Some day perhaps, the stone

That is an abandoned heart on the verge,

Will pierce you with its living vein.

(Urdu Poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Translated by Naomi Lazard) 1


The Endangered Species


Asre Hazir dhunhta raha hai mujhko, aur mai.N,

Magan hu.n ahde raftaga.N ki azamato.N ke darmiyan.


The reality of the current times has been beckoning me

To come forward and accept the challenges of the time;

But here I am, lost in my thoughts

Yearning for the the greatness of the days past.

Dr.Pirzada Qasim. 2



Urdu Poem,by Faiz, Ahmed Faiz,1911/1987. Translated by: Naomi Lazard; Faiz Ahmed

Faiz respected in India and Pakistan as a crusader for the rights of the dispossessed; for his

views, he was jailed by the Pakistani authorities several times. For his stand against oppression,

Faiz had earned for himself a reputation as a spokesman of his people through his

poetry. Instead of reproducing the poem in Urdu script, I have attempted to provide the

transliteration of the Urdu poem in Roman scripts for the younger generation that may not

be able to read Urdu. It is a unique feature of the Khoja Community that although Gujarati is

their mother tongue, a large number of Khoja under the age of 40 living in Africa and in the

West now cannot read or write Gujarati, though many among them can sufficiently converse

in Gujarati. This trend is common with various communities of Indian origin living in

Africa and in the West. Over the years Khojas have developed a special affinity towards the

Urdu language. Syed Murtaza of Nairobi once said: “Khojas some time unconsciously

equate Urdu with a sort of religious language!”

At one stage after 1947, there was lively debate among community members in Africa as to

whether the community should encourage their children to take up Urdu as a second language

instead of their mother tongue Gujarati. During colonial days, both Gujarati and Urdu

were taught as second language in schools meant for Indian students in East Africa. Since

no consensus could be developed over the issue, it was left to the individual parents and

students to decide which second language they would opt for. Urdu was however taught in

night schools meant for imparting Islamic education run by the community in various centers.

In 1950s, Mulla Asgharali M.M. Jaffer of Mombasa, who in later years was to become the

first President of the World Federation of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities,

was one rare student from the Gujarati speaking communities to opt for Urdu as his second

language in secondary school. He was soon to gain good command over the language and

emerged as an accomplished orator in Urdu. Today it is interesting to observe Khoja youths,

male and female, reciting Urdu ‘Qasida’ and ‘Marthiya’ with almost correct diction and pronunciations

while reading out the compositions in transliteration form written in Roman

script. Many also deliver talks in Gujarati while reading out from script written in Roman

script! An Urdu scholar has once proclaimed: “Urdu is a sweet language. When spoken well,

it is music to the ears.” Khojas appear to love the melody of Urdu language despite the fact

that many among the younger generation may not be able to fully comprehend the meanings

of the various poetic compositions that they so enthusiastically recite. In Pakistan,

Urdu as the national language is fast replacing the usage of Gujarati. Among Gujarati speaking

communities in Pakistan, many among the younger generation of Khojas and others,

like their compatriots in Africa and in the West cannot read or write Gujarati. It is also

intersting to observe here that in India there are young singers who read their compositions

in Hindi language written in Roman script!


Dr. Pirzada Qasim is an accomplished Urdu poet with an equally melodious voice when

rendering his compositions. Professor of Physics in Karachi University, he is now Vice-

Chancellor of Karachi University.


Hu.N paan khar nu pankhidu, jaeesh kya.N?

Bahar to bahaar aavi che!

I am the wasp of the fall season, where can I go now?

Outside, it is spring time!

- Harji Luvji Damani ‘Shayda.’ 1


Harji Luvji Damani, 1892/1962, well knew twentieth century Gujarati poet and novelist,

famous with his poetic name of “Shayda”. Born a Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri, he was publisher

of the Gujarati weekly “Be Gadi Mauj”. For his contributions to Gujarati literature, ‘Shayda’

earned commendations from Mahatma Gandhi. He was also known as “Gujarati Ghazal

Samrat” (‘King of Ghazal in Gujarati”). His novels “Ma te Ma” and “Amina” were highly acclaimed.

He is remembered most for his poetry and the way he has dealt with delicate

human feelings under different circumstances. His son-in-law Barkat Virani – “Befam” –

1923/1994) was an equally accomplished Gujarati poet remembered for his lucid style and

choice of simple words.


“All it takes for evil to triumph is for

Honest people to sit back and do nothing

- Edmund Burke. 1



1 Edmund Burke, 1729/1797, was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist, and

philosopher who, after relocating to England, served for many years in the House of Commons

of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party.




mam Musa e Kadhim, (AS) advised his companion: “O Hisham!

If there is a walnut in your hand and people say that it is a

pearl, their saying will not benefit you in any way when you

know that it is actually a walnut. And if there is a pearl in your hand

and people say that it is a walnut, their saying will not harm you in

any way when you know that it is actually a pearl”. (Tuhaf al-


The Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris, (KSI) are spread over five continents

and number less than 125,000. Despite the miniscule

percentage of the 200 million Shia Ithna-Asheris, worldwide their

perceived influence and fame belies their number. This level of

recognition and influence has not been without the attendant challenges

of disparagement and denigration, at times even from their

own. The smorgasbord of ideas, events and personalities that you


The Endangered Species

will be served in the present compilation of The Endangered Species

may well allow you to judge, if the KSI Community is a ‘walnut’

or a ‘pearl’.

From a Hindu heritage, the KSI Community evolved into a

hotchpotch faith called Satpanth which combined Sufi ideas with

traces of Hindu belief. The Ismaili Pirs were then able to bring

them to the Nizari Ismaili path and eventually they found their

way to fully practice the Ja’fari madhhab. Hailing from Kutch and

Kathiawad, some ventured towards the then unknown continent

of Africa during the 19th century.

Upon their arrival in Africa the Khojas were faced with the

daunting prospect of exploring a vast unexplored tract of land

within the milieu of African and Arab cultures in Muscat and the

East African shores. To challenge them further, these Khoja pioneers

were subjected to German rule in Tanganyika, British rule in

other parts of East Africa, French rule in Madagascar, Italian rule

in Somalia, Belgian rule in the Congo and Portuguese rule in

Mozambique. In the wake of the partition of the sub continent, a

further schism was perpetrated and the Indian and Pakistani

Khojas developed under different influences. The upheavals, following

the independence movements in East Africa, forced many

to look towards the Western world for settlement. The 1972 mass

expulsion form Uganda, transplanted a significant portion of the

Community in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, while some of

them had to travel to the far corners of North America for settlement.



And yet five generations and five continents later, it is remarkable

that the Community has retained its identity while

continually optimizing its social capital. This is all the more interesting

considering that there were two other Shi’i communities

who left the Indian sub continent around the same time and have

fared quite differently.

A group of Shia Ithna-Asheris left for Fiji from the United Province,

while some Shia from Bihar migrated to the Caribbean at

about the same time as the Khojas left for Eastern Africa. Today, a

cursory glance at the fate of these three Communities makes interesting

reading. Those in Fiji, have lost their language and culture,

but have kept their faith as Muslims, albeit turning Sunnis in the

past century of existence in Fiji. The Biharis have fared worse.

Famed for their Hosay Festival, they lost it all - language, culture,

and faith. All that remained were the vestiges of the Ashura Julus,

as the Hosay Festival – now regrettably a procession of merrymaking,

music and drink in true West Indian fashion. Such are the

nuances of history of the Shia of the subcontinent.

Is it any wonder therefore, that this bewildering array of influences

may well have engendered a fear in the minds of the Khoja

of losing their identity? Perhaps this explains the persistent perseverance

by the Khojas to remain within a well-knit framework of

the Jamaats and Federations, guarded so jealously, resisting any


However, a question that begs an answer is: will it survive two

or more generations? This question becomes all the more crucial,

in view of the fact that, now that the new generation, far more en-


The Endangered Species

gaged in the mainstream, is questioning the insularity of the community.

The old guard responds by insisting upon retaining what seems

to them to have worked well for the community for over a century.

My own voyage in the sea of Community service spans almosr four

decades. Over the period I have observed a reversal of a trend,

where, the then young professionals were actively and passionately

engaged in Community affairs. Today, our young and upcoming

educated men and women appear either apathetic or seem hesitant

to come forward.

As we continue to debate on the causes and attempt to find

panaceas, it is important for all segments to realize that this vacuum

of intellectual capital can be a critical factor in the continued

development and even the very existence of the KSI Community as

we know it today, and the title of this book become a self fulfilling

prophecy. God forbid, we see the day when we are removed from

the list of ‘endangered species’, not because we are no longer endangered,

but because we simply cease to exist as a KSI


True to its title, The Endangered Species attempts to provide

answers to some of these burning questions, while weaving a

unique tapestry of personalities, events and ideas that has shaped

the KSI community.

This book, subtitled An Account of the Journey of Faith by the

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community, representing a labour of love,

over almost a decade, by a remarkable personality nurtured with-



in the Khoja Community, is very opportune. The author,

Hassanbhai Jaffer has had the good fortune of experiencing much

of this transition first hand, for the past 75 years. As a keen analytical

observer, he is well known for his candid and oftentimes

rather acidic analysis of the state of the Community and has migrated

many of us into discomfort zones. His ‘out of the box’

thinking about community affairs is also reflected in his unique

turn of phrase, not found in manuals of creative writing. When I

first started reading the manuscript, instinctively, my red pencil

began crisscrossing the double spaced pages. But after a chapter

or two, I stopped as I realized that my editing of the characteristic

style was sterilizing all the flavours and aromas of an author who

had lived in the very kitchen of the KSI house of history.

Hassanbhai hails from a family that has had a significant foundational

impact on the evolution of the KSI Community. It was

none other than his great great grandfather, Dewji Jamal, who was

instrumental in connecting the community with Ayatullah Zainul

Abedin Mazandarani in Kerbala in the 1800s, a link that remains

strong to this day with the excellent relations the Community enjoys

with Ayatullah Seestani.

The rest of the descendants of the Dewji Jamal, fondly known as

Jamaliyas, have been no less illustrious, in their impact compared

to their adventurous ancestor. The author’s grandfather Mulla

Mohamed Jaffer Sheriff Dewji, his father, Haji Ali Mohammed Jaffer

Sheriff Dewji, Haji Ebrahim Husein Sheriff Dewji and on the maternal

side, Mulla Asgharali M.M. Jaffer need little introduction as

they are all household names in the KSI Community. Today the


The Endangered Species

sixth and the seventh generations of Jamaliyas, now spread in the

USA, Canada, UK and Pakistan, continue to follow in the footsteps

of their venerable ancestor, Dewji Jamal.

This relationship of the KSI Community, with the Maraje begun

by Haji Dewji Jamal, precipitated the conversion of the Community

to the faith. Soon after arrival of the Aga Khan 1 in India, greater

control and interference was exercised by the Aga Khan in the affairs

of the community. This led certain groups to dissent, which

resulted in a number of prominent Khoja families to be ousted

from the Jamaat Khana.

In the latter half of 1800s, some of these ‘outcast Khojas’, including

Haji Dewji Jamal went for Ziyarat and while in Kerbala

they met the Mujtahid of the time, Sheikh Zainul Aabedeen

Mazandarani. During their discussions, Ayatullah Mazandarani

recognized that there was a need for a muballigh to teach them the

aqaed of the Shia Ithna Asheri faith. Soon after, at the behest of

Ayatullah Mazandarani, a muballigh, from South India, studying in

the hawza, by the name of Mulla Qader Hussein joined Haji Dewji

Jamal to come to India. His efforts resulted in more and more

Khoja families leaving the Ismaili sect and accepting the Shia

Ithna-Asheri faith.

It must be acknowledged, that since those days, the KSI Community

has continually been blessed with the support and

patronage of the Maraje, by way of religious guidance as well as

the mujtahedin allowing the use of huqook funds for establishing

Imambargas and tabligh projects. At the same time, the KSI leaders



endeavoured to educate the Community not only to pay its hukook

funds but also to centralize its activities and projects. The leadership

has always been proactive in communicating the

Communities challenges to the Maraje and seeking guidance,

which it always conveys to the mumineen through its network of

Jamaats around the world, under the regional bodies and the

World Federation.

Amongst various historical episodes, most significantly, the title

ably presents the visage of the relationship of the Khoja

Community and the Marja, illustrates a model of relationship between

a Marja and the muqallideen. A demonstration of a century

old connection with Najaf or Qum of utmost respect and an unquestioning

approach, reciprocated by an acknowledgement by

the Maraje of the religiosity and compliance of the Khoja Community

as well as its efficient organisation. This aspect has been one

of the key factors that have resulted in the institutions of the Khoja

Community, epitomized by the World Federation, as some of the

best organized and well run in the entire Shia World, serving not

just the KSI Community but the Shia Community and humanity at


As the Khoja pioneers set off from the ports of Porebunder and

Mandvi, in the mid and late 19th century, their immediate challenges

were to move away from famine and economic hardship.

The first danger that confronted them was to cross the vast expanse

of the Indian Ocean in sailing crafts - known as “Vahan” in

Cutchi and Gujarati languages and commonly called as “dhows” in

English in East Africa - and later to establish themselves in a land


The Endangered Species

practically unknown to most of the world. New to the faith, new to

the place and facing a vast unexplored tract of land, it was imperative

that to survive and retain their faith and culture, the Khojas

had to remain a closely-knit society. This trait continues to remain

ingrained, albeit subconsciously to this day, which evokes mixed

responses from within and without.

Ever restless, within a few decades the Khojas, with an unceasing

wanderlust, started to ply the skies in Club Class cabins on

modern jets in search of even better pastures. The spread of this

community to virtually all corners of the globe is a living proof of

that. The concept of a global village has not left them unaffected,

and with that the dynamics of the community has altered. It can no

longer remain parochial nor be inattentive to modern society.

To survive as a vibrant living entity, the community has had no

choice but to keep abreast of the changes around it, understand

the impact of the modern era and adapt to the changing world. The

leadership has realized that the challenges of the day must be met,

not with an unquestioning observance to convention or with the

fascination of the novel - but with a spirit of revitalizing pristine

Islamic values and traditions.

It is within that context that the present work, in essence, is a

remarkable travelogue of the KSI Community through its 125

years of existence, and has many a pointer for its future survival.

Amongst the most profound is a recent nasihat of Ayatullah Al

Uzama, Syed Ali Al Seestani to the youth of the KSI Community.



To a delegation from Paris, visiting him in London, in April,

2005 (when he chose to stay with a Khoja family during his medical

treatment,) Ayatullah Seestani advised: “language and culture

unify and bring people together in their own family. This provides

the religious attachment and its principles to be transmitted from

generation to generation. The absence of sense of partnership and

unity will certainly lead to a dispersion of the people in their own

community after two or three generations. Consequently, the religious

interest and its spread will diminish. This will lead the

community to deviate and end lost.”

Such profound words require no elaboration; the clarity is so

very illuminating. Ayatullah Seestani’s words reflect his acknowledgment

of the clear vision of the leadership and utility of the

institutions of the KSI Community. I believe that our future lies in

adhering to this nasihat.

It is for this reason that this publication is very timely, and I

hope that it will inspire the iPad surfing generations to emulate

their erstwhile ancestors, as they adjust to the challenges of the

modern era of globalization while retaining the best of the practices

that makes the KSI Community what it is today

In closing, I can do no better than quote Allama Iqbal:

Fard Qaim Rabt-e-Millat say hai, tanha kuch nahin

Qatra darya main mauj hai, berun-e-darya kuch nahi

Within the Community, does an individual survive alone he is nothing,

A drop within the river is part of a wave, without it, it is nothing.


The Endangered Species

In true tradition of ‘tookbandi’ (creative parody) that the author

would appreciate more than most, I venture to add that:

Khoje, Qaim jamaat-o-federations say hain, tanha kuch nahin

To Jamaats & Federations the Khojas owe their very existence,

Alone they would have been but naugt

Hasnain Walji Ph.D

Irvine California

2 nd June , 2012 – 13 Rajab 1433


Author’s Preface


istory, or what often goes for history, is a chronicle of

events written by the court scribes. According to Indian

history as was taught in schools in Africa during the Colonial

days, we were taught about the Aryan race and Gautama Buddha.

We were also taught about the epic Mahabharata and the

evolution of the Hindu faith; about the Afghan or what was later to

be termed as the Muslim invasion of India; the arrival of the Moguls;

the rise and fall of the Mogul rule in India. We were also

taught about the arrival of European traders in India - British,

French and Portuguese and the eventual consolidation of British

rule in India.

In this long litany of Indian history as portrayed in school lessons,

a picture emerges of the Muslim hordes from across

Afghanistan marching on to the Indian plains to plunder and

slaughter, leading to forcible conversion of Indians to Islam.

Mahmud Ghaznavi’s raids are said to “have brought Islam, for the

first time, to the accompaniment of ruthless military conquest.” 1 In

a subtle way that is how the rise of Islam in India is widely portrayed.


The Endangered Species

Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister, writing

in “The Discovery of India” refers to the period of Mahmud

Ghaznavi’s conquest with an interesting observation: “So far, for

over 300 years, Islam had come peacefully as a religion and taken its

place among the many religions of India without trouble or conflict.

The new approach produced powerful psychological reactions

among the people and filled them with bitterness. There was no objection

to the new religion but there was strong objection to

anything which forcibly interfered with and upset their way of life.” 2

Nehru goes on to qualify his remarks with further clarifications:

“It is thus wrong and misleading to talk of a Muslim invasion of India

or a Muslim period in India, just as it would be wrong to refer to

the coming of the British to India as a Christian invasion, or to call

the British period in India as a Christian period. Islam did not invade

India; it had come to India some centuries earlier. There was Turkish

invasion (Mahmud’s), and an Afghan invasion, and then the

Turco-Mongol or Mughal invasion…” 3

Referring to the early Indo-Arab contacts Pundit Nehru observed:

“The intercourse inevitably led to Indians getting to know

the new religion, Islam. Missionaries also came to spread the new

faith and they were welcomed. Mosques were built. There was no

objection raised by the state or the people, nor were there any religious

conflicts. It was in the tradition of India to be tolerant to all

faiths and forms of worship. Thus Islam came as a religion to India

several centuries before it came as a political force.” 4

“The cataclysms of Oudh, of the Indo-Gangetic plains”, writes



Jaswant Singh, foreign minster of India in the BJP Government,

“have left this part of India largely untroubled. Islam has, of course,

been right here before that paralyzing sack of the great temples of

Somnath by Ghazna in AD 1024. Gujarat has also by then had several

Muslim governors’ oppressions of Muhammad Shah Begra, for

example remain in the memory of this land and its people.” 5

This raises a serious question about the Khoja Community from

Sindh, Cutch, Kathiawar and Gujarat. Were they by any chance

products of coercion or forcible conversion or were they converted

to Islam by the early missionaries who came to India?

In the following pages an attempt has been made to trace the

origin and evolution of the Khoja Community. Were the early

Khojas foreign Muslim migrants to India, as suggested by some

writers, or were they indigenous Indians? When and how were

they converted to Islam from their ancestral Hindu beliefs? Over a

period of time, how did they go through gradual transformation

until their ultimate emergence, in the latter part of the nineteenth

century, as three distinct Khoja Communities to be known as Sunni

Khoja, Shia Ismaili (Nizari) Khoja and the Shia Ithna-Asheri Khoja?

This book is essentially written for members of the Khoja Shia

Ithna-Asheri community and it is focused on a review of their evolution.

A chance remark by Gulamabbas Dinani of New York

prompted me to select this title. The title of this book: The Endangered

Species may raise eyebrows and draw sharp reaction. It is

meant to be so. A useful purpose will have been served if the narrative

provides some food for thought for an introspective look at

the current state of the community and the challenges ahead.


The Endangered Species

My approach to writing this book has not been as an academic

or a professional historian, for I have no such qualifications. Using

history as a backdrop, as a social worker, I have been motivated by

a desire to bring about greater awareness of the current realities

and the challenges facing the Community.

It is recognized that societies do not develop in isolation. Environmental

changes taking place at the same time have a bearing

upon the evolution of societies. In reviewing the evolution of the

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community, an attempt has been made to

highlight some aspects of the religious, political and socioeconomic

factors taking place at various stages in history that

have invariably impacted upon the community and brought it to

where it stands today – temporally and spiritually. An attempt has

also been made to consider the purpose of retaining the ethnic

‘Khoja’ identity for the community organizations and whether

there is need to continue with such an outlook.

What some internal forces, especially among the younger generation

born in the West and several external forces cannot

understand, let alone appreciate, is how well the unity fostered

under this ethnic identity has served the community to date. The

Democratic process under which Khoja organizations operate and

their success story is viewed with admiration by many. There are

however, some elements that view these developments with trepidation

for it tends to send out wrong signals for their comfort.

This is particularly true of factions that continue to operate in

semi feudal patterns in this day and age.



Even Ayatullah Sistani appears to have deemed it necessary to

caution the Khoja community on this score. In a meeting with

Khoja pilgrims visiting Najaf in April, 2008, Ayatullah Sistani

“complemented the community for their organization and unity

which was looked upon with respect and was the envy of other Shia

communities.” He further “cautioned the community against forces

that would rejoice to find friction and division in the community and

urged the community members to be vigilant about such negative

trends and strive to maintain their unity.” 6

The Compilation of this book, as a part time effort, while engaged

in active Ships’ Agency business, doing my own research,

writing, editing and juggling with the computer keyboards to produce

various sections, copying and pasting photographs, has been

a rewarding and challenging experience for me.

For brainstorming sessions to review and analyze issues, past

and present, and in planning for the production of this book, I am

grateful to Dr. Hasnain Walji for his help and co-operation. He has

been a source of great support and encouragement. To Abdulrazak

Fazel of Dar-es-salaam I owe a debt of gratitude for some useful

information about Zanzibar which he has been kind enough to

share with me. A young man from Mombasa, Zahir Bhalloo who is

now at Oxford taking a study of history for his career, has been

helpful with his critique. To my cousin, Prof. Abdul Sheriff, until

recently curator of Zanzibar museums, I am grateful for sparing

his valuable time in taking me round the historical sites in Zanzibar

and for reviewing at length various aspects of Zanzibar



The Endangered Species

I must record a debt of gratitude to Akberali Badami of Mumbai

for helping me to visit and photograph various places of interest in

and around Mumbai reproduced in this book.

Basit Alawi of Karachi has been a source of great help in

providing some rare insight into the funeral arrangements of

Quaid-e-Azam, Mohamed Ali Jinnah.

I am also grateful to Ali Raza Lakhani and M.A. H. Dossa of Karachi

for the time they graciously spared for me in reviewing the

Khoja history. Talking to M.A.H. Dossa, a writer and author of 'The

Khojas’ has been a refreshing experience.

My thanks are due to (Marhum) Dostmohamed Bhojani, Yasin

Ali Gheewalla, Muhammad Ali Jaffri, Altaf Bhojani, Hassan A.

Husein Abullo and Taqui Jaffer of Karachi for facilitating visits to

various places of interest in and around Karachi and for visits to

Hyderabad, Badin and to various centers in the interior of Sind to

meet community members there. Mehboob Ali Wazir, Qamar Abbas,

Taqui Jaffer and Altaf Bhojani have been very helpful in

providing some newspaper clippings and sharing with me information

on the early history of the Community in Karachi. Altaf

Bhojani enthusiastically devoted much time in showing me round

the various historical places of interest.

With Dr. Ahmed Hassam, past President of the World Federation

of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities, I was

privileged to visit the community in Cutch, Kathiawar and Gujarat

and witness at first hand working of the community there. Traveling

on my own would have very much restricted my exposure.



Maulana Hamidul Hasan of Jamie Nazmiya, Lucknow was a

generous host. He afforded me with an opportunity to view early

records and minutes of the All India Shia Conference formed in

1906 when his grandfather, the late Syed Najmul Hassan Saheb,

better known as Namjmul Millat became its first President.

In Mumbai, Mohibali R.D. Nasser was very helpful in planning

my trip to Delhi, Agra, Aligarh and Lucknow. He also facilitated for

me the opportunity to meet officials of the Community in Mumbai.

To Shaukat K. Dossa in New Delhi and Maulana Alimohamed

Naqavi, Professor of Shia theology Aligarh University, I am grateful

for their hospitality.

Dr. Sadiq Uttamwalla and Imran Rasool of Mumbai were kind

enough to spare for me copies of some important publications

from which I have been able to quote relevant excerpts in this


My maternal uncle, Marhum Fidahusein A. Hameer of Dares salaam

was very helpful in securing for me various reference


My grandchildren, some of them born in East Africa, others

born and living in Canada and the U.S.A., have been a source of

much help with their inquisitive questions about the origin of the

Khoja Community, why should we bother to identify ourselves as

Khoja and the challenges faced by the younger generation brought

up in the West. They eagerly read through my drafts, raising all

sorts of questions in the process. One of them wrote to me with a

question indicative of the trend of thinking among youngsters:


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“Would it not be better for us to divest ourselves of the Indian cultural

baggage and evolve instead a new one of our own, based on

true Islamic values, more suited to life in the West?” They also

helped me in many ways in handling the complexities of various

computer programs with which I was not sufficiently familiar. To

my grandchildren, Ali Reza and Zahra from Nairobi, Ali and Siraj

from Dar-es-salaam, Khalil and Faiyaz from New York and Iqbal,

Miqdad, and Minhal from Toronto, I owe special thanks for their


Ms. Zarina Patel of Nairobi, a human rights activist and a writer

and publisher of books has graciously gone through the early

manuscript. I am grateful to her for her comments and suggestions.

Various other individuals have helped me in some ways by responding

to my queries and in providing local information and

photographs that I sought. To each one of them, I wish to record

my sincere appreciation.

For the past several years while I have been so engrossed with

my research and writing while living in Mombasa or when traveling

to India, Pakistan and North America, that my wife has been

telling our daughters in jest that their father now has a second

wife – his laptop! I am grateful to her for her support and encouragement.

Readers may find some anomalies in the spellings of the oft

used names. For example the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad

has been spelt by different writers as Muhammad, Mohamed



or even Mohamet. While I have endeavoured to standardize spellings

of names, where quoting excerpts from different sources, I

have been obliged to retain the spellings as they appear in the

original works. Despite this attempt it is recognized that a various

stages common names have been spelt differently, e.g. Husein or

Husain, Sayyid, Seyed or even Syed, Sheikh or Shaikh, Waqf or

Wakf, Cutchi or Kutchi. Besides the use of the term Khoja and

Khojas for example may cause some confusion. The word Khoja is

identification for the community or the particular sub tribe or clan

as such. Where an individual member of the community is referred

to, he is referred to as a Khoja. Where several members of the

community are referred to, the term Khojas is applied in keeping

with the long established practice among people of Indian origin.

While recognizing this anomaly, I shall crave for the understanding

and indulgence of readers in this context.

Readers may not agree with me for some comments and shades

of opinions expressed on certain issues. I respect their right to disagree

with me. On that score, if this presentation helps to generate

any lively discussion conducive to an introspective look, a useful

purpose would have been served.

My special thanks to Sukaina Abbas Jaffer now Mrs. Sukaina

Hasnain M. Fazel of Toronto, a trained journalist, for her critique

on the initial draft; to Miss Rumina Shafiq Hassan for helping with

the early lay out of the manuscript and in selecting photographs.

I am grateful to my son Murtaza from Arusha, Tanzania, for reviewing

the early drafts and for his helpful suggestions and

assistance in searching for related research materials.


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My son Ebrahim and grandson Khalil from New York, who are

engaged in the printing business, have provided much assistance

in the final setting of the book, designing the cover page and for

supervising the printing and publication of the book.

Despite all attempts at proof reading and editing with voluntary

assistance, many errors may have remained undetected as we

go to press and I crave for the indulgence of readers in this respect.

Hassan Ali M. Jaffer,

Mombasa, Kenya. June , 2012. Rajab 1433


Jawaharlal Nehru: “Discovery of India” p.193; Published by: Meridian Book Ltd., London,



Ibid. p.193


Ibid. p.198


Ibid. p.187


Jajaswant Singh in: JINNAH–India–Partition–Independence, 2009 by Rupa & Co., New Delhi.



See the Sowing and Reaping of Destiny. With ABCD Syndrome: Whither Khoja? Hassan Ali M.

Jaffer, p.38/39, 2008 by Al Itrah Foundation, Daressalaam.



The Khojas in the Context of the

Prevailing International Environment

Modern Day Muslim World

Wake up call for the West


Modern Day Muslim World


N intellectual circles, both Muslim and non-Muslim, analysts

are now discussing what ails the Islamic world today. At a

time when secularism is widespread and the influence of religion

is fast receding from the every day life of modern man, questions

are asked as to what, after all, is the role of religion today?

How is the Islamic faith to be interpreted in this ‘post modern’

age? 1 Among Muslim thinkers there are widespread calls for the

revival of the practice of Ijtihad, long since extinct in the Sunni

world. Some are even advocating reinstatement of the Caliphate or

Khilafat as it is known in Islamic terminology.

At one stage there were three claimants to the Muslim Caliphate:

1. Fatimid in Egypt

2. Abbasids in Baghdad

3. Umayyad in Spain 2

In the Islamic world, especially in the Sunni world, recognized

phases of the Islamic Caliphate are:

The Rashidun Caliphs otherwise known as the rightly

guided Caliphs 11/41 A.H. (632/661)


The Khojas in Context

The Omayyeds of Damascus 41/132 A.H. (661/750)

The Abbasids of Baghdad 132/659 A.H. (750/1242)

The Omayyeds of Cordoba (Spain) 138/418 A.H.


The Fatimid Caliphs of Egypt 296/555 A.H. (908/1160)

“In 1453 A.D. the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and renamed

it Istanbul (city of Islam). Ottoman Sultan Mohamed the

Conqueror who died in 1481 A.D. “proclaimed himself ruler of all

the faithful and Al Mahdi - the chosen one – who would unite the

Islamic world in the name of Sunni Islam.” 3 Thus the last surviving

Caliphate until the first quarter of the 20th Century was the Ottoman

Osmani Khilafat of Turkey.

Towards the end of the first world-war (1914/1918), Britain

took advantage of the Arab discontent in promoting Arab nationalists

revolt against Turkish rule in their Arabian provinces. At the

same time, Turkey suffered ignominiously in the Balkan wars.

While the Turkish Empire was tottering on the verge of disintegration,

there was an outcry in the Muslim world for the preservation

of the nominal Osmani Caliphate of Turkey.

Indian Muslims were at the forefront of a movement for the

preservation of Khilafat. It was known as the Khilafat movement in

India. Jinnah of the Muslim League, later to be the founding father

of Pakistan, kept a low profile and distanced himself from the

Khilafat movement. Gandhi of the Indian National Congress lent

his moral support to the movement as an act of political expediency

to win over Indian Muslim support for the Congress party.


The Endangered Species

A well known Indian scholar, Ameer Ali, author of The Spirit of

Islam, “fought indifatigueably for the preservation of the Caliphate.”

4 He wrote a series of articles advocating preservation of

the Caliphate and “persuaded even the Aga Khan to join the cause

of maintaining the Caliphate.” In a letter signed jointly with the

Aga Khan, “it asked the Turkish Government to place the Caliphate

‘on a basis which would command the confidence and esteem of

the Muslim nations, and thus import to the Turkish state a unique

strength and dignity’.” 5

In March 1924, Mustafa Kemal stabilized the Turkish Republic

in what was termed as an attempt to “cleanse and elevate the Islamic

faith, by rescuing it from the position of political instrument

to which it has been accustomed for centuries.” 6 The Turkish

Osmani Caliphate was abolished in 1924 and the last titular claimant

to the Caliphate, Ottoman Sultan Hamid was banished. Turkey

was declared a republic. Thus after 470 years of the Ottoman rule,

a modern secular Turkish state was established under the leadership

of Mustafa Kamal Pasha, better known as Kamal Ata Turk. 7

Ayub Khan 8 laments the role of the Indian Ulema for their naive

outlook in agitating for the retention of the Turkish Khilafat.

“Some of the ablest Muslim Scholars in India,” writes Ayub Khan,

“argued that the western powers, especially the British, were destroying

the Ottoman Empire. But they did not realize that the

Arabs and the Turks were locked in a grim battle to establish their

respective national identities. The Turks had started the Turkish

nationalist movement and were strongly advocating the concept of


The Khojas in Context

Turkey for the Turks. Arab national interest demanded freedom

from the Turks and a separate identity of its own. It suited the

British to exploit these national sentiments. Our Ulema, who led

the movement for reestablishing the Khilafat in Turkey, never realized

that the idea of Khilafat had been abandoned by the Turks

themselves. Charmed by the vision of the Islamic brotherhood,

they embarked on a prolonged struggle, thinking that if the

Khilafat was re-established, the Muslim world in the Middle East

would be held together under the Turks and the Turks would, one

day, become strong enough to come to India and drive out the

British!” 9

Ayub Khan further deplores the outlook of the nationalist Indian

Ulema who “for decades after the British had consolidated their

position in India, the Ulema kept the Muslims away from all

sources of western knowledge. Not until the middle of seventeen

century was this barrier of prejudice broken or did the Muslims

recover from the voluntary denial of knowledge.” 10

Similar sentiments have been echoed by Hassan Abbas. Writing

in Pakistan’s Drift to Extremism - Allah, the Army and the American

War on Terror, he reviews the state of the Indian Muslims at a time

when the British had consolidated their hold over India.

“Because the Hindu was an ally of the British in this new dispensation,

his lot stood to improve at the cost of the Muslim

subjects of the Crown. At a time like this, the Muslims needed a

voice of sanity and vision. What they got instead was the mullah,

who was enlightened enough to block the only avenue of ad-


The Endangered Species

vancement open to them. He promptly proscribed British schools

and the learning of the English language. Against the prospective

violators of these prohibitions he pronounced many oaths, invoked

many curses, and listed many areas of fall from grace.

Among the latter was a promise that, in the eyes of Allah, the marriage

vows of the transgressor shall stand annulled. And the

subject of marriage being of grave concern among the believers,

many a good Muslim decided to save his wedlock at the cost of

modern education! And when Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-98)

decided to reclaim his co religionist from the morass of ignorance

unrelieved by any hint of bliss that is supposed to go with it, he

was promptly dubbed ‘infidel’ by the outraged majesty of the

mulla.” 11

Sadly, this trend has not been peculiar to the Indian sub Continent

only. Such has been the general malaise afflicting the Muslim

world everywhere as “conservative Ulema (Islamic scholars, who

had enormous influence over daily life) banned innovation in education

and science.” 12 This attitude led to further marginalizing of

the entire Muslim belt from the shores of the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The Ottoman Caliphs ruling from Istanbul are to be held largely

responsible for setting the trend in nurturing such an outlook.

Introduction of the printing press in Europe led to mass production

which effectively “helped pave the way to the growth of a

mass reading public, a public which finally wrested literature from

the closed circles of the educated and wealthy. This revolution entailed

not simply a change in the world of literature but, as


The Khojas in Context

Marshall McLuhan wrote, a change in consciousness itself.”

A review of the history of the printing press and the attitude of

the Muslim rulers and the Ulema at the time makes for sad reading.

Refusal to appreciate the need for reformation and change

compatible with the requirements of the time eventually led to the

decline of the Muslim power and in consequence an environment

of pacifist stagnation crept in, ultimately leading to the current

state of the Muslim world.

“Recent decades have brought an Islamic resurgence powerful

enough to influence world politics and make the conflict between

Islam and the West an issue once again. But Islam, however,

viewed the inventions of the West with suspicion. The classic case

was the printing press, which Islam vigorously resisted. In 1485, a

decree by the Ottoman sultan, Bayazid II, banned this new invention,

on the grounds that it would be sacrilegious to use the Arabic

language in mechanical equipment. A press was sent from Germany

to the court of Turkey to print the Koran. The Ulema were

called in to give a verdict (Fatwa) if such a contraption of ‘infidels’

can be used to print a holy scripture. The unanimous opinion was


“For next four centuries, Muslims were deprived of this privilege.

Christians and Jews can use the printing presses in Muslim

lands and they controlled the learning henceforth. The Caliph

needed the accountants for his business and not a single Muslim

can apply for this job. All the applicants were Christians and Jews.”

“The Koran and Arabic were so closely entwined that the lan-


The Endangered Species

guage itself demanded pious treatment, which it wasn't likely to

get from printers. Furthermore, printing threatened Islamic calligraphers,

who became its powerful enemies. Jewish publishers

could operate in Turkey only so long as they did not use Arabic.

Printing in Arabic was illegal until the first half of the 18th century,

and even then it grew slowly. When Napoleon arrived in Egypt in

1798, Cairo had no presses. By then, European thinkers had been

educating one another through books for more than two centuries.”

“How far did Islam fall? It lost the ability even to name its section

of the world. In 1902, an American naval historian, A.T.

Mahan, called the area between Europe and East Asia ‘the Middle

East,’ a term that could have been invented only by someone who

thought Europe the world's core. That demonstrated the widespread

belief that the Arab lands now contained a marginal

civilization, significant only as it related to the true center.

Through much of this century, Middle East has been the common

term all over the globe, even inside the region itself.”

“It wasn't apparent until the 1960s that Islam could be reinvigorated

that's another story, to be told in another millennium.”

“Another case in point was the controversy over printing. Until

the eighteenth century a majority of Ulema believed that printing

was haram. A text, particularly one dealing with religion, was

something numinous and holy, to be created slowly and lovingly

through the traditional calligraphic and bookbinding crafts. A

ready availability of identical books, the scholars thought, would


The Khojas in Context

cheapen Islamic learning, and also make students lazy about

committing ideas and texts to memory. Further, it was thought

that the process of stamping and pressing pages was disrespectful

to texts which might contain the name of the Source of all being.”

“But when Jewish refugees from Spain asked Bayezid II for

permission to set up printing presses in Turkey, he consented on

condition that they did not print any books in Turkish or Arabic,

and confined themselves to Hebrew and European languages.” 13

Dr. Mahatir Mohamed, a former Prime Minister of Malaysia has

succinctly summed up the cause of the current plight of the Muslim


“Sadly, at one particular stage, the period of fear of knowledge

descended on the Muslim world where the injunction to seek

knowledge was interpreted as seeking religious knowledge only,”

he said. In this period, "other kinds of knowledge not related to

religious law, in particular to the creed and practice of Islam, were

not only discouraged but were actually prohibited.” 14

Summarizing the consequence for this trend, Husein Haqqani,

Pakistan Ambassador to the USA, writing in his Afterthought in

Chasing a mirage by Tarek Fatah observes: “Muslim use of printing

press did not commence until 1727 causing the Muslims to lose

more than 270 years in the world’s greatest explosion of

knowledge. The Persian, Moghul and Ottoman empires controlled

vast lands and resources, but important scientific discoveries and

inventions that had occurred since 15 th century came about from

Europe and not in the Muslim lands.” 15


The Endangered Species

A question that haunts every one now is whether the Muslim

world has since grown out of its static state and the plight in which

it finds itself in today? In the context of the prevalent international

environment and the state of the Muslim world today, how has

this little community of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri fared?

The malaise afflicting the wider Muslim society in resisting

reformation and change and consequently paying dearly as a result

has not escaped this introvert Khoja society. Despite their

much acclaimed progress, this legacy accounts for much of its present

limitations. The impacts of these trends have taken their toll

on the vast array the Muslim populations everywhere. Members

of the Khoja community also, as we shall see in the following chapters,

did not escape the relatively negative effect.

There was a time when members of the Khoja community were

to be found only in the western parts of the Indian sub-continent,

in the Sultanate of Oman, in parts of the southern Arabian coast

and the Persian Gulf, in Burma and East Africa. Despite their limited

number, like wandering Gypsies they are now scattered all

over the world where they are striving to retain their heritage and

to function as structured communities. One third of the community

members are now living in Europe and North America. Nearly

half of the community members are in Pakistan and India. A sizeable

number are to be found in east and southern Africa and in the

Indian Ocean Islands of Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion. A

small number are also to be found Australia, New Zealand, the Far

East and in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Oman and


The Khojas in Context

Yemen. Few individuals have also found their way to South America

and Russia. How successfully are they evolving as a community

under diverse environments? How is the community organizing

itself to maintain links with its Diaspora and planning to chart its

course through troubled waters? In the subsequent pages, we

propose to review the evolution of the Community to date and focus

on the challenges that the Community now faces for its longterm



Various writings are available on the subject. See also Rethinking Islam and Modernity -

essays in honour of Fathi Osman, published in 2001 by Islamic Foundation, in association

with the Management Centre for Research and Tradition, London, based on Conference held

in London in 1996. Edited by: Abdelwahhab el Affendi

Also see Rethinking Islam by Professor Ziauddin Sardar, June, 2001. Author of various

books, his latest book being: A-Z of Postmodern Life. (Vision Publications, Feb. 2002).

See Lament of an anguished Muslim heart –From Cordoba to Kabul by S.A. Abidi. Dawn Magazine,

Karachi. March 17, 2002. Muharram, 03, 1423.

How Islam Lost its Way? Yesterday’s achievements were golden; today, reason has been

eclipsed, by Pervez Amir Ali Hoodhboy, Professor of Nuclear and high-energy physics at

Quaide-Azam University, Islamabad. (The Washington Post, Sunday, December, 30, 2001.

Page B04-Op-Ed)


Rise and fall – Dawn, Magazine, Karachi. September, 07, 2003. Review by Nur Ahmed Shah

of Islam in Global History from the death of Prophet Muhammad to the First World War (Vol. I

& II). By Dr Nazeer Ahmed, Suhail Academy, Chowk Urdu Bazar, Lahore. ISBN: 969-519-

047-2 786pp.

For related in depth review see also Ameer Ali – The Spirit of Islam chapter on ‘Political

Division and Schism’ also P.319/320.


ibid. Also See Notes 4, 7, 9.


Syed Athar Abbas Rizvi in Socio Intellectual History of the Isna ‘Ashari Shi’is in India Part II,

published in 1986 by Ma’rifat Publishing House, Canberra, Australia. p.443. See also notes



ibid. p.44




The Turks abolished the Khilafat, 1924; forcibly dissolved Muslim religious Orders, 1925;

replaced the Sharia with Western based legal codes, 1926; deleted the clause: the religion of

the Turkish state is Islam, 1928; and substituted the Turkish for the Arabic call to prayer,

1933. Despite all this the Turks deny and even ridicule ‘the notion that singly or nationally

they had renounced Islam.’ Altaf Gauhar, in his Introductions to Translation from the Quran,

Page 18/19. Islamic Information Services Ltd., London. U.K, edition, 1975.


The Endangered Species

See the Most learned of the Shia – The Institute of Maraje Edited by Linda S. Walbridge, Oxford

University Press, 2001.


Ayub Khan, 1907/1974, President of Pakistan, 1958/1969.


Ayub Khan-Friends Not Masters–A Political Autobiography, Oxford University Press, 1967,



ibid. p.202


Hassan Abbas, Pakistan’s Drift to Extremism - Allah, the Army and the American War or

Terror, p.5, M.E.Sharpoe, Inc., New York. 2005


Ahmed Rashid, Jihad – The Rise of Militant Islam in central Asia, p. 23,. Vanguard Books

(Pvt) Ltd., Lahore, 2002.


History of the Printing Press. (1 Ref:B. Lewis. 2 Nicholson. 3. History of Turkey. 4. Gutenberg

and Printed Page.) Also Wikipedia on Rise of Ottoman Empire.



Dr.Mahatir Mohamed, former Prime Minister of Malaysia speaking in Bahrain at the 31st

International Federation of Training and Development Organization (IFTDO) World Conference

and Exhibition, which was inaugurated by Bahraini Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa

bin Sulman al-Khalifa. 2005.


Chasing a mirage, by Tarek Fatah, by John Whaley & sons Canada Ltd., Mississauga. p.343


Wake up call for the West


eptember, 11, 2001, the terrorist attack on New York and

Washington provided a wake up call for the West in trying

to have a closer look at the Muslim world and the Islamic

beliefs. Emerging political realities at the global level have since

encouraged scholars to strive for better understanding of Islam

and the beliefs and practices of the Shia faith. In the process, they

are now looking for information from the original Shia sources

instead of relying on stereotyped concepts projected by the Western

Orientalists. For long, Orientalists, due to greater exposure to

the non-Shia world have based their understanding of the Shia

faith with information derived from mostly non Shia or even anti

Shia sources.

Orientalist’s views “are usually identified with reigning attitudes

among Sunni Muslims” and “in consequence when Scholars

write of Islamic theology, their attention is given to Sunni thinkers.”

In a very cursory way “acknowledgement is given to the fact

that the Shia differ from the Sunni opinion, but the differences are

minimized, and it is seldom thought necessary to consider Shi’i


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views at length in order to understand their peculiar spirit and

religious weltanschauung” 1

The substantive difference between the Shia and Sunni outlook

have been succinctly explained by Dr. Syed Hossein Nasr. Writing

in his latest book The Heart of Islam – Enduring Values for Humanity,

he explains:

“The major point of contention between Sunnism and Shi’sm

was not only the question of who should succeed the Prophet, but

the question of what the qualifications of such a person should be.

For Sunnism, the function of the caliph was to protect the borders

of Islam, keep security and peace, appoint judges and so forth. For

Shi’ites, such a person also had to have the deepest knowledge of

Islamic Laws as well esoteric knowledge of the Quran and Prophetic

teachings. He could therefore not be elected, but had to be

chosen by the Prophet through Divine command. The Shi’ites believe

that investiture did in fact occur at the pool of water called

Ghdir Khumm when the Prophet was returning to Medina from

pilgrimage to Mecca. According to Shiites, the person chosen by

him was Ali, whom they consider their first Imam, using this term

in the special sense of some one who bears the Muhammadan

Light (al nur al-muhammadiyya) and the power of initiation within

himself and who is master of both the exoteric and the esoteric

sense. Otherwise the term imam coming from the root meaning

“standing before or in front” is used in general for the person who

leads the daily prayers and in Sunni Islam also as an honorific title

given to great religious scholar such as, for example, Imam al-


Wake Up Call for the West

Ghazali, one of foremost theologians and Sufi in Islamic history.

Sunni authors have also occasionally referred to the caliph as

imam, but all of these meaning must be distinguished from the

specific Shiite usage of the term.”

“The understanding of the term imam therefore differs greatly

in Sunnism and Shi’ism. In Sunni Islam, the term has many uses,

but is never used in the mystical or esoteric sense given to it in

Shi’ism. In Shi’ism, the imam, like the prophets, is inerrant

(ma’sum) and protected from sin by God. He posses perfect

knowledge of both the Law and the Way, both the outer and the

inner meaning of the Quran. He also possesses the power of

initation (walayah/wilayah) and he is spiritual guide par excellence,

like the Sufi masters within their orders. In fact the first

eight Shiite Imams are central spiritual authorities or poles of Sufism

and appear in the initiate chain of nearly every Sufi order. ‘Ali

is the representative par excellence of Islamic esoteric teaching, is

not only the first Imam of Shi’ism, but also the origin of the imitate

chain of all Sufi orders. There are in fact many Sunnis, such as the

majority of Egyptians, almost all of whom are Sunnis, who have

the same love and respect for the Shi’ite Imams, and the Ahl al-bayt

that is, members of the family of the Prophet with whom the

Imams and Shi’ism itself are associated as do Persians or Iraqi Shiites.”


Questions are now raised as to how, unlike in the Sunni world,

the practice of Ijtihad has survived among followers of the twelver

Shia? How is Ijtihad practiced now and applied in relevant terms


The Endangered Species

for the adherents of the Ithna-Asheri (twelver) Shia faith living in

different parts of the world. As numerous recent writings indicate,

the Shia faith is now viewed in a much more different light - as a

more enlightened and progressive Islamic faith.

Reviewing the situation in Iraq following the car bombing in

Najaf on 29th August, 2003, that killed around 126 people, including

Ayatullah Syed Baqir al Hakim and injured hundreds more,

David Gardner, writing in the Financial Times of London observes:

“Yet Shia Islam is no monolith. Shia clerics have often been more

inquiring in theology, philosophy and science than their Sunni

counter parts, some of whom have taken refuge in flat-earth theory,

repressive state orthodoxy or bin Laden’s Manichean bigotry.” 3

Lately the role of Ayatullah Sistani as a moderating influence in the

Iraqi political quagmire has been revealing for many.

Understanding Shia faith

In modern times, western interest in understanding the Shia faith

dates back to 1890 when the Qajar ruler of Iran, Naseruddin Shah,

“granted to an Englishman, G. F. Talbot a concession for the production,

sale and export of Tobacco in Persia for a period of fifty

years. In return Talbot was to pay the Shah £15,000 a year, plus

one quarter of any net profit accrued to the company formed to

exploit the concession. This time an unusually effective way of

dealing with the resented foreign intrusion was found; the leading

Mujtahid, Haji Mirza Shirazi, issued a fatwa (an authoritative opin-


Wake Up Call for the West

ion) declaring the use of tobacco in any form by the faithful to be a

sin. This fatwa was obeyed with unanimity which astonished foreign

observers. Rioting spread, and the concession was

withdrawn.” 4 Haji Mirza Shirazi was based in Najaf, Iraq, from

where this fatwa was issued.

Six decades later, in 1950, under the Premiership of populist

Prime Minister, Mohamed Mosaddeq, the Oil Industry in Iran was

nationalized. Mosaddeq was actively supported by Ayatollah

Kashani, presiding Speaker of the Irani Majlis (Parliament). During

1950-1953, as a result of foreign intervention, this development

led to political upheaval in Iran. Mohamed Reza Shah Pahlavi was

forced to flee from Iran. With CIA intervention, Mosaddeq was later

overthrown and the Shah returned to Iran to reclaim the

Peacock throne.

Within the next three decades history was to repeat itself. In

1979, a traditional Islamic cleric in the person of Ayatullah Khomeini

emerged to lead an Islamic revolution in Iran. Mohamed

Reza Shah Pahlavi was once again obliged to abandon his throne

and flee to seek refuge overseas. Khomeini returned from Paris in

triumph to consolidate the Islamic revolution in Iran. This development

came as a complete surprise to many. The role of

Khomeini and the Islamic movement that he led aroused much

curiosity for people everywhere to learn more about the Shia faith.

Soon after, developments in Iran and the Middle East took a

rapid turn for the worse. The siege of the American Embassy in

Tehran with the American diplomatic staff being held as hostages


The Endangered Species

sent alarm bells ringing. Soon after, a full blown war between Iraq

and Iran raged with widespread destruction and loss of lives in

both countries. In their desire to curb Irani influence and contain

the spread of Islamic revolution elsewhere, many Arab countries

and the western powers gave full backing and support to the regime

of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

At the same time, in Lebanon, following Israeli incursions, the

Lebanese Civil War erupted with vengeance. The long suppressed

Shia population in Lebanon organized themselves under the banner

of Amal to mount a spirited claim for their rights. America

intervened in Lebanon. A contingent of American armed forces

was stationed around Beirut. Another radical Shia group emerged

in Lebanon under the banner of Hezbollah. As the Lebanese civil

war raged in 1980’s, the ensuing carnage was to be the grim fate of

Beirut. During this period Yasser Arafat and his PLO warriors were

expelled from Lebanon. Americans also had to arrange for an ignominious

departure following a car bomb attack on American

barracks in Beirut that took a heavy toll of around 270 American

lives. All these tragic happenings led to the hardening of Western

perceptions and outlook towards the Shia faith and the followers

of the Shia faith in general.

Growing western misconceptions towards the Shia faith and

those who practiced Shia faith was fully exploited by the Saudi led

Wahhabi movements. “After the oil boom in 1970’s, Saudi Arabia

made spreading of Wahhabism a major plank of its foreign policy” 5

The Wahhabi, otherwise known also as the Salafi movement, took


Wake Up Call for the West

full advantage of these developments to fuel increasing Western

fears and worked towards undermining and projecting Shia faith

as a fundamentalist, reactionary and revolutionary faith. 6

“In the United States, Shi’i Islam is identified primarily with the

militancy, anti-Americanism, and terrorism of the Iranian revolution

and of Hezbollah in Lebanon,” writes John Esposito in Unholy

War – Terror in the name of Islam. 7 In the wake of the post Taliban

and post Saddam era, these embedded perceptions, entrenched for

long in the western psyche, appear to be slowly changing. Belatedly,

there is now growing recognition, especially among informed

circles, that the long orchestrated perception about the Shia faith

in reality “has obscured the richness of the Shi’i religious traditions

and spirituality, its diverse branches and different

experiences of and attitudes towards war and peace. Shi'ism is a

faith born out of the experience of oppression and tyranny.” 8

The impact of the Saudi influence and simplistic American perceptions

were felt everywhere, including East Africa. There has

been growing tendency in various quarters to link everything Shia

with Iran. It was like branding every Christian in any part of the

world as an Irish Roman Catholic or an IRA terrorist and every Jew

anywhere as an Israeli agent. Such trends are not necessarily a

new phenomenon. They have their origin in the long drift that the

Muslim world has gone through over the past centuries. 9

In the wake of the current Iraqi situation, selective views expressed

by Prince Feisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, over Iraq and

Lebanon at various forums, and the recent tirades by King Abdul-


The Endangered Species

lah of Jordan voicing his concern over the likely emergence of a

“Shia Crescent” in the Middle East and the attempt by President

Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to link all Shia loyalties with Iran reflect

their pathological prejudices against Shia. The small Shia community

in Africa which had for over a century lived harmoniously

with the rest of the local Muslim Communities also began to experience

the impact of growing anti-Shia prejudice. This became

particularly evident after the oil boom of 1974 as the Saudi funded

Salafi movement made greater inroads in Africa, Pakistan and in

many parts of the world.

It will not be surprising if in the light of the changing international

scene, political expediency may once again oblige Western

interests to align themselves with the very forces that they are out

to malign at present and in the process resurrect the genie of the

traditional anti-Shia prejudice.

Recent developments in Lebanon and the stand taken by

Hizbullah against Israel have led to a ripple effect in the Arab

world. It has highlighted the intellectual divide. While attempts

have been made internationally and in the Arab world to create

further rifts between the Sunni and Shia, as witnessed in Iraq and

Pakistan, one salutary effect of these developments has been to

make Muslim masses pause for a moment and think. Questions are

raised as to whether the continuing rift and divisions among Muslim

sects are serving the Muslim cause better or whether a

tolerant and broadly based unity among diverse Muslim sects

would be beneficial to the Umma. In this context “Al-Azhar's Grand


Wake Up Call for the West

Imam refuses a call by a Wahhabi Extremist to withdraw the

recognition of the Shia doctrine and considers Shi'ism as one of

the wings of Islam” is a pointer in this direction. 10

As victims of the anti Shia prejudice, reviewed in Part Four, Section

5 under: Pakistani quagmire, the small Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri community has played a modest role wherever they are

settled in trying to foster better relationships with the wider society,

both Muslims and non-Muslims. In Africa, the United Kingdom

and in the U.S.A and Canada, as an apolitical society, not driven by

any particular nationalistic agendas, the leadership of the community

has always urged its members to acquire local nationalities

and owe their allegiances to their places of abode. In the process

they have been working to help bridge the gaps between diverse

ethnic and nationalistic Shia groups and in fostering better understanding

with the wider Muslim communities of non Shia origin.

Besides, they have also been active in interfaith activities working

to develop harmonious relationships with the non- Muslim Hindu,

Christian and Jewish communities. 11


Syed Athar Abbas Rizvi in: A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isna ‘Ashari Shi’is in India. -

Introduction. P.1

See Shi’ite Islam by A.S.M. Tabatabai, translated by Sayyed Hossein Nasr, (Ansarian Publications,

Qom) and also Traditional Islam in the modern world by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Kegan

Paul International, London & New York, 1987.


Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Heart of Islam – Enduring Values for Humanity, Published by

Harper, San Fransisco, 2002. pages 66/67


Time for Shia - Article by David Gardner in The Financial Times, London, 29.08.2003

Also see the Most learned of the Shia – The Institute of Maraje”, Edited by Linda S. Walbridge,

Oxford University Press, 2001.


Mohamed Heikal in The Return of the Ayatollah, . Andre Deutch Ltd., London. p.28/29


The Endangered Species


Ahmed Rashid, Jihad – The rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia.,Vanguard Books (Pvt) Ltd.,

(Lahore 2002) p.45.


For account of the rise of ‘Wahabbism’, their anti Shia tirade giving rise to intolerant factionalism

as practiced in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere, with tragic

consequences in the loss of innocent lives, various postings on internet and in the media

provide a sad tale. In the aftermath of the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York and

Washington, much attention is now paid to the related undercurrents.

The following literature would provide much valuable background information.

Ahmed Rashid. Taliban and Jihad

John Esposito – Unholy War, Terror in the name of Islam.

Edward Schwartz – Two Faces of Islam.

Hossein Nasr – The Heart of Islam.

Hamid Algar. “Wahabism” – A Critical Essay. Islamic Publications Int.Oneonmta.

N.Y. 2002.

Allama Ali Naqi Naqavi, A Refutation of Wahabism– The Life history of Ibn Al

Wahab and his upbringing. From Islamic Concepts of Ideal Life. Aligarh. India

Hassan abbas. Pakistan’s slide into extremism – Allah, the Army and America’s War

on Terror. An East Gate Book, M.E.Sharpe, New York.2005.

Besides, the following newspaper articles and internet postings would provide

useful related reading.

Islam Damaged by Wahabism. By Hani Taki, Toronto Star, March 26, 2002. Islam

and the theology of power”by Khalid Abou el Fadl, Middle East Report 221, winter


Religious Freedom in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - Focus on Citizens. By Saudi Institute,

15 October, 2001. (From Internet Search Shianews.)

Brutal Fanatics - By Ardeshir Cowasjee. Dawn, Karachi. 3rd March, 2002.

Straddling Islam’s Bloody Divide, By Martin Regg. Asia Bureau, Toronto Star, Nov

4, 2001.


John L. Espositio. Unholy War – Terror in the name of Islam, 2002; Oxford University Press.


Syyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic studies, George Washington University, Washington,

D.C., and author of several books on Islam, in his introduction to the collection of

writings entitled, Shi’sm – Doctrines, thought, and Spirituality published in 1988 by State

University of New York Press, makes similar observations: “Although the name Shi’s is

heard every day in relation to this or that political event, the works that have flooded the

market in the past few years, for the most part, have catered to present day prejudices and

fear or tried to normalize in the eyes of the West a very exceptional period in the history of

Shi’sm. By presenting Shi’sm as if it always were a volatile and disruptive force, these works

ignore all the theology, piety, and spirituality that characterize this and very integral, authentic



Wake Up Call for the West

Teresa Watanabe, Times Staff Writer, (July, 200) writes under the heading: “Attitudes toward

Shia Muslims take more tolerant direction. Since the Iraq war, some in the sect say

they are now viewed in U.S. as victims of persecution”

“After 37 years in America, Cerritos physician Ridha Hajjar can recite a history of tough

times for Shia Muslims, who predominate in places such as Iraq - where they have long

been shut out of power - and Iran. He recalls the harassment of the Shia, Islam’s largest

minority sect, by some majority Sunnis. He remembers the stereotypes slapped on them as

violent fanatics after the 1979 seizure of American hostages by Iranian revolutionaries. He

ruefully relates how his wife called U.S. officials to protest the slaughter of Shias who rose

up against Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Persian Gulf War: “So what? They’re just Shiites,”

Hajjar says she was told “That’s why we feel bitter - the whole world has been ignoring us,”

“Hajjar says No longer. Suddenly, with the U.S. war in Iraq and subsequent occupation, the

Shia are in the spotlight, often sympathetically portrayed as the courageous victims of Hussein.

Suddenly, their holy cities and religious rituals are being covered around the world.

Suddenly, they are gaining access to U.S. policymakers.

“At the opening conference of the country’s first nationwide Shia organization recently, for

instance, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz gave the keynote address. He

lamented their persecution, praised their creative geniuses, lauded their cooperation in

Iraq and acknowledged that a “false image of Shia” had been projected to the world.

“There have been radical changes to the American perception regarding Shias,” said Imam

Mustafa Al-Qawzini, a religious leader from a large family of Islamic scholars and activists

in Southern California and Detroit But the spotlight has also magnified the challenges facing

the nation’s Shias, a polyglot community that may make up more than 20% of the American

Muslim population.”


John L. Espositio. Unholy War – Terror in the name of Islam. Oxford University Press. 2002.


In addition to the harsh treatment meted out to the Shiahs by the Omeyyed and the Abbasid

rulers, amply recorded by Ameer Ali in The Spirit of Islam, the level of intolerance and oppression

suffered by Shia throughout their history is further highlighted by Dwight M.

Donaldson, author of The Shi’ite Religion – A History of Islam in Persia and Irak, published in

1933, by Luzac & Company,, London. Donaldson records in his introduction (page xxvi)

“and there have been periods when those who cherished the Shia faith were subjected to

severe tests and persecution. The hope of the return of the twelfth Imam persisted, however,

and was reasserted in desperation when the lands of the Shi’ites suffered from the

ravages of the Mongols, the Tartars, the Turks, and the Afghans; and when the shrines of

their sainted Imams were repeatedly desecrated, and those who refused to take refuge in

the doctrine of takeiyye (dissimulation) were ruthlessly massacred”.

Ameer Ali also records in The Spirit of Islam – Oxford University press.1926: (page 336),

“Before Persia and Turkey had entered upon terms of amity, a Shiah was unable to perform

the Haj unless he conformed to the Sunni rites, and takiyye in such cases was almost a necessity

with the devout Shiah wishing to visit the holy shrines.”


For interesting observations in this context, see comments by Syed Hossein Nasr in his

Preface to, The Heart of Islam.


Ahlul Bayt News Agency (ABNA.ir), 20/06/2010. The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed

Al-Tayeb refuses a call by a Wahhabi Extremist to withdraw the recognition of the Shia

doctrine and said nobody can accept these weak statements, furtheremore the position of

Al-Azhar is stable to achieve unity among the Muslims.


The Endangered Species

Saudis Online News Network has mentioned that the Wahhabi scholar Ahmed bin Saad B. H.

Al-Ghamdi, from the Saudi University of Umm Al-Qura had denounced Al-Azhar scholars for

their recognition of the doctrine of the members of prophet's household and for their consideration

of it as a doctrine like the rest of the nation's doctrines.

“In an exclusive statement to Al-Watan Daily Kuwaiti Newspaper, The Grand Sheikh of Al-

Azhar ( al-Tayeb) said that the Sunnis and the Shiites are the two wings of the Islamic nation

and that over fourteen centuries; that is the life of Islam it never happened that the

Sunnis and the Shiites fought one another, pointing out that what happens between them

now is a plot to bring them face to face through the weapon of the sectarian strife.”


See The Sowing and Reaping of Destiny, With ABCD Syndrome: Whiter Khoja?

Hassan Ali M. Jaffer, 2008 by Al Itrah Foundation, Daressalaam. p.25/27



Who are the Khoja?


The Origins of the Khoja

Khoja Divisions

Evolution of Sunni Khoja

Armenian and Punjabi Khoja

Parsi or Turkic linkage

Muscati Khoja


The Endangered Species



n 13th July, 1899, the late Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Mohamed

Shah, in a Farman issued in Zanzibar is reported

to have predicted: “Within ten, twenty or thirty years,

the Ithna-Asheri will be worn out. After 100 years the Ithna-Asheri

religion will not exist at all. It will not exist in Iran either because

that religion’s base is not on Aq’l [the power of reasoning]. Our

religion’s base is on Aq’l.” 1

The Aga Khan was ostensibly piqued by the handful of Khoja

Community members who had challenged his authority. Within

the preceding three decades, this group had not only disowned the

Aga Khan as their spiritual leader but had the temerity of registering

a separate Community of their own to be known as the Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Community.



Commenting on this development, Akber Mehraly writes in A

History of the Agakhani Ismailis: “Every night during his childhood,

Aga Khan would join his mother in prayer, which was an Ithna-

Asheri Salah (Namaaz). Elderly Ismailis who had seen the young

Aga Khan, accompanied by his mother and uncles, attend Majalis

of Muharram that were held in the Mughal (Ithna-Asheri)

Imambargahs of Bombay and Poona were therefore surprised to

hear this Farman denouncing the faith of his parents and grandparents.”


In reviewing the state of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community

today, we need to know:

What is their origin?

Where did they come?

In which direction are they going?

Were the early Khoja practicing Sunni or Shia?

We need to explore whether their ancestors were Ithna-Asheri

or Ismaili. While practicing either as Sunni, Shia Ismaili or Shia

Ithna-Asheri faith, did the early Khoja consider the Aga Khans as

their Imams or as their factional leader of a Sufi order to be known

as Pir only? What led to the division among the Khoja community

towards the latter half of the 19th century? Did the schism emerge

only due to a dispute over the financial management of the Community

funds and their accountability? Why did the separation

between close kith and kin occur with such lasting and divisive

effect? Were there fundamental differences over matters of faith

that brought to fore the simmering schism? Were the latter Nizari


The Endangered Species

Ismaili Imams culminating with the Aga Khans exposed to have

deviated from their professed ancestral faith to proclaim belatedly

a distinct brand of the Nizari Ismaili beliefs, with some innovative

additions, which they had, until then, concealed from their followers?

In The Shia of India John Norman Hollister records: “In a court

case of 1866 Sunni practices were admitted to be the custom of

the Khoja community were said to be a form of protective dissimulation.

The first Aga Khan is reported to have said while yet living

in Persia, that there were twelve Imams. This conduct has been

explained as a policy of concealment to which he was obliged to

resort because in Persia the faith of the Ithna’ Ashariya is the official

religion of State.” 3

When followers of the Aga Khan in Bombay raised objection to

the building of an Ithna-Asheri mosque in their locality, in a letter

dated 10 th November, 1900, Trustees of the Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Jamaat wrote to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, in

which they proclaimed: “We do not have to propagate the Ithna-

Asheri creed in as much as it is our firm conviction and belief that

all the Khojas together with His Highness the Aga Khan are and

have been Ithna-Asheri.” 4

Professor Noel Q. King and Syed Saeed Akhter Rizvi have analyzed

the background to the split.

“It is necessary to describe briefly how these last groups drew

apart, even though the agony of the whole episode is still remembered

in East Africa; the searing knife of separation cut asunder



families and even marriages. In 1840 and afterwards, conditions

began to arise which made sorting out and definition of Khoja

groups inevitable. In 1842 the Ismaili imam left Iran to dwell in

India. He and his successors lived in the Bombay area until Sultan

Mohammed Shah made his headquarters in Europe. These imams

of course knew their own traditions and those of the Irani Ithna-

Asheri as well. They were prepared to accept a great deal of the

latter as their own, but matters of Hindu background would strike

them strange and alien to their proposed re-shaping of the community.

Since they were now present among the Khoja, it was

likely that certain matters about their own exact position would

not long remain unspecified. Another contributing factor to the

division of Khojas was the atmosphere of British India. Comprehensive

and tolerant as the raj was for the coexistence of all kinds

of inconsistent elements, pressure for normalization of the disparate

arose. For example, a census asked a man’s religion, and judges

presiding over disputes in the courts had to decide under which

type of law, Hindu or Musalmaan, cases of inheritance were to be

heard.” 5

A number of writers have undertaken painstaking research in

dealing with the emergence and growth of the Khoja community,

especially the Ismaili Khoja, better known as followers of the Aga

Khan. 6 Evolution of the Khoja Communities cannot be reviewed in

isolation. They feature as a small segment in the spread of Islam in

the Indian sub Continent during the last six centuries. Later, in the

latter part of the nineteenth century, schism among those known


The Endangered Species

as Khoja led to further splits among them. This led to the formation

of three distinct Khoja Communities in India and among

those Khoja who had migrated from India to settle in Africa. They


(i) Shia Ismaili Khoja, followers of the Aga Khan

(ii) Sunni Khoja

(iii) Shia Ithna-Asheri Khoja.

These developments have to be viewed with the backdrop of

various Islamic sects in existence in India and world wide and further

groupings from among those who profess to be known as


As humans we are social animals. We cannot distance ourselves

from the rest of the human society to function and progress in isolation

as distinct communities. Intellectual and socio political

developments in the Indo-Pak sub-continent during the nineteenth

and the first half of the twentieth century and subsequent

political developments in Africa and on the international scene

after the end of the Second World War in 1945 have a bearing on

the evolution of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community today.

Like all other societies, they too continue to be influenced by varied

undercurrents. To understand the current state of the

Community and evaluate future trends for the Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Community world wide, it is essential to take stock of the

related background developments on a wider front. Hence references

to the Modern Day Muslim World and Wake up call for the



West and Understanding the Shia faith have been covered under

the preceding chapter.

It is also essential to recognize here that the underlying motivating

factor that has led the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community

to survive, against many odds, and propelled it to be where it

stands today, is essentially related to matters of its faith and the

underlying desire of the community members to preserve and

promote their professed faith.

Despite the gloomy prophesy made by the Aga Khan in 1899, a

century later, the dissenting small Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community

described once as ‘the least organized group among Asian

immigrants in East Africa 7 is very much alive and vibrant today.

Similarly, in Iran, the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith has not only survived

but has made its mark internationally.

Followers of the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith are to be found in different

parts of the world. Today the Ithna-Asheris are in majority

in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. Sizeable percentages of the

Ithna-Asheri are in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait,

Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and in several former Soviet Republics

bordering Iran. Practically in all parts of the world, including

the Arab Gulf States and in Europe, North America, Africa and Australia,

followers of the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith are to be found.

Within a century of their settlement in East Africa, the small

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community has developed as a well structured

organized community. Despite their limited number,

individuals from the community have made their mark and pro-


The Endangered Species

gressed in various walks of life. Their presence and impact have

been felt in East Africa. 8

At the same time, during the past fifty years, in a modest way,

the Khoja Community has been instrumental for the wider acceptance

of the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith in Eastern parts of Africa

and in the Indian Ocean Island of Madagascar. Many from the indigenous

local population have since accepted the Shia Ithna-

Asheri faith. Among them are some well educated and articulate

individuals. The indigenous African communities are scattered in

different places all over Eastern Africa. With active encouragement

from Khoja organizations, the growing indigenous Shia population

is now working to evolve structured communities on the pattern

successfully applied by the Khoja community over the past century.

As a result of political developments in Africa and the Indian

sub-continent, many Khoja families were obliged to migrate and

settle in different parts of the world. Wherever they settled, they

established structured organizations on the pattern of the institutions

of Jamaats operated in Africa, India and Pakistan. Soon they

felt the need for collective and coordinated endeavours linking

community members everywhere. To achieve this objective they

established a central organization known as the World Federation

of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities with headquarters

in London. In the process, they have acquired a ‘greater

than life’ image and are said to ‘have acquired influence out of

proportion to their number’.



Writing in The Most Learned of the Shi’a – The Institution of the

Marja’ Taqlid, Linda S. Walbridge observes: 9

“It is not just the Arabs, though, who are eager to follow Sistani,

and in the process, ensure that Iran does not get a stranglehold on

the institution of the marja’iya. For example, one group of Twelver

Shi’a, the Khoja (who broke off from the Ismaili Khojas in late

nineteenth century) acknowledges Sistani as the marja’. Their

leader, Al Hajj Mulla Asgharali M. M. Jaffer in London, announced

that Sistani is the most knowledgeable religious scholar in the

world and that his people should follow him. While Khoja might be

a small minority of Shi’a, they are extremely prosperous. They are

active in educating Shi’i youth wherever they reside and thereby

spread their belief in the superiority of Sistani. Being more likely

than Arabs to take the role of the marja’ to heart, their influence is

out of proportion to their numbers. The Khojas are widely respected

in the Shi’i world and are trusted for their completely

apolitical stance even by the Governments of Iran and Iraq. For

example they have been able as a group to visit the Shrines in Iraq

since the Gulf war without triggering the paranoia of Saddam’s

government. One very knowledgeable informant said that had the

Khojas elected to follow Ayatullah Rohani in Iran (who was a likely

candidate for them to follow) the Iranian Government would have

had to back down on their suppression of Rohani. The Khojas’ relatively

united stance, their prosperity, and their phenomenal

organizational ability have rendered them a powerful force in the

Shia Community, one that even Governments cannot ignore.”


The Endangered Species

Out of the world population of over 6 billion, Muslims number

around 1.5 billion. The Shia population estimates vary between 15

to 20% of the worldwide Muslim population. Thus the total Shia

population figure would vary between 225 to 300 million. Out of

this, the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri population world wide would not

exceed a total figure of 120,000 heads scattered in different parts

of the world – a drop in an ocean of the greater Shia and Muslim

population. Taking these figures into account the views expressed

above appear somewhat outlandish. They do however make fascinating


Ayatullah Sistani in London

That the Khojas are “widely respected in the Shi’i world and are

trusted for their completely apolitical stance” 10 was effectively

demonstrated during the visit of Ayatullah Sitani to London. In

April 2005, Ayatullah Sistani flew to London for medical treatment

related to his heart ailment. While Sistani was taken to hospital,

his staff had rented an apartment in the city center for Ayatullah

Sistani to recuperate in when discharged from hospital. The eldest

son of Ayatullah Sistani, accompanying his father, did not approve

of the location.

Out of two million Muslims in U.K., Shia population is estimated

to be fewer than 400,000. Among them the Irani and Iraqi Shia

constitute around 250,000. The rest are mostly Indo-Pakistanis,

Afghans, Lebanese and the Arabs from Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi

Arabia and the U.A.E.



When word got round that the staff of Ayatullah Sistani were

looking for alternative accommodation, many Shia residents of

London from different ethnic groups offered their dwellings. What

came as a surprise to many was that a modest dwelling located at

Stanmore, a north-western suburb of London, owned by a Khoja

Shia émigré from Uganda was approved. Upon his release from

hospital, Ayatullah Sistani stayed here for around two weeks.

From London, Ayatullah Sistani flew to Basrah from where he

went by overland route to Najaf and thus helped to calm the volatile

situation then prevailing in Iraq over the simmering clashes

between followers of Muqtada al Sadr and the American led occupying


Whether it was purely a matter of coincidence or the decision

to select the particular dwelling was arrived at as a result of careful

consideration, is a matter of conjecture. Informed opinion

however suggest that with the political situation then prevailing

in Iraq, it is understandable that Ayatullah Sistani could not risk

jeopardizing his image by being seen to be associating with any

individual or groups with links to varied political factions that bedevil

Iraq of today. Instead, he chose to accept the offer from an

“apolitical” Khoja, who happened to be a migrant from Uganda. 11

Indian perspective

Among Shia communities, Khoja organizations have been the subject

of admiration. A leading Shia scholar and social activist from India,

Dr. Kalbe Sadiq writing in his preface to the 1990 Report of the


The Endangered Species

Tauhidul Muslimeen Trust, Lucknow, has been tempted to write under

the sub- heading of: What that I had been a Khoja:

“Islam gives no importance to race or lineage. The main thing is

the deed of man. It is the edict of Maula Ali (A.S.) that a man of mean

deeds cannot be elevated by his high lineage and a man of noble

deeds cannot be disgraced on the ground of his low breeding.”

“I cannot utter a word in respect to the Will of Allah but in the

heart of hearts there is certainly a lingering desire that instead of

being in a Sadat family of the present times, I should have been born

in a Khoja household. Then all my dreams would very soon have

been transferred into reality.”

“There is no doubt that Khoja Community is the backbone of our

sect. The zeal, the farsightedness, the discipline and the quickness

with which they work has no analogy elsewhere. When this section

of our community enters any field of activity, it leaves all others behind.”

“It is this very section of our community which has been in the

forefront in providing funds for the Trust and the grant of scholarship

to students receiving education in foreign countries. It is my

wish that the manner in which this section is providing financial resources,

it would also make workers available to us to enable us to

get rid of slow working of the projects” 12

A question that occupies the minds of thinkers among Khoja

community members is that despite laudable progress to date, as a

result of the dispersal of community members during the past four



decades, what future lies ahead for the community? Can they survive

as an ethnic homogenous society in different parts of the world in

the same way that they have been operating up to now? Do they

have to make adjustments to cope with current realties in their

places of abode? Do they realize that there are external forces at

work who despise the highly structured set up of the Khoja community

and its transparent policy making and accountability system?

Some of the external influences cannot understand, let alone appreciate,

the democratic process under which the Khoja

organizations operate and view their success story with some trepidation

for it tends to send out wrong signals for their comfort. For

long such forces have been operating within their limited circles

with some sort of religious halo to provide them with a measure of

respectability for wider acceptance. Many among them tend to run

their institutions on a hereditary basis regardless of individual capabilities.

Besides, they often lack in any form of consultative

mechanism for review with parallel organizations operating in the

same sphere. In the success story of the Khoja working system, some

of them tend to fear for their funding sources being affected as a result.

At the same time they also fear that wider acceptance of the

outlook of a democratically functioning accountability system,

would encourage others to question their performance record and


There are also internal forces at work within the Khoja community

who, for lack of acceptance of their ideas to take the

community in certain directions, or as a result of their reactionary


The Endangered Species

stance on certain issues would unwittingly question the need for

retaining the Khoja identity that has served them so well up to

now. In the process, some even work to undermine their organizations.

There are some who set up parallel institutions working

independently of the collective endeavours. In so doing, they are

‘piously’ emulating the age-old Middle Eastern and Indo-Pakistani

individualistic outlook. Despite their genuine good intentions and

sincere desire to undertake noble tasks targeting immediate or

short term objectives, in duplicating efforts in the process, a

broader picture and the long term ramifications of such “lone

ranger” endeavours are often lost. For lack of unified collective

endeavours, priorities are thereby often misplaced as the community

ends up exposing itself to possible exploitation by

undeserving elements.

It is interesting to observe here that despite being located in

Najaf and with all that he has to deal with in Iraq and with the

world wide Shia community; Ayatullah Sistani appears to be well

informed about the activities of the Khoja community which he

holds in high esteem.

Writing in my booklet: The Sowing and Reaping of Destiny this

is what I reported under the sub heading of Danger Signals:

“During April, 2008, a group of 67 Zuwwar, ladies and gents,

visited Ayatullah Sistani in Najaf. I had the privilege to be in this

group. Following notes made of the meeting may interest readers

and provide food for some thought:



After courtesies, good wishes and dua, Ayatullah Sistani made

the following observations directed towards the Khoja Community

which were translated into English.

Complimented the Community for their organization and unity

which was looked upon with respect and was the envy of other

Shia communities.

Cautioned the community against forces that would rejoice to

find friction and division in the community and urged the

community members to be vigilant about such negative trends

and strive to maintain their unity.

While appreciating the fact the Khoja Community operated

under a democratic process, Ayatullah Sistani stressed that the

overall objective of the unity of the community and their desire

to uphold their religion and to promote religious

education must be upheld regardless of the democratic changes

in the leadership of the community.

Ayatullah Sistani stressed that he was disturbed by reports he

was receiving from different sources about the growing disputes

and disaffection emerging within the community. Some

one present asked if he was alluding to any particular development

to which Ayatullah stated that he was not going to

discuss the specifics but was pained to hear such news and

cautioned the community members to pay heed to his advice.

Ayatullah referred to situation in Iraq stating that the situation

had somewhat improved with room for further improvement

and urged Zuwwar to remember the people of Iraq in their

prayers.” 13


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That such comments should be forthcoming from no less a

personage than Ayatullah Seestani, is worthy of note for members

of the Khoja community to reflect upon.

Inset: enlargement of

the name at the top of

the gate.

Entrance to the “Masjid-e-Iranian” – as the name on top of the main gate reads – better

known as the Mogul Masjid, Bombay. This 150 year old Mosque was built in 1274 A.H. where

“young Aga Khan, accompanied by his mother and uncles, attend the Majalis of Muharram

that were held in the Mughal (Ithna-Asheri) Imambargahs of Bombay and Poona.” For long

the Mosque had traditional Mogul style sandstone plaster. The present-day coloured tiles on

the main entrance and the minarets are of recent vintage, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran

in 1979.

Courtyard of the Mogul

Masjid, Bombay. Mosque

building is in the background.

Unlike the

architecture of Mosques

in northern India, this

Mosque has a unique

architecture with sloping

mangrove tiled roof to

cater for the Bombay

climate and the heavy

annual rainfall.




Akber Mehraly, A History of Aga Khani Ismailis p.6. p. 88, A. M. Trust., Burnbay, B.C. Canada.

Also Translation is from the book of Farman’s in Gujarati. See A History of the Agha Khani

Ismailis - Section Four or internet


ibid. P.88

The Anger of the Aga Khan can be probably explained by the fact that, during the Aga

Khan’s visit to East Africa in 1899, “the Nizari of Zanzibar had come to experience their own

internal conflicts like the Khojas of Bombay a few decades earlier and seceded from the

Community during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The secessionist mainly

joined the Ithna-Asheri Khojas of Zanzibar, who were the least organized group among

Asian immigrants to East Africa. The Imams’ visit did not end the rift in the community and

defection continued a while longer.” (Farhad Daftary. P.524). A similar situation prevailed

in the Indian sub continent. Farhad Daftary records: “Nonetheless, sporadic dissention

occurred in the Khoja Community of the sub continent after 1901. Some of the dissenters

raising particular doctrinal and financial objections periodically seceded from the Nizari

Community. They mainly embraced the Twelver Shi’ism. Other dissents, a small minority,

stayed within the community, forming the Khoja Reformer’s Society, with headquarters in

Karachi.” (Daftary, P. 530. )


John Norman Hollister: The Shi’a of India. Luzac & Co., London 1953.Page 378.


From Centenary presentation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat - Mumba, to mark the centenary

of its establishment 1319 – 1419 A.H. (1998).


Prof. Noel Q. King and Syed Saeed Akhter Rizvi in a joint paper entitled: Some East African

Ithna-Asheri Jamaats. (1840/1967)


“The Ismailis have been almost continuously treated as heretics by the Sunnis and most

Shi’ite Muslims,” writes Daftary (P.3) and “In the Jama’at, the only Muhammad Shahi work

preserved in India, the author clearly camouflages his scattered Nizari ideas under Ithna-

Asheri and Sufi expressions. He often eulogizes the twelve imams of the Ithna-Asheri whilst

also alluding to the imams of the Muhammad-Shahi line;” Daftary, p.489.

To curb the tide of those who secede, during his second visit to East Africa in 1905, “the Aga

Khan issued a set of written rules and regulations that in effect comprised the first constitution

of the Nizari Community in East Africa” and established a Council in Zanzibar which

“not only took over the local administration of the Jama’at-kahana and defend its interest

against the dissenters, but also supervised the affairs of the congregations on the mainland.”(Daftary

P. 524/525)

For more detailed review of the developments during the period, the following publications

in Gujarati language are noteworthy.

Khoja Vrattant (in Gujarati), Sachedina Nanjiani, Assistant Revenue Commissioner,

Cutch, published in 1892 by Shamsher Bahadur Press, Ahmedabad. Second

edition published in 1918 by Edaljee Dhanji Kaaba of Amreli, Kathiawad.

Amersinhjee Printing Press, Ahmedabad.

Khoja Qaum no Itihas, Jafer Rahemtullah published in 1905.

Khoja Qaum ni Tawarikh, Edulji Dhanji Kaaba published in 1912.

Recent books written in Gujarati are:—

Khoja Biradari no Itihas, Pyar Ali Hirani published in Karachi in 1999.

English writings on the subject available are:

The Ismaili - their history and contributions, Farhad Daftary, Cambridge University

Press, 1990.


The Endangered Species

The Aga Khans, Mihir Bose. World Work Limited, Windmill Press Ltd,

Tradesworth, Surrey.1984.

A history of Aga Khani Ismailis, Akber Meherally who has also written another

book entitled Understanding Ismailism – A unique Tariqah of Islam A.M.Trust,

Burnaby, B.C., Canada. Akber Meherally also operates a website

http//www.mostmerciful.com> Also can be viewed through Internet

The Khojas, M. Aziz Haji Dossa (The Chosen Ones) First edition published in Karachi

on 25th March, 2000, and second in February.-2003.

Among other writings in English are:

Hatim M. Amiji, Some notes on religious dissent in Nineteenth Century East Africa

(African Historical studies, IV, 3 (1971).

The Origin of Khojahs and their religious life today, Syed Mujtaba Ali. A dissertation

for Doctorate submitted to Friederick-Wilhem University, Bonn, 1936.


Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: their history and doctrine, Oxford University Press. P.524.


During Colonial days, in Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar, a number of Khoja

Ithna-Asheri were active in public service. Some of them served as Councilors and even as

Mayors in local Municipal Councils. Others were nominated as members of the respective

Legislative Councils or as member of the Central Legislative Assembly for Eastern Africa.

After the East African countries acquired independence in the early 1960s, a number of

individuals have served as elected and nominated members of the Kenya and Tanzania

Parliaments. Others have served as Ambassadors of Tanzania in Europe. A number of individuals

in Kenya have served as heads of the local Parastatal bodies, as member of the ‘Anti-

Corruption Advisory Board’ in Kenya and as Judges of the Appeal Court and the Industrial


In Pakistan Mustafa Gokal served as Minsiter of the Federal government during the reign of

Zia ul haq and Hamid D. Habib served as minister of State under Zulfikar ali Bhutto.

It is worth undertaking a detailed review of the present and past individuals from the Khoja

Community who have rendered public services in various fields in Africa, the Indo-Pakistan

subcontinent, U.K., Canada, U.S.A. and elsewhere. M.A.Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan

would head he list in the political arena. Similarly there are several names to be

accounted for in the Judiciary, diplomatic service, in literary fields and in commerce and

industry, etc. This is no mean feat for a community of fewer than 120,000 the world over

with a history of not more than one hundred and fifty years.

See end notes in this respect in The Sowing and Reaping of Destiny. With ABCD Syndrome:

Whither Khoja? Hassan Ali M. Jaffer, Al Itrah Foundation, Daresslaam, 2008.


The Most Learned of the Shi’a – The Institution of the Marja’ Taqlid – Edited by Linda S.

Walbridge, Oxford University Press. 2001. P.237/8.




Ayatullah Sistani stayed at the dwelling offered by Shabbir Sherali Kassam who settled in

London in 1972 after Asians were expelled from Uganda by President Idi Amin Dada.


Dr.Kalbe Sadiq, a leading Shia scholar and social activist from Lucknow, India, writing in

his preface to the 1990 Report of the Tauhidul Muslimeen Trust, Lucknow.


The Sowing and Reaping of Destiny, With ABCD Syndrome - Whither Khoja? Hassan Ali M.

Jaffer, Al Itrah Foundation, Daresslaam. 2008, P. 38/39.


The Origin of the Khoja


here is a general belief that the word Khoja is derived

from the Persian word Khwaja. Stanley Wolpert, author

of Jinnah of Pakistan makes an interesting, if somewhat

generalized statement, when he states, “Disciples of the Ismaili

Agakhan, thousands of Khoja fled Persian persecution to Western

India, among other regions, between the tenth and sixteenth centuries.

The exact date of the flight of Jinnah’s ancestors is

unknown.” 1

Since Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a Khoja, are we therefore to

conclude that the Khoja now residing in India, Pakistan, and in Africa,

Europe and North America are descendants of the post

Alamut Hassan bin Sabah group of the early Ismailis who fled from

Iran to seek refuge in India? Or are they Khoja of indigenous Indian

decent, converts to Islam from their ancestral Hinduism?

Commenting on the origin and conversion of the Khoja, Mihir

Bose writes: “If this history is complicated enough, then the story

of Khojas is even more fantastic. They have little direct racial or


The Endangered Species

geographical connection with the Fatimid Ismailis or the Nizaris.

Almost four centuries after the split they were Hindus plying their

trade in the province of Sind. Although Sind had fallen to Islam in

the ninth century, many Hindus lived there and it was only in 1430

that they were converted to Islam and Ismailism by one of the

most influential Nizari missionaries, Sadr al Din.” 2

Ameer Ali in The Spirit of Islam – A History of the evolution and

ideals of Islam writes: “On the western coast of India there exists

however, a large community called Khojahs [sic] who are the direct

representatives of the original Eastern Ismailis. Hindus by

origin, they were converted to Ismailism, in the eleventh or twelfth

century of the Christian era, by one Pir Sadr ud-din, an Ismailian

Da’i. His teachings fitted in with their own religious conceptions,

for part of the old cult were incorporated with the Ismailia doctrines.”


In a paper entitled 'The Origin of Khojahs and their religious Life

today' presented to the University of Bonn in 1936, Syed Mujtaba

Ali records that “Sadr al Din was sent to India as head of the

Kashmir, Sind and the Punjab Ismailis” and that “Shams al Din

converted the Lohanas to the Ismaili faith, who, according to the

tribal legends preserved by the Khojahs are descended from Lava,

the elder son of Rama and founder of the tribes of the Rathods to

which the Lohana belong”. 4 “The title Khojah (Persian Khwajeh)

meaning Lord which they received on conversion to Islam from Pir

Sadr al Din, according to Lutfullah “seems to be translation of the

title Thakkar or Thakur by which Lohana are addressed.” 5 To


The Origins of the Khoja

Mihir Bose, “the word Khoja means ‘the honourable worshipful

converts’ and as we shall see there was often little the converts

worshipped together.” 6

The late Haideraly Djina Barday of Madagascar once told me

that the common belief about all Gujarati Khoja being converts

from a Lohana Community is erroneous. According to Mr. Barday,

there are also many Khojas who hail from the Gujarati agricultural

class. 7 This observation is corroborated by Farhad Daftary when

he describes the role of Imam Shah, founder of the Imam Shahi

sect, which seceded from the Nizari Ismaili sect. Imam Shah died

in 919/1513 and is buried near Ahmedabad. He was not considered

as a ‘pir’ but merely as a Syed. 8 “Imam Shah settled in Gujarat

where he spent the rest of his life and had much success in converting

the local Hindus from amongst the agricultural

communities to Nizari Ismailism.” 9 Referring to the migration of

Khojas in “large numbers” to Zanzibar between 1840/1870,

Daftary observes: “At the same time, severe draughts and famine

in Gujarat induced many Khoja farmers there to join the caravans

of the Khoja traders immigrating to East Africa.” 10 There are also

evidences to suggest that several Khoja farmers from Cutch settled

in East Africa initially as farmers before they eventually ventured

into business. 11

Hatim M. Amijee writing in his research document entitled:

Some Notes on religious dissent in Nineteenth century East Africa

comments: “There is considerable difference of opinion among the


The Endangered Species

Khojas as to which Hindu castes their ancestors came from. Most

of the community elders claim a Lohana pedigree (the Indian trading

caste, fairly high in Indian caste structure). Badru Daya, an

Ismaili anthropologist, offers a different theory on the basis of

numerous references to agricultural implements and terms in

Ismaili religious literature and the lack of Lohana influences. Daya

contends “the majority of Khoja converts were low caste Hindus

who converted to improve their social and economic status. Conversion

was carried out through persuasive peaceful means.” 12

Another point of view presented on the origin of the word

Khoja is that the word Khoja in reality is derived from the Gujarati

and Hindi word “Khoj” meaning search. In a preface to the English

translation of the memoirs of Mulla Qadir Husain Sahib, the publishers,

Peermohamed Ebrahim Trust of Karachi comment: “The

book of his autobiography is rightly named Hidayat Prakash – light

of guidance – for all the seekers of truth, especially for Khojas as

the word is a derivative of “Khoj” meaning search.” 13

“It is important to note that the basic characteristic of the Khoja

Community whose members retained their cast ideas inherited

from the Hindu ancestors for a long time due to the necessity of

posing as Hindus. However this cast identity has no relationship

with Islam. A Khoja is a Khoja by virtue of birth. It is a term used to

describe a caste and as such even if a Khoja changes his religion,

he still remains a Khoja.” 14

“From the beginning of their conversion to Shi’ism, the Khojas

were persecuted by the non Shia Muslim rulers of Gujarat. As a


The Origins of the Khoja

result many Khojas were advised to live under ‘taqiyya’. In the

course of time, there appeared three varieties of Khojas organized

under three different Jamaats:

1. The Sunni Khoja, who are very few

2. The Ithna-‘Asheri Khojas

3. The majority - are the Nizari Ismaili followers of the Aga

Khan.” 15

Two more groups from Gujarat (India) to be converted to Islam

at around the same period as the early Khoja were however not

classified as Khoja.

There are groups that are not different from the Khoja “either

culturally or in terms of religious doctrines, but nonetheless are

not Khoja, i.e. Momnas, Kunbis or Shamsis. These subgroups are

converts from non Lohana casts.” 16

Among theses groups also, there are adherents of the Ismaili,

Sunni and Ithna-Asheri beliefs.

Momna converts to the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith organized themselves

as Shia Ithna-Asheri Momin Jamaat in Gujarat (India) and in

Karachi (Pakistan). Individuals from the Momin Jamaat who settled

in Africa and later moved on to the West are fully assimilated

within the Khoja community.

Another group from the same areas of Gujarat to be converted

to Islam was that of the Mustali Ismaili. They are now better

known as Dawoodi Bohra. Unlike the Nizari Ismaili in India, the


The Endangered Species

Mustali Ismaili converts were not classified as Khoja.


Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah of Pakistan Oxford University Press.1983.p.4.


Daftary, P. 69.


Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam, P. 342


Syed Mujtaba Ali, The Origin of Khojas and their religious Life today. Inaugural dissertation

for Doctorate presented to the Friedrick-Wilhem University, Bonn, in 1936. P.41.


Bose.P; Daftary, p.479


Mihir Bose, “The Aga Khans, Published by Worlds Work Ltd., Kingswood, 1984; P.70


Haiderali Djina Barday, a reliable oral witness. An elderly well informed member of the

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community was born in Porbunder, India, in 1906. He acquired his

early education in India before settling in Madagascar. A well-read and widely traveled

individual, Mr.Barday was a successful businessman, fluent in English, French and Gujarati

languages, plus the local Malagasy. He passed away in Antananarivo in the year 2000 at the

age of 94. Remembered as a renowned businessman and as an active member of Antananarivo

Chamber of Commerce, Mr.Barday was also recipient of "Medal of Madagascar Merit"

(M.M.M.). A strong personality, Mr.Barday served in the Jamaat committee around 1955/58.

See also Mihir Bose. P.70


Farhad Daftary. P. 480/481.


Ibid. P.480.


Daftary, P. 524


Hatim M. Amiji, Some notes on religious dissent in nineteenth century East Africa. p.604


Ibid. p.604


‘Preface’ to the English edition of the autobiography of Mulla Qader Husein., Peer Mohamed

Ebrahim Trust, Karachi, 27th July, 1972. P.10.


Mohammed Haider in: History of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community. From Centenary

presentation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat, Mumbai, published to mark the centenary of

its establishment 1319 – 1419 A.H. (1998). Also, Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, P. 256.


Dr. Abdulaziz A. Sachedina, University of Virginia from his paper, Haji Naji, the great Religious

Educator of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community, 1988. P.5


Hassan Ali M. Jaffer, The Sowing and Reaping of Destiny. With ABCD Syndrome: Whither

Khoja? Al Itrah Foundation, Daressalaam, 2008, p.12. Also see: Ali S.Asani, Harvard University

on The Khojki Script: A legacy of Ismaili in the Indo Pak sub continent, while quoting

from “Khoja”, Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, p.256


Khoja Divisions


he small group of Khoja “dissidents” who were the cause

of the Aga Khan’s ire in 1899 were “ousted” from the

Khoja Jamat-Khana and eventually “excommunicated”

from the Khoja Community in 1877. 1 As a result, in Bombay, Cutch,

Kathiawar, and Karachi and in Zanzibar, this emerging group set

out to form a separate Community of their own, to be known as

the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Community.

Despite this split, because of the close family ties, for long, in

India and in Africa, the two Khoja Communities were known in

‘Cutchi’ language terminology, as “vadi”- or in Urdu, as “barhi” -

large Jamaat for the Ismaili Khoja. The Ithna-Asheri Khoja Community,

being much smaller in number, was termed as “nindi” or

“choti”– small Jamaat. A third group of Khoja who differed with the

Aga Khan and were expelled earlier, branched out to form the

Khoja Sunni Jamaat in 1862. They were commonly known as the

“Bar Bhaiyya”. 2


The Endangered Species

Excommunication from the Khoja Community was often used

as a tool by the followers of the Aga Khan to silence dissenting

voices. For refusing to pay the ‘Dasond’ and other taxes, the first

group to be expelled from the Khoja Jamaat was the Habib

Ebrahim group in 1829. They were known as the “Bar Bhaiyya” or

twelve brothers. The ‘Bar Bhaiyya’ group was later readmitted to

the Khoja Jamaat on condition of repaying their arrears. In 1848, a

second excommunication of this group took place. Following a

court ruling in 1850, they were once again readmitted to the fold.

In 1862 they were finally excommunicated en masse. Thus in the

middle of September, 1862, “the Sunni Khoja ceased to be members

of the Aga Khan’s Khoja Community” and separated from the

main Khoja Community to form the Khoja Sunni Jamaat of their

own. 3 Even now, apart from being identified as Sunni Khoja, they

continue to be known also as “Bar Bhaiyya.” 4

The fourth major excommunication from the Khoja Community

was in 1877 when “two members of the Khoja Jamaat at Bombay

who were excommunicated in 1877 removed themselves to Zanzibar.

For Haji Dewji Jamal it was a return, for Alarakhiya Walli it

was a new beginning. With help from Bombay, in 1880 they erected

(in Zanzibar) Quwwatul Islam mosque and then its

Imambargah.” 5

A major factor in this development was the impact of the role

played by Mulla Qadir Husein. A young man, in his early twenties,

arrived from Madras to open a Madrassa in Mumbai in 1862. Mulla

Qadir Husain ran a Madrassa in a Khoja locality of Dongri/Palagalli


Khoja Divisions

area teaching recitation of the Holy Qur’an. He also imparted training

for performing of Salaat, the daily ritualistic Islamic prayers.

To the adults attending his classes, he taught them basic laws of

Sharia applicable to a practicing Muslim. In the process he propagated

the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith among the Khojas of Bombay.

Prof. King and Syed Rizvi write: “Several Khoja Ismailis of Zanzibar

were also attracted by his teachings. One was Dewji Jamal, a

leading Zanzibar-based East African trader. Dewji Jamal was outspokenly

against the Agha Khan’s ‘farmans’ and financial practices.

For his criticism he was ‘outcast’ from the Ismaili community

while on a visit to Bombay in 1877. He returned to Zanzibar as a

convert to the Ithna- Asheri faith, and there he built the first Khoja

Ithna- Asheri Mosque in East Africa, the Quwwatul Islam - Islam

Strength.” 6

Because of tension in Bombay between the two Khoja communities

and the risk of litigations, the Khoja Ithna-Asheri

Community in Bombay was formally registered only in 1901. The

current Khoja Ithna-Asheri Mosque, close to the Ismaili Jamaat

Khana was eventually built in the face of stiff opposition from the

followers of the Agha Khan. The nature of opposition to the building

of an Ithna-Asheri Mosque in Bombay and the related

developments are reviewed in a subsequent section entitled The

Great Divide.

Cynthia Salvedori 7 reviews tension prevalent then among

members of the Khoja Community: “In Bombay the tension between

the Ismaili communities began to rise. In 1866 there had


The Endangered Species

been a vitriolic court case. It had been brought against the Agha

Khan by a group of his disillusioned flock and it concerned the

community finances. The decision handed down by the British

Judge was that the offerings given to the Agha Khan belonged to

him in his own right as hereditary Imam - and not to the community.

Not everyone was happy with that decision and resentment

smoldered. The Agha Khan III then announced in a ‘farman’ in

1899, that all those Ismailis who did not wish to follow his edicts

should no longer consider themselves Ismailis but should leave

the community. He made it clear that he would in no way compromise

his position. The 1866 decision was reiterated in a

similar, and equally notorious, court case in 1905. The remaining

dissidents saw that there was no hope of a change from within the

Community. They left; the Agha Khan declared them ‘outcasted’

and the split in the Ismaili community was official and final.”

“Most of the Ismailis who were already in Kenya opted to follow

the Agha Khan and there were very few conversions of

Ismailis in Kenya. However, Dewji Jamal had by then gathered a

following, and he provided an entree into East Africa for a flood

(albeit a small one) of new Ithna Asheri converts from the outcaste

Ismailis of Cutch and Kathiawar.” 8

In the Indian subcontinent and in Africa, this emerging Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheri Community, described by Farhad Daftary as “the

least organized group among Asian immigrants to East Africa” 9

had to endure three pronged hurdles in their struggle for survival.

Prof King and Syed Rizvi describe their condition: “After his visit


Khoja Divisions

to Europe, H.H. Sultan Mohammad Shah, Agha Khan III, visited

East Africa in 1899 and decided to clear up certain affairs of his

family and community. While he was in East Africa on another visit

(1905), a case concerning family property was brought against

him. At various East African centres he gathered together more

closely those people who wished to follow him and told those who

could not conform to leave. In after years he was able to say that

he had no resentment against honest seceders. 10 The Ismaili

groups organized themselves under the direction of the Agha

Khans in a process of evolution, which took years to complete.”

“The Ithna-Asheri Khoja were few, bewildered, and without

much outside help or direction. They had been “outcasted” to use

their own quaint English phrase; they met at each other’s houses

and carried out such rites and observances as they considered

Ithna-Asheri. They followed the methods they knew of ritual

cleansing, fasting, prayer, almsgiving and tithing. In the naming of

Imams they mentioned twelve; they referred to the eighth as Ali

Raza and the twelfth as Mehdi Sahebuzzaman, and they spoke of

the fourteen masumin (infallible ones). In Muharram they commemorated

the tragedy of Karbala in detail, holding majlis

(session for prayer and study) day by day. They carried out procession

with ‘tazia’ (a wooden structure commemorating the

martyrs), lit the Muharram fire, and joined in marthiya, the lamentation

with its beating of breasts and calling on the name of

Hussein.” 11


The Endangered Species

According to Syed Mujtaba Ali: “To a certain extent the Khojahs

(i.e. Ismaili followers of the Agha Khan) practice Takiyya even today

in as much as they are extremely reticent in communicating

their religious beliefs and practices to non-sectarians, whom, by

the way, they consider to be kafirs or infidels. The worst of the infidels,

according to the Khojahs are those who have left their fold

and joined the Ithna-Asheri sect.” 12

Social boycott by followers of the larger Khoja Ismaili community

leading to consequent economic ramifications posed a serious

challenge for the group of dissenters. 13 Added to this, in India in

particular, for the pro-active “dissidents” who ceased to recognize

the leadership of the Aga Khan, there was always a lingering concern

to their personal safety from the wrath of the “Fedayeen” - a

fanatical group from among followers of the Aga Khan. In 1850

and 1866 two Sunni Khojas were assassinated by the Ismaili “Fedayeen.”

In 1876 an Ithna-Asheri Khoja was attacked in Karachi and seriously

wounded but he survived. Two years later, the same

person was shot dead in broad daylight in Karachi. In Bombay in

1878, an Ismaili Khoja was killed by an irate Ithna-Asheri Khoja

who was later convicted and hanged. In 1901 the “Fedayeen” attacked

four Ithna-Asheri Khojas. Two of them were killed, while

two survived with injuries. All these tragic developments reviewed

in a subsequent chapter cast a dark shadow in the

evolution of the three Khoja communities. 14


Khoja Divisions

Similar tension also prevailed in Africa. While there were no

cases of murders, the potential danger to their personal safety as a

result of the simmering dispute was always there. Sir John Kirk,

(1832/1922) British Consul General for East Africa based in Zanzibar

in a hand written note to the H.M. Vice Consul in Lamu wrote

on February, 26, 1885: “I have been asked to mention to you that

Nazerali Deoji [sic] with his family have gone to settle in Lamu, and

to say that he is the Agent of Deoji [sic] Jamal of this place, a British

Indian. Also I would say that the family of Deoji [sic] Jamal including

his Agent, now in Lamu has formally left the Khoja sect and

joined that of K. Shias. They are still however British subjects. For

leaving the Khojas the family has some times been annoyed by

their former co-religionists.” 15

In Zanzibar, the Shia Ithna-Asheri Khojas were also known as

"Subhaniyya" (meaning followers of Allah). Sir Arthur H. Hardinge

(1859 /1933) British Consul General for East Africa between

1894/1900 has written about the Indian population in Zanzibar

whom he described as: “a large and wealthy Indian element, composed

mainly of Boras and Khojas from Bombay, Cutch and

Malabar coast who regard the Agakhan, an Indian prince of Persian

origin and a Sayyid claiming decent from Caliph Ali, as their

hereditary religious chief. Not long after my arrival in East Africa,

a schism broke out among these sectaries, one party continuing to

regard the Aga khan as its Pope, while the other, whose members

called themselves Subhania (exalted or supporters of God’s glory),

declared themselves Shia Etnasharis’ or adherents of the twelve


The Endangered Species

Imams, of the last, ‘the lost or absent Imam’ is said by Shias, to

have dwelt alive for many centuries, like Fredrick Brabarsossa, in

a mysterious cave or well at Jabalgird, a mysterious unknown city

in Irak Arabi. Like the Sunni ‘Mahdi (from Hoda’, the road to Heaven),

who gave us so much trouble in the Sudan, he was to appear

to indicate the path of righteousness to be treaded by devout

seekers of Paradise. Whether the twelfth Imam possessed, in the

eyes of the Subhania the attribute of ubiquity ascribed to him by

the more orthodox Shia, I do not now remember; but their theology

seemed to bear greater resemblance to that with which I

afterwards became intimate at Tehran than to that of the votaries

of the Agha Khan.”

Sir Arthur Hardinge goes on describe an unsavory development

arising out of the conflict between the two Khoja groups. “Towards

the end of my stay in East Africa,” writes Sir Arthur Hardinge: “ the

conflict between the old Khojas and the Subhanias, who were really

orthodox Shias, rejecting the Khoja mythology, and differing

from its adherents on other points of detail, became so acute, both

in Zanzibar and the German coast that I had to expel one of the

‘Subhania' preachers, who was exciting his coreligionists against

their theological opponents, and had openly disobeyed my orders

that he should cease from public preaching on this question. Of the

two schools of doctrine, the Subhania seemed more reasonable

than that of the Khojas; but whatever its merits, I could not permit

sermons on it to produce disorder and sectarian riots, and I had no

alternative, as the preacher would not obey me, but to shift him,


Khoja Divisions

which I did, under powers given me by an Order in Council, back

to India, until he was willing to confine his religious teachings to

less controversial topics.” 16

It is to be recalled that such preaching did not only contribute

to hardening of stance between the two Khoja communities but

the polemic debates played into the hands of others as it unnecessarily

alienated the non Shia Muslim communities also, which was

not in the best interest of the Community.

These debates further caused discord and division within the

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community that led to divisions. In India

also, interpretations over points of theology as advocated by a

group known as the “Sheikhi” group in around 1880s, led to much

confusion and discord. Mulla Qadir Husein complains bitterly of

this development in his autobiography.

Thus within twenty years of the formation of the first Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat in Zanzibar, dispute over the question of

‘Musawat’ accentuated by the polemic debates initiated by certain

Indian Ulema over the status of Imam Ali led to splitting of the

Jamat in Zanzibar in 1892. The concept of ‘Musawaat’ advocated to

a certain extent equality of status of Holy Prophet Muhammad and

Imam Ali ibne Abi Talib. A ripple effect of the split caused in Zanzibar

Jamaat had its impact in Mombasa also. In 1904 similar

division emerged in Mombasa as well.

This debate over the issue of ‘Musawaat’ continued for the next

two decades until in 1922 when Mohamed Jaffer Sheriff Dewji

from Zanzibar and Haji Gulamali Haji Ismail from Bhawnagar trav-


The Endangered Species

eled together to Lucknow (India) to seek guidance and rulings

from leading Shia Ulema in India over the issue which was splitting

the Khoja community. With the guidance and rulings issued

by the Shia Ulema in Iraq and Iran that were endorsed by leading

Shia Ulema in India, debate over the issue of ‘Musawat’ ended. As a

result further divisions within the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community

were thus averted. Ever since there have not been further

divisions anywhere with the setting up of additional Mosques and

Jamaats. For detailed comments on the raging debate then, see

footnotes. 17

Writing under the heading A Short History of Zanzibar Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheries, Abdulrazak Sheriff Fazel of Daressalaam refers

to this development. “Also around 1890, a leading Aalim from Hyderabad,

Aqa Syed Gulamhusein paid a visit to Zanzibar. His

sermons, eloquence, and charisma drifted away a section of the

community who formed their own Jamaat (Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Hujjatul Islam Jamaat). They went on to build their own

mosque, a huge Imambara and even availed a Kabrastan plot

across Mwembeladu”. 18

Of late, a number of Ulema living in the West are known to have

expressed fear about a new trend emerging from Pakistan and India

where some preachers are known to be trying to resurrect the

once banned debate on Musawat. Some of them are known to have

traveled to the West promoting their ideas of even advocating innovation

of including ‘Ash-hadu anna Aliyyan Waliullah’ in

tashahud in the daily Salaat. Learned scholars have been at pains


Khoja Divisions

to caution the community against entertaining such individuals. If

unchecked, it is feared that they may once again end up undermining

the faith and sow the seeds of discord and disunity within not

only the Khoja, but also the general Shia Community.

An additional development in this context is the emergence of

sufi leaning trends in Iran which are at times acquiring the status

of some sort of cult to which some Khoja youths are also being attracted.

“An added challenge is the advent of cult like figures, in

religious grab,” writes Dr. Hasnain Walji, “who mesmerize our

young eagerly looking for guidance. Such individuals, in their effort

to win popularity contest, have mastered the art of presenting

‘Easy Islam’ pontificating from our own pulpits, what our youths

like to hear rather than what they should be hearing.” 19

Ratanbai Hall of Khoja

Sunnat Jamat Trust

Office and

Jamatkhana, Bombay.

Nearby is the Sunni

Khoja Mosque. At a

short distance, close

to the Mogul Masjid is

the Sunni Khoja

Qabrastan. Khoja

Ismaili Jamatkhana

and Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Mosque and

the Mulla Qader

Husein Madrasah are

all in the vicinity.


The Endangered Species

Madrasa of Mulla Qadir Husein in Bombay. Initially this place was rented by Mulla Qadir

Husein. In 1309 A.H., 1892 A.D., Khoja Ebrahim Hashambhai acquired this place and

bequeathed it as a Waqf to be known as Mulla Qadir Husein Madrassa, to be used as

Madrassa and for Majalis. Despite being an historic monument of great importance for

members of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community, sadly, like many classic and historical

buildings in India, this one too lies in a state of disrepair and neglect. There have

been some maintenance work and improvement of the interior with contribution by

members of the community living outside India.

The outside façade is left in its deplorable state. The purpose for which the madrassa

was initially established is not perpetuated. Instead of being a place of learning it has

been turned into a traditional ritualistic place. In place of the class rooms a ‘Mehfil’ and

‘Taziakhana” has been created.

A plaque above the entrance


Madrassa-e-Mulla Qadar

Husein Saheb, 169 Hazrat

Abbas A.S. Street.


Khoja Divisions

Gujarati script reads: Marhum Sheth Ebrahimbhai taraf thee, usuli Shia.

Inside view of the main hall of the Mulla Qaderhusein Madressa which was once

used as a Madressa, Imambargah and Baitussalaat has now been turned into a

traditional mehfil.

A room in the building has been set aside as a room for Zareeh, known locally

as ‘minber’ or ‘Taziakhana’.


The Endangered Species


Prof. Noel Q. King and Syed Saeed Akhter Rizvi in a joint paper entitled: Some East African

Ithna-Asheri Jamaats (1840/1967)


The Sunni Khoja – An Account of The Khoja Sunnat Jamaat, Bombay, 1969. p.1/5 and







Prof. Noel Q. King and Syed Saeed Akhter Rizvi in a joint paper entitled: Some East African

Ithna-Asheri Jamaats (1840/1967)

For related details see also Through the Open Door by Cynthia Salvedori. Autobiography of

Mulla Qadir Husain and the publication: Centenary publication of the K.S.I.Jamat, Mumbai,

2001’. Related details also treated in subsequent chapters.




Cynthia Salvedori – Through the Open Door - A View of Asian Cultures in Kenya. (Kenway

publications – revised edition 1989) – pp.247/8.




Farhad Daftary, p. 524


The late Mulla Asgherali M. M. Jaffer has narrated to me the first -hand account relayed to

him by late Sharif Alimohamed Khalfan (1910 /1962) of Mombasa. Sharif Khalfan was

working as a law clerk for a local British legal firm of Bryson & Todd, Advocates. Early in

the1950s he was asked to deliver a document to the Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah

who was then visiting Mombasa. Sharif Khalfan took the document to the residence of Varas

Fatehali Dhala and was ushered into the presence of Aga Khan. He was requested to wait

while the Aga Khan studied the document. After a while, the Aga Khan looked up at Sharif

Khalfan and asked him if he was a Khoja Ismaili. “No”, replied Sharif Khalfan, “I am an Ithna-

Asheri.” “So you are a follower of Dewji Jamal?” queried the Aga Khan. “No,” replied Sharif

Khalfan. “I am a follower of Imam Sahebul Asri Wazzamaan.” With a smile, Aga Khan nodded:

“Yes. I know. I know!” The response by Sharif Khalfan was a barbed comment

reflecting the extent of antipathy prevalent between the two communities then. Agha Khan

professed to be the ‘Imame Zamana’ for the Nizari Ismaili. In referring to Imam ‘Sahebul Asri

Wazzaman’ Sharif Khalfan was alluding to the 12 th Shi’ite Imam who was in occultation.

It is also known that Gulamhusein Khalfan, uncle of Sharif Khalfan was a “Mukhi” in the

Ismaili Jamatkhana in Zanzibar. In 1899, when Aga Khan III landed in Zanzibar,

Gulamhusein Khalfan was at the Zanzibar docks along with other Ismaili dignitaries to receive

the Agha Khan. Agha Khan I and II were known to sport long beards and donned

Astrakhan head gear. The sight of the young clean shaven Aga Khan III dressed in western

attire was too much for Gulamhusein Khalfan to reconcile with as it raised many questions

in his mind.

He was visibly upset. Without waiting to receive the Aga Khan, Gulamhusein Khalfan went

home. “Mukhi” had an important position in the Ismaili hierarchy. He wielded much influence

in the community. Disappearance of a Mukhi from the official ceremonial welcome

was noticed. Soon after, Gulamhusein Khalfan renounced his Ismaili faith and joined the

Zanzibar Ithna-Asheri Community and so did his brothers and entire family.

At around the same period, what additionally prompted a few more families to leave the

Jamat Khana was when Agha Khan III forbade the traditional mourning over the martyrdom

of Imam Husain a.s. in the Jamat Khana. In the beginning, some of them would continue to


Khoja Divisions

go to Jamat Khana but at the same time would privately participate in majalis during Muharram

at a secret place called ‘Mehfil e Private’ in Mchangani area of Ghambo across the


(Latter account narrated by elders of the community and Ahmed and Mohamed Abdulla

Khalfan, eldest surviving member of the Khalfan family.)


Prof. N.Q. King and S.S.A. Rizvi; in Some East African Ithna-Asheri Jamats (1840/-1867) -

On the effect of social boycott with its consequent economic ramifications for being excommunicated

from the Khoja Jamaat, Mulla Qadar Husein recalls in his autobiography:

“During the time an unexpected thing happened and it was that Dewjibhai formally went to

the Jamaat Khana and paid homage. He was compelled by the fear of being ousted from the

community as well as by coaxing of his family. At the end of Shawwal, he visited me and

said: “I may go to Hajj if you permit me to do.”

I reminded: “You had promised to take me with you.”

Dewjibhai pleaded: “I can’t take you with me because there is danger of being ousted from

the community. It may be socially devastating for the family if it happens in my absence and

my business in Zanzibar would be ruined.” (P.23)

Hatim M. Amiji records in a research document entitled: Some Notes on Religious dissent in

nineteenth Century East Africa that in 1899, Agha Khan personally visited East Africa and

when he failed to heal the rift between the Ithna-Asheri and Ismaili Khoja, among various

directives issued, Aga Khan directed that “the disciples of Agha Khan were to break off all

social and economic ties with the “seceders” or the Khoja Ithna-Asheri, as the official Ismaili

literature described them” (P.612)


Syed Mujtaba Ali, The Origin of Khojas and their religious life today. Inaugural dissertation

for Doctorate presented to the Friedrick-Wilhem University, Bonn, in 1936. P 60.


Prof. N.Q. King and S.S.A. Rizvi, in Some East African Ithna-Asheri Jamats (1840/-1867)


See Daftary p. 514/518. Also reviewed in the subsequent Chapters; See also The Sunni

Khoja” – An Account of the Khoja Sunnat Jamaat, Bombay, 1969, Chapter 1, P.1/5.

15 Sir John Kirk (1832/1922) British Consul General for East Africa, in a handwritten note

from Zanzibar Archives reproduced by Cynthia Salvedori in her book: They Came by Dhows.


Sir Arthur H.Hardinge - Brtiish Consul in Zanzibar 1894 /1890. From “A Diplomatist in the

East;” publishd by Jonathn Cape Limited, London, 1928, pp.99/100


The issue of Musawat pitted around a belief advocated by certain elements among Shia

that the status of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and that of Imam Ali (A.S.) were said

to be identical. This appears to be the legacy advocated by the Nizari Ismaili beliefs and

shades of beliefs held by the “Nusseiri”.

Eleven Ulema from Lucknow endorsed the ruling given by Ulema from Iraq and Iran and

individually ruled that such discussion were contrary to Shia Ithna-Asheri beliefs. They

further ruled that such discussions by members of the public as ‘haram’ – forbidden.

(Comment in Gujarati by the editor of Chaudmi Sadi writing under the heading: Al Musawat

maate amaro abhipray - Our opinion on Al Musawat, P. 54.

Besides, following Comments by Jafferali Gulamhusein Mistry, Aseer, Editor and publisher

of Chaudmi Sadi – appear in Vol.1, Issue No.7, Jamadiul Awwal, 1340 A.H. P.49 - writing

under the heading: Musawat ni Charcha – Discussion about Musawat.


The Endangered Species

(Below is English translation of the original Gujarati writing).

‘For long the issue of Musawat is being debated in which there is nothing but harm for the

community. There is nothing to be gained as a result of this debate. In order to bring an end

to such unhealthy discussion which only contributes towards undermining our ‘eeman’ –

faith, Haji Mohamed Jaffer Sherff Dewji of Zanzibar went from Khorasan to Kerbala where

he obtained guidance over the issue from nine leading Mujteheds and then came to Bombay.

From Bombay, he invited Haji Saheb (Haji Gulamali Haji Ismail) from Bhawnagar and

showed him these Fatwas. Then both gentlemen left for Lucknow to seek further guidance

from leading Ulema in Lucknow. The Ulema in Lucknow also endorsed the views expressed

by the Ulema in Iraq and issued their individual Fatwas accordingly.’

‘These Fatwas are in Farsi language and it is the intention of Haji Mohamed Jaffer to publish

them in the form of a booklet and distribute them widely. This task will be undertaken

shortly and it is hoped that publication and distribution of these Fatwa will bring an end to

this harmful debate for ever.’

(I am grateful to Ukera Peera of Los Angeles, who has a fine collection of well kept old copies

of Gujarati publications dating back to 1902 for making available for me old copies of

the relevant editions of Chaudmi Sadi).


Federation Samachar, Vol.31, No.3, April 1999, Page xii.


“Responding to the Dichotomy of religious and secular Existence through strategic Plan”

by Dr.Hasnain Walji in “Changning the perception of Islam in the West” in the official publication

of Universal Muslim Association of America, to mark 8 th UMMA convention, 2010.


Common Perceptions and

Evolution of Sunni Khoja


t is widely believed that the Khoja Community is divided between

‘two vying groups’– the Nizari Ismaili Khoja and the

Shia Ithna-Asheri Khoja. The Nizari Ismaili Khoja believes in

the successive Agha Khans as their Imams while the Ithna-Asheri

Khoja believe in their twelve Imams. Not much is heard about the

existence of a third Khoja group. A relatively smaller group, they

are the Sunni Khoja.

The current Agha Khan is the 49th Nizari Ismaili Imam. According

to Shia belief, the twelfth living Imam of the Shia Ithna-Asheri

is in occultation and in the fullness of time will reappear as "Mahdi"

to bring justice and salvation on earth.

Cracks in the unity of the Khoja community started to appear

from 1829. A see-saw of disputes ending up with litigations led to

expulsions from the society. These were followed by social and

economic boycott. Mounting tension within the community led in

some cases to threats against individuals. Where emotions ran

high, several cases of assassinations were also recorded. As a result,

much bitterness was generated within the Khoja community.


The Endangered Species

During the second half of the nineteenth century two groups of

Khoja decided to separate from the mainstream society to form

their own distinct communities.

The first formal division took place in 1862 when those professing

to be Sunni branched out to form the Sunni Khoja Jamaat in

Bombay. Apart from being known as Sunni Khoja, they were also

known as the "Bar Bhaiyya" or ‘twelve brothers’.

A decade later, the remaining Khoja community was engulfed in

yet another round of controversy. Another group separated to

form their own distinct Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat in Mumbai,

Cutch, Kathiawar, Karachi and Zanzibar. The decisive moment

came in 1877 when a number of individuals professing to practice

the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith were excommunicated from the Khoja

community and ejected from the Bombay Jamaat-khana. With that

the Khoja community was divided into three distinct groups:

Nizari Ismaili Khoja, followers of the Agha Khan

‘Bar Bhiayya’ or Sunni Khoja

Shia Ithna-Aheri Khoja.

To review what brought about the division of the once united

Khoja Community with avowed common faith to split into three

different Islamic sects, we have to begin with a review of how the

first group separated from the Khoja Sunni Jamaat. An interesting

aspect of this development is that despite the split on doctrinal

grounds, all three groups worked to retain their distinct ethnic

identity to be known as Khoja. Subsequent evolution of the respec-


Evolution of Sunni Khoja

tive societies evolved around this ethnic identity and the structured

organizations that they were able to put in place as a result.

The official account produced by the Khoja Sunni Jamaat, Mumbai,

provides a detailed historical narrative of how the first group


Evolution of Sunni Khoja

Several accounts have appeared over the emergence of the Khoja

Sunni Jamaat with variable shades of opinion by writers. Reproduced

here in full is the official Sunni Khoja version as published

in ‘Chapter 1’ of the publication entitled: An account of The Khoja

Sunnat Jamat, Bombay (For members of the Khoja Sunnat Jamaat

Only) - 1969. 1

“It is now generally accepted that the Khojas were converted to

Islam by Pir Sadruddin some 600 years ago. There is, however, a

controversy as to who Pir Sadruddin was. The Agha Khan’s claim

that he was a Shia Imami Ismaili Dai or missionary sent by Shah

Islam, one of the direct lineal ancestors of the Agha Khan from

Khorasan in Persia, whose tomb is in Ootch Sharif in the old native

State of Bahawalpur; whilst the Sunni Khojas maintain that Pir

Sadruddin was a Sunni whose place of residence was at Multan. It

is remarkable that in the Agha Khans case of 1866, to which we

shall presently refer in some detail, there was oral evidence of only

two witnesses, one on either side, in support of their respective

stance on this important point. Both the witnesses were Sayyads

from Surat and claimed to be lineal descendants of Pir Sadruddin


The Endangered Species

and gave exactly the opposite account of the religious opinions of

the converter of the Khojas.”

“The plaintiffs contended that Pir Sadruddin was a Sunni and

that the Khojas at their inception were converted to the Sunni

faith. Justice Arnold, however, held that Pir Sadruddin was a Shia

Imami Ismaili Dai or missionary who converted the Khojas to the

Shia Ismaili Imami sect. It was the Agha Khan’s case that Pir

Sadruddin was author of the Dus-Avtar. The court held that the

Dus-Avtar, if not composed by Pir Sadruddin, which was the more

probable supposition, was, at all events, introduced by him as the

leading religious tract or text-book for the use of the first converts

amongst the Khojas. What was the Dus-Avtar? It is a treatise in 10

chapters containing (as indeed, its name imports) the account of

ten ‘avatars’ or incarnations, each dealt with in a separate chapter.

The first nine of these chapters treat of the nine incarnations of

the Hindu God Vishnu; the tenth chapter treats of the incarnation

of the ‘Most High Ali’. The judgment in the Agha Khan’s case, given

on November 12 th , 1866 held that the Khojas, having been in their

origin converted to the Shia Imami Ismaili sect of Islam, were Shia

Imami Ismaili and not Sunnis. This judgment had the lasting effect

of deciding once for all that those who hold that the Khojas were

Sunnis could not be members of the same Jamaat as those who

belonged to the Shia Ismaili Imami Jamaat, from whom they had

already seceded.”

“The first Agha Khan, Mohamed Husein Huseini reached India

in 1840. In that year, overpowered by the members of his enemies,


Evolution of Sunni Khoja

he was forced to take flight, and with difficulty, attended by a few

horseman, made his escape from his head-quarters in Persia

through the deserts of Baluchistan to Sind where he was hospitably

received by the Talpur Amirs. The first Agha Khan, therefore,

came to India as a refugee. His arrival was, of course, marked by

an unusual tax that was levied on the whole Khoja community

then numbering 3,000 houses or families who voted him the

“Bukkus”- the payment of a tenth of their whole possessions, this

was the last time that the “Bukkus” is known to have been levied

on the Khojas. Prior to that, different fees used to be levied, fees on

birth, death, on marriage and the new moon, etc., and sent to the

then Imam in Persia. The most important of these taxes was the

Dasoon, which, as the name implies, was the annual collection of

the tenth of the income of every Khoja”.

“No Khoja, as was decided in the Agha Khan’s case, was entitled

to ask for its accounts or to question the use to which it was

put. Even by about 1866 the Agha Khan’s income from his votaries

in Asia and elsewhere was stated to be £10,000/- a year, and by

about 1901 it was estimated to be Rs.1, 200,000 per year.”

“The first Agha Khan came to Bombay in 1845. But he had

hardly been in the city for 12 months when he was removed for

two years, at the insistence of the Shah of Persia, to Calcutta, being

allowed to return to Bombay in 1848 for reasons of failure of his ill

health. But ever prior to this, “his first intercourse with the Khojas

of Bombay was one of controversy or strife.”


The Endangered Species

“In 1829 a section of the Bombay Khojas, who were Sunnis,

headed by Habib Ebrahim, who may rightly be regarded as the father

of the Khoja Sunnat Jamaat, refused to pay the Dasoon and

other fees. Habib Ebrahim was a merchant prince who could well

afford to pay the Dasoon several times over, but he objected to

that and other compulsory fees being levied and ruthlessly collected

in the name of religion from even the poorest members of the

Jamaat, and that too for the benefit of an absentee Imam.”

“When Habib Ebrahim refused to pay the Dasoon in 1829,

the Agha Khan who was then in Persia in order to overcome this

opposition, sent to Bombay as his special agent, one Miran Abdul

Kassim accompanied by a very energetic lady, the Agha’s maternal

grandmother Maryam Bibi, who herself appears to have harangued

the Bombay Khojas in their Jamaat Khana, with

considerable effort in support of the claim of their Murshid- perhaps

the first instance in Islam of a woman tax-gatherer. Evidently,

the lady did not succeed in her efforts, for in 1829 the Agha Khan

filed a Bill in the then supreme court at Bombay seeking to recover

payment of the Dasoon from Habib Ebrahim and others. Later on,

because of legal technical difficulties, the Bill was dropped… but in

1850 because of the refusal to pay the Dasoon and other taxes,

Habib Ebrahim and his participants, called from their number The

Bar Bhaiyyas (The Twelve Brethren), were outcast from the Khoja

Jamaat. It is interesting to note that even today – a century later

the Sunni Khojas are still referred to as The Bar Bhaiyyas. In 1835,

however, they were readmitted on condition of paying the arrears


Evolution of Sunni Khoja

of contribution due from them and undertaking in future to pay all

customary fees that should henceforth be demanded from them on

account of The Sarkaar Saheb”.

“In 1848, a second excommunication of the Sunni Khojas followed.

On this occasion, they established themselves into a

separate Jamaat and had their separate Jamaat Khana in the upper

compartment of the Khoja Jamaat Khana at Mahim. For this courageous

act, the Sunni Khoja had to pay the price in blood. On the

last day of Moharrum, [sic] on November 13 th , 1850, four of the

Sunni Khojas were murdered in their new Jamaat Khana in Mahim,

when they were at prayers, by several Khojas of the Agha Khani

fold. Three of them were killed on the spot, having been hacked to

pieces by the swords of their assailants, and the fourth man died in

hospital ten days afterwards from his wounds. Two or three others

were also wounded, one rather seriously. Nineteen followers

of the Agha Khan were tried for the crime of these murders before

the late supreme court of Bombay and, in the December of 1850

criminal sessions, four were found guilty and sentenced to capital

punishment and were hanged at the gallows at Mazaghaon in front

of the jail on the morning of December 18 th , 1851. It is recorded

history that the bodies of these four murderers were given pride

of place for burial in the old Kabrastan of the Khojas. Justice Arnold

in his judgment has this observation to make about these


“From the reluctant admission of witness No. 20 himself one

of those who were arraigned, but acquitted on that occasion, it suf-


The Endangered Species

ficiently appears that the bodies of these four murderers after having

been given up to the Khoja community of Bombay, were

treated with undue funeral honours…… a circumstance which

shows the demoralizing effects of religious zeal and reflects the

deepest discredit on the first defendant” (Vol. XII B.H.C.R. (1866)

page 349).

“We may state that for the four Sunni Khojas murdered in

the Jamaat Khana Mahim were Noor Mohammed Amarsey and

Cassum Ismail, who were leaders among the Bar Bhaiyyas”.

“In 1850, was filed an Information and Bill which culminated

in the proceedings in the case of Advocate General versus Mohammed

Husein Huseni referred to above. In 1851 Sir Erskine

Perry pronounced the Declaration of Rights which had the effect of

producing a state of peace on the Khoja community in Bombay,

which appears to have lasted for upwards of ten years. The Khojas

had from time to time subscribed money for the Jamaat’s purposes

and out of such subscriptions, legacies and gifts, the Jamaat had

become possessed of a Durgah, and burial ground and Masjid, as

also of a Jamaat Khana and some other property. The substantial

question before Justice Perry was to declare in whom the ownership

of this property vested, and he had no hesitation in holding

that the property belonged exclusively to the Jamaat and that the

Jamaat, and not the Agha Khan, could dispose it off as it liked.”

“The effect of the Declaration of Rights was that the Sunni

Khoja were again re-admitted to caste and the new Jamaat Khana

at Mahim appears to have been abandoned.”


Evolution of Sunni Khoja

“On October 20 th , 1861, the Agha Khan thought fit to publish

a paper in which he expressed his desire to bring the Khojas to

conform to the practices of the “Imamujah creed of his Holy Ancestors

(in other words to the Creed of the Shia Imami Ismaili) in

respect of marriages, ablutions and funeral ceremonies.” He concluded

this paper by stating:-

“Now he who may be willing to abide by my orders shall

write his name in the book that I may know.”

“It is established that the immediate cause of the Agha Khan

having issued this paper was that statements had appeared in

print that the Khojas were Sunnis and that the Agha Khan was coercing

them to make Shia Imami Ismaili of them. It appeared that

newspaper articles to that effect had also been published in local

newspapers. That paper lay for signature at the house of one of the

Agha Khan’s sons at Bhendi Bazaar, Bombay, and was signed by

some 1,700 male adults, not all Khojas of Bombay, Salsette and

Mahim. Copies were circulated among Khoja communities and

other parts of India and the east in Sind, Cutch, Kathiawar, Zanzibar

and other places. But it is interesting to note that 20 Khoja

families at Mova near Bhavnagar in Kathiawar refused to sign the

writing. Of course, the Sunni Khojas of Bombay refused to sign it. It

is of utmost importance to note that it is admitted that from the

beginning in the mosque in the old Kabrastan of the Khojas, the

namaaz, funeral prayers, ceremonies and rites were performed

according to the Sunni forms. It is also admitted that marriage ceremonies

in the Khoja community from the beginning were being


The Endangered Species

performed according to the Sunni forms by the Sunni Kazi of


“This led to the Sunni Khojas again refusing to pay the customary

fees and make the customary offerings to the Agha Khan

and to the filing of the information and Bill, originally filed in June

1862, culminating in the suit referred to above, in which the forebears

of the Sunni Khojas, the relaters and plaintiffs therein,

sought a declaration that the Khojas were Sunnis and not Shias –

much less Shia Imami Ismaili – and that no Shia were entitled to

claim any right or interest in the trust properties of the Khoja

community and for a scheme to carry out such declaration into

effect and for an injunction restraining one of the defendants (the

Agha Khan) from interfering in the management and property of

the Khoja community or in the election and appointment of officers

from ex-communicating any members of the community and

from demanding or receiving any offering”.

“This led to further retaliation on the part of the Ismaili

Khojas. At a meeting of the whole Khoja Jamaat held at Bombay on

August 16, 1862, which the Sunni Khojas did not attend, a form of

notice was unanimously agreed to, dated August 23, 1862 by

which it was intimated to the Sunni Khojas that, if they consented

to abide by the present and future rules to be framed by the whole

Jamaat for the benefit and guidance of the whole community and

to pay all fees and contributions due from then up to that date,

then they would be admitted into Jamaat, if not, then within 21

days from the presentation of the notice, they would be turned out


Evolution of Sunni Khoja

of caste. As the Sunni Khojas did not reply to that notice, the

Jamaat again assembled, but none of the Sunni Khojas remained

present. By the unanimous vote of all the Khojas in the Jamaat assembled,

the Sunni Khojas were turned out of caste and, as noticed

by Justice Arnold, “have remained out-caste ever since”. This

would indicate that once and for all and finally the Sunni Khojas

ceased to be members of the Agha Khan’s Khoja community after

about the middle of September 1862, which would, therefore, be

the date when the Khoja Sunnat Jamaat may be deemed to have

been finally separately established in Bombay.”

“It is interesting to note that in February 1864 the officiating

Sunni Mulla in the old mosque in the Khoja burial ground was

turned out and since then worship in the old mosque has been

carried out by the Shia Mullas in accordance to Shia forms. As noticed

by Justice Arnold, “since these transactions the party of the

relaters and the plaintiffs (the Sunni Khojas) has been in the occupation

of a separate Jamaat Khana and has opened for themselves

a separate Masjid.” 2

Ratanbai Hall

Khoja Sunnat Jamaat –

Trust Office and Jamat

Khana. Bombay.


The Endangered Species

Khoja Sunni

Mosque, Mumbai.

Adjoining the

Mosque, on the

right is the Khoja

Jamaat-Khana and


Khoja Sunni Jamat




An account of The Khoja Sunnat Jamat, Bombay. (For members of the The Khoja Sunnat

Jamaat Only) - 1969.


Ibid P.1/5


Armenian and Punjabi Khoja


he word “Khoja” was also used for the Armenian crosscountry

traders living in Iran during the reign of the

Safavid dynasty of Shah Ismail and Shah Abbas, contemporary

of the second Mogul Emperor of Delhi, Humayun

1508/1556 1

In 1974, while on a visit to Isfahan, the former capital of Iran,

along with my wife and son, we visited a small but well kept Armenian

Museum located not far from “Chehel Sutoon”. On the

walls of the museum were a series of portraits, hand painted in the

style of the Irani miniature art. At the bottom of each portrait,

neatly inscribed in English letters were the names of the individuals,

which began with a prefix “Khoja” so and so. As a Khoja I was

fascinated to observe this. Our guide explained that the portraits

represented Armenian traders living in Iran who traded across the

sea with India during the reign of the Safavid rule of Shah Abbas.

Because of the important status they had acquired as international

traders, such Armenian traders were addressed with the honorific

title of “Khoja”.


The Endangered Species

In my curiosity, I sought out a museum orderly and explained

to him that since I was a “Khoja” of Indian origin, I was keen to

know more about the Armenian “Khoja” and would like to meet

the curator of the Museum. Either the official could not understand

English properly or I could not convey my thoughts sufficiently in

Farsi, the man walked away in a huff, muttering to himself, as if I

had uttered something sacrilegious in introducing myself as a

“Khoja” of Indian origin! I also mentioned it to our tour guide, who

incidentally happened to be an Armenian. He also felt that I was

joking. Being in a group of tourists, sadly, I could not linger on to

pursue my interest. 2

In May, 2007, I visited Isfahan again. The old Armenian Museum

has been further developed with additional items. To my

surprise, I found the array of Armenian Khoja portraits that lined

one section of the wall in 1974 were now missing. I sought out a

Museum orderly who was fluent in English. When I queried about

the missing portraits, she explained that these had been removed

and sent to Tehran for restoration. I was instead led to the two

remaining portraits of Khoja Hacobjan Valenjian and Khoja

Woksan Valenjian. I was surprised to notice that the portrait of the

famous Khoja Petrous Wiscon who had such close links with India

and who upon his death aspired to be buried in India was conspicuously

missing. No clear explanations were forthcoming when I

queried about the whereabouts of the picture of Khoja Petrous

Wiscon which at one stage had a pride of place in the museum.


Armenian and Punjabi Khoja

In the History of Armenian in India there is an interesting account

of an Armenian merchant in India known as Khoja Petrous

Wiscon 1680–1751. 3 Besides, there are various records of well

known Sufi figures like Khoja Yusuf Hamadani better known as

Khoja Yusuf Baba and Khoja Alem Baba in Turkeman and Khoja

Ahmed Yasawi in Turkistan. In the Xinkiang province of China

there is an Apak Khoja complex and Apak Khoja mausoleum. The

well known 13 th century legendary figure of Mulla Nasruddin was

also known as Hodja. Born as an Azerbaijani, he is widely known

as a Turkish ‘comic sage’. “Azerbaijanis and Iranians know this

‘comic sage’ as "Molla Nasreddin." Turks and Greeks call him

"Hodja Nasreddin." Kazakhs say "Koja Nasreddin;" Arabs, "Juha;"

and Tajiks, "Mushfiqi." (Spellings sometimes vary: Nasreddin can

be found as Nasrudin, Nasr ed-din and Nasr al-din; Molla is also

written as Mulla; and Hodja as Khoja. 4

In the history of Tamerlane or ‘Temur’ or Taimur the Lame as

he is better known in the eastern world, Tamerlane’s birth place is

known as “Khoja Ilgar”, near Shakrisabs, south of Samarkand. The

place is named after a Sufi poet philosopher and the patron Saint

of the city of Heart. He was known as “Khoja Abdullah Ansari” who

died in 1088 C.E., at the age of eighty- four. 5

In the history of Kathiawar, (India), there is a reference about

a “renegade Albanian named ‘Khoja Zulgar’ “who in 1546 attacked

Diu, the early Portuguese possession in Bhavnagar. In retaliation,

the Portuguese Governor of Diu engaged Khoja Zulgar “and the

Portuguese inflicted heavy punishment on the Sultan of Gujarat by


The Endangered Species

sailing along the coast of Cambay, which they burnt, and to Surat,

which they sacked”. 6 Khoja Zulger was killed in the encounter.

A Google search would provide diverse materials on the word


While talking of the Armenian ‘Khoja’, I recall an incident back

in the late 1940s. An Irani Sayed on a visit to Mombasa was once

annoyed with certain local individuals. In a fit of anger, so typical

of Sayeds, the venerable Sayed blurted out in Farsi: ‘Khoja khare

ma ast. Pari ruz jizya midahad” – ‘Khoja are our donkeys. Until yesterday

they used to pay “jizya’’. In Persian colloquialism this was

no doubt an oblique reference to the Armenian traders in Iran

known as “Khoja”. Armenians were non-Muslim and during the

reign of the Safavid dynasty in 16th century, they paid ‘jizya’ – security

tax – which non Muslims would normally pay in return for

state protection and for exemption from military service. Fortunately

for the Sayed, many of the Khojas present did not

understand Farsi. Those who did, in traditional deference for a

Sayed, wisely opted to ignore the comment! 7

Anger of the Sayeds is said to be proverbial. According to Persian

folklore, Safavid ruler Shah Abbas, himself a Sayed, is said to

have once suggested to his courtiers in jest that if ever they came

across an “aqil” (wise) Sayed, they should convey his greetings to

him. The courtiers were surprised with such an observation. Because

of the veneration with which a Sayed is treated by Muslims,

there are often many imposters who claim to be Sayed. In India,

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and probably in Iran, it is not uncommon to


Armenian and Punjabi Khoja

find some of those born on Thursday night or on Friday to impersonate

as Sayed! Real test of a true Sayed, according to Shah Abbas

was that a Sayed is easily angered! An angry person tends to be

emotional and an emotional person cannot think rationally. Hence

Shah Abbas wanted them to convey his greetings to any calm,

composed, rational, genuine Sayed they came across! 8 Persian

folklore is full of such anecdotes, real or imaginary, which make

the longwinded style of Persian discourse tolerable and at times,


“About the middle of the 16th century,” writes Sayed Mujtaba

Ali, “the backsliding of the Punjab Khojas to Sunni'sm showed the

need of a vice-pontiff in India. The Imam summoned one Dawud or

Dadu, a descendant of a powerful family of the Sind Khojahs, and

invested him with the mantle of Pir. He made conversions among

the Lohanas of Kathiawar and in Bhuj the capital of Kutch.” “Pir

Dadu died in 1844 and was succeeded by his son Sadik, after

whom the title of Pir became extinct.” 9

In an early record known as the Khoja Vrattant – Khoja History

- published in 1892, (in Gujarati) Sachedina Nanjiani, Assistant

Revenue Commissioner of Kutch deals at length about the Nizari

Ismaili movement, their political ambitions and their missionary

work. Commenting on the state of the Khoja converts Nanjiani

gives his estimation of the Khoja population then. “Today the

Khoja population can be divided in two parts, North and South. In

north they are to be found in Kashmir, Lahore and in various parts

of the Punjab and they can be described as the “early Khoja”.


The Endangered Species

“While no realistic figures are available, they can be estimated to

number around seventy five thousand but they do not believe in

the Agha Khan.” 10

Until very recently in East Africa, there were several Punjabi

Shia Ithna-Asheri families in Nairobi, who hailed from the Narwhal

district of the Punjab, near Lahore, and were also known as ‘Khoja

of Narwhal’. 11 In west Punjab, which now forms part of Pakistan,

there is a district known as Gujarat, located between Rawalpindi

and Lahore. That there is a Punjabi Khoja community is further

attested by an interesting comment appearing in an editorial of

Daily Times of Lahore, on Wednesday, April, 14, 2004. Commenting

on the role of Mawlana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who gained

notoriety for his anti-Shia stance, the editorial describes him as “A

Khoja graduate of Deoband seminary in the city of Jhangvi was

vice-president of the JUI in Punjab till he became too big for the

party” 12

In his Khoja Vrattant, Nanjiani continues: “To the south, the

“new” Khojas also may be in similar number. Sheth Khalfan

Damani has estimated Khoja followers of the Aga Khan; Kathiawar:

22,906, Kutch: 7,253, Sind: 5,393, Bombay: 8,451,

Ahmedabad district: 2,261, Baroda district: 1,8S2, Thaana district:

1,272, Surat district: 339, Khandesh 156, Zanzibar: 2,500, Calcutta:

130, Daman/Diev 250, Makran coast (Baluchistan) 25, Karbala,

Kadhimain, Najaf 175, Mukalla/Aden 5, Muscat, Bahrain, Bandar

Abbas, Bandar Lingeh, Qishm etc. 1,100 . Total: 19,485.


Armenian and Punjabi Khoja

Additionally there were Khojas known as Momna of Gujarat

2,800, Gujjar/Gupti 50, Multani 1,500, Atlai/Khorasani 9,000, and

Mochi/…. 150, Soni/Luhar 150, Kabuli/Badakhshan 6,750 = total:


The overall total of Khoja in India, excluding Sind, Punjab and

Kashmir in 1892 was estimated at 80,835.” 13

Mihir Bose, author of The Agha Khans commenting on the

Khoja populations writes: “It is impossible to gauge the exact

number of Khojas who lived in India at the time the Agha Khan

settled in Bombay, let alone the number who owed allegiance to

the Agha Khan. In 1866 Justice Arnold, in the Bombay High Court,

would estimate that there were about 2,800 families in Sind, about

3,000 in neighbouring Kathiawad, while in Kutch and Gujarat, the

number could not be estimated. In Bombay there were probably

about 1,400 families with some Khojas outside India, principally in

Zanzibar where there were said to be about 450 Khoja families.

And, of course not all of them accepted the Agha – or paid their

tributes with the usual sackful of money.” 14

Armenian Museum,

Isfahan, Iran, outside

view. The banner in

farsi reads: “Aramna

Jahan” – Armenian



The Endangered Species

Behind the bullet proof

glass panel the remaining

two paintings of

Armenian Khoja.

Left picture: Khoja

Hacobjan Velenjian in

prayer -17th century.

Right picture - Khoja

Woksan Velenjian -

17th Century.


Humayun, the second Mogul emperor of Delhi had to flee from Delhi and seek refuge in

Iran. With the help of Shah Ismail, the Safavid ruler, he returned to conquer Delhi and continue

the Mogul dynasty. While in Iran, Humayun is said to have married an Irani girl from

the Safavid family and converted to a Shia. The return of Humayun opened the door of Sufi

elements from Iran to come to India, many of whom happened to be Shia. The influence of

Sufi or “Ahle Tasawwuf” as they are known played a great role in the spread of Islam in

India. Despite the rise of Wahabism, Sufi influence is still felt in the Indo-Pak subcontinent.

For an interesting account in this context, see: The Great Moguls, Bauber Gascoigne, published

by Contsable, London.


Case for Survival, by the writer, 1999. P10. Chehel Sutoon meaning forty pillars, an ornately

decorated pavilion in Isfahan, built during the Safavid reign overlooking a long fountain is

yet another example of exaggerated Persian style. During our visit in 1974, in my curiosity I

counted the pillars in the pavilion. They turned out to be only twenty. I looked at our guide

and queried the number. Calmly he pointed towards the fountain with a comment: “Twenty

in the pavilion and twenty reflected in the fountain. Total forty!”


See Google search.


Azerbaijan International, Autumn 1966., (4.3) Mulla Nasruddin, Google Search.


See “Tamerlane – Sword of islam – Conqueror of the World” by Justin Marozzi, Published

by Harper International.2004.


H. Wilberforce-Bell in “The History of Kathiawar.” P.101. First published, 1916, 1980 Edition,

published by Ajay Book Service, New Delhi.


I knew both personally, the Sayed and the individual present who narrated to me first

hand account. Both being now deceased, I have chosen not to disclose their names.


Iran folklore personally narrated to me by some elders who were closely connected with

the Irani Sadat community settled in Zanzibar until the Zanzibar revolution.


Sayed Mujtaba, Origin of the Khoja, P.43.


Khoja Vrattant, P.209


A small community of Shia from the Punjab, many from the Narwhal district, near Lahore

and from Kashmir, was the early Shia settlers in Nairobi, Kenya. Among the early Khoja


Armenian and Punjabi Khoja

settles in Nairobi were only two to three families. Gujarati speaking Khojas initially settled

in Mombasa and later moved to Uganda. Most Khoja families in Nairobi were late comers to

settle in Nairobi after the Second World War - 1939/1945.


Editorial in Daily Times, Lahore, April, 14, 2004


Khoja Vrattant p.210


Mihir Bose, P.70


Parsi or Turkic Linkage


mong early migrants from Iran to settle in India were the

Zoroastrians, original inhabitants of the pre Islamic Persia,

commonly known as ‘fire worshipers’. Recognized in

India as Parsi, which is derived from the word Pars meaning people

from Persia. Persepolis was the capital of ancient Persia. It was

among the ruins of the Persepolis that in 1971 the Shah of Iran

organized an elaborate celebration to mark the 2,500th anniversary

of the Persian Imperial rule – a celebration that turned out to

be a bad omen for Mohamed Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Persian imperial

rule was ignominiously swept away in 1979 in the wake of the

Islamic revolution led by a traditional Muslim cleric, Ayatullah

Ruhullah Musavi Khomeini.

The early Zoroastrian migrants blended well into the Indian

society. After the advent of the British rule in India, Parsis described

as the “rapidly westernizing” community, 1 gave much

importance to modern education. As a result they acquired jobs

easily in the Indian civil service as accountants, clerks in the Judiciary

and as teachers. Many acquired higher education and

became professionals as doctors and lawyers. Some ventured into

business and proved highly successful. Parsis adopted their


Parsi or Turkic Linkage?

unique brand of the local Gujarati language. While classifying

themselves fully as Indians, they managed successfully to retain

their distinct identity as a separate ‘tribe’. The majority of Parsis

resided in Bombay, Surat and Karachi. Some also moved to East

Africa. Despite their limited number, the Indian Parsi, like the

Jews, did not seek converts to their faith. In order to retain their

ethnic purity and their religion, they married only within the limited

number of the local Parsi communities. There are few

exceptions, as in the case of Ruttie, daughter of Sir Dinshaw Pettit

who married Mohamed Ali Jinnah, a Khoja Muslim.

The Parsi of India produced great social workers and political

leaders, among them the name of Dadabhoy Nawroji (1825/1917)

whom Nehru described as “universally respected and regarded as

the father of the country” 2 stands out as a luminary of the early

Indian independence struggle from the British rule. Also well

known Indian industries like Tatas, Godrej and Wadia, take their

name from the Parsi entrepreneurs. In India and Pakistan, because

of inbreeding, 3 the Parsi population is fast declining. In India, from

a peak Parsi population of 114,000 in 1941, the figure had

dropped to 76,000 by 1991. “At this rate, the number could shrink

to about 20,000 within 20 years, experts say”. “Chances of Parsis

as an ethnic group surviving are slim,” Jehangir Patel, editor and

publisher of Parsiana, a monthly magazine for the community published

from Bombay, told Reuters. 4

To speculate that the Khojas, like the Parsi of India could in

some way trace back their origin to either post Alamut Ismaili of


The Endangered Species

Persian origin as alluded to by Stanley Wolpert or by any remote

chance, even to Armenian lineage, appears far-fetched.

Mohamed Aziz Haji Dossa, better known as a writer by his pen

name of ‘Alex London’, and author of The Khoja’s – (Hoja-

Khwa’jah) – ‘The Chosen Ones’ 5 however makes a bold claim which

goes someway to endorse the assertion of Stanley Wolpert. According

to Dossa, the Bar Bhaiya came to Bombay 75 years before

the Ismaili Imam Hassan Aly Shah reached Bombay in 1845. They

were known with their Turkish nomenclature of ‘Hodja’ or the

‘Chosen Ones’ before they were finally called as Khoja.” “The Turkish

term ‘Hodja’ for the Ismailis was changed to the Persian

nomenclature of ‘Khwa’jah’ by Imam Khalillahi Ali.” Dossa maintains

that after the sack of Alamut by the Mongols in 657/1257

A.D., many Ismaili from Iran sought refuge in Central Asia. “Later, a

small Ismaili settlement had moved from Central Asia to Persia,

when the (Ismaili) Imam was Governor of Kirman. Imam Khalillah

Ali died in 1817, while on a pilgrimage to Najaf. His grave is the

first in the file of six tombs in the rooms of the Khwa’jhas.”

“Bar Bhaiyya, style themselves as Khoja Kutchi’s, distinct from

their fellow Ismaili Kathiawaris. The latter are Hindu converts,

whereas the Khoja Kutchi claims their antecedence from the

Ismailis of Central Asia. An anthropological difference is visible

between a Khoja Kutchi and a Khoja Kathiawari in spite of

nine/ten generations of intermarriages between these two otherwise

vying groups. Kutchis are light skinned and tall, representing

Aryan ancestors. Kathiawaris are on the dark side and of medium


Parsi or Turkic Linkage?

height, from their Rajput and Dravidian heritage. Bar Bhaiyyas

were Ismailis, a cross and a mix of Azeris and Uzbeks. They came

from central Asia, on the land route to Sind. Following a brief span

in Sindh, the Bar Bhaiyya made their abode in Bombay during the

last two decades of the eighteenth century. They had migrated

from Karkal Pakistan in Uzbekistan.” 6 This assertion by the author

may be hotly debated and raise passions in certain quarters. It

would nevertheless provide an interesting opening for a study in

Khoja anthropology. 7

Another twist to the complexity of the origin of the Khoja is

provided by Nanji Kalidas Mehta of Uganda fame. Since the majority

of Khoja claim their antecedents from the Lohana community, it

is only appropriate to ask who the Lohana are. In his autobiography

Dream Half expressed 8 Nanji Kalidas Mehta claims that the

Lohanas are from the “Raghuvamshi Kshatriyas and so we belong

to the four fold social order in ancient India.” According to the ancient

Hindu social order, still practiced, Indians are divided into

four major social groupings.

The first in terms of seniority and status are the “Brahmins”,

the priest class. Second in line are the “Kshatriya”, the warrior or

the ruling class. Third tribe is that of “Vaishya”, commoners, farmers,

traders, skilled workers or artisans. The fourth group is that of

“Sudra” who do the menial jobs. From these four social groups

emerge the various Indian ‘jyati’ (tribes) and ‘gnati’ (communities).

It is generally believed that from “Sudra” emerges the tribe of

“Achut” or the untouchables, who occupy the lowest rung of the


The Endangered Species

Indian social order. On the other and it is also believed that the

untouchables are not the offshoot of any of the four major groups

as they constitute a distinct tribe of their own. Their origin cannot

be traced to any of the major tribes. The ‘untouchables’ do all sorts

of menial work that the four higher classes would consider unworthy

of their status to soil their hands in. There are in all around

2,000 to 3,000 Indian tribes, communities and sub clans. A total of

325 languages are spoken in India with 1,652 dialects. All Indian

tribes and clans can trace their origin to one of the four primary

Hindu social orders.

The Kshatriys mostly “dwelt on the banks of Ganges, Jamuna

and Sarayu, the sacred rivers of India. Agriculture and dairy farming

were their occupations, but they took up arms when needed.

Many of them settled in Punjab and a few went further north west

to the region that divided Afghanistan from India. They called it

Lohar Desha and built a famous fort, Lohar Ranas or Loha

Ghadha.” “As fate would have it, from beyond Peshawar they went

to Sindh and from Sindh to Kutch, where they were known a Loha

Rana or Lohanas. They gradually ceased to be a martial people and

took to trade and commerce”. 9

“Nine hundred and fifty years ago the Loha Ranas migrated to

Sindh from a border region between India and Afghanistan. Four

hundred years ago they left Sindh and settled in Kutch and within

the last three hundred years they moved and settled in the Halar

district in Saurashtra” 10 Viewed in the light of what Stanley

Walport and Aziz Dossa had to say about the origin of the the


Parsi or Turkic Linkage?

Khoja community, referred to earlier, this account by Nanji Kalidas

Mehta provides added spice to the Khoja cauldron!

For long, a section of the barren terrain that forms Cutch

sandwiched between the Kathiawar bay and the southern coast of

Sind Province was considered an extended part of Sind. In 1965

Pakistan and India fought a war over what is known as the ‘Rann

of Kutch’ – The Kutch desert. 11 There is also much similarity between

the Cutchi and the Sindhi language. Cutchi is essentially a

spoken language only. There is no distinct script for writing

Cutchi. Apart from the oral literature, there is little, if any, written

literature available in Cutchi language. For communication,

Cutchis use the Gujarati language which has a script of its own,

somewhat identical to the ‘Devnagri’ script used for writing the

Hindi language in India. In Pakistan, for Sindhi language they use

“Arabic Naskh script with an alphabet of 52 letters, with 7 phonetics,

not present in Urdu” 12

It is believed that the Arabic script was introduced in Sind

when Mohamed Bin Qasim conquered Sind during the reign of

Walid bin Abdul Malik (86/99) – 705/715 - while his father in law

Hajjaj bin Yusuf was Governor of the Omeyyed Eastern Province.

Hajjaj ruled over Iraq for two decades with an iron fist. The tyrannical

rule of Hajjaj bin Yusuf in Iraq is legendary. In modern times

the rule of Hajjaj in Iraq could probably be compared to the rule of

Saddam Husein in the twentieth century. 13

Prior to the introduction of Arabic script, Sindhi is believed to

have been written in “Khojki script, one of the earliest forms of


The Endangered Species

written Sindhi.” 14 The Sindhi language has a rich cultural and literary

heritage. Apart from similarities between the Cutchi and

Sindhi languages, many words used in Cutchi are also used in the

Punjabi language with identical meanings and colloquial usage. 15

The early Khoja Ismaili “Ginans” were written in Sindhi Khojki


In a way not too dissimilar to the Parsi clan outlook, for long,

the Khoja cast or clan continued to develop as a close-knit society.

In Africa and in the West this outlook has given way to much more

realistic accommodation with the Shias of non Khoja origin. Intermarriages

with the non-Khoja Shia and Sunni and even non-

Muslims, who then convert to Islam, are now common. Membership

to the various community organizations, hitherto restricted

for only Khojas, are now open for non Khoja Ithna-Asheri in many

parts of the world. Non- Khoja boys and girls marrying Khoja boys

and girls are readily accepted in the society and accorded full

membership rights. Mumbai Jamaat, living in a world of its own,

may be an exception to this rule as it still strives to operate according

to the letter of the law and social bylaws adopted almost a

century ago.

What is often not appreciated by many non-Khoja is that the

underlying desire of the Khoja to retain their ethnic identity as

Khoja has been essentially motivated by a grudging desire to protect

and promote their faith. This outlook has played a very

significant role in the evolution of the Khoja society world wide.

That the letter and the spirit of this objective enshrined in various


Parsi or Turkic Linkage?

Jamaat constitutions are at times interpreted literally with very

narrow outlook, as in the case of Mumbai Jamaat, is unfortunate.

The broad objective of retaining the Khoja identity has proved

crucial as a bonding force for the survival and growth of the respective

Khoja communities, the Sunni Khoja, the Ismaili Khoja

and the Ithna Asheri Khoja.

Viewed in terms of the historical background to the evolution

of the respective Khoja communities, reviewed in the subsequent

Chapters, it will be easy to understand and appreciate the advantages

derived to the Community over the past century. By

extension, the advantage derived as a result to the larger Shia

community also, especially in India, cannot be overlooked. This

study however is limited to Gujarati and partly Sindhi Khoja. The

evolution of Kashmiri and Punjabi Khoja referred to earlier would

call for a separate study.


Mihir Bose, p.68


Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India P. 299. Nehru maintains that in “the Rig Veda there

are references to Persia – the Persians were called “Parashvas” and later “Parasikas” from

which the modern word “Parsi” is derived (P.113). Commenting on the Parsi outlook on

marriage, Nehru states “Intermarriage outside the fold of the community was not allowed

and there have been very few instances of it. This in itself did not occasion surprise in India,

as it was usual here for people to marry within their own caste.” P. 115


Farhad Daftary - The Aga Khans, P.118. Also see Qurratulain Poonawalain in “A community

on the decline” DAWN, Pakistan, (Internet Edition) 24, Feb.,2005.


See Worldwide Religious News – “India’s Parsi Population on Verge of Extinction” by Jayashree

Lengade and Sugita Katyal (Reuter, September, 4, 2003)


Mohamed Aziz Haji Dossa, better known as Dawn correspondent by his pen name of “Alex

London”, author of The Princess Sherbanoo and Khoja’s (The Chosen Ones), Abbas Ali Arif

Mooraj, Newton, Massachusetts, U.S.A. First published in Karachi, March, 2000.


Ibid. Appendix P.i/ii.


See also Hatim M. Amiji, Some notes on religious dissent in nineteenth century East Africa.


The Endangered Species


Nanji Kalidas Mehta, Dream Half-expressed–An Autobiography, 1960, Vakils, Feffer and

Simon Private Ltd., Hangue Building, 9 Spratt Road, Ballard Estate, Bombay 1.


Ibid. Chapt 1- p.3


Ibid. Chapt 1- p.4


Runn of Kutch war, between India/Pakistan in spring 1965.


Pyarali Hirani in his Gujrati publication, Khoja Biradari no Itihas p.111 quotes an article by

Aliraza Lakhani which appeared in November, 1978 issue of Chirag magazine under the

heading: Arrival of Shia in the Indian sub Continent.

(Following is an English translation of the Gujarati narrative.)

‘Historians believe that many Shias took refuge in India in order to escape from the oppression

meted out to them by the Omeyyed and the Abbasid regimes. They came in small

groups and once in India, they tried to hide their identity as Shia as they practiced ‘takieyye’.

Because they arrived in small groups the general impact of their arrival was not felt, hence

detailed historical records of their arrival in India are not available.’

‘Arrival of Muslims in India, date back to the time when Imam Ali reigned as the 4th Caliph

(35/40 A.H.). According to certain beliefs, Hazrat Ali is also said to have arrived once in

Sind. In Hyderabad, Sind, there is a place called “Maula Ali Qadamagah” which draws large

crowds of pilgrims to this shrine. (During my visit to Hyderabad in April, 2004, I had an

opportunity to visit this place. I queried the authenticity of the account that Hazrat Ali had

ever reached Sind. According to known historical records, the farthest east Imam Ali had

been to be Basrah. However, this place near Hyderabad has gained fame. A similar place is

to be found in nearby Cutch, looked after by the Ismaili Community).

The author continues: ‘According to an Egyptian publication Futuhul Sind P. 438, the author

Bilzari maintains that on the borders of Iran pirates or brigands from Sind used to

attack and plunder the area. In order to contain the miscreants in 39 A.H., Imam Ali dispatched

a detachment under the leadership of Haris bin Murra al Abdini who conquered

parts of Sind and during his life time, ruled over the place in accordance with the instructions

of Imam Ali’. Known history however records the conquest of Sind by Mohamed bin

Qasim during the reign of Walid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan (86/99 A. H.) when Hujjaj bin

Yusuf was the Governor of the eastern province of the Omeyyed empire.

Another interesting account on the conquest of Sind is given by Matein Khaled. In an

email dated July, 28, 2005, widely circulated, he writes: “Karachi’s Arabian umbilical cord is

one thousand three hundred years old. In 711 AD, an Arab fleet laden with gifts of slaves,

emeralds, pearls from the king of Serendip (Sri Lanka) for the Ummayed Caliph Al-Walid

and carrying women and children was attacked by a pirate fleet of the Raja of Debal, the site

of modern Karachi. The Caliph in Damascus considered the Raja’s act a grave insult. The

then superpower of the Middle East therefore decided on regime change in Sind and ordered

the Arab invasion of the Debal kingdom, led by a teenage general named Mohammed

Bin Qasim.”

Hirani further records that in an Urdu publication Azadari ki tarikh aur uske asbab published

in Lucknow in 1941, Syed Sibte Hasan Fazel Hansvy writes: “apart from political

links with Sind, members of the Ahlul Bait family had family connections with Sind. According

to the writer one of the wives of Imam Zainul Abedin was a Sindi lady who was the

mother of Zaid. As a result, Hazrat Abullah al Ashtar bin Mohamed bin Abdullah bin Hassan

ibne Imam Hasan came to Sind in 145 A.H after the dearth of his father. After a stay in Sind

for some time, he then left to settle in Kandhar in Afghanistan.”


Parsi or Turkic Linkage?


Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi in his well researched two-volume work entitled: A Socio-

Intellectual History of the Isna Ashari Shi’is in India, (Ma’rifat Publishing House, Canberra,

Australia) 1986, Chapter I P. 139 traces the development of Shi’sm in Sind.

“From the time of Imam Zainul-Abedin, the devotion of Sindis to Shi’sm assumed new dimensions.

One of the wives of Imam Zainul Abedin was a Sindi lady. Her son by the Imam

was Zayd Shahid. During the Governorship of Hajjaj bin Yusuf to the Eastern Provinces, the

development of Shi’sm received a great setback. .It was during his tenure as Governor that

his nephew and son-in-law conquered Sind and Multan. Not only did he conquer the region

between 93/711 and 95/714, but he firmly consolidated the administration. The Shi’is

could get no opportunity to propagate their faith. Mohammed Bin Qasim himself, however,

could not rule over the region for long. In 96/715 the Caliph, Walid bin Abdul Malik (86-

99/705-715), who had made Hujjaj incredibly powerful, died. Hujjaj himself had died eight

months earlier. Walid’s successor Sulayman (96/99/715-717) reversed the policy of his

predecessor and imprisoned Muhammad bin Qasim in the Wasit jail where he died. The

administration of Sind broke down. Some Shia leaders who were persecuted by the Umayyad

caliphs found asylum in the remote regions of the Caliphate. Sind, Ghur, Khurasan and

Transoxiana became the centers of Shi’i revolution. One Ziyad Hindi or Sindi fought under

Zayd bin Zain’ul Abidin and was killed in 121/739. Zayd’s son Yahya fell fighting against the

Umayyad governor of Khorasan. Hasan, the son of Zayd bin Hasan (not to be confused with

Zayd bin Zainul Abidin) established Zaydi Kingdom in Tabaristan in Iran. They ruled from

250/864 to 520/1126.”

The evolution of the Muslim Society in Sind had a great bearing subsequently on the evolution

Khoja of the society in Sind and Gujarat. The Majority of Muslims in Sind, though

Sunni, are known as Maulai with special attachment towards Imam Ali and the Ahlul Bait.

Sindhi Maulai while practicing the Sunni faith are very close to Shia in their beliefs, especially

in their love for Ahlul Bait. Shia Ulema are to be blamed for their years of neglect and

their preoccupation with their polemical rhetorical approach. Failure of the Shia Ulema to

organize themselves effectively with pro-active educational and social development programmes

especially in the last forty years has enabled the Wahhabi movements to make

great inroads in Sind.


Daftary, p.442.


Some common words used in Cutchi, Sindi and Punjabi are: Puttar (Child), Vada (elder),

Nindhi (small), Gull or Gal (talk), Sunn (listen), Pare (distant), Chhad (leave), Bol (speak),

Dhee (daughter).


Muscati Khoja


ne exception to the often repeating dislocation of the

Khoja diaspora has been the situation of the Khoja settled

in Muscat and Oman. Before Syed Said shifted his

capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1842 and subsequently encouraged

Indian settlement in Zanzibar, there were already Indian

settlers in Muscat. They were mostly Hindu Bhatia and Muslim

Memon and Khoja, mostly from Cutch and Kathiawad. There were

also Muslims from Sind.

The division among Khoja that took place in India and in Africa

from the mid-19th century, especially from 1877 onwards had its

ramifications among the Khoja settlers in Muscat. Many Khoja

families in Muscat opted for the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith.

Indian settlers in Muscat lived in what may be described as a

form of Indian cantonment where non-Indians would hesitate to

venture. The area was known as Lavatiya.

Omani Arabs, unlike the majority Sunni in the Gulf region,

practiced the Ibadhi faith. So did the successive Sultans of Zanzibar

and the rulers of Muscat. They had their own Mosques in Zanzibar


Muscati Khoja

and in the East African coastal centers like Mombasa, Dares salaam

and Tanga.

Unlike the general perception about the Ismaili followers of

the Aga Khan who were looked upon as heretical Muslims, the local

populace in Muscat, Oman, Zanzibar and in various parts of

East Africa recognized Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri as practicing Muslims.

Ibadhis are at times mistaken as Khawarij and perceived to be

anti-Shia. The “Azari (blue eyed) branch of the Ibadhi sect are

known to be Khawaraij. The Azari faction of the Ibadhi are now

said to be virtually extinct.” 1 In Muscat and Zanzibar, Ibadhi rulers

have been widely tolerant towards the followers of the Shia faith.

In Zanzibar, during the reign of Sayyid Barghash, there was an unsavory

incident towards l880 over the issue of ‘Azaan’ - call to

prayer from the Shia Mosque. Sir Tharia Topan, Dewji Jamal and

the Chief of the Zanzibar armed forces, Kalbe Ali, who was a

Baluch Shia, were summoned by the Sultan of Zanzibar. This interesting

episode is reviewed in a subsequent chapter.

In the interior of East Africa, in remote places like Bukoba,

Kamachumu in Tanzania and in various townships in Uganda, a

few Muscati Arab traders who practiced the Ibadhi faith would

come to Shia Mosques and were made to feel welcome. With their

traditional attire - the Arab Galabiya or Khanzu as it is called in

East Africa, multicoloured turban or an embroidered cap, many

sporting long and unkempt beards, plus a thin walking stick which

they carried as their peculiar hallmark, reminiscent of a senior Po-


The Endangered Species

lice officer with his swagger-stick, Omani Arabs, commonly called

as Muscati, carried themselves with an air of cultured and aristocratic

dignity. They commanded respect and enjoyed cordiality

with the otherwise introvert Khoja community members.

There are many indigenous Omani Shia in and around Muscat.

In 1972, Sultan Qubus forbade the practice of Azadari, especially

the “zanjeer matam”. However gatherings for Muharram majalis

were not restricted. Khoja from Gujarat and Sind who settled in

Muscat and Oman for almost two centuries now, have successfully

assimilated with the local populace. Besides, they now do not project

their distinct Khoja identity and tend to introduce themselves

only as Shia of Muscat. Many also disapprove of being called Khoja.

There are about 5/6,000 Khoja or Lavatia in Oman. They resent

being called Khoja and claim to originate from Hyderabad in Sind.

Apart from common usage of Arabic language, many, especially

the elderly, like their Khoja compatriots in Africa, can converse in

Cutchi with ease.

An elderly Musacti Khoja once revealed to me that for long the

Muscati Khoja, as they were known in the early days of their settlement

in Oman, would conclude heir names with a sort of

surname distinctly identifying them as Hyderabadi. The Sultan of

Muscat did look favorably to this practice and is said to have cautioned

the community that if they wanted to be true Omani

nationals and yet identify themselves as ‘Hyderabadi’ in order to

register their Indian identity, they could not have there cake and

eat it at the same time. It was only then that the community mem-


Muscati Khoja

bers chose to shed heir original Indian identity and align themselves

fully with the local identity as they opted to be identified as

Lavatia. While I have not come across documentary references to

this effect, I have been assured by some elders of the authenticity

of this assertion.

Dr. Jaffer Tijani, who has taught in Muscat, has written: “The

Shia sect has a large following among the inhabitants of the coastal

towns, especially among the merchant class. The Lavatiya Shia in

Muscat originates from Hyderabad in Sind, who has been established

in Muscat for several generations. The Lavatiyas used to live

for most part in separate walled towns (‘Sur’) within the town of

Mutrah with their own Mosque on the water font. They speak

‘Kochki’ which has a close affinity to Sindhi. They bitterly resent to

be called Khoja.”

“Having lived in Oman for almost two decades, I hardly experienced

any anti-Shia sentiments from the Ibadhis. It is not only the

Lavatiya who are Shia. The Baatinah region (of Oman) is predominantly

populated by the indigenous Shia; with tribal name such alajmi

etc.” 2

Many Khojas settled in Muscat have done extremely well for

themselves. They freely mingled with the local populace and acquired

economic and political clout in the process. The oil boom of

the 1970s together with political stability catapulted the otherwise

backward looking Muscat into the modern age. As a

result, Khoja settlers of Muscat have also prospered. According to

the American Library of Congress and the CIA Factbook, “The


The Endangered Species

presence of Omanis of Indian descent in Muscat reflects the historical

commercial ties between the sultanate and the Indian

subcontinent. The Khoja community in Matrah, of Indian origin, is

perhaps the richest private group in Oman, and its members are

among the best educated.” 3 Having fully assimilated with the local

populace, Khoja settlers in Muscat do not have to look over their

shoulders in search of alternative locations.

One interesting common characteristic of the Zanzibari and

Muscati Khoja has been in their unique style of communicating in

certain Indian languages. Many Zanzibari Khoja are known to have

blended a variety of Swahili, Gujarati and Cutchi words into peculiar

brand of spoken Swahili, Cutchi and Gujarati languages. The

Muscati Khoja at the same time have innovated a unique style of

spoken Cutchi language in what may sound like an mixture of

Cutchi, Sindhi and Arabic colloquialism. It has been variously described

as the original ‘Khojki’ or ‘Khochki’ langauge of Sind. A

light hearted banter mimicking typical Swahili, Gujarati and Cutchi

as spoken by a section of Zanzibari Khoja, and Cutchi as spoken by

Muscati Khoja provide a hilarious relief – often to the annoyance

of, especially, the sensitive Zanzibari Khoja.


Dr. Jaffer A. Tijani in a letter to the writer.


Dr. Jaffer A. Tejani, is also known as Dr. Ja’far A. Tijani. He acquired B.A. Hons from the

University of London and Ph.D in linguistic lexicography, the University of Columbia. Served

as Education Officer, Zanzibar, 1961-1965; He was Gulkbekian Foundation Scholar in Lexicography

attached to the University of Dares salaam from July 1965-1970, when he was

actively involved in the compilation of the Swahili dictionary known as ‘Kamusi’.

From 1970-1980 he was head of the department of Lexicography, Languages, Linguistics

at Kenyatta University, Nairobi.


Muscati Khoja

From 1981-1984 he was head of the English department at the Islamic Institute, Muscat

and from 1984-1988 as curriculum development Officer in English language at the curriculum

department, Muscat. He retired in 1988 and has since settled in Dares salaam where he

is attached to The Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania as editor of Bilal publications.


See Google search – Oman Population.



A Journey of Faith

Evolution of K S I Community

Mulla Qader Husain in Kerbala

Arrival in Bombay

Burial ground importance.

Mumbai Jamaat formation – tribulations

Threats and assassinations

African experience

Karachi Jamaat formation

Early struggle to learn and practice their faith

African Tabligh Approach


Evolution of K S I Community


e have reviewed at some length the separation of the

Khoja Sunni Jamaat. Questions arise as to how the

Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri community emerged. Evolution

of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community in India and in Africa

during the latter half of the 19th century owes much to the

significant role played by Mulla Qadir Hussein Nahif, later to be

widely known as Mulla Qadir Hussein Kerbalai.

Further consolidation and growth of the community, especially

during the first quarter of the twentieth century owes much to the

early students of Mulla Qadir Hussein. Amongst them, the name of

Haji Gulamali Haji Esmail stands out as a beacon of light for his

relentless endeavours to educate and enlighten the Gujarati speaking

people about the true teachings of the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith.

Writings of Haji Gulamali Haji Esmail and his numerous publications

were instrumental in winning over many Ismaili Khoja

families towards the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith. Successive generations

of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community will ever remain

indebted to Haji Gulamali Haji Esmail for his sense of mission and



The Endangered Species

In 1297 A.H. equivalent to 1862 of the C.E, a 20 year old young

man, Mulla Qadir Hussein Nahif, a native of Madras came to Bombay

and opened a Madrassa in the ‘Khoja Mohalla’ - located in the

predominantly Muslim locality known as Palagalli and Dongri.

Mulla Qader Husain hailed from Madras. Like many Indian Muslim

luminaries e.g. Syed Ameer Ali, author The Spirit of Islam, Maulana

Abul Kalam Azad, well known Indian political leader during the

independence struggle, and Mirza Ghalib, great Urdu poet who

could trace their origin to Persia or Arabia, Mulla also traced his

ancestry to “Ajam” (Persian) 1

In those days, the Palagalli and Dongri areas were also known

as leading trading centers of the growing Bombay metropolis. The

Shia Moghul Masjid, Khoja Ismaili Jamaat khana (Darkahna), Khoja

Sunni Mosque and Jamaat khana, and the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri

Mosque and Imambargah are all located around this area within

walking distances of each other.

In the religious school opened by Mulla Qadir Hussein, “children

from all communities began to come.” 2 “Not only did the

Khoja children participate to learn the Qur’an; their parents also

joined them in order to get information about the authentic Shi’i

practices.” 3 Among them was a Khoja boy named Habib Abdi Jetha

Chand who, as we shall see later, was to be partly instrumental in

developing closer links between the Khoja Community and Mulla

Qadir Hussein. 4 Akber Mehrally describes the opening of this

Madrash by Mulla Qadir Hussein in Bombay as an attempt “to indoctrinate

people in the Ithna-Asheri school of thought.” 5


Evolution of the KSI Community

After some years in Bombay running this Madrassa, Mulla

Qadir Hussein returned to Madras. It is not known exactly when

this happened as no dates are mentioned in his autobiography.

Back in Madras, Mulla Qadir Hussein contacted a number of leading

local Shia Ulema who helped him further his religious studies.

Mulla Qadir Hussein was however keen to acquire higher Islamic

learning for which he decided to go to Kerbala, Iraq. He was then a

‘Muqallid’ of Shiekh Murtaza, a leading Mujtahid residing in

Kerbala. 6 Soon after his arrival in Kerbala believed to be around

early in 1871, Sheikh Murtaza passed away. Mulla Qadir Hussein

then became a ‘Muqallid’ of Shiekh Zainul Abedin Mazindarani,

another leading Mujtahid in Kerbala. At about the same time, a

number of well known Shia Ulema from Lucknow, India, arrived in

Kerbala. The visiting Indian Ulema met Mulla Qader Hussein and

took him along to meet Shiekh Zainul Abedin Mazindarani. 7

Akber Meheraly records: “Since the rituals of Muharram and

ceremonial rites of martyrdom were introduced by Aga Khan I,

every year hundreds of Shi'ite Khojahs were making regular pilgrimage

to the holy Shi'ite sites in Iraq. Later on, when the Islamic

Salah was replaced with Gujrati Du'a, the Iraqi Mullahs were

shocked to learn that the followers of Aga Khan III, who were reciting

the Gujrati Du'a instead of Arabic Namaz, had broken the

most fundamental tenet of Islam itself. They were now venerating

Hazrat 'Ali and therewith the Aga Khan as “Allah” by reciting “'Ali

Sahi [truly] Allah.”


The Endangered Species

“The astonished Mullahs admonished the followers of Aga

Khan and explained that worship of `Ali or the Aga Khan as an “associate,”

“manifestation,” or “incarnation” of Allah; or truly Allah,

nullifies their prayers, voids their fasting, pilgrimage, etc. In the

hereafter, hell would be their place of abode if they did not stop

reciting that kind of Shahadah (confession of faith) in their Du'a.

The admonished Ismailis requested Aga Khan II to change the

wordings of the Shahadah in the Du'a to “'Ali-un-Waliy-Allah”

meaning, “'Ali is the beloved of Allah.” The Aga Khan refused to

change the Shahadah and the group of enlightened Khojah

Ithna'ashries left the Jama'at.” 8

In his autobiography, Mulla Qadir Hussein records in some details

several interesting encounters with the visiting Khoja

pilgrims. He also recalls subsequent experiences and tribulations

that he went through upon his return to India. In what may today

appear to be somewhat strange and at times amusing anecdotes,

Mulla Qadir Husein gives graphic details of the related encounters.

The autobiography entitled Hidayat Prakash depicting the latter

part of his life was written in Urdu language in around 1900. In

1909, the book was translated into Gujarati and published in Zanzibar

by Fazelbhai Janmohamed Master. In 1960, a second edition

of the Gujarati version was reprinted in Mumbai by the publishers

of Apni Duniya and also serialized in the Apni Duniya magazine.

The English translation of this autobiography was published

by the Peermohamed Ebrahim Trust of Karachi on 27 th July, 1972.

The following excerpts from the English version of the autobiog-


Evolution of the KSI Community

raphy which is more or a less literal translation of the original Urdu

and Gujarati works will help to portray the early developments

that led to the division and the ultimate emergence of the Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Community. It is probably the most authentic

account available on the subject.

Mulla Qadir Hussein was born in Madras in 1842. As we have

seen, in 1862, he came to Bombay at a very young age of around

20 to open a Madrassa. Eventually when the Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Jamaat was formally registered in Bombay and a Mosque

established in 1901, Mulla could heave a sigh of relief.

In 1307 A.H., (1881) Sheikh Abul Qasim Najafi, a 32 year old

Irani Alim arrived in Mumbai. His arrival in India was essentially

at the request of the Irani traders living in India. When the resident

Aalim of the Irani community in Bombay Syed Muhammad

Shushtari fell ill, Shaikh Abul Qasim Njafi was requested to lead

congregational prayers at the Irani Masjid. In 1311 A.H., at the invitation

of the Khoja community in Bhawnagar, Sheikh Abdul

Qasim went to Bhawnagar and Mahuwa. In 1315 A.H., (1891), he

returned to Bombay and started the Friday prayers at the Shustari

(Irani) Imambara, Bombay. Ithna-Asheri Khoja as new converts to

the Shia Ithna-adhere faith would go to Irani masjid and to Moghul

Masjid. At times they felt uncomfortable as some of the Irani

would tend to look down on them. Later, Sheikh Abul Qasim advised

the Khoja community to build a Mosque. The Khoja

community bought a land in Palagalli area and in 1317 A.H. (1899)

the foundation stone of the Mosque was laid. A year later, when


The Endangered Species

the Mosque was ready, Ayatullah Sheikh Abdul Qasim Najafi led

the first congregational prayer at the newly opened Khoja Mosque.

Opening of the Khoja Mosque in Bombay in the face of all the

opposition was a landmark development. Sheikh Abul Qasim

Najafi was appointed resident Imam of the new Khoja Mosque.

With this development, Mulla Qader Hussein felt that his 28 years

of relentless struggle had born fruit. His mission having thus been

sufficiently accomplished, Mulla opted to retire and returned to

Kerbala to spend the rest of his life in the vicinity of the shrine of

Imam Hussein.

On 6 th Rabi ul Awwal, 1320, equivalent to 1902 A.D., Mulla

passed away in Kerbala at the age of 60. In fulfillment of his long

cherished desire, Mulla Qader Hussein was buried in the courtyard

of the Shrine of Imam Hussein in Kerbala. 9 Unfortunately no photograph

of this great benefactor of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri

community is available. The building where Mulla Qadir Hussein

lived in Bombay is the only monument to his memory. His grave is

among the countless graves covered with slabs in the courtyard

(sahan) of the Shrine Imam Hussein. It is common practice in Iraq

and Iran for the courtyard slabs to carry the names, as tombstones,

of those buried underneath. Whether the name of Mulla

Qadir Hussein is inscribed on one of the slabs is unknown. It is also

possible that with thousands of pilgrims walking over the slabs

over the past century, and with continued reconstruction of the

shrine, many names engraved on such slabs are no more visible.


Evolution of the KSI Community


Autobiography, Mulla Qadir Husein, p.3.


Ibid, p.5-10


Ibid, p.11


Ibid. p.11


Akber Meherally in A History of the Agakhani Ismailis, A.M. Trust, Burnbay, Canada.p.94


Autobiography, Mulla Qader Husein.p.2




Akber Meherally in A History of the Agakhani Ismailis, A.M.Trust, Burnbay, Canada.p.94


For related details about Ayatullah Shiekh Abul Qasim Najafi and the date when Mulla

Qader Husein passed away in Kerbala, see special centenary celebration souvenir publication

issued by the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat, Mumbai, India in October 1998.

Mulla Qader Husein’s yearning to spend his life in Kerbala around the shrine of Imam

Husein (A.S.) is further illustrated from the account recorded in his autobiography. Recalling

his reluctance to return to Bombay with Dewji Jamal in 1873, Mulla Qader Husein

records in his autobiography: “In reply to the suggestion of Sheikh Zainul Abedin Saheb, I

pleaded: “I left my native place to pass my life here in Kerbala. I have no urge to obtain

worldly benefits and therefore I don’t like to go to the cities of the unbelievers like Zanzibar

etc.” (p.9)


Mulla Qadir Husein in Kerbala


alking of the period when he had first settled in Kerbala,

which more likely appears to be in the early 1870s, since

no actual date is mentioned in the autobiography, Mulla

Qadir Hussein records: “Once there came a group of pilgrims from

Zanzibar. These pilgrims were Khoja by caste and there was a

young man named Noormohamed in that group. My pupil Habib

Abji had also come (with them). One day Noormohamed came to

see me accompanied by Habib. After introduction, Habib suggested:

“This young man is my friend. He is very eager to learn Quran.

Please make him as your pupil.”

Mulla explained that it would take “at least a year to finish the

course while you will go after Arba’een.”

Noormohamed agreed to stay behind in Kerbala for a year and

began to take lessons from Mulla who taught him not only the

course of recitation (of Holy Quran) but religious directives regarding

prayers, fasts and allied matters. 1

Khojas believed that Ali is God

While conducting lessons for Noormohamed, Mulla recalls: “One

day I began to describe the merits of Ali (AS) and suddenly


Mulla Qadir Husein in Kerbala

Noormohamed asserted: “Khoja believe that Ali (A.S.) is God”. I

was stunned. “What does it mean by calling Ali (A.S.) God?”

Noormohamed was taken aback by the strong reaction of

Mulla. He wondered: “When the teacher got so stunned by only

one disclosure what would happen (to him) when he will learn

about forty six gods?” As the discussion continued between Mulla

and his pupil, Noormohamed revealed that “Khojas believe that Ali

(A.S.) is the tenth incarnation of God and Aga Khan is the forty

sixth incarnation of Ali (A.S.) or God!”

The shocked Mulla admonished Noormohamed for holding

such beliefs: “It is bad to label somebody with something that he is

not, even though he might be an unbeliever. But the Aga khan is a

Seyed and Shia. It is extremely inappropriate to speak such things

about a Muslim. So repent for your false belief.”

Noormohamed pleaded with his mentor: “I can’t understand

what you say. Personally I have not directed any accusation or

stack a fable but it is the faith of the Khojas. Just listen to my story.”

Mulla Qadir Hussein records that “the whole night passed in

hearing talks of Noormohamed.” Once convinced that

Noormohamed was telling him the truth, on the following day

Mulla “took Noormohamed to Sheikh Zainul Abedeen Sahib and

other Ulema and narrated to them the account of the Khojas beliefs”.


The Endangered Species

Within a year Noormohamed finished his course and taking

leave of Mulla left Kerbala to return to India.

From Kerbala, Noormohamed went to Kadhmain where he

met Mukhi Hashambhai Dossa who had come for pilgrimage.

Noormohamed told Mukhi Hashambhai Dossa about his training

and advised him that during his visit to Kerbala he should “meet

my teacher and learn religious matter from him.” Noormohamed

also gave a letter of introduction to Mulla Qadir Hussein.

Mulla records: “When Hashambhai come to Kerbala with his

companions, he visited me and gave me the letter of

Noormohamed. I asked him details about the beliefs of Khojas and

found his statement identical with that of Noormohamed. I took

him as a second witness to Shaikh Zainul Abedeen sahib and other

erudites and said: “See! This man also calls Ali (a.s) God as

Noormohamed stated previously.”

“Hashambhai and Ghulammohamed Hashim then began to

learn from me. One day Khoja Ghulam Husain Kamadia came to me

and said: The uncle of your pupil Noormohamed wants to hold a

majlis. Please come and make arrangements.” This was in 1873.

Mulla records that he went to arrange for the majlis where he was

introduced to a new group of pilgrims from Zanzibar who had initially

set out to go to Mecca for Hajj but had changed their plans

and instead arrived in Kerbala for pilgrimage to the shrine of

Imam Hussein. Among the new arrivals was Dewji Jamal.

Mulla records: “after a brief introduction and preliminary

talks, I asked Dewjibhai Jamal: ‘you just said that you left Zanzibar


Mulla Qadir Husein in Kerbala

for Hajj then how did you come here? In reply to my blunt question

Dewjibhai replied’: “Fate”.

“I put up a question again: “What reasons brought you here?”

“Dewjibhai reiterated: “Luck.”

“I enquired again: “I don’t ask you about fate or luck just tell

me the cause of your arrival here in Kerbala.”

“Dewjibhai persisted: “Destiny.”

“I begged: “I don’t understand your replies. Tell me plainly

why did you not go to Hajj and came here instead?”

“We have heard,” responded Dewjibhai, “that the pilgrimage of

Mecca earns the divine reward of only one Hajj while the pilgrimage

to Kerbala earns the divine reward of seventy Hajj.”

Khojas being businessmen, by nature opt for the best bargain!

“In the statement of Dewjibhai I smelt innocent ignorance so I

admonished: “You don’t even know what the one Hajj of Mecca is

and what are the seventy Hajj of Kerbala”? “Dewjibhai requested:

“Please explain it to us.”

“I itemized: “The Hajj of Mecca is obligatory upon every individual

of means. A person with sufficient resources must perform

Hajj at least once in his life. Despite means if he doesn’t (perform

Hajj) God will resurrect him with Jews and Christians. While the

pilgrimage to Kerbala is voluntary and it is performed as homage

to the great martyrs of Islam.”


The Endangered Species

“Dewjibhai was overwhelmed with pious fear so I hinted: “If

you want to adopt true Islam learn religious matters of Usool and

Furoo and act in accordance with them so that your life in hereafter

may improve.”

“Dewjibhai brought faith. “You know that we are Khojas ignorant

of religious matters.”

“I suggested: “You will depart from here after Arbaeen, but if

you are willing to stay here for some time I will teach you religious

knowledge for the pleasure of God”

“Thereafter I took Dewjibhai as a third witness before Shaikh

Zainul Abedeen Sahib and other erudites and once more made

known before them the religious plight of Khojas. Now the

erudites knew in details about Khojas. Thereafter I began to teach

Dewjibhai, Hashambhai and other members of the group. An Iranian

woman was appointed to teach religious matters to women

members of the group.”

Suggestions of Shuja’at Ali Beg

“The religious education of pilgrim Khojas was in prayers. One day

in my absence, Bakhshi Shuja’at Beg made a suggestion to

Dewjibhai: “All of you will depart after ‘Chehlum’ so how will you

continue your religious education? You will revert to your old beliefs

in your native place. It is therefore preferable that you take

someone with you from here and continue to learn from him. Tell

your relatives also to learn.”


Mulla Qadir Husein in Kerbala

“Shuja’at Ali Beg’s suggestion impressed Dewjibhai and he requested

me through Hashimbhai: “Come with us to Mecca and

Medina so that we might perform Hajj correctly and then come

with us to Zanzibar and live there for a year and teach me and my

relatives. After that I will take you to Kerbala and give you two

hundred rupees, and if you are not coming with us we will remain

ignorant about religion”.

“Though the plea of Dewjibhai was proper I had to think about

it myself also. I therefore declined the offer and stated: “I left my

home and family to improve my hereafter and therefore I am not

desirous of going anywhere. Money has no attraction for me

whether it is two hundred or two thousand. As long as you are

here I have no objection in teaching you for the pleasure of God”.

Dewji Jamal conveyed the response of Mulla Qadir Hussein to

Shuja’at Ali Beg who in turn reported to Sheikh Zainul Abedin.

“Bakshi Shuja’at Ali told Sheikh Zainul Arbedeen Sahib: “Dewji

bhai requests Maulvi Qadir Hussein to go with him and continue

his teachings but Qadir Hussein turns down the request.”

“One day Shaikh Zainul Abedeen sahib told me: “Dewji bhai

and his community are not familiar with religion. They have an

urge for it. They want to take you with them as their teacher and

you refuse. An ignorant man seeks guidance from you and you

deny the guidance? It is my suggestion that you should go.”

“In reply to the suggestion of Sheikh Zainul Abedeen Saheb I

pleaded: “I left my native place to improve my life in the hereafter


The Endangered Species

and it is my desire to pass my life here in Kerbala. I have no urge

to obtain worldly benefits and therefore I don’t like to go to the

cities of the unbelievers like Zanzibar, etc.”

When is Istakhara necessary

“Eight days passed in this tug of war. Whenever Shaikh Zainul

Abedeen Sahib would suggest me to go I would retort “Solicit Divine

guidance for the purpose”, or ‘Istakhara’ as it is popularly


“Shaikh Zainul Abedeen Sahib responded: “When the purpose

is good, soliciting divine guidance is not essential.”

Mulla Qader Hussein admits that his reluctance and insistence

for taking out an ‘istikhara’ “was motivated by my fear of the loss

of life.” 2

“At last Shaikh Zainul Abedeen sahib asked: “What is the ultimate

cause that prevents you from this work and you refusing to

propagate the religion?”

The excuse put forward by Mulla was: “I haven’t enough

knowledge to discharge the responsibility of this gigantic mission.”

Shaikh Zainul Abedeen Saheb explained to Mulla: “Advanced

learning will earn you degrees of Maulvi Fazil and Mujtahid, but

ultimately these degree holders have to work in the field of

preaching. Hence go and do according to the Divine Will. Don’t

you know the verse of the Holy Q’uran?


Mulla Qadir Husein in Kerbala

“And whoso gives life to a soul shall be as if he had given life to

mankind altogether.” (5:33)

“Bakshi Sahib who was also present during these exchanges

interjected: “He fears that he will remain barred from congregational

prayers and pilgrimages.”

“Shaikh Zainul Abedeen Sahib argued: “Why does he not lead

congregational prayer himself?” I answered: “I am not worthy

enough to take this heavy responsibility”.

Shaikh Zainul Abedeen Sahib concluded: “I order him to lead

congregational prayers and as for pilgrimages (Ziarats) I will myself

perform them as his proxy.”

Mulla pleaded: “Please see Istakhara and if it is affirmative I

have no objection in going there.”

Shaikh Zainul Abedeen asked: “Do you see Istakhara for offering

prayer (Namaz) or performing (Wajib) Hajj?” to which Mulla

responded: “Prayer and Hajj are obligatory duties so why


“In the same manner”, counseled Shaikh Zainul Abedeen Sahib,

“going with them is obligatory upon you, because they seek guidance

from you.”

“As per the injunction of Shaikh Zainul Abedeen Sahib I became

ready to go and asked Dewjibhai: “Sir, I am ready to come

but what will you do if your community misbehaves?”


The Endangered Species

Before finally deciding to return to India, Mulla Qadir Hussein

sought more clarifications from Dewji Jamal since he had some

misgivings about their resolve. Mulla feared that this small enthusiastic

group may not be able to withstand the social and economic

pressures and as a result may eventually be forced to revert to

their Aga Khani Ismaili group.

Mulla Qadir Hussein recalls in his autobiography the two questions

that bothered him:

(1) What would they do when their sons and daughters

could not marry into the Khoja (Ismaili) Communities

since their own number was too small?

(2) What would they do when they are not permitted to

bury their dead in the Khoja Cemetery?’

According to Mulla Qadir Hussein, Dewji Jamal responded “I

have adopted the right faith. Tell me if my children can marry into

Muslims or not?”

Mulla Qadir Hussein replied: “Definitely.” 3

To the second question about burial of the dead, Dewji Jamal

responded: “If Khojas would not permit us to bury our dead in

their graveyard, abundant land is available in Africa and we can

construct a graveyard of our own; and if that also is impossible,

God has given us enough resources and we can send our corpses

to Kerbala for burial!” 4


Mulla Qadir Husein in Kerbala

“When I saw him firm, I was quite ready. Janab Shaikh Zainul

Abedeen Sahib gave me an Ijaza (Licence/Credential) which read

as under: 5

“A group of people came to Kerbala from Zanzibar.

Their hearts were blessed with Islam. Haji Shuja’at Ali Beg

suggested them to take a Mulla (religious teacher) with

them. They accepted the suggestion and agreed to take one

with them.

It is therefore permitted to Mulla Qadir Hussein

Madrasi who is resident student in Kerbala and knows necessary

religious directives to lead congregational prayer, to

solemnise marriage, resolve quarrels and collect one fifth

and the share of the Hidden Imam (AS) on condition that

he should send the amount to Kerbala. And he should teach

and explain the religious directives to those who don’t know.

I have licenced Mulla Qadir Hussein Sahib to carry out

the above mentioned works.”

Sd. Zainul Abedeen Mujtahid Kerbala-e-Mo’alla.


The Endangered Species

Rare photograph of Ayatullah Sheikh Zainul Abedin Mazandari seen here in the center. On the

left is his son, Ayatullah Shaykh Husain and on the right his grand son, Shaykh Ahmad

These pictures were found in the valuable album of the great Aarif, Ayatullah Sayyid Abbas

Kashani. Author wishes to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Sheikh Nadir Jaffer, Manager

of Qom office of the World Federation of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Community and

of Syed Ridha Syed Mehdi Shushtari for their valuable assistance in finding these pictures.

Shaykh Nadir Jaffer made several attempts to see Ayatullah Sayyid Abbas Kashani, who, due

to his indisposition, could not go through his rare albums. Eventually Aytullah Sayyid Abbas

Kashani managed to look through his albums, identify the photographs and permitted Shaikh

Nadir Jaffer to copy.


Mulla Qadir Husein in Kerbala

Dewji Jamal,

(1820/1905), who,

in 1873 persuaded

Mulla Qadir Husein

to retrun to India

from Kerbala.

Reproduced from a

Painting in the Dewji

Jamal Musafarkhana,



Autobiography, Mulla Qadir Husein P.3.


Ibid, p.5/10


Ibid, p.11


Ibid, P.11


Ibid, P.12


Arrival in Bombay


arrating the account of his departure from Kerbala,

Mulla wrote: “Before departure from Kerbala, I went to

the holy Shrine of Imam Hussein (AS) and recited Ziarat.

As I came out, the Mutavally of Khojas met me. He gave me a

friendly warning: “Man! Even in Kadhmain, you should not go out

at night.”

“As was planned, I started with Dewjibhai from Kerbala and

from that time I began my duties and started to teach the group of

pilgrims’ essentials of religious matters. We went to Kadhmain,

Samarrah and other places. At last on the 1 st or 2 nd of Rabi Ul

Thani, I reached Bombay and began to reside in the building of

Khoja Mohammad Bhai Rawji with Dewji Bhai” 1

“In the course of time I met a number of Khojas and learned

from them about their religion. I deduced that the religion of the

Khojas was established abut five hundred years ago. Its founders

were Peer Sadrudeen and Shahdeva Joshi. The creed of this religion

is reincarnation of God. To the nine incarnations of Vishnu the

Hindu god, they have added Ali (AS) as the tenth incarnation.

They call Ali (AS) god as Nusairies do and label themselves Shias

as well”.


Arrival in Bombay

“Pantheists believe that God permeates everything in the universe

and as He is everywhere and so everything has the essence

of God in it. The so-called mystics whether they are Hindu or Muslim

are believers in this doctrine. It is the pet sentence of the

mystics that “Wherever I see, I see thee, only thee.” A Persian pantheist

has said:

“Thou art the pitcher,

Thou art the maker of the pitcher,

Thou art the earth of the pitcher,

Thou art the distiller,

Thou art the seller.

Thou art the buyer in the open market

and having drunk, thou breakest the pitcher.”

“Both Peer Sadrudeen and Sahadeva Joshi agreed with the

above-mentioned belief and moulded a religion on that line. They

labeled the religion of Khojas as The Right Path (Sat Panth).”

Mulla records that when he came to Bombay, he also found

“Khojas following a variety of religions” and concludes that “as

they got their death ceremonies performed by Sunnis, a faction of

Khojas became converted to Sunnism” 2

Once settled in Bombay, Mulla started a Madrassa which also

attracted adult Khojas eager to learn more about the true faith.

Soon Mulla had around him fifteen to twenty disciples who used to

visit him regularly to learn and to offer prayers at his place.


The Endangered Species

The news of the arrival of Mulla and the mission he had embarked

upon spread fast. With that the tribulations of Mulla also

began in earnest. This stress was to last for almost the next three

decades until the Ithna-Asheri Mosque was built in Bombay in

1901 when Mulla decided to retire and return to Kerbala.

As Mulla started attracting more and more people to his classes,

the higher echelon of the larger (Ismaili) Khoja community

took notice of his activities with much concern. He was viewed as

someone who posed a danger to their beliefs and to the unity and

cohesion of the otherwise tightly held Khoja community. Pressures

were brought to bear upon Mulla to abandon his mission. Attempts

were also made to even entice Mulla with money so that he

would go away from Bombay. At the same time his close followers

and supporters were also subjected to varied forms of pressures

and threats to disassociate themselves with Mulla Qadir Hussein.

The whirlpool of conflicts emerging as a result of doctrinal

disputes over matters of faith often took an ugly turn and compounded

the situation for Mulla. Endless conflicts and disputes

arising as a result eventually led even to threats of death followed

by several cases of assassinations. As if all this was not enough,

further disputes, bickering and intrigues among those who had

openly professed to practice the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith cropped

up, adding to the misery of Mulla. It made his stay in Bombay for

the next three decades full of endless stress and tribulations.

A study of the short autobiography of Mulla Qadir Hussein,

simply written in conversational style, is illustrative. It provides


Arrival in Bombay

the most authentic early account of the emergence and the evolution

of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community during the last

quarter of the nineteenth century. Reading the autobiography one

cannot but admire the simplicity, the dedicated spirit and the sustained

resolve of Mulla Qadir Hussein to serve the cause of Islam.

His devotion in working for the enlightenment of the otherwise

confused and bewildered members of the Khoja community has

been remarkable.

The book is also a tribute to those early pioneers who withstood

all forms of social and economic pressures and remained

firm in their resolve to uphold their rediscovered faith even in the

face of added danger posed to their personal safety. Despite their

limited number, they sacrificed a lot to sustain their faith and in

the process helped to evolve the newly emerging Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Muslim Community. It is a tribute to the spirit of dedication

shown by the early pioneers that today members of the Community

are to be found in various parts of the world operating as

organised structured communities.

While Mulla was working with the Khoja community, a number

of Shia delegations from Bhimdi visited Mulla seeking his

guidance and help. Mulla helped them in the construction of

‘Masjide Haidery’ in the village of Bhimdi. Thus the scope of his

role was extended to the non-Khoja society also.

Mulla was making inroads with his teachings as many thinking

people started taking an introspective look at their own beliefs

and practices. The leadership of the Khoja (Ismaili) Jamaat felt un-


The Endangered Species

comfortable with the emerging inquisitive trend that questioned

the status quo. They decided to drive Mulla away. 3 Accordingly,

Dewji Jamal and Mohamed Rawji were pressed to make Mulla vacate

his residence. Mulla records: “Apparently Dewji bhai

disassociated from me (publicly) but as he had deep sympathy for

me, he hired a room for me in the name of Khoja Khalfan Rattansi.

The rent of that house was Rupees twelve and annas eight. I transferred

my residence there and began to teach the tenets of Islam”. 4

Soon, the place came to be known as the house of Mulla.

At the same time Mulla wrote a book in Urdu called Chiraghe

Hidayat – Light of Guidance. “Dewji Jamal and Allarakhia Natha

arranged for its publication in Gujarati script” 5

Meanwhile a group of eleven individuals who had publicly

proclaimed adherence to the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith visited Mulla

and took an oath by placing their hands on the Holy Quran, Sura-e-

Bara’ah, also known as Sura’e Tawbah, Ch.9, they made a joint declaration:

“We hereby make covenant among us that that if anybody

from our group is ousted from the Community, all of us will

voluntarily leave the membership of the Community and as

long as we are here in Bombay, we will continue to visit this

place to learn matters of religion and offer prayer.” 6

The news of 11 Khojas taking an oath to remain steadfast as practicing

Shia Ithna-Asheri spread fast. Mulla recalls that soon after,

he had seventy individuals taking a similar oath. Mulla felt elated

as a result as he joyfully recalled the verse of the Holy Quran: “How


Arrival in Bombay

often a little company has overcome a numerous company, by God’s

leave.” (2:29). Thereafter people began to visit Mulla openly.

Allarakhia Valli one of the pupils of Mulla met a leading businessman

Seth Jeraj Peerbhai who asked him: “Is this startling

news in Khoja Mohalla true? I will be happy if it is a fact. You

should not lose heart. God is great and I am also with your group” 7

Allarakhia Valli reported this encounter to Mulla who immediately

sent for Seth Jeraj Peerbhai. Jeraj Peerbhai went over to see

Mulla at his residence and stayed on to join the evening - Maghrib -

congregational prayers with others present. Jeraj Peerbhai suggested

to Mulla to arrange a Majlis on Thursday night and to send

out invitations to all Khoja businessmen. He undertook to make

necessary arrangements for the Majlis and send out his personal

invitations also. Since Jeraj Peerbhai commanded much respect in

business circles, he had a following. Mulla was delighted to note

that as a result of these invitations, on Thursday, “by the Grace of

God, there were about four hundred men in the Majlis.” 8

As attendance at the residence of Mulla Qadir Hussein increased,

there was corresponding decline in attendance for the

“evening breakfast at the Jamaat Khana.” 9

The Khoja Jamaat was understandably alarmed with this development.

For a fortnight, leaders from the Khoja Jamat Khana

went round visiting all who were frequenting the residence of

Mulla in order to persuade them to return to the fold and abandon

following the Mulla. “Ultimately, they succeeded in taking back

Jerajbhai and his companions to the Jamat Khana. With the defec-


The Endangered Species

tion of Seth Jerajbhai, there was massive decrease in attendance

for prayers and Majalis at the residence of Mulla.”

Mulla had landed in Bombay during the Islamic month of ‘Rabi

ul thani’. Three months later, by the time it was the month of

Ramadhan, Mulla had attracted a good following. Over a hundred

people would visit his place for the Maghrib prayers and later, for

Majlis. As the movement gained further momentum, leaders of the

Khoja community were getting alarmed. Those frequenting the

house of Mulla were warned of dire consequences and the risk of

excommunication from the Khoja community with far reaching

consequences. On the first night of the holy month of Ramadhan

"the chief of the Khoja Jamaat issued a decree: "Any person visiting

the house of Mulla will be ousted from the community." 10

The implication of this warning was far reaching. It would not

only mean excommunication, denial of entry into the Jamat Khana,

social and economic boycott but also denial of right to bury their

dead in the Khoja cemetery. What happened to Khalfan Rattansi

following the death of his daughter was to be their fate. The warning

had its impact. On the following night, attendance at the

residence of Mulla considerably dropped. For the majlis organized

that night "there were only a few Khoja and some non Khojas” 11 As

Mulla put it, the effect of this "warning was crushing" made him

feel highly distressed as a result. Mulla began "to visit his former

adherents secretly. Those who were faithful (momin) began to visit

(him) in the darkness of the night." 12


Arrival in Bombay

Reversal of the public stand taken by Sheth Jerajbhai and his

companions was a serious blow in what at one stage looked like a

tidal wave gaining momentum. Followers of Mulla felt highly depressed

as a result. To boost the morale of those who openly

remained steadfast, on the 18 th of Ramadhan, Mulla took them to

the Mogul Masjid for the Maghrib prayers and for the subsequent

‘amaal’ of the 19 th night.

The fact that Mulla was now bold enough to take his Khoja followers

to the Mogul Masjid was viewed with added apprehension

by the leaders of the Khoja community. According to Mulla, they

“resolved to kill him in the Mosque on 23 rd night. My pupils advised

me to refrain from going to Mosque.” Mulla remained firm in

his resolve to go to the Mogul Masjid. “Haji Birooni and a number

of Moguls” came forward to act as bodyguards for Mulla and his

companions. They escorted Mulla and his followers to the Mosque

and later accompanied them back to their respective homes. “Even

the day of Eid was observed in the same manner.” 13

To further boost the morale of his pupils, Mulla would take

them to meet several Shia Ulema from Lucknow visiting Bombay.

They were always very warmly received by the Ulema.

Soon rumors began to spread in Khoja Mohalla that the Khojas

were now out to bribe Mulla to abandon his mission and to go

away from Bombay. “If Mulla goes with the money, it will be discerned

that all so called religious leaders are after money,”

commented one of his disciples. Mulla records that while he had

heard of this rumour, he was later accosted by “a rich Khoja,” who


The Endangered Species

“made a blunt offer”: “Are you ready to take twenty thousand or

more? Up to twenty five thousand!”

When Mulla contemptuously rejected the suggestion, a stark

warning was delivered. “Then take heed, you will be definitely


Mulla realised that the threat of murder was a serious matter.

He maintained his composure and responded: “If I am really murdered,

I will become a slave of Imam Hussein (A.S.)” to which

another stark warning was delivered: “Not only murder, but poison

is also ready for you.” Again, the reaction of Mulla was: “Thank

God! If I die of poison, I will become a slave of Imam Hassan

(A.S.).” 14

Three years passed in this environment of direct and indirect

pressures and threats on Mulla and his disciples. Much more however

lay in store for him in the years to come

Soon Mulla was in for a greater shock. Some time in 1876,

Dewji Jamal appeared to have succumbed to the pressure from the

Khoja community and from his family. He decided to go to the

Jamat Khana and make peace with the community. This development

distressed Mulla considerably. While Dewji Jamal publicly

made peace with the Khoja community, privately he continued to

provide support to Mulla and continued to associate with him.

Towards the end of the month of Shawwal, Dewji Jamal went

over to Mulla and told him that he was planning to go for Hajj “if

you permit me.” After performing Hajj, Dewji Jamal planned to re-


Arrival in Bombay

turn to Zanzibar to attend to family business. Mulla reminded

Dewji Jamal: “You had promised to take me with you (for Hajj).” “I

can not take you with me,” replied Dewji Jamal, “because there is

danger of being ousted from the community. It may be socially

devastating for the family if this happens in my absence and my

business in Zanzibar would be ruined.” 15

The dilemma for Mulla was “What should I do then?” Dewji

Jamal assured Mulla: “Don’t worry. My brother Harjibhai will provide

you with your expenditure” and added: “You may come to

Zanzibar if the people of Bombay don’t comply with you. But under

the present circumstances it was not advisable for you to leave

Bombay because the Ithna-Asheri Khoja desire that you should

live here in Bombay.”

Amidst these developments, Mulla continued to circulate his

book Chiraghe Hidayat. Gujarati and Urdu versions of the publications

were sent “to Zanzibar, China, Muscat, Mahowa, Kutch,

Mauritius and also to London”. 16

After performing Hajj, Dewji Jamal went to Zanzibar in 1291

A.H. After some time, his brother Harji Jamal confided in Mulla that

the money set aside by Seth Jerajbhai for his upkeep had been exhausted.

He had tried to supplement from his own sources, but

now he was in no position to support him further. Harji Jamal advised

Mulla to approach Jeraj Seth directly.

Mulla records: “I went to Seth Jerajbhai, but he replied: “Go to

them who provided you up to now.” Mulla was “stunned” to receive

such a blunt reply. At the same time he received a direct


The Endangered Species

communication from Kerbala from Sheikh Zainul Abedin

Mazindarani who “ordered me not to leave Bombay under any circumstances.”

While continuing his mission, Mulla was at the same

time “hard pressed with financial worries.” 17

With the communication from Sheikh Zainul Abedin was an

Ijaza for Mulla to collect ‘Huqooq” (religious dues e.g. Khums, Zakat)

and was further authorised “to spend for worthy and suitable

purposes.” Bakshi Shujaat Ali Beg, whom Mulla had met earlier in

Kerbala and who was instrumental in persuading Mulla to return

to India with the group of Khoja Zuwwar, read out the letter from

Sheikh Zainul Abedin to people gathered in the Mogul Masjid.

Among those present at the Mosque were “Moguls, Indians, Khojas

and Kasmiris”. 18

In 1873, while on his way from Basrah to Bombay, along with

Dewji Jamal and other Khoja zuwwar, the ship they were travelling

in stopped in Karachi. Mulla disembarked in Karachi and stayed

for some time as guest of Lalan Alidina. ”It was the habit of good

Lalan Alidina to preach the tenets of the Right path secretly and

thus kindle the flame of guidance in the hearts of ignorant people”

in Karachi, records Mulla. 19 The activities of Lalan Alidina did not

go well with the Khoja Community who accused him of “introducing

innovations.” Once when he was returning from Majalis, Lalan

was attacked and seriously wounded. That was in 1876. Lalan

however survived the attack. Two years later, in 1878 as Lalan

was walking though the streets of Karachi he was shot in broad


Arrival in Bombay

day- light. He was rushed to hospital but within two hours, he was

pronounced dead.

When news of Lalan's death reached Bombay it cast a gloom as

Mulla records: “the hearts of the Khojas of Bombay were pounding

with fear". The social impact of the assault on Lalan was so great

that Haji Essa Khaki came to see me on the same day with a request:

“Maulvi Saheb, the Jamaat has ordered me to make you

vacate the premises. They have threatened me with dire consequences

if I don’t comply. I am helpless before the Jamat and my

wife is in danger. Therefore vacate my house now.”

Mulla pleaded with the landlord that as it was a Thursday, and

there was Majlis that night, he could go after Majlis. Apologetically

the landlord was pleading: "What can I do Sir?" I am completely

helpless and under the duress of the Jamaat. Please don’t be stubborn

and transfer to somewhere else.” 20

Mulla explained that he could not just walk out and needed

some time to find alternative place. Haji Essa Khaki appeared to

relent but did not give up in his effort to expel Mulla. He sat at the

door of the house. As people came round for the Thursday night

Majlis, he would tell them: “Go away, the Mulla is not here.” He

even “harshly” drove away the regular students of Mulla. From the

window of his upper floor, Mulla was helplessly watching the sad

drama being enacted in his name.

While Mulla was watching from the window, he saw Ebrahim

Janmohamed coming towards his house. Haji Essa Khaki tried to


The Endangered Species

send him away, but Ebrahim, having seen Mulla standing in front

of the window, walked past Haji Ebrahim to meet Mulla.

Mulla sent Ebrahim to Seth Jeraj Peerbhai with an urgent message

that he wanted to see him. Jerajbhai advised Mulla to come

secretly through the backdoor.

Mulla sought the intervention of Seth Jerajbhai: “Please tell

Haji Essa Khaki to wait so that I can finish Majlis and thereafter I

will vacate the house.” Jerajbhai promised to use his influence to

prevail upon Haji Essa Khaki. As Mulla came out of the residence of

Seth Jerajbhai, he saw Mir Abid Ali and Ebrahim Janmohamed

waiting for him at the gate.” Mir Sahib was a holding a key in his

hand.” 21

Mir Abid Ali explained to Mulla that after he left the house to

go to Seth Jeraj, the landlord, Haji Essa, enticed Ebrahim

Janmohamed out of the house with a message that Mulla wanted

to see him. As Ebrahim came out of the house, Haji Essa and his

companion locked the door of the house and told him: “Tell

Maulvi Saheb that he should not come here for a few days and thus

spare his life as well as mine. They also set a sepoy (watchman)

near the door with instructions not to let you climb the stairs.” 22

Mulla felt insulted and thought of taking legal action as he set

out to report to the Police Station. Mulla recalls: “In a feat of anger,

I started towards the Police Station and suddenly I remembered

an Urdu couplet:

“You have come here to be martyred and not to kill others.”


Arrival in Bombay

Mulla stopped in his tracks and changed his mind. Five months

earlier he had married the daughter of Hakim Mirza Mohamed

Sadiq. He therefore decided to go the residence of his father- in -

law and to hide himself there for some time. He realized that his

life was in danger and he could be murdered anywhere. Mulla felt

highly depressed as a result. After spending a fortnight in isolation,

hiding at the residence of his father –in- law, Mulla could take

it no more. One day he got up, put on his turban and decided to go

out. When his father-in -law asked as to where he was going, Mulla

replied that he would go to look for some job to work during day

time and at night “I will go to Khoja Mohalla for preaching. Death

will surely come one day, so why should I fear.” 23 His father-in -

law admired the resolve of his son-in-law and told him: “Go, may

God help you” 24

As Mulla walked through the Khoja Mohalla, he was joined by

Haji Mir Abdi Hussain. Some people would greet him while others

would pretend not to recognise him for fear of being seen to be

associating with him. Mulla went over to see Khlafan Rattansi and

told him: “You are an outcast from the Khoja Community, so what

objection is there if I live with you?”

Khalfan Rattansi sought time to consult his family and the

community. Later Khlafan Rattansi told Mulla that the advice of

the Community was that he must not risk his life and that of his

family in providing shelter to Mulla. As a result, Mulla was highly

dejected as he could not rent any accommodation in the Khoja

Mohalla to continue with his mission. Ultimately he approached a


The Endangered Species

Hindu landlord who agreed to rent out his property in Kasai

Mohalla (the Butchers’ area) which was near the Khoja Mohalla.

Mulla was later advised that he was residing in a dangerous locality

where for a paltry sum he could be easily assassinated. Mulla

recognised the risk involved, but he had no alternative choice. His

students began to visit him secretly at his new place to continue

with their studies. 25

In 1877, records Mulla, “Seth Dewjibhai Jamal arrived in Bombay

from Zanzibar to celebrate the marriage of his children during

those days. The marriage of his daughter was fixed at Aklarakhia

Valli’s family and the marriages of his sons were fixed in the family

of Mukhi Hashambhai Dossa.” 26 By then their role as supporters of

Mulla Qadir Hussein were well known. They were widely viewed

as being among those practicing the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith. Yet,

because of the family and ethnic ties, they were keen to retain

links with the Khoja Community. Accordingly, Alarakhia Valli and

Dewji Jamal went to the Jamat Khana to pay homage. As the saying

goes, they could not have their cake and eat it at the same time.

Both Alarakhia Valli and Dewji Jamal were ejected from the

Bombay Jamat Khana and excommunicated from the community.

“Two members of Khoja ‘jamat’ who were ex-communicated in

1877 removed themselves to Zanzibar. For Haji Dewji Jamal it was

a return, for Allarakhia Valli it was a new beginning.” 27

The tense environment under which Mulla had to operate for

almost three decades has to be understood in terms of the environment

prevalent then to fully comprehend the complexity of his


Arrival in Bombay

task and the nature of the problems that he had to encounter.

Against many odds, Mulla patiently persevered in carrying out his

mission. As we have seen before, the Khoja Community then carried

a mixed bag of beliefs and traditions emanating from Shia

Nizari Ismali, Shia Ithna-Asheri, plus Sunni beliefs. On top of this,

they were also burdened with the lingering aspects of Hindu beliefs

and traditions that were deeply embedded with the Indian

ways of life. In some cases, the inalienable principles of the Islamic

faith were unconsciously compromised at the altar of traditional

beliefs and practices. Innovative beliefs subtly introduced over the

years by the successive Nizari Ismaili Dai going back to the days of

Pir Sadr al Din could not be easily wished away.

As Mulla took a principled stand on matters of Sharia and was

always forthright on issues like the practice of usury and music, he

courted unpopularity in sections of the Khoja fraternity. His stand

on such issues disturbed the comfort zone of many that were accustomed

to age-old practices. The spirit of inquiry and the ability

to think and question established beliefs and practices had initially

brought about the change and division of the Khoja community.

Both Sunni and Shia Ithna-Asheri had branched out to form the

respective Khoja Communities as a result. The same principle, taken

to its logical conclusion in reviewing all aspects of beliefs and

practices and comparing them with the dictates of the Islamic Sharia

had its unsettling effect for many. Certain Sheikhs and those

professing to be religious leaders tried to interpret the laws of

Sharia in a manner that were more accommodating to the tradi-


The Endangered Species

tional practices and the wishes of the people. Differences of opinions

over interpretations of points of Sharia are discussed by

Mulla at some length in his autobiography. These developments

further compounded the situation for Mulla. Mulla remained adamant

in his stand and would not bend to court popularity. This did

not endear him well with sections of the society. He had to grapple

with internal feuds and conspiracies among those who professed

to practice the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith.

For twenty years Mulla struggled in this fashion until one day

in 1309 A.H. (1893) one Khoja Ebrahim Hashambhai purchased a

house in which Mulla was staying at a cost of Rs. Twelve thousand.

The property was made “a wakf for Ithna-Asheri Khoja to carry out

the activities of Madrassa, majlis and prayers”. After that

“Ebrahim Hashambhai began to maintain the place. His plan was

to make the Madrassa and other activities as self sustained independent

unit.” 28

Mulla also gives detailed account of how the movement initiated

in Bombay picked up momentum in Gujarat and in Zanzibar; He

also pays tribute a number of his students for keeping the torch of

tabligh aloft. He mentions a number of his star pupils namely:

Noormohamed Meghji, Gulamali Esmail, Abdulla Saleh, and Alladin


Mulla records: “the first Madrassah and Masjid were founded

in Zanzibar; thereafter a Madrassah was founded in Mahuwa by

my pupil Nurmohamed Meghji and Gulamali Ismail. Both of them

discharged the duties of Mulla for a time. Thereafter, a Mosque and


Arrival in Bombay

Madrasah were founded in Bhawnagar and there Hafiz Khoja

Dhanji Jiwa alias Hafizali and Khoja Gulamali Ismail were appointed

as Mullas.” Thereafter Madrassas were founded in Dholela,

Talaja and Vartej. 29

Similar movements took place in Cutch Mundra. “Thereafter

Ahmedabad and Chamardi followed suit. When a Mosque and

Madrassah were founded in Nagalpur, Nurmohamed Meghji was

appointed there as a Mulla”.

Mulla pays rich tribute to these early Mullas in Cutch and Gujarat

who often traveled 30 to places away from their place of

domicile. He singles out Noormohamed Meghji who “traveled

around fifteen hamlets around his place of residence” delivering

majalis in Gujarati. Abdullah Saleh Sachedina is remembered for

his “yeoman service” in Zanzibar with his majalis in Cutchi.

Haji Gulamali Haji Ismail stands out as a highly learned and

dedicated individual who held special Ijaza from Sheikh Zainul

Abedin Mazendarani and Mir Agha Sahib, a Mujtahid from

Luckhnow. He delivered his majlis in Gujarati. Haji Gulami Haji

Esmail is particularly remembered for his publications of series of

books and pamphlets in Gujarati and for the monthly magazine

Rahe Najat which had a wide circulation in India, Burma, Muscat

and Africa. A century later, Rahe Najat continues to be published

in Gujarati from Karachi and Bhawnagar.

Another person singled out by Mulla is Khoja Alladin Gulamali

Husein who served as a religious teacher in Bhawnagar and also

published a monthly magazine known as Rafiqul Momeneen.


The Endangered Species

For Khoja Ithna-Asheri worldwide, interested in their history

and in order to appreciate the early developments that led to their

present status, the biography of Mulla Qadir Hussein is a must

read. Reviewing the situation of the community around 1900

when the autobiography was published, Mulla analyzed the following


Chiarge Hidayat was first published in 1290 A.H. when 2,000

copies were printed. In 1306 A.H., it was twice reprinted with

1500 copies each time. Four editions of the book were published

in Urdu totaling around 5 to 6,000 copies. These were widely distributed

among Gujarati and Urdu speaking people in India and


Referring to the role of majalis in the evolution of the early

Khoja society, Mulla records that “Formerly the restrictions were

so severe that even those who used to attend the Majlis were harassed

and it was a risk of life for a Khoja.” 31 By 1900 there were

several Mefils in Bombay. ‘Mehfile Islam’, ‘Mehfile Hyderi’, ‘Mehfile

Husayni’, ‘Mehfiel Panjetani’ etc., and a separate Mehfil for ladies

known as ‘Mehfile Fatemi’. Thus majlis were arranged on almost

daily basis and on special occasions like ‘wafat’ and ‘wiladat’ of


On the question of offering the traditional daily Islamic prayers

of Salat “Formerly Khoja could only pray (Salat) if they were

ready to risk their lives. The fear of parents and enemies were so

overwhelming that they couldn’t even say Takbir in a loud voice.

By the Grace of the Omnipotent, the sounds of Allaho Akbar,


Arrival in Bombay

Ashado an la ilaha illaah are (now) heard from the house of Khoja.

Holy Quran is regularly recited and during the holy month of

Ramadhan, Quran Khani are held.” 32

The type of pain that Mulla had to endure can be gauged from

the varied references in his book as he writes about the encroachment

of some Mulla known to be of the “Sheikhi sect.”

According to Mulla, certain “pseudo Mulla” known to be adherents

of the “Sheikhi sect” had penetrated the Khoja society thus corrupting

the salient teachings of the faith with their “liberal

attitude” in permitting the practice of usury in certain forms and

blanket permission given over playing of music etc. The teachings

of the Sheikhi sect at times compromised the ingrained overriding

principle of ‘Tawheed’ in Islam. Such contradictory religious interpretations

were causing a lot of confusion within the Khoja

society. So painful was the experience of Mulla in this context that

he is constrained to refer to “Isna- Asheri Jamat or the field of intrigues.”

Mulla further writes about the “peculiar mentality of

Khojas”; about the tendency of “rumour mongering.” He laments

about the “perfidy via Majlis” and “internal feuds among Khoja

Isna-Asheris”. To add insult to injury, a number of individuals

chose to write to Sheikh Zainul Abedin in Mazindarani in Kerbala

complaining against Mulla Qadir Hussein with an aim of tarnishing

his reputation.

Sheikh Zainul Abedin Mazindarani counter-checked of the

complaints received with a number of Ulema in India and also

queried with Ulema from India visiting Kerbala. Based on reports


The Endangered Species

from a number of respected Indian Ulema who knew Mulla Qadir

Hussein personally and were aware of his activities in Bombay,

Sheikh Zainul Abedin was satisfied with the stand taken by Mulla

and with his spirit of dedication. Accordingly, Sheikh Zainul

Abedin wrote a number of letters to Mulla supporting him and encouraging

him to continue with his mission.

Today as we reflect on the life of Mulla Qadir Hussein and take

into account his relentless endeavours lasting almost three decades,

one cannot but admire his resolve. He withstood repeated

attempts made to bribe him to abandon his mission. These were

followed by threats and consequent dangers posed to his life. In

the process, he had also to withstand additional stress arising out

of the financial worries. Besides, he also had to face opposition

from friends and foes. Invectives were heaped upon him. There

were people who deemed it fit to write to higher religious authorities

to malign him. Against so many odds he came out victorious. If

the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community worldwide are today

viewed as practicing Muslims and known as a religious society,

they owe it to the pioneering spirit of this man. The Khoja Shia

Ithna-Asheri Community owes a perpetual debt of gratitude to this

humble individual from Madras known as Mulla Qadir Hussein


A century later, as we look at the role of the current Ulema,

Resident Alims posted to various Jamaats and the numerous professional

Zakirs who travel round the world and make a living out

of the institution of Majalis, one cannot help but draw some sharp


Arrival in Bombay

comparisons with the life of Mulla Qadir Hussein. The Holy Prophet

Muhammad (s.a.w.) did not only say “Qulu la ilaha illallah,

tuflihu” (Say La ilaha Illallah and be saved) but at the same time,

the Holy Prophet patiently mingled with the people around him

and systematically worked to reform the society with his personal

involvement and the example he set.

Inspired by the example set by the Holy Prophet, Mulla Qadir

Hussein did not restrict himself to only sermonizing from the pulpit.

There was a social connotation to his mission. The doors of his

residence were always open to visitors even at odd hours of the


He displayed a burning desire to serve and reform the Khoja

society. In running his classes, Mulla not only taught children recitation

of the Holy Quran and imparted basic teachings of the faith

such as Salat and the related laws of taharat, he also catered for

the adult members of the society engaging them in discussions. As

we have seen earlier, amongst his pupils were many adults, including

some who were fairly elderly, much older than Mulla himself.

Among the elderly pupils were Noorohamed Meghji, Dewji Jamal,

Khalfan Rattansi, and Alladin Gulamhusein, popularly known with

his pen name of ‘Ain-Ghain’. 33

His Majalis, unlike the current trend, were not confined to rhetorical

polemic debates. His talks were driven by a sense of

mission to inform, educate, enlighten and reform the society to

grow up as truly practicing Muslims. No wonder, many of his early

students, like the well known Haji Gulamali Haji Esmail continued


The Endangered Species

in his style with a lasting impact in the subsequent evolution of the

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community.

Portrait of Haji

Gulamali Haji Ismail.

Sadly it has not

been possible to

trace the photograph

of Mulla

Qadir Husein

Grave and Mausoleum of Haji Gulamali in



Autobiography, Mulla Qadir Husein, p. 13


Ibid. p. 13


Ibid. p. 23- 28


Arrival in Bombay


Ibid. p. 16


Ibid. p.16


Ibid. p 17


Ibid. p 17


Ibid. p 20


Ibid. p.22




Ibid p. 17


Ibid p. 17


Ibid p. 21


Ibid p. 21


Ibid p. 21


Ibid p. 23


In his autobiography, Mulla Qadir Husein has devoted several paragraphs under different

headings outlining the nature of economic hardships he had to endure. He makes extensive

references under the headings of the Economic hardships p.26, Earth becomes narrow p.31,

Ejected from House p.32/33, Search for a shelter p.34, 38, Passive co-operation from Hindus

p.35/36, Light of truth in a dark ghetto p.39.


Ibid p. 24


Ibid p. 31


Ibid p. 26


Ibid p. 30


Ibid p. 31


Ibid p. 32


Ibid p. 32


Ibid p. 34/35


Ibid p.44


Seyyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi and Prof. Noel Q. King, of the University of California, U.S.A., in

Some East African Ithna-Asheri Jamaats (1840-1967)”


Ibid p. 44


Ibid p. 80


Ibid p. 80


Ibid p. 96/97


Ibid p. 97


Ibid. Preface, p.iii.


Burial Ground Importance


he question of being “ousted” from the Khoja Community

led to social and economic boycott. This meant that an

‘ostracised’ family could not easily arrange for the marriage

of their sons and daughters within the Khoja community. To

compound the situation, denial of rights to bury their dead in the

ancestral Khoja cemetery was also very humiliating. Concern over

these issues traumatized the Khoja society and led to separation

and spilt within families. This “searing knife of separation cut

asunder families and even marriages.” 1 Viewed in terms of the Indian

clan structure assiduously guarded, especially in those days,

the experience of splitting of families on religious grounds reminds

one of the tribulations that the early Muslims went through

in Mecca during the early days of Islam.

When Khalfan Rattans was ousted from the Khoja Jamaat; “as

was the custom at the time, a man went round the streets of all

Khoja localities declaring the fact that Khalfan Rattansi had been

ousted from the Community.”

“The import of being ousted from the community was socially

devastating and people feared the wrath of the Jamaat in associat-


Burial Ground Importance

ing with such person or his family as this would result in social

boycott.” 2

When the daughter of Haji Khalfan Rattansi died in Bombay “the

larger Ismaili Community required the abandoning of the Ithna

Asheri faith as a precondition for Haji Rattansi to attend his

daughters’ funeral. Haji Rattansi refused to give in and his daughter

had to be buried in the Iranian Cemetery.” 3

Mulla Qadir Husein records in his autobiography that

Khalfanbhai Rattansi was a well known member among the Shia of

Bombay. “Every year he used to send thirty to forty men for Hajj

and Ziayarat at his own expense” and his resolute stand to publicly

proclaim adherence to the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith at the expense of

being ostracized by the Khoja society added to his stature. “A large

number of Moghuls and Shia” attended the funeral of his daughter.

Many Khoja who feared to join the funeral procession came to the

Sonapur Irani cemetery. “The corpse was temporarily buried at

Sonapur and thereafter sent to Kerbala.” 4

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the question

of the burial of the dead and the pressure being exerted by the

larger Khoja community on the smaller group to disassociate with

Mulla Qadir Hussein and to renounce the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith

had been a recurring theme in India and in East Africa.

When the first group of eleven individuals made a pledge to

remain steadfast as practicing Shia Ithna-Asheri, 5 the question of

burial was raised once again. Mulla records: Khalfan Rattansi declared:

“I am ready to spend ten thousand rupees if any trouble


The Endangered Species

comes to us.” Dewji Jamal announced: “Brothers, don’t worry. If

the Ajam do not permit us to bury our dead at Sonapur, we will

send the corpses of Khoja Ithna-Asheri to Kerbala” 6

On the first night of the holy month of Ramadan the chief of the

Khoja Jamaat issued a decree: "Any person visiting the house of

Mulla will be ousted from the community." The full import of the

message was devastating for the Khojas as they realised that they

would also be denied right of burial in the Khoja cemetery. 7

Tension was running high as a result as Mulla asked them:

"Brothers, what will happen now? Will you become apostate again

and lose the true guidance?" to which they would reply: "What can

we do? What will happen when we die? There is not a place even

for our corpses to be buried" 8

As the community was growing it was apparent that the earlier

assurances given by Khalfan Rattansi and Dewji Jamal were not

adequate. Mulla tried to reassure them: "there is a graveyard of

the Shia and I am a surety to get your corpses buried there." The

Khojas were not reassured. They expressed their concern explaining

that since they were Khoja "what would happen to their dead

bodies if the non- Khoja Shias do not agree” to permit burial in

their cemetery?

Mulla realized that if the question of the burial ground was not

satisfactorily solved soon, his mission would suffer. While Khojas

were willing to withstand excommunication, social and economic

boycott, they could not tolerate the idea of not providing decent


Burial Ground Importance

burial to their dead. This was a sticking point that had to be resolved

without any further delay.

Soon Mulla obtained "written permission from the management

of the Matubbi graveyard to reassure the uneasy minds of

the eager Khoja." 9

Once the question of the graveyard was resolved, Mulla could

heave a sigh of relief as he continued with his mission of attracting

more people.

Taking into account these early developments in their history,

it will now be easy to understand why Khoja have been so meticulously

careful to make early provision for the burial grounds

wherever they settled.

Later, in 1899, the Khoja Jamaat in Bombay acquired their own

graveyard. Mohamed Haider writing in the History of the Khoja

Shia Ithna Asheri Community published in the centenary publication

of the Bombay Jamaat in 2001 explains how the Bombay

cemetery was eventually acquired.

“One of the problems that confounded the Ithna-Asheri Khojas

was the question of the burial of their dead. However, at the request

of Ayatullah Abul Qasim Najafi, Haji Abdul Hussein, an

Iranian merchant, got a plot of land allotted for a graveyard which

was named Aarambagh.” In Rabiul Awwal 1317 A.H. (1899 A.D.)

foundation stone of a Mosque was laid at the Aarambagh and was

completed by the month of Rajab, in the same year. 10


The Endangered Species

Karachi also had to undergo a similar experience. Although the

Khoja (Pirhai) Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat was formed in 1892, they

acquired land to serve as a burial ground in 1905. It was named as

'Hossaini Bagh'. The Khoja burial saga witnessed in India had its

ramifications in Africa also. The Khoja Community in Zanzibar had

inherited a burial ground (the one at Mnazi Moja behind Ras

Shangani) from a Surti Khoja, Mohamed Meru, who "made the plot

a Wakf for burial purposes for all members of the Khoja Community".


A Khoja Jamaat was functioning in Zanzibar since at least 1820

and was formally registered in 1838. A Khoja, regardless of his

persuasion, whether he was an Ismaili, Sunni or Ithna-Asheri, was

entitled to be buried in this communal burial ground. The few

Khojas who left in 1862 to branch out as Sunni were permitted to

be buried here. Unlike the policy adopted in Bombay for some

time, there were those among Khoja practicing the Shia Ithna-

Aheri faith, 12 who were permitted to be buried in Khoja

cemmetery. It is widely believed that four Khojas practicing Ithna-

Asheri faith are buried in this cemetery.

In 1880 a child in the Dewji Jamal family died in Zanzibar. Recalling

his experience of Bombay in 1877 when he was ejected

from the Ismaili Jamaat Khana and ex-communicated from the

Khoja Community, Dewji Jamal was looked upon by the larger

Khoja Community as a rebel and a leading opponent of the Aga

Khan. Dewji Jamal realized that not withstanding the right of a

Khoja to be buried in the traditional Khoja cemetery, he ran the


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risk of physical confrontation if he tried to exercise his right. To

overcome the risk of such a confrontation, overnight, Dewji Jamal

bought from Dossa Suleman his one hectare plot known as

Bustani - meaning garden – at a cost of Indian Rupees 15,000/-

and bequeathed it as a waqf to serve as a family graveyard. The

title deed of this purchase is dated 2 nd Jan 1880, (19th Muharram

1297 A.H.) This was before the Zanzibar Khoja Ithna-Asheri

Jamaat was registered.

After registration of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat in

Zanzibar in 1880, and the construction of the Mosque and

Imambara in 1881, the Ithna-Asheri Community acquired their

first cemetery in 1883 in the center of the Island outside the Stone

Town area. A second cemetery was acquired after the second

Ithna-Asheri Mosque was built in Zanzibar in 1899.

Located on the edge of the Stone Town residential area of Zanzibar,

the family cemetery of Dewji Jamal has survived subsequent

demolition of the larger Community cemeteries. A number of Muslim

cemeteries located outside the ‘Stone Town’ area of the

Zanzibar Island were demolished in 1965 to make way for the

housing projects during the reign of the Zanzibar Island President,

Abeid Karume.

The Khoja Ismaili cemetery in Zanzibar later on became subject

of a dispute acquiring political dimensions. In 1899, during his

visit to Zanzibar, the Aga Khan signed an agreement with the Zanzibar

Government for the use of the walled section of the

cemetery. Mihir Bose gives an interesting account of the dispute


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that arose with the local British civil servant in Zanzibar who

raised queries about the collection of rent outside the walled area.

The dispute continued for long and by 1912, with personal involvement

of the Aga Khan, the British Foreign Office in London

was dragged into the related exchanges. 13

Honouring a pledge given to Mulla Qadir Hussein, Dewji Jamal

also acquired a piece of land in Wadiussalaam-Kerbala. Dewji

Jamal, while on a visit to Iraq in 1905, died in Kadhmain and is

buried in this family graveyard in Kerbala. In keeping with the

local tradition, such private family graveyards located in the wider

public cemetery are protected by four walls in the form of a building

structure. This Devji Jamal graveyard, with its enclosed wall

and a steel door, has survived for a century. After the 1991 Gulf

War, the steel door was removed by vandals. As the city of Kerbala

is expanding, sections of this public graveyard nearer to the city

limits have been demolished and from what I saw during my last

visit in 2007, demolition work in progress. It may well be a matter

of time before the remaining graves are also razed to make

way for the city expansion (a reminder of what happened in Zanzibar

after the Revolution.

There are no records to show whether Dewji Jamal was the

first to be buried here or there were other Khoja buried earlier in

this graveyard. 14 Above the entrance to this enclosed graveyard is

a marble plaque with following inscription in Gujarati: “Haji Dewji

Jamal, Mumbai, gujri gaya, Tarikh 22, Zilqaad, 1322 (A.H.)” – translated

in English it reads: “Dewji Jamal, Mumbai, died 22 Zilqaad


Burial Ground Importance

1322 which is equivalent to 1905.A.D.” The Gujarati inscription is

in addition to the Arabic writings. Of late, the original marble

plaque with its Arabic and Gujarati inscriptions has been removed

by vandals and is now replaced with only Arabic writing.

Dewji Jamal was born in Bhawnagar, India, in 1820 and had

settled in Zanzibar between 1855/1860. Also buried in Kerbala

are about a dozen other individuals, mostly from the Dewji Jamal

family. There are some non-family members from among the early

Khoja converts. The inscription on one of the graves reads only

‘Haji Jamal’ with no date shown. This could be indicative of the fact

that the father of Dewji Jamal, who ostensibly died in India, his

remains were later on transferred to Kerbala to be buried in the

graveyard. The full name of Jamal was Jamal Nanji Bhimji Jetha. 15

Among those buried in Kerbala are several individuals who

died in India. In keeping with the wishes of the deceased, initially

they were interned as amanat i.e. interned on a temporary basis in

India. As was the practice then, and in few cases, continues to be

practiced even today, their remains, like that of the daughter of

Khalfan Rattansi and of Lalan Alidina, were later on transferred to

Kerbala for permanent burial. 16

In 2001 while on pilgrimage to Kerbala I visited the public

graveyard where I came across several fresh graves which were

small in size. I queried the graveyard caretaker if they were all

graves of children and was surprised to learn that they were in

fact remains of adults from the former Soviet Republics. The particular

graves I noticed were of deceased from Azerbaijan and the


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neighbouring states. For long, pilgrims from the former Soviet Republics

could not visit Iraq. With the disappearance of the Soviet

Union, pilgrims from the Muslim Republics were free to travel. Often

these pilgrims came along with small coffins containing the

remains of their family members for reburial in Kerbala or Najaf in

fulfillment of the wishes of the deceased. The Cemetery at Najaf,

known as Wadiussalaam extends for miles and is attributed to be

the largest cemetery in the world. 17

According to Ahlul Bayt News Agency (ABN.ir)dated June, 20,

2010, the “United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

(UNESCO) agreed to list the Wadi Al-Salaam cemetery

in the holy city of Najaf as a world heritage site, Iraq’s ministry of

Culture announced.

“A delegation from UNESCO visited the cemetery two weeks

ago and held meetings with Iraqi cultural officials to discuss listing

the site as a world heritage site.

“The Wadi Al-Salam Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the Islamic

world, or according to some accounts in the whole world.

Located near the holy shrine of Imam Ali (AS) the first Shia Imam,

it holds the graves of many prophets, thinkers, scientists, and historical

figures as well as ordinary people from different countries

like Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Lebanon.

The cemetery covers 6 square kilometers and contains millions

of bodies. Buried in this grave yard are several members of the

Khoja community”.


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Among Khoja graves in Wadi al Salaam, Najaf is the grave of a

well known social worker, Aldulhussen Jetha Gokul. Below is the

tragic account of his death published in Business Recorder, Karachi

on 26 th January 2004, which is reproduced here in full with the

permission of the author.

Mohamed Aziz Dossa, well known as a writer with his pen

name of “Alex, London” has provided a graphic account of the execution

of Abdulhusein Jetha Gokul. Writing in “Business Recorder”

Karachi on 26 th January,2004, under the heading of “Abdulhusein

Jetha Gokul’s grave in Najaf – without a tombstone”

Dossa recalls: “In Wadi al Salaam here is also a grave of a respected

member of the Khoja family, Abdulhusein Jetha Gokul, of

the Jetha Gokul family who migrated from Karachi to Basra in the

wake of the treaty of Mudros, October 30, 1918, when Iraq came

under the tutelage of British rule with the collapse of the Ottoman

Empire”, writes Dossa.

“Jetha Gokul initiated shipping business in Basra, chartering

country crafts from Bombay and Karachi to Iraqi and Gulf ports.

Later, his sons, Kasimali, Abdul Hussain, Ghulam Ali, also moved

into export/import of commodities, and established themselves in

the business of dates, cultivated in the heartland of Iraq, particularly

around the regions of Kerbala and Nejaf. Abdul Hussain and

his brothers prospered through dint of hard work, and investment

in real estate.”

“A wealthy businessman, Abdul Hussain took special interest

in looking after the welfare of pilgrims from India and Africa trans-


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iting through Basrah on their way to Najaf and Kerbala. At a time

when there was no air connection, the only medium of transport

was by ship to Basrah. In Basrah, Abdulhusein had a rest house –

musafarkhana – for pilgrims.”

“The Gokul family also had a similar pilgrim’s rest house in Karachi.

Later, with the involvement of Faize Huseini, established in

Bombay and with contributions from Africa and India, pilgrim rest

houses were established in Najaf, Kerbala and Kadhimin.

Abdulhusein Jetha Gokul was the local representative of the Faize

Huseini organization in Iraq looking after and managing the rest


“In 1969, the Baathist regime charged Abdulhusein Jetha Gokul

and a number of Iraqi in Basrah for being Israeli spy. “Abdul Husain

bhai was charged for his purported involvement, offence, in

the transfer of money of wealthy Jews, fleeing Iraq, in the sixties.

Entire case was based on hearsay evidence, bereft of any documentation,

of a solitary, Iraqi witness who, as it later transpired

had a grouse against Abdul Hussain bhai over some business dealings.

Abdul Hussain bhai was hanged on the scaffolds of the

central jail of Basrah.”

“Fingernails, of the diabetic Abdul Hussain bhai were pulled

out one by one, in the dungeon where he was incarcerated. He

was brought before television cameras. Gruesome, exhibitions of

the pathetic scenes of physical torture were also relayed on Pakistan

Televeision Network. Blackened, blood clotted, swollen faced,

with scars of perceptible beating, Abdul Hussain bhai was posi-


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tioned before the camera to make public confession. On January

27, 1969, he was hanged along with a number of Iraqis charged

with the alleged crime”.

“Saddam Hussain in his capacity as Interior Minister ignored

the supplication for pardon of Pakistni President Field Marshal

Ayub Khan”. 18

Ayatullah Syed Muhsin-el-Hakim declared Abdulhuein Jetha

Gokul as Shahid - martyr. After the overthrow of the Saddam regime

in Iraq, Iraqi authorities have named a street in Basrah after

him as it is called “Shar’e Ash’shaheed Assaeed Abdulhusein Jeeta

Kokul.” In Arabic alphabets there is no “th” or “G” hence the name

is spelt in Arabic as ‘Jeeta Kokul.’

The sight of endless rows of graves in Najaf extending in all directions

as far as the eye can see is a grim sight to behold for any

first time visitor.

All Shia have a special affinity towards Kerbala as the resting

place of Imam Husein and his companions, who were martyred in

61 A.H. The Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri, however, claim a double affinity

with Kerbala. First, like all other Shia, for their love of Imam

Husein. Secondly, Khoja recognize that they owe it to Kerbala for

the rediscovery of their true faith. But for their attachment with

Kerbala and the contacts they made in Kerbala with Mulla Qadir

Hussein and Sheikh Zainul Abedin Mazindarani, in all probability,

they would have remained as followers of the Aga Khan.


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A unique feature of this emerging Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri

Community has been that wherever they have settled, in India,

Africa, Europe, and in North America, the first priority, even for

small settlements, has always been to set up a community center,

Mosque, Imambargah, a Madrassa for imparting Islamic education

to their children and the all important Cemetery as a final resting

place to register their identity as practicing Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslims.

Many Muslims, especially Indo-Pakistani non Khoja Muslims

settled in Europe and America have been in the habit of sending

their corpses for burial to their places of origin. This practice is

gradually receding as they now opt to bury their dead locally.

On 22 nd February,1929, when Ruttie Jinnah, wife of Quaid-e-

Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founding father of Pakistan died,

Trustees of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat in Bombay at first

raised objection to her burial at the Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri Cemetery

on the grounds that she was not a born Khoja. Mrs. Jinnah was

born a Parsee who had converted to Islam upon marrying Jinnah.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah proclaimed his right as a bona fide member

of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community to bury his wife in the

Khoja cemetery and threatened to go to Court if permission was

denied. The Trustees relented and Mrs. Ratanbai (Ruttie) Jinnah

was accordingly buried in the Aram Baag – the Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Cemetery in Bombay. 19

Stanley Wolpert commenting on the burial of Mrs. Jinnah

writes of “long boring five hour funeral rites.” This interpretation

appears doubtful in that the burial rites of all Muslims, Shia Ithna-


Burial Ground Importance

Asheri included, are brief. There is a special prayer for the dead

known as Salatul Mayyit. This takes around five minutes. It is followed

by the recitation of Talqeen as the corpse is laid in the

grave. Recitation of Talqeen, (advice to the dead) is meant to act as

reminder to the deceased to reiterate the true Islamic beliefs when

questioned by the Angels. Recitation of Talqeen would not take

more than ten minutes. All told, including the manual filling of the

grave could be accomplished within an hour or so. To this may be

added time taken for the usual condolences hand shake with the

bereaved family. The “long boring five hour funeral rites” referred

to by Stanley Wolpert is therefore confusing. 20 Obviously Stanley

Wolpert was reporting in all good faith what was conveyed to him.


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Zanzibar. Dewji Jamal family

graveyard known as

‘Bustani Qabrastan, acquired

in 1880 as it is now.

Title Deed of ‘Bustani’ graveyard dated 2 nd January, 1880 and (above)

Photo of Bustani graveyard as it is today.


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Kerbala. Entrance to the walled section of the Dewji Jamal Qabrastan. The Gujarati

inscription reads: “Haji Dewji Jamal, Mumbai, gujri gaya, Tarikh 22, Zilqaad, 1322

(A.H.)” Of late the marble plaque with Arabic and Gujarati inscriptions on top of the

entrance has been replaced with only Arabic inscription. Seen in the picture are left

to right the caretaker and his young son, the author in dark glasses and head gear,

Mrs. Nasrin Tejani (daughter of the author) and the official tour guide.

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri

“Aram Bagh” Bombay.

Grave of Mrs. Ruttie

Jinnah. The tombstone


“Rattanbai Mohamed

Ali Jinnah. Born 20 th

February, 1900. Died:

23 rd February, 1929.


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Bhavnagar, India, Haji

Gulamaali Memorial

Qabrastan. Note the

orderly manner in

which the graves have

been laid out.

Similar planned layout

of graves has been

noted in Karachi,

Tulear and Antanarivo,

in Madagascar.

The saga of the Khoja burial ground

dispute has been covered in this

chapter. Time, however, is a healer.

In Talaja, Kathiawar, this common

cemetery managed by the Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat where

both Ithna-Asheri and Ismaili Khoja

are buried. The related funeral rites

for both are conducted by the Ithna-

Asheri. In this picture, at this

Cemetary , standing left to right are

Mr.Huseinali Chotubhai of Bhavnagar,

Dr. Ahmed Hassam, President

of the World Federati on of

K.S.I.M.C.,(2003-2009), Mr.

Gulamhusein Bhurani, President of

the Council of Gujarat.

(Circa 2004)


Burial Ground Importance

“Hoosaini Baagh”- the

first Cemetery acquired

by the Karachi Khoja

(Pirhai) Shia Ithna-Asheri

Jamaat in 1905.

Among the early graves

at the Hoosaini Baagh,

Karachi is the grave of

“Marhum Satchu Peera,

of Daressalaam –

Mutawalli – 1906.”

Satchu Peera was returning

to Daressalaam

after pilgrimage to Iraq,

when he passed away in

Karachi and is buried

there. In 1902, Satchu

Peera had donated land

for the Daressalaam

Cemetery, Mosque,

Imambara and the



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“Hoosaini Baagh” the first Cemetery acquired by the Karachi Khoja (Pirhai) Shia Ithna-

Asheri Jamaat in 1905. Among the early graves at the Hoosaini Baagh, Karachi is the

grave of “Marhum Satchu Peera of Daressalaam – Mutawalli – 1906.” Satchu Peera was

returning to Daressalaam after pilgrimage to Iraq, when he passed away in Karachi and

is buried there. In 1902, Satchu Peera had donated of land for the Daressalaam Cemetery,

Mosque, Imambara and the Musfarkhana.

Basrah, Iraq - Street

name: Share’ Ash-

Shaheed As-Saeed Al Haj

Abdulhusein Jita.


Burial Ground Importance


Seyyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi of Daressalaam and Prof. Noel Q. King, of the University of California,

Santa Cruz, U.S.A., in a paper paper entitled: Some East African Ithna-Asheri Jamaats



Hasanain Walji.


Autobigraphy, Mulla Qader Husein, p.27.




ibid p.20


ibid p.20


ibid p.20


ibid p.17


ibid p.18


From centenary publication issued by the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat, Mumbai, India,

to mark its centenary 1319 - 1419 A.H. observed on 30 th October, 1998.


Khatib Rajab, writing on: The Indian Muslims in Zanzibar (Islamic News and information

network –ININ-NET-URL: http;/www.muslimnewsonline.com/in records here it must be

pointed out that the Jamat Khana had been in Zanzibar since 1820 when Khoja Ismailis

inherited a cemetery at Mnazi Moja. It was the work of a prominent Indian from Surti,

Mohammad Meru, a wealthy Muslim who donated a plot a Wakf (endowment) for burial

of all the Khoja community.


Until the final break amongst the Khojas, thus separating the Ismaili and the Sunni and

Shia Ithna-Asheri Khoja from their Ismaili compatriots, which gained momentum in Zanzibar

after 1881, the common Khoja burial ground was used for all.


Mihir Bose p.150/151


The Kerbala Qabrastan is maintained under the supervision of Taqui Jaffer of Karachi son

of Mohamed Jaffer Nazerali Dewji.


Relayed to me by my grandfather Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji:

In a Gujarati article on Mulla Haji Janmohamed Kermali Murji Rawji published in Rahe

Najaat – Year 99, Issue No.11 – June, 1988 reference is also made to Dewji as ‘Dewji

Jamal Nanji’(Clipping courtesy Nisar Sheraly of Toronto).


Such has been the common practice. Remains of the daughter of Khalfan Rattansi from

Bombay and that of Lalan Alidina from Karachi were similarly transferred to Kerbala for

permanent burial as reviewed in respective sections.


After the second Gulf war, western journalists visiting Najaf have commented on the size

of the cemetery.


Published in Business Recorder, Karachi on 26 th January 2004, community by Alam Sayed

Saeed Akhtar Rizvi from his book A History of Shia people excerpts from which reproduced

in the light Magazine, Vol.35 Issue No.2001, Published by Bilal Muslim


For more details see: Muhammad Ali Jinnah – the most illustrious name in the Khoja Mission

of Tanzania.


Stanley Walport in Jinnah of Pakistan,


Tribulations of the Formation of

Mumbai Jamaat


he 1993 Directory issued by the Mumbai Jamaat states

the Jamaat as the "Parent Jamaat" because it was the earliest

established one, viz 1899.

Mohamed Khalfan records, 1 “I informed Mohib Ali Nasser,

then the President of the Bombay Jamaat, when I was in Mumbai

in 1994 that their Jamaat could not be the oldest of all if it was

established in 1899, not even the Karachi Jamaat which was established

in 1892 and that Kuwaat Jamaat of Zanzibar was the oldest,

it was (established in) 1881. The reason for the delay in the establishment

of the Mumbai Jamaat was the Court case filed by the

Ismaili Khoja Jamaat objecting to the construction of the Ithna

Asheri Mosque/Imambara just one street away from the Jamaat

Khana because of the simmering schism in the two rival Khoja

communities. The case was lost.”

“Unlike the present time when laws are strictly observed, in

the past there was too much laxity. It is possible that the Jamaat


Tribulations of the Formation of Mumbai Jamat

per se became functional much earlier and it was only later when

it became necessary for the Jamaat to assume a legal entity in order

to register itself as the owner of the newly

built mosque/imambara buildings in the Deed of Property that it

registered itself as a statutory compliance.”

“The first Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Mosque and Imambargah

were built in Zanzibar in 1882 while the one in Bombay was built

in 1901.” 2

As in the case of Zanzibar in 1880, Mumbai Jamaat also went

through serious opposition from members of the Khoja Ismaili

Jamaat for building of their own Mosque. Reproduced below is a

letter dated 10 th November, 1900, written by Haji Abdallahbhoy

Haji Mowjee, Honorary Secretary of the Trust Board of the Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay,

which explains at length the nature of the problem encountered. 3

Bombay Mosque Building – Litigation:


The Commissioner of Police,


Bombay, 10 th November 1900


Upon being desired to submit our reply to the petitions presented

to you by some of the so called Ismaili Khojas, who have complained

against the building of the mosque in Palla Gulley, and have asked

you to interfere and stop the erection of the said mosque upon various


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grounds set forth in the said petition, we, the undersigned state as


The petitioners, it is clear, claim for themselves as well as His

Highness the Aga Khan and the whole Khoja Community, now under

headship of His Highness the Aga Khan, to be Ismailis, and call us

Ithna Asheris, thus suggesting that the Khoja Community is divided

into two distinct religious sects. But is this their allegations the petitioners

have completely misrepresented the actual facts.

Our belief is, and always has been, that the Khojas, one and all, as

well as His Highness the Aga Khan and his family, are pure Ithna

Asheris as will clearly appear from the following facts.

The publishing of the book called Kanzul Masaeb which is published

by the order and with the assistance of Aga Hasanali Saheb

(Hassan-al-Huseini) the grandfather of the present Aga Khan, and

dedicated to him, and which contains the lives of the twelve Imams of

the Ithna Asheri sect, clearly demonstrates His Highness, belief in the

said Twelve Imams and his adherence to the said creed. Then, again,

there can be no stronger proof deduced in support of the above fact

than the positive statement made by the said Aga Khan in his autobiography.

The statement referred to above runs as follows:-

“Yes, in proportion to my ability I shall try my utmost to imitate

my holy ancestors in propagating the religion and the law of the last

of the prophets (namely) Mohammed; and it is proved (in his history)

that in Egypt some of my ancestors have been sovereigns and rulers;


Tribulations of the Formation of Mumbai Jamat

and the creed of Ja'feri in accordance with the Ithna Asheri sect, the

propagation of which is now attributed to the Shah Ismail of the

Safavi dynasty has in fact been spread by my ancestors. And I am a

remnant of that house.”

Further in the Risale Jahangir Shah which was published by the

late Jehangir Shah, son of the above mentioned Shah Hasanali and

uncle of the present Aga Khan in the Hijri year 1313, he has made

public profession of the Ithna Asheri doctrines both for himself and the

Aga Khan Family and his followers. This declaration has not been controverted

nor contradicted by the present Aga Khan or any of his

followers. On the contrary, the present Aga Khan, immediately on his

return from his pilgrimage to the holy shrines of the twelve Imams,

ordered the publication of a book in gujrati called 'Khoja qaumna

mazhabna ketlak mool tatvo tatha kriya sambandhi na pustak' that is

“A compendium of the elements of the Khoja religion and their ceremonies”

as a guide to the Khoja community, containing the rituals,

ceremonies, and laws pertaining to the performance of the daily prayers

and other rites, all of which are literally in accordance with the

Shia Ithna Asheri sect.

Finally the most convincing evidence of the fact that the Aga Khan

as well as his followers are Ithna Asheris and not Ismailis, is incontestably

and irrefutably to be found in the actual practice and observance

of the doctrines, tenets and ceremonies of the Ithna Asheris creed by

the whole Khoja community and their head the Aga Khan, and this we

say without fear of contradiction. The saying of daily prayers as well


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as the special prayers on the 19 th , 21 st and 23 rd night of the holy

month of Ramazan; all the religious ceremonies from the time the

soul has left the body down to the time that the corpse is deposited in

its resting place and dust covered over it; and last by the marriage

ceremonies and those performed during Moharram, all these are

strictly in accordance with the practice and tenets of the Ithna Asheri


The practice of sending the dead bodies to be buried in the sacred

grounds of Kerbala, Najaf and Samara in Asiatic Turkey is in vogue

only among the Ithna Asheris. Almost all of the dead bodies of the

members of the Aga Khan family have been so forwarded to be interred

in one or the other of the said holy places. Such a practice,

however, is totally against the Ismailian doctrines.

The use of tobacco in any form and the cutting of hair of the

beard are strictly forbidden by the Ithna Asheri doctrines. But there

are no such restrictions in the Ismaili tenets. Accordingly, tobacco is

freely made use of by the Aga Khan and his followers and they cut the

hair of their beards without restriction.

Ismailis do not visit the Holy Shrines of Kazmain and Samara, as

the Imams buried there are not recognized by them. But it was only

two years ago that His Highness’s mother and wife, and His Highness

the Aga Khan himself about five years ago, visited these Holy Shrines

as pilgrims, thus confirming the adherence to and profession of the

Ithna Asheri faith.


Tribulations of the Formation of Mumbai Jamat

Moreover, a large number of the Khoja community annually visits

these Holy Shrines as pilgrims without any hindrance or restriction on

the part of his highness the Aga Khan.

We, therefore, believe that the whole Khoja community and its

head the Aga Khan are and have been from the beginning professing

and practicing the Ithna Asheri faith, and we challenge the petitioners

to prove the contrary, or to show that they follow and practice the

Ismailian ceremonies, tenets, or doctrines in the least, except their

bare and unsupported allegations that they are Ismailis. It has been

suggested in the said petition that we should secede from the Khoja

community all in a body. Having regarded to the fact contained in

preceding paragraphs it is idle and absurd to make any such suggestion.

If the Aga Khan begins to preach to the Khojas the tenets and

doctrines of the Ismailian creed and to bid them to discontinue the

observance and the ceremonies and tenets of the Ithna Asheri creed,

which are and have been observed from time immemorial, we shall,

without any suggestions or hint on the part of the adverse party, most

willingly secede in a body from a community which has changed its

existing creed. But so long as we and the self styled Ismaili Khojas remain

the professors and the practices of the Ithna Asheri creed, there

is no reason or need why we should separate from the community.

The most important and real point which petitioners have alleged

and on the strength of which they ask you to move in their matter of

the erection of the said mosque is that there is likelihood of the

breach of the peace occurring and that the women and children pass-


The Endangered Species

ing by the said mosque will have to run the risk of being annoyed,

harassed and robbed, if the mosque is allowed to be built in a place

where it is at present in the course of construction.

Let us now examine the arguments adduced by the petitioners in

the support of their contention and apprehension. Their futility,

worthlessness and childish nature are clearly visible on their face. The

petitioners actually presume, without any warrant at all, that those

coming to the mosque to pray are no better than mere ruffians bent

upon doing mischief, and robbing the women and children passing by

the mosque. Nothing could be more insulting than this malicious presumption

without any ground whatsoever.

For the last six months the very building which is now only changing

its name with necessary alterations in its construction has been

used as a place of worship, and no breach of the peace has ever taken

place, nor was any cause for annoyance or complaint given nor to the

neighboring residence, to the women and the children of the petitioners.

The petitioners seem further to presume that crowds of Moguls,

Hindustanis, Julais, and Sidees will congregate in the said mosque to

the danger and risk of their women and children being robbed by

them. Can such statements proceed from any other motive and spirit

except that of pure malice and desire to prejudice the authorities? We

wonder that the petitioners claiming as they do to be Mahomedans –

assuming that they are Ismaili Mahomedans – should be perfectly

ignorant of one of the injunctions of Islam that it is incumbent upon


Tribulations of the Formation of Mumbai Jamat

the devotees not to go to say prayers in a mosque far away from their

residence when they have one at their disposal nearer home. The Moguls,

Julais and Sidees have no mosque of their own, still to these

persons the Mogul mosque is nearer, whilst the new mosque would be

a very long way off from their homes, and according to the religious

injunction noted above, it would be improper to come down to the

new mosque intentionally leaving the Mogul or any nearer Masjid.

However, the present mosque is made exclusively for the use of the

Khojas as you will see on the reference to the trust deed which has

been produced to you, and that Moguls, Julais, Sidees, etc. have no

claim to the mosque.

Within the last ten years a number of Mehfils have been formed

by the Khojas which count among their numbers some of the petitioners,

and their place of meeting established within a radius of about

one hundred yards from the jamaat khana, as will be seen from the

municipal map of Ward B, wherein their situations are marked with

blue pencil. In these mehfils, majlis, prayers and the Moharrum ceremonies

as well as recitations and elegies of the twelve imams of the

Ithna Asheris have been invariably performed and recited from the

time of their institutions, and they are and have been attended by

Julais and Hindustanis. Moreover, in some cases these mehfils occupy

one story of a house and the rest of the house is occupied by tenants,

who are Khojas, many of whom belong to the adverse party. Inspite of

this, no complaint has ever been made that any disturbance was

caused nor the police had ever to take any precautions to prevent a


The Endangered Species

breach of peace taking place, nor the women and children of the petitioners

were ever robbed, insulted or obstructed on their way to the

Jamaat Khana. Is it not ridiculous to say that women and children,

who come to the Jamaat Khana from such a long distance, as Bhendy

Bazaar and Null Bazaar, and who have for that purpose to pass

through many streets and lanes and by masjids and worshiping places

of all communities where people have congregated to pray, would be

robbed, obstructed, or disturbed when passing the new mosque

where the number of devotees would be greatly limited and the time

taken for the performance of the daily prayers is not more than two

hours in twenty four hours? Besides the Jamaat Khana near Chinch

Bunder, there is another Jamaat Khana on the west Jail Road which is

known as the Kandi Mohalla Jamaat Khana. Many Khojas, both males

and females, daily congregate in this Jamaat Khana, and it is strange

they do not take the least objection to the proximity of the Mogul

Masjid and the Imambara on the same grounds as are put forth for

the prevention of the new mosque.

Again it is only lately that a site for the cemetery for the Ithna

Asheris has been granted and a mosque erected thereon. This mosque

is quite in the vicinity of the Hasanabad where a large number of

Khojas, both male and female, daily pay visits. But no objection has

been taken to its erection on the ground that Khoja women and children

visiting Hasanabad will be robbed or that they will be obstructed

or annoyed thereby or that a breach of the peace will take place.


Tribulations of the Formation of Mumbai Jamat

It is thus as clear as daylight that the petitioners in asking for your

interference have been actuated simply by motives of pure malice,

jealousy and a morbid desire to unnecessarily create and put obstacles

on our legitimate and lawful actions.

It has been alleged in the said petition that we have been propagating

the Isna-Ashari creed and that we have been instigated thereto

by Mullas. We most indignantly deny the charges thus recklessly preferred

against us merely to succeed in their unlawful demand. We

have no need to propagate the Ithna Asheri creed in as much as it is

our firm conviction and belief that all the Khojas together with His

Highness the Aga Khan are and have been Ithna Asheris. The only offence

– if offence, it is – that can be laid at our doors is that we have

been trying to follow more conscientiously and scrupulously the already

accepted tenets and doctrines of the Ithna Asheri creed. If

persons who try to strictly follow their religions according to the injunctions

laid down in their religious books, be forcibly and unlawfully

prevented from following them, then let the benign Government of

His Majesty under whose rules fullest religious liberty has been granted

to all castes and creeds make such strict observance of one’s

religion penal by statute.

If the petitioners have only as elementary knowledge of the creed

they profess to hold, they would immediately admit that it is seventy

times more beneficial to say prayers in a mosque than in the house,

and still more so to take part in the prayers said in a congregation.

This very injunction presupposes the existence and there inculcates


The Endangered Species

the necessity of having a mosque. It is for this reason that in the Holy

Quran it is bidden:

“Who is more unjust than he who prohibited the temples of God

(Masjids) that His name should be remembered therein, and who has

sent to destroy them, these men cannot enter therein but with fear.

They shall be ashamed in this world and in the next face a grievous

punishment.” (See Sale’s Quran, Chapter 2, verse 114)

But the attitude taken by the petitioners with reference to the

new mosque can, in the face of this express injunction of the Holy

Quran, be counted for only by their ignorance and malice. For aught

we know, if His Highness the Aga Khan were aware of the steps taken

by the petitioners, most of whom are men of no consequence, as you

will be able to ascertain from enquiries, we feel confident that fully

conversant as His Highness is in the religious tenets of the Ithna

Asheris, he would take his followers to task for this their most unjustifiable

action and opposition.

Moreover, as far as we are aware those who live in that street as

well the owners of the houses adjacent to the purposed mosque, have

not shown the least objection to its building, nay on the contrary,

most of the owners of the houses have shown their approval of the

same by their signatures affixed on the separate list of their names

appended hereto.

Finally it is our earnest request that you would enquire whether

the said petition really represents the views of those whose signatures


Tribulations of the Formation of Mumbai Jamat

it bears. So far as our knowledge and belief go, we say that at the

time the signatures were taken the petition was not in existence at all.

They were taken on blank paper and in most cases by means other

than those which would do credit to any respectable body of man.

As to the allegation made in the said petition that Sunni Khojas

separation was never objected to and no friction ever took place,

without saying anything more on the subject, we beg to you refer to

the records in your office during the time that Mr. Forjet was the Police

Commissioner, and you will, on reference to such records, find

what an amount of trouble and annoyance was caused to the Sunni

Khojas by the so-called Ismaili Khojas.

We shall be ready to produce for your perusal and reference of

the books here in above referred to and quoted from, if so desired.

I have the honor to be,


Your most obedient servant,

(By order of Trustees)

Signed: Hajee Abdallahbhoy Haji Mowjee Hon. Secretary


The Endangered Species

External view of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Mosque,

Palagalli, Mumbai built in 1901


Tribulations of the Formation of Mumbai Jamat

Internal view of the Bombay Mosque from the Sahan (Courtyard)

A section of the Sahan (Courtyard); New high-rise buildings emerging with an old unkempt

edifice in traditional design in between - typical of the uncontrolled mixed architecture mushrooming

all over India. In the background is the clock tower of the central Khoja Ismaili

Jamaat Kahana, visible from the Mosque courtyard.


The Endangered Species

Marhum Seth

Hasmabhai Visram,

J.P., first President of

the K.S.I. Jamaat,

Bombay, 1901.

The two photographs that

occupy pride of place in

the Mumbai Jamaat Office

- Left Sheikh Abdulqasim

Najafi (d.1350) the first

resident Aalim of the

Mumbai Jamaat and Right

Sheikh Mohamed Hassan

Najafi D.1387 A.H., the

resident Aalim of the

Mumbai Jamaat.


Tribulations of the Formation of Mumbai Jamat


In a letter dated October 11 th , 2003.


Mohamed A. Khalfan, former Vice President of the Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri

Jamaats of Africa, in a letter to Mohibali Dawood Nasser of Bombay.


Reproduced from the centenary publication issued by the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat,

Mumbai, India, to mark its centenary 1319 - 1419 observed on 30 th October, 1998.


Threats and Assassinations


e have seen earlier accounts of the Sunni Khoja assassinated

by the fanatical followers of the Aga Khan

known as Fidai or Fedayeen - ardent devotees. A

decade after the Sunni Khoja branched out to form their own

community, the Ithna-Asheri Khoja followed similar way as they

branched out to organize themselves as a distinct Shia community.

In 1873, Mulla Qadir Husein returned to India with Dewji

Jamal to start his Madrassa in Bombay. “When Ismailis became

aware of his activities they began threatening the Mullah and his

students.” 1

Mulla Qadir Husein records in his autobiography that in 1873

while traveling from Basra to Mumbai with Dewji Jamal and other

Zuwwar, the ship they were traveling in stopped in Karachi. Mulla

Qadir Husein disembarked in Karachi and stayed for some time as

guest of Lalan Alidina. “It was the habit of good Lalan Alidina to

preach the tenets of the Right path secretly and thus kindle the

flame of guidance in the hearts of ignorant people” in Karachi, records

Mulla Qadir Husein in his autobiography. The activities of

Lalan Alidina did not go well with the Khoja Community in Karachi

who accused him of “introducing innovations.” 2


Threats and Assasinations

Once when Lalal Alidina was returning after participating in a

Majlis of Imam Husein, he was attacked and seriously wounded.

This incident took place on 2 nd March, 1876 at around 7 p.m.

Lalan Alidina was returning from Majlis at ‘Baara (twelve) Imam’

otherwise also known as ‘Town Imambara’ located near Pan Mandi

in what is now known as Nishtar Road. Most of the shops in the

area were closed by then and there were not many people around.

Lalan Alidina was attacked from behind. Despite the fact that he

was wearing a turban, the blow on his head left a deep cut on his

head and his lips also were cut. Lalan survived the murderous attack.

In his turban Lalan had a tasbih (rosary). As a result of the

blow on his head, the rosary beads were scattered and some of the

beads penetrated the open wound in his head. The Doctors who

treated Lalan managed to remove several beads but a few beads

still remained embedded in his head which could not be dislodged

lest it caused any injury to his brain. The perpetrator of the crime

were later arrested, tried in Court and sentenced according to law.

This tragic happening did not deter Lalan Alidina in his resolve

to practice and promote the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith. After recovering

from his wounds, he continued in his quest and took special

interest in delivering Azaan (call to prayers) and in arranging

majalis of Imam Husein.

On 28 th February, 1878 at around 9.00 a.m. Lalan Alidina was

walking near the Denso Hall in what is now known as M.A. Jinnah

Road, when a gun shot rang out and Lalan Alidina fell down

wounded. As people in the vicinity started running away for their


The Endangered Species

own safety, a young Hindu lad named Thalia Shivji mustered courage

to apprehend the assailant. With the help of a labourer near

by, Thalia Shivji also arranged for the injured Lalan to be taken to

Hospital in a handcart operated by one Issu Shaddi. Two hours

later, at around 11 a.m. Lalan Alidina succumbed to his injuries

and passed away. For more details about Shaheed Lalan Alidina

see the following section on Karachi Jamaat development.

According to Mulla Qadir Hussein when news of Lalans’ death

reached Bombay it cast a gloom and “the hearts of the Khojas of

Bombay were pounding with fear.”

Soon Bombay had its share of fanaticism taking an ugly turn.

Akber Meherally records: “One day the Mullah's favourite student,

Killu, was mercilessly beaten by fanatic Ismailis. Killu remained

hospitalized for some time and became temporarily invalid. After

recovering from his injuries, he stabbed the chief Mukhi of the Aga

Khan with a knife. Mukhi Hasan died. Killu admitted to the killing

and was sentenced to death by hanging. The court trials of Killu, as

well as his subsequent funeral procession and burial, brought the

dissident Khojahs out in the open. Prominent among them were

Haji Dewji Jamal, Haji Gulam Ali Haji Ismail, and Haji Khalfan

Rattansi.” 3

Killu Khatau was buried on 20 th July, 1878, at the Shia Irani

cemetery, Marine Lines, Bombay, since he could not be buried in

the Khoja Cemetery. 4

This incident had generated much bad blood between the two

communities and tension ran high as a result. The leading English


Threats and Assasinations

newspaper in India the Times of India in its issue of Monday, 6 January,

1879, carried the following report under the heading: The

Moharram in Bombay.

“The half score days of the Moharram are always a time of anxiety

to those responsible for the peace of this island, from risk

conflict between the Shias and Sunnis; an this year there was a

new element of danger arising out of the recent murder of a Khoja

moola in the streets of Bombay. The trial of Killu Khatao and certain

events that transpired before and since his execution, justified

the apprehension that the disturbance which it was feared might

take place at the time of the murder had only been deferred until

Mohurrum came round. It is satisfactory to find that these apprehensions

have proved groundless. There has been no affray, no

breach of the peace: the whole thing has passed off very quietly –

perhaps quieter than ever before – and even the procession, the

impression of the taboots and the attendant orgies, in which so

many thousands of persons have taken part, were accompanied

with smaller number of casualties than happens in London at every

Lord Mayor’s show.”

Akber Meherally gives an insightful account to the background

developments that subsequently led to further attacks on

the Ithna-Asheri Khoja in which two succumbed to their injuries

while two survived. Farhad Daftary and Mihir Bose have also

made detailed references to these developments.

Akber Meherally records: “In 1901, the splinter group made

an announcement in the newspapers and established a Khojah


The Endangered Species

Ithna'Asheri Jama`at in Bombay. The group became known as

Chhoti (small) Jamat, and the mainstream was called Bari (big)

Jamat. When the splinter group decided to build their separate

Mosque in Bombay, it was rumoured that Aga Khan, before his departure

for Europe, had offered to contribute financially. The

group members rejected this offer when they learned that Aga

Khan wanted to have administrative control over the Mosque, similar

to the one he had over the Jamat Khanas.”

“I have come across correspondence in which the author

writes that Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III, had agreed

to inaugurate the Khoja Ithna Asheri Mosque in Bombay, known as

Pala Gali Mosque, upon his return from Europe.”

“However, when Sir Sultan Mohammed was on board, returning

to Bombay from Southampton, two Fidayeen's within the

Ismaili community, seeking the cue from the `Hashsashins' of

Alamut took upon themselves, the recourse to murder Haji

Allarakia, Laljee Sajjan and Abdullah Laljee, the three known protagonists

of the Ithna'sheri faction whom the Ismaili `Hashsashins'

identified as the destroyers of the Jamat. Whether or not, the

‘Hashsasins' were sponsored by the Aga Khan Sir Sultan Mohammed

or his mother Lady Ali Shah is an issue that will remain

shrouded in the mysteries of mankind,....”

“This murderous attack by two Fidayeen (self sacrificing fanatics)

was instrumental in creating a permanent division between

the splinter group and the mainstream. Haji Allarakia and Laljee

Sajjan succumbed to their injuries. The third victim, Abdullah


Threats and Assasinations

Laljee, survived the attack because the weapon was blunt and the

assailant was prevented from making a second stab by

Noormohamed Dossa. Abdullah Laljee was one of the founding

members of the Ithna Asheri Jamat. He played a leading role in the

building of the Pala Gali Mosque.”

Severance of all social and religious contacts

“It was reported during the police investigation that bags of golden

guineas were discovered in the hutments of these Fida'is, and a

hidden hand was suspected in this murderous attack on the

Ithna'ashri activists. The Fida'is were tried, convicted, and hanged.

Their bodies were buried in a Muslim graveyard in Worli, a suburb

of Bombay. Ismailis who had hypocritically disassociated themselves

from the Fida'is during the trials began paying their respect

to the martyrs by visiting their graves in Worli. Later on, at the

instance of the Aga Khan, the remains of the assassins were removed

from the Muslim graveyard and buried in an Ismaili

graveyard in the Khojah Mohallah. Aga Khan was now openly criticized

and insulted by the dissidents for the assassination of their

protagonists.” 5

In his autobiography, Mulla Qadir Hussein gives a long account

of the cross-examination of the case that tried Killu Khatau. Mulla

was also summoned to give evidence at the trial.


The Endangered Species

The two graves of Hirjbhai Alarakhia and Laljeebhai Sajan enshrined under a mausoleum at

the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Arambagh, Bombay.

Marhum Sheth Hirjibhai Alarakhia

assassinated 10 th Zilqad, 1318 (March 9,


Marhum Seth Laljeebhai Sajan –

Assassinated 10 th Zilqad, 1318 (March, 9,



Threats and Assasinations

Marhum Seth Abdullabhai Lalji (top) and Marhum Seth Kasam Alibhai Nanji Miani (right)

victims of the assassination attempt in 1901. Both survived with injuries. Kassam Alibhai

died of natural death on 20 th March, 1931.

Denied burial in Khoja cemetery, the lonely

grave of Killu Khataw lies at the Shia Irani

Cemetery. Bombay.

On 2 nd march, 1876, Lalan Alidina was the Khoja martyr

to be killed in Karachi. While the photo of Lalan

Alidina is not available, reproduced here is a picture of

his son Nurmohamed Lalan who had much similarity

with his father.

(I am grateful to Mehboob Wazir, Editor of “Zulfikar” weekly, Karachi, for permitting me access

to the archives of “Zulfikar” and for permission to reproduce photograph of Nurmohamed



The Endangered Species


Akber Meherally -“A Hitory of the Agakhani Ismailis” A.M. Trust, Burbury, Canada.1991,



Mulla Qader Husein, Autobiography p.31.


Akber Meherally. p.95.


Mulla Qader Hussein gives detailed account of the funeral p.93-98. Photograph of the lonely

grave of Killu Khataw in the Irani Cemetary is reproduced in this book.


Akber Meherally. p. 95.


African Experience

Iran, Bahraini, Baloch Shia in Zanzibar


istorically, development of trade between the West

Coast of India and Eastern Africa dates back to the pre-

Vasco da Gama period. Indian Dhows - sailing crafts -

manned mostly by seamen from Cutch would set sail from the port

of Mandvi in Cutch and Porebunder in Bhavnagar to Muscat, Aden

and the East African ports of Lamu, Mombasa, Zanzibar and

Bagamoyo. Other Dhows would venture south towards Lindi in

Tanzania and the Mozambique ports of Pemba, Nacala and Beira.

In latter years, towards the 19 th century, Indian dhows are

known to have gone further south to the ports of Tulear and

Morombay in the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. There are

accounts of some sailing crafts set to sail for Zanzibar ending up in

Tulear, Madagascar as a result of navigational errors or due to

storm. The Mozambique Channel is prone to seasonal cyclones and

that is how some, though not all, of the early Khoja Shia migrants

landed in Tulear, towards south west of Madagascar Island to start

the community settlement there.

“Indian merchants may have been trading with the East African

coast from time immemorial. The Portuguese noted Hindu traders


The Endangered Species

from the Gujarat port of Cambay in Mombasa Harbour in the sixteenth

century” 1 On 13 th April, 1498 while sailing to India, Vasco

da Gama stopped over in Malindi, 75 miles north of Mombasa

where he acquired the services of an Indian navigator to help him

sail through the Indian Ocean to land in Calicut on the southerly

west Coast of India on 20 th may, 1498 after 23 days at sea. To recall

this historic event, a small monument was erected in Malindi

known as the Vasco da Gama pillar, which is preserved as an historic

monument by the Kenya Government. Vasco da Gama Street

in Mombasa which leads from the Portuguese built Fort Jesus to

the historic Old Port of Mombasa was, after the independence of

Kenya in 1963, renamed after the nominal representative of the

Zanzibar Sultan known locally as the Liwali of the Coast and has

been renamed as Mbarak Hinawy road. Before the independence

of Kenya the ten mile wide Kenya coastal strip was ruled as a British

Protectorate and the Liwali was the decorative figurehead

representative of the Sultan of Zanzibar with no executive authority.

“By 1819 there were only 214 Indians in Zanzibar and they

complained bitterly about their weak position which allowed Arab

authorities to impose various taxes on them.” 2 When the Omani

Sultan Seyyid Said transferred his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar

in 1842 he showed interest in the development of foreign trade in

his dominions. Seyyid Said encouraged immigration of Asian traders

in Zanzibar. “They were accepted as full trading partners and

were given the same privileges as those granted to his Arab and


African Experience

Swahili subjects in the local trade. One of them even rented the

revenue of the customs house for the whole East African coast for

a fixed annual sum for more than half a century.” 3

Thus settlement of Indians in Zanzibar gained momentum between

1840 and 1860’s. This movement was further assisted by

improved traveling facilities between India and East Africa. Apart

from Khojas, Bohra, Memon, Kumbhar, Cutchi Bhadala, Bhatia,

Lohana, Shah and various other Muslim and Hindu communities

made their way to Zanzibar. They also included a small segment of

Parsi. By the 1870’s there was at least one Hindu temple in Zanzibar

with its characteristic pointed tower and various Mosques

built by Indian Muslims, Sunni and Shia. 4

Gujaratis of western India, a mercantile community, showed

much interest in international trading and were always on the

look out for opportunities beyond their linguistic and even national

borders. Indians often criticize Gujaratis as money-minded

people, obsessed with their business and with little interest in the

arts and literature. Conversations in predominantly Gujarati social

gatherings are said to be often dominated by discussions related

to moneymaking and fluctuations in the share market. Medical statistics

also indicate that because of their obsessive involvement in

business, Gujaratis tend to put long hours in their work sparing

little time for recreation. This often leads to elevated stress levels.

Coupled with their taste for rich food, long-winded traditional

practices and sedentary lifestyle, among Indians, Gujaratis suffer a

higher rate of heart ailments. Khojas being Gujaratis, fall within


The Endangered Species

this category. Dr. Mohamedtaki I. Walji, the long serving Chairman

of the Medical Advisory Board of the World Federation of the

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Community is known to have

made repeated efforts at bringing about better health awareness

within the community.

The aftermath of the 1857 ‘Sepoy mutiny’ led to the demise of

the nominal Mogul rule in Delhi. As a result, British rule in India

was fully consolidated. Soon after, the great famine of the 1860 in

Bengal and Gujarat created havoc in these areas. More Gujaratis

started looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Many families

migrated from Cutch, Kathiawar and Gujarat to settle in Bombay

and Karachi as these Port cities received special attention and developed

greatly under the British rule. Today Bombay is the

economic heart of India. Although Bombay city, now known by its

original name, Mumbai, is part of the Maharashtra state, Gujaratis

constitute a very significant portion of the local population. There

is also a significant Khoja population from the Ismaili, Ithna-Asheri

and Sunni Khojas living in Bombay city.

Simultaneously with migration to East Africa, there was also

movement from India towards Burma, Aden, the Persian Gulf, especially

to Muscat, and the Iranian coast. Burma and Ceylon or Sri

Lanka as it is now known, were ruled by the British for some time

as part of the greater India. In addition to settlement of the Indians

in Zanzibar and the East African ports of Bagamoyo, Daressalaam,

Mombasa and Lamu, some of the migrants found their way to

Mozambique and to the island of Madagascar. Fascinating ac-


African Experience

counts are narrated of dhows with migrants who set sail from

Porebunder destined for Zanzibar which were diverted due to

high seas or navigational errors ending up in Tulear in Madagascar.

By then there were many Indian settlers in South Africa and in

Mauritius. There are no records of any Khoja families having settled

in southern Africa until the latter half of the twentieth


‘The Indian Ocean Island towards the south easterly coast of

Africa is known as Madagascar. Khoja history indicates that from

the 1850’s Khoja and other Gujarati Indians started moving out

from India to explore settlement prospects in East Africa and in

Madagascar.” Majority of such migrants were from Cutch Bhuj,

Ahmedabad, Hariyana and Porebunder who started exploring settlement

prospects in Africa.

‘While initially they moved towards Zanzibar and the East African

coast between Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania, some families

ventured beyond to explore prospects in Mozambique and the island

of Madagascar.’

‘Among the early Khoja settlers in Madagascar were Jiwabhai

Surti, Molu Kanji, and Alibhai Thawar who first settled in Nossibe

in 1865.’

‘Other families of Nathubhai Premji, Kassambhai Bhanji, Shivji

Nanji, Lalji Jiwa, Daya Harji, Ahmedbhai Khoja, Walji Rajpar, Jina

Bardai, Kassam Chinai, Ladha Datoo, Dharamsi Ladha, Madhu


The Endangered Species

Shamji, Abdullah Hasham, settled in the Majunga Province of Madagascar

between 1865 and 1880.’

‘Families of Dahya Dewji, Jaffer Jiwa, Kermali Murji,

Deenmohamed Sharif, Khamis Sumar, Molu Ramji, Wali Ramji.

Hirji Jivraj, Sunderji family, Nura Saleh, Alibhai Juma and others

settled in Morondava, Morumbe and Tulear between 1875 and


‘Soon after their arrival in Madagascar, Khoja settlers, like other

migrants from India ventured into all sorts of business as retailers,

wholesalers, and importers and exporters. They started importing

manufactured items from Zanzibar and from India. At the same

time they also started exporting local produce items like beans

and various types of pulses.’

‘Commercial activities started by the Khoja and other Indian

settlers in Madagascar helped to improve all round economic activities.

As a result the overall economic condition of the

Madagascar Island improved.’

‘The first Khoja Ithna-Asheri Mosque was built in Nossibe in

1865. The second Ithna-Asheri Mosque was built in Maruwai in

1896 and the third Mosque in Majunga in 1906. Since then, several

Mosques, Imambara and Madressa have been built wherever

Khoja Ithna-Asheri had formed a community in Madagascar.’

(This claim that the first Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Mosque was built

in 1865 in Nossibe, comes as a surprise. Could it be that it was initially

built as a Jamaat Khana where all Khoja, those practicing


African Experience

Ithna-Asheri, Sunni and Ismaili faith could conduct their respective

prayers as was the custom in India? As we have seen

elsewhere, it was not until late 1870’s, that Khoja practicing Ithna-

Asheri faith had openly come out to register as a distinct community

to be known as Shia Ithna-Asheri Khoja.)

‘Between 1865 and 1972, the Indian community settled in

Madagascar including Khoja, lived peacefully and had harmonious

relationship with the local populace. At one stage, around early

1970’s total Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri population in Madagascar had

grown to a respectable figure of 6,500 with 16 Jamaats formed in

different centers all over the country.’ 5

In reviewing the emergence of the Shia faith in Africa, much attention

is generally paid to the evolution of the Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Community starting with Zanzibar. The fact that there were

already some Irani, Bahraini and Baloch (from Balochistan that

now forms part of Iran and Pakistan) who openly practiced the

Shia Ithna-Asheri faith in Zanzibar is often overlooked. 6 “The presence

of the readily available local congregation with whose beliefs

and practices the dissenters had a certain affinity made the break

with the old community somewhat easy” 7 for the Khoja separatists.

On the East Coast of Africa, “The early influence of the Postlslamic

Persia has also been traced. It may well be true that the

town of Kilwa on the coast of Tanzania was founded by migrants

from Shiraz in Persia; during the 10 c A.D. 8 A political party in Zan-


The Endangered Species

zibar formed under the name and style of Afro-Shirazi Party was

suggestive. Further, New Year’s Day is traditionally celebrated by

the Swahili Community with great fanfare. This day is termed

Niruz, (or more appropriately Nowruz) a Persian word meaning "a

new day." This Niruz was celebrated last month (July-1983) in

Mombasa, Kenya, as usual. The name of the head of the Community

was given as Sheikh Mohamed Salim Shirazi. Besides,

inspiration drawn from Persian Islamic literature can easily be

traced from the early Swahili poetry.” In one of the oldest Mosques

in Mogadishu, reputed to be over 700 years old, there are inscriptions

in Arabic with names of the Shi’ite Imams, denoting Shia

influence attributed to the Shirazi influence. The Mosque is commonly

known as “Sunken Mosque” since there are few steps

leading down to the Mosque below the surrounding ground level.

In contrast to the limited interaction of the Khojas of Zanzibar

with this small number of Shia of non-Indian origin, the Khojas of

India, in Bombay and in Gujarat, had greater exposure to a much

larger number of the wider Shia fraternity with closer linguistic

and cultural affinity. The non-Indian Shia of Zanzibar provided

moral support to the small band of Khoja struggling to establish

themselves as a local Shia Ithna-Asheri community. In India, we

notice that it was only after the return of Mulla Qadir Hussein to

Bombay in 1873, that the larger Shia community started taking

notice of the developments taking place within the Khoja Community

and especially in Bombay, the local Irani population, known

otherwise as the Mogul, and the Shi’ites from Northern province


African Experience

residing in Bombay provided encouragement to the struggling

Khojas to assert themselves as practicing Shia Ithan-Asheri.

There are no evidences to suggest that Shia Muballigh from

Lucknow or other parts of India took early interest in the evolution

of the Khoja society in Gujarat or Bombay. While Khoja

claimed to be Shia, there are no records of any sustained efforts

undertaken by Shia Muballigh from other parts of India to interact

with the Khoja society. The Sufi influence was crucial in the conversion

of Khojas from their ancestral Hinduism. Left on their own,

there were no reports of any movements initiated by Shia

Muballigh to interact with the Khoja community to help stem the

tide of their gradual drift into a particular brand of the Nizari Ismail

beliefs and practices developed by Pir Sadr al Din and his

successors. This could probably be attributed to the provincial linguistic

barriers and the typical clannish and introvert outlook of

the Indian communities.

In his autobiography Mulla Qadir Hussein gives some account

of the type of moral support received during the last quarter of the

nineteenth century from local Mogul and Irani individuals living in

Bombay. Mulla also mentions about the encouragement and support

received from a number of Indian Ulema residing in Bombay

and also from some Ulema from Lucknow visiting Bombay.

Until 1850, a major Indian Princely state of Oudh, with Lucknow

as its capital, was ruled by a Shia dynasty. The British

deposed the last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah in 1850 and annexed the


The Endangered Species

State in what is now known as the United Province or U.P. Developments

in Lucknow were the precursor of the 1857 Indian ‘Sepoy

Mutiny.’ The last titular Mogul Emperor of Delhi, Bahadur Shah

Zafar was banished to Rangoon. Thus, with the removal of the

nominal symbol of Mogul Rule in India, the British hold over India

was fully consolidated.

Until then, for Muslims, Lucknow was looked upon as an intellectual

capital of India where Urdu language and Muslim culture

flourished. It was a city of Nawabs, poets, scholars and Ulema. The

Nawabs of Lucknow were great patrons of arts and literature.

With official patronage, Lucknow also became the seat of Shia

learning in India. The Sunni Madrassa of Deoband, near Lucknow

was established in 1867 as a seat of learning for the followers of

the Sunni faith. This institution, in later years, was to blossom as

the hub of Wahabi movement in the Indian sub-Continent. 9 Adversely,

Lucknow was also viewed as a city of three “P’s” – Parks,

Palaces and Prostitutes where the aristocracy sulked for the loss

of their power and wealth and whiled away their time indulging in

trivia. In a historical film – Shatranj ke kheladi – The Chess Players

- produced by the well known Indian film producer, Satyajit Ray

has portrayed, in the words of V. S. Naipaul, “the decadence or

blindness or helplessness of a 19 th century Muslim culture at the

end of its possibilities: where the rulers play chess and conduct

petty affairs, while their territory (and its people) pass into foreign

rule,.” 10


African Experience

For a while, during the first half of the twentieth century,

Lucknow was to regain its lost glory as a seat of Shia learning. After

the independence of India in 1947, as Princely patronage

declined and in the wake of the abolition of the Princely States and

the ‘Zamindari’ (landlord system), Lucknow, as a seat of Shia

learning, once again lapsed into irrelevance. The Sunni institution

of Deoband however, survived and flourished to produce many

influential Islamic scholars who wield much influence today in India,

Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond. 11

In Africa, “A small band of Shia from Iran and Bahrain had

lived in Zanzibar from the early days of Seyyid Said’s reign. Most of

them were employed in the Sultan’s Militia and had built a small

hall, al-Matam where majlises and ziyarat (a sort of doxology) in

the name of the twelve Imams were offered” 12

“Al Matam was built in 1861 by Ahmed bin Numan bin Muhsin

bin Abdullah bin Kabi (1789-1868) – Secretary of Seyyid Said and

Seyyid Majid. Ahmed bin Numan was the first Muslim and the first

(Zanzibar) Ambassador to the United States. He lived in Salem,

Massachusetts. He was a translator of U.S. newspapers to the first

two Sultans of Zanzibar, Seyyid Said and his successor, Seyyid

Majid. Under Seyyid Majid, Zanzibar was the second Muslim State

to send an ambassador to the United States, after Morocco.” 13

“General Kalbe Ali Khan was the Indian Muslim who established

the first Shia Ithna-Asheri Community in Zanzibar before

the Al-Matam”, otherwise also known as “Matam Bahraini” was


The Endangered Species

built in 1861. General Khan was commander of the Sultan’s artillery.

He also made a waqf of an Ithna-Asheri Shia cemetery, known

as ‘Qabrastane Khan’ where he lies buried along with several Bahraini,

Iraqi, and Irani Seyyid. “The village called ‘Kwahani’ is

named after him, and the well he dug near the Mosque he built is

still used at ‘Kwahani.” It is believed that General Kalbe Ali Khan

hailed from Baluchistan, part of which is in Pakistan and part of

which is in Iran. Other opinions suggest that General Kalbe Ali

Khan hailed from “Urumiya province in Iran.” 14 He is known to

have assisted the Zanzibar Jamaat in purchasing the plot on which

stands the current Imambara, at a cost of Indian Rupees 65,000. 15

“Under the command of Seyyid Majid bin Said, General Kalbe

Ali Khan (d.1880) worked against Seyyid Barghash who was exiled

to Bombay during the reign of his brother Seyyid Majid. When

General Kalbe Ali Khan visited the Shrines in Iraq, Seyyid

Barghash came to Zanzibar and became the Sultan after Seyyid

Majid bin Said. General Kalbe Ali Khan hesitated to return to Zanzibar.

Seyyid Barghash however invited General Kalbe Ali Khan

who returned to Zanzibar to serve the new Sultan until his death

in 1880. He is buried in “Qabrastane Khan.” 16

After the death of General Kalbe Ali Khan in 1880, another Indian

Shia, Dr. Hakim Daud Ali Khan came from Hyderabad as the

personal Physician of the Sultan, Seyyid Hemed bin Thuwain bin

Said bin Sultan el Busaidi (1893/96). His son was later to become

Director of the Medical services in the Indian State of the Nizam of

Hyderabad. 17


African Experience

With Allarakhia Valli, Dewji Jamal returned to Zanzibar in

1878. Having been ousted from the Bombay Jamaat Khana and excommunicated

by the larger Khoja fraternity, Dewji Jamal was

seen as an open rebel out to establish an alternative Khoja community

for those practicing the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith. The small

band of Khoja in Zanzibar planning to build a Mosque and

Imambara of their own consisted of Dewji Jamal, Allarkhia Valli,

Janmohamed Ravji, Saleh Sachedina, Versi Advani and Valli

Nazerali. Besides, they had active support from two well-known

individuals, Mohamed Walji and Nasser Lilani, who had acquired a

position of prominence in the courts of Sayyid Barghash, the Sultan

of Zanzibar. 18

Once the news of these efforts to acquire a suitable plot of land

to build an Ithna-Asheri Mosque was known, leading members of

the Ismaili Community led by Sir Tharia Topan mounted a stiff opposition

to the project.

To appreciate the complexity of the issue, we must look at the

Zanzibar scene and the role of the Indian Community in the development

of Zanzibar in those days.

“The Khojas are still remembered in Zanzibar for their generosity.

Among them were Sir Tharia Topan (Tajiri), Sewa Haji

Paroo, Haji Dewji Jamal, Alarakhiya Valli and Alidina Visram, just

to name a few.” 19 These men formed part of what other Khojas refer

to as “the upper establishment”, a word transcending ethnic,

racial, and religious divisions. Their position and relation with the


The Endangered Species

Sultanate and diplomatic corps of Zanzibar were independent of

their status in their own community. They participated in the national

politics at the Sultan’s daily “Barazas”, not as

representatives of their caste or sect, but as economically successful

entrepreneurs whose influence, friendship, and counsel the

Sultan or a foreign consul could use.” 20

In order to determine the purchasing value of the Maria Theresa

Dollar then in use in Zanzibar, the British Consul consulted a

number of businessmen. Mention is made of two Ithna-Asheri

businessmen, Lakha Kanji and Dewji Jamal. 21

“For sixty years, until after the establishment of the British Colonialism,

the important post of the Customs’ Master was

entrusted to Indians. Neither Seyyid Said nor his successors appointed

an Arab to any revenue post. David Livingstone (1813-

1873) the British Missionary in Zanzibar stated, “If he (Seyyid Said

bin Sultan) had done so, he would have nothing but a crop of

lies.” 22

Among all Indians in Zanzibar Sir Tharia Topan was the most

powerful and influential personality. According to the biography

of Sir Tharia Topan, “With the death of Sultan Seyyid Majid in

1870, Seyyid Barghash returned to Zanzibar and, together with

Tharia Topan, whom he appointed as honorary prime minister,

was largely responsible for Zanzibar’s urban and architectural development.”

Later, he “became the Chief of Customs in 1876, and

held the post for about three years. The customs being the principal

source of revenue, he was now the chief confidant and right-


African Experience

hand of the Sultan.” Tharia Topan also accompanied Seyyid

Barghash on his visit to England. 23 Before his rise as a leading Indian

merchant in Zanzibar, in 1852 Tharia Topan had served as a

Mukhi of the Khoja Jamat Khana in Zanzibar. Sir Tharia Topan had

“played a key role in the Aga Khan Case of 1866 in Bombay. Imam

Hasan Ali Shah invested him the title of Varas. According to the

statement of Lady Ali Shah before the court during the Haji Bibi

Case on July 4, 1908, Tharia Topan was also the religious tutor of

his son, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah like Gulu Haji, Mukhi Ladak

and Kamadia Ismail. 24

In a Gujarati publication of 1910, Alimohamed Sharif records

25 that Sir Tharia Topan had been at the forefront of a move to stop

the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri from building their Mosque in Zanzibar.

‘Sir Tharia Topan advised the Sultan Seyyid Barghash that

building of an Ithna-Asheri mosque in Zanzibar was fraught with

danger. It would give rise to a serious friction among the Khoja

community members. Besides, the Shia would propagate against

the predominant Sunni and the Ibadhi faith’. The author terms the

Ibadhi as “Neherwani” who are otherwise known also as

‘Khawarij’. 26 ‘The import of these representations was that such

developments would give rise to sectarian strife in an otherwise

tolerant and peaceful Zanzibar society. As a ruler, Seyyid Barghash

would therefore be justifiably concerned about any growth of religious

or sectarian strife in his kingdom. At the same time, as a

Muslim, Seyyid Barghash could not reconcile himself with the idea

of banning the building of an Islamic Mosque.’


The Endangered Species

‘When news of the representations made by Sir Tharia Topan

to the Sultan filtered through, Dewji Jamal went over to the British

Consul to take him into confidence underscoring the good intentions

of the emerging Shia Ithna-Asheri community.

Ali Mohamed Shariff further records that “for introducing the

Shia Ithna-Asheri faith to us, for promoting the faith and for inviting

us to join this faith, I have to name Dewji Jamal and his

companions, Mohamed Walji, Lakha Kanji, Mohamed Lakha,

Janmohamed Rawji, Nasser Lilani, Saleh Sachedina, Versi Advani.

“There are many accounts worth narrating about the strength

of Dewji Jamal but here I would like to recall only few incidents to

show how after separating from the main Khoja community, what

he and his companions had to endure in order to win over more

people to this faith.”

“In 1878 when Dewji Jamal landed in Zanzibar, he was the only

well known Shia Ithna-Asheri. The opposite party was strong and

powerful and whose leader was Sir Tharia Topan. Tharia Topan

was a powerful individual with close links with the Sultanate. In

those days, he was involved with virtually all affairs of the Zanzibar

Government. Despite such strong opposition, his (Dewji

Jamal’s) will to help promote the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith did not

waver. If he did not have the resolve and full faith in his beliefs and

if he was not prepared to ignore risks to his person as a result of

his stand, and if he was not motivated by a desire to help the true

faith, any one in his position, considering the strength of the opposition,

would have wavered; instead he went on with his


African Experience

endeavours to win over more people to his side. But for this fact, if

there were to be leaders as they are now, driven by selfishness,

ignorance and egocentricity, the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith would not

have survived and flourished in Zanzibar. All this has been made

possible due to the contributions of Dewji Jamal who took great

personal risk in promoting the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith in Zanzibar.

The opposite side was powerful and displayed utter contempt towards

him. To show their contempt, they would often spit towards

him with betel nut saliva and throw garbage in his way.”

“On one occasion while Dewji Jamal was proceeding to visit

the British Consul General in Zanzibar, he was subjected to the saliva

treatment. Instead of returning home to change his clothes,

Dewji Jamal continued in his trek with his soiled clothes to keep

his appointment with the British Consul.”

‘The Consul was surprised to note the soiled attire of Dewji

Jamal. When told of what happened, the British Consul advised

him to lodge an official complaint and take action against the perpetrators.

Dewji Jamal is reported to have explained to the British

Consul that his detractors, after all were his brothers. They did so

out of ignorance and blind emotions. With the passage of time,

they would see the folly of their action. He was therefore not inclined

to take any steps against them.” 27

Eventually the first Khoja Shia Ithna-Aasheri Mosque and

Imambara were established in the Kiponda area of the Zanzibar

Island, about three hundred meters away from the Khoja Jamaat


The Endangered Species

Khana. For a small community of the Ithna-Asheri Khoja then living

in Zanzibar, it was a very large place. As a result it often drew

sarcastic comments from opponents. It was named Quwwatul Islam

Mosque, (i.e. Strength of Islam Mosque).

It is widely believed that the first Adhan – call to prayer in

which the Shia call of ‘Ash hadu anna Aliyyan Wali u-llah’ is included,

was given by General Kalbe Ali Khan. The belief that the Adhan

at the new Mosque was given by General Kalbe Ali Khan had its

psychological impact and sent out a subtle message to the detractors.

The role of General Kalbe Ali Khan in providing moral

support to the emerging Shia community has been held in high

esteem by the Khoja pioneers. While there has been unanimity of

view among the elderly Khojas that the first public Adhan at the

new Mosque was given by General Kalbe Ali Khan, it has not been

possible to establish whether this Adhan was given while the

Mosque was still under construction or after its formal opening

upon completion.

General Kalbe Ali Khan died in Zanzibar on 20 th Rabiul Awwal,

1297 (1879) and the Mosque was formally opened in 1881. It is

also claimed that after formal opening of the Mosque in 1881, the

first public Adhan was given by an Irani Resident “who was a

teacher of the well known Ma’allim Maulidi and his brother Bulbul.”

28 The legend of General Kalbe Ali Khan giving the first Adhan

at the newly built Mosque is still clouded in mystery.



African Experience

While the underlying doctrinal differences were the main cause of

the split in the Khoja community and the consequent separation of

the Sunni, Ithna-Asheri and Ismaili Khojas, additional social and

economic factors played significant role in accentuating the divide.

In the process, it also helped to bring into sharp focus the doctrinal

differences, which until then were not so openly debated and often

papered over, as a result of close family ties.

The first major bone of contention was the accountability for

the tithe paid by the Khojas known as dasond (ten percent) to the

Aga Khan. This was followed by litigations. As Hatim Amijee records:

“The two rival and hostile sects of Khojas fought long drawnout

legal battles over the Jamatkhana, the burial ground, and other

properties which had been acquired from, communal funds and

which both had used before the split. The 1866 Khoja Case had set

the precedent for vesting all communal property in the Imam’s

name; as a result the seceders received no share, but because of

the lengthy litigations the Aga Khan in 1899 had to issue the power

of attorney to three of his trusted followers in Zanzibar and

Dares Salaam to act on his behalf in all matters dealing with the

Jamaat property and the claims of the seceders.” 29

An interesting social aspect not often mentioned was particularly

noted in Zanzibar.

“Although not important as the first, another “temporal factor”

was the demand for education. The dissenters wanted community

funds spent on building a school. Until 1890 there was no Indian


The Endangered Species

School in Zanzibar; the Khojas in East Africa were almost illiterate.

During his 1873 mission to East Africa, Frere had been assured

“that the pontifical authority of the Aga Khan had been exerted to

prevent any say of his followers from attending an English school

(#47). A decade later, Sir John Kirk voiced the same complaint. In a

dispatch to the Foreign Office he criticized the Aga Khan for keeping

the Khojas ignorant. “There can be no doubt that education

among Khojas has been systematically discouraged by the last two

Aga Khans.” Tharia Topan’s earlier offer of an endowment of two

hundred thousand rupees was later modified, presumably under

pressure from the Imam, into one endowing for a hospital. Paradoxically

the Ismaili community today ranks the best educated and

most Westernized of all Asian sects in East Africa; in the nineteenth

century it was depriving its members of secular

education...”(#48) 30

The view expressed by Sir John Kirk about the standard of education

of Indians settled in Zanzibar towards the end of the

nineteenth century is corroborated by the late Alimohamed Jagani.

(1882-1976). In an account of his experience once narrated to the

author, Alimohamed Jagani stated that having passed his matriculation

examination in India, he landed in Zanzibar in 1898. He

carried a letter of introduction for Sheriff Dewji which read: “‘I am

introducing an educated young man. Find him a good job.”

Alimohamed Jagani recalls Sheriff Dewji telling him: “My boy, you

are highly educated. What suitable job can I find for you in Zanzibar”

and suggested that the teaching profession would probably


African Experience

be more suited for his educational background. Sheriff Dewji was

either a Trustee or a member of the School Committee of the Sir

Euan Smith Madrassa School, Zanzibar, opened in 1892 and he

gave him a letter of recommendation for the principal of the

School. Alimohamed Jagani was readily accepted as a teacher. Two

months later, Alimohamed Jagani retuned to Sheriff Dewji complaining

that he could not teach. Asked to explain why he could not

teach when he had the requisite qualifications and the principal of

the School had approved of him as a teacher, Alimohamd Jagani

conveyed his utter sense of frustration for the difficulty experienced

in communicating with the students: “They cannot read or

write Gujarati or English. How can I teach them?” So Sheriff Dewji

asked young Alimohamed Jagani to join his Office and undertake

translation of documents into English before he could find an alternative

job for him.

Word was sent round the business community in Zanzibar that

an accomplished young man with good command of English language

was available to translate from Gujarati into English.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Zanzibar was losing its

position of pre-eminence. The focus of commercial activities was

gradually moving towards the East African mainland. On the advice

of some people, Alimohamed Jagani went to Nairobi which

was emerging as the new capital of the East African Protectorate

(now Kenya) and joined the Post Office. He retired in 1928 and

few years later, returned to India. In 1948, he returned to Mombasa

to live with his children until his death in 1974.


The Endangered Species

Around 1860 and 1900, well endowed Indian business families

in Zanzibar would send their children to India for primary and

secondary education. With strong family ties and under the extended

family system, part of the family members would be split

between India and Africa manning family business at both ends. It

was therefore always convenient to work out suitable arrangements

for the placement of their children.


“Indian architectural influence reached its apogee in the old dispensary,

built on a grand scale by Tharia Topan, an ostentatious

merchant prince, as hospital on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s

Golden Jubilee. It was built at a time when Sultan Barghash was

building his palaces. The front of the building consists of ornately

carved two-storey balcony in which the fretwork and fascia

boards run wild. The door entrances and windows as well as many

parts of the interior walls are richly decorated with moulded plaster,

and a large dining room on the second floor has a hook in the

ceiling to hang chandeliers.

“Topan died before the building could be completed and it was

bought by the Trustees of Haji Nasser Nurmohamed, another

prominent Indian merchant. They honored Topan’s intentions, at

least in part by setting up a charitable dispensary on the ground

floor, while the rest of the building was rented out as apartments

to earn an income for the dispensary.” 31 The dispensary was

known as Nasser Nurmohamed Charitable dispensary and was


African Experience

managed by the Trustees of the two Khojas Shia Ithna-Asheri

Jamaats in Zanzibar.

In 1966, by a Presidential decree, all Waqf properties in Zanzibar

were taken over and vested in the Waqf Commission of the

Government to manage for the designated purposes. For lack of

adequate maintenance the building soon lapsed into a state of utter

disrepair until the Government of Zanzibar decided to declare

the building historical monument worthy of preservation. However

the Waqf Commission failed to continue operating the

dispensary as required in the Trust condition.

The Zanzibar Government decided to lease the building for sixty

years to the Aga Khan Cultural Services who spent a large sum

of money to rehabilitate the building. Although “the building has

been recently restored to its former glory but unfortunately the

name of the institutions which had been affixed on a panel to the

top of the façade, as well as the charitable intention of both benefactors

, have disappeared in the process. The building now serves

as the Stone Town Cultural Center.” 32

In 1988 the central organization of the Ithna-Asheri Community

with headquarters in Daressalam offered to rehabilitate the

building and run the charitable dispensary. Nothing came out of

the overture and the Government went ahead to convert the building

into a Cultural center for the Zanzibar Stone Town.

Representations made to the Zanzibar Government and even to

prince Karim Aga Khan at least to operate a charitable dispensary


The Endangered Species

on the ground floor in fulfillment of the requirement of the donor

and as called for in the Waqf have been ignored. 33

A noteworthy feature of the first Zanzibar Mosque and

Imambara is that the Trust Deed provided for the Mosque and

Imambara to be open for all Shia. It was not restricted for people

of Khoja lineage. Among the first Trustees were Dewji Jamal,

Janmohamed Rawji, Mohamed Walji, and Valli Nazerali. Opinion

differed about defining the Trust of the Mosque as open for all

Shia. There were elements that held that though it was meant for

the Khoja Shia community, because of the small number of Khoja

in Zanzibar then, it was considered expedient to make it open for

all Shia. Controversy over this issue gave rise to much misunderstanding

and disaffection within the community. Within the next

two decades as the new community in Zanzibar was consolidated

with a structured organization in the form of a Jamaat, it also grew

in number. Among the names that appear prominently in the evolution

of the Khoja communities in Zanzibar, as recorded by

Alimohamed Sharif are: Abdulla Saleh, Remtualla Alarakhia Tejani,

Dharamsi Khatau, Merali Visram, Jaffer Hamir, Sheriff Dewji, Saleh

Jetha, Issa Thaver, Lakha Kanji and Janmohamed Ravji. 34

Another interesting feature of the two Mosques built in Zanzibar

by the Khoja Community is that despite the fact that Khoja

came from India and brought with them a lot of Indian cultural

outlook, in the building of their Mosques, they abided by strictly

local tradition. The architecture of both Mosques blended well

with the local environment. To date, despite the lapse of one and a


African Experience

quarter centuries and repeated maintenance and upkeep work

undertaken, the original external and internal structural designs

have been retained.

A look especially at the Mihrab of the Kuwwatul Islam Mosque

(built in 1881) and the Hujjatul Islam Mosque, (built in 1899)

show typical local Swahili style for the construction of the Mosque

and especially the Mihrab. Kuwwatul Islam Mosque is based on

Omani/Swahili style with wide pillars in between while the

Hujjatul Islam Mosque has four mahogany pillars carved at the

base, providing a particular Indian touch.

Similarly the Ithna-Asheri Mosque at Bagamoyo, built in 1889

also has typical Swahili style Mihrab. The mosque at Lamu, on the

Kenyan coast, recently renovated, has retained part of its original

Mihrab with typical local touch.

Numerous other Mosques built by the Khoja Community on

the East African coast in Mombasa, Dares salaam, Lindi, Kilwa and

other places have undergone structural changes in the course of

renovation and expansion. In the process much of the original

classic touch has been lost. The recently renovated Mosque at

Lamu waterfront has at least retained its original external design

and is viewed as an important landmark of Lamu.


The Endangered Species

Vasco da Gama Pillar, Malindi, Kenya coast

According to legend, from Malindi, located 75 miles north of the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa,

Vasco da Gama acquired the services of a “Cutchi (Indian) Malam, - seafarer captain of a sailing

craft -, who helped Vasco da Gama navigate through the Indian Ocean to land at Calicut on

the south western coast of India on 20 th May, 1498. The journey from Malindi to Calicut took

23 days.

Indian and Arab traders are known to have been trading with East Africa for a thousand years.

“Ibn Batuta, the great Arab traveller who visited east Africa in the 13 th century noted Indian as

well as Arabs trading there.”

“When Vasco da Gama sailed from Mombasa in 1498,” writes Cynthia Salvadori “he noted the

presence of ‘four vessels belong to Christians from India’ ” and it was a Bhadala Muslim Pilot

from Cutch whom da Gama encountered in Malindi who showed The Portuguese navigator

the way to India.” (Cynthia Salvadori; “Through Open Doors – A view of Asian Cultures in

Kenya, Kenway Publications Ltd., Nairobi, 1989, p.7.)


African Experience

Memorial plaque at the Vasco da Gama pillar, Malindi, Kenya

The Plaque reads:














The Endangered Species













Protected as a national monument, a notice placed by the National Museums of Kenya at the

Vasco da Gama Pillar, Malindi.


African Experience

Renovated Datoo Hemani Charitable Dispensary, at Zanzibar Stone Town Cultural Centre.

A prominent landmark on Lamu waterfront, the Ithna-Asheri Mosque built in 1902.


The Endangered Species

The Arabic inscription dedicating “Al Matam” reads: “Al-Matam” was established in 1278 A.H.

This endowment was made by the honourable leader - the late Captin Al-Hajj Ahmad bin

No'aman Al-Ka'abi Al-Bahrani, may Allah shower his happy place of abode with the endowment's

blessings. He was born in the city of Al-Basra (Zobair) in 1204; and died in Zanjabar in

1244. Bin Ali Al-Shaybani Al-Bahrani wrote and carved this memorial for me. The carpentry

was completed in 1244. This is the 14th year of the death of the Sultan, our master Khalifah.

Thus we became neighbours in Allah's Kingdom”.


African Experience

An Inscription of Stone at the Well of Kalbe Ali Khan at Kwahani, Zanzibar:

This well was erected by Kalbe Ali Khan bin Mohammed Khan

Afshar Aroomia, Leader of Persian Community and Commander in

Chief of the Persian military army during the reign of Sultans

Seyyid Majid and Seyyid Barghash from 1856 to 1878 A. D., died in

the month of Rabi-el-Awal 1297 A. H., 1878 A. D.

Note: The date of his death in Rabi al-Awwal 1297 should be February

1880 A. D.; and if the date was April 1878 A. D. then the Hijri

should be Rabii al-Awwal 1295.

“Al Matam” also known as

“Matam Bahrani” in the Kiponda

area of Zanzibar Stone Town. In

the background is the Kuwwatul

Islam Mosque and Imambara


To the right of the entrance is

the “Al Matam” is a marble

tablet with Arabic inscription,

reproduced above with its English

translation. (Standing at

right is Prof. Abdul Sheriff, curator

of the Zanzibar Museums).


The Endangered Species

Hujjatul Islam Mosque, Zanzibar.

Note the four mahogany pillars richly carved at the base, providing the only Indian touch. The

interior of the Mosque and the Mihrab are in traditional Omani and local Zanzibari Swahili


Kuwwatul Islam Mosque, Zanzibar.

Note the wide pillars typical of the Omani style architecture.


African Experience

Hujjatul Islam Mosque, Zanzibar

A close up view of the Mihrab

with an in- built Mimber on

the left of the Mihrab. A

traditional external mimber

has also been placed to the

right of the Mihrab.

A close-up of the Mihrab -

Quwwatul Islam Mosque,



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Bagamoyo Mosque - Mihrab in classic local Swahili style.


Prof. Abdul Sheriff, curator of the Zanzibar Museums - “Zanzibar Stone Town – an architectural

exploration.” 1998; The Gallery Publications, Zanzibar. p.33/34


ibid p.33/34




ibid p.41


Account of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri settlement in Madagascar compiled by Roshan

Jameel of Antananarivo, Madagascar, an active social worker who has served as Vice President

fo the Indian Ocean Islands Territorial Council of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri

Community with the assistance of Mohamed Raza Khamis who has served as Vice President

of the Federation of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamats of Africa.


Many Baloch settled in Gujarat, India, initially in the militia of the princely States. A community

in Gujarat is known as ‘Jamnagarai Baloch’ who speak Cutchi and Urdu. Many

Baloch families had also settled in East Africa. The Majority are Sunni. Baloch communities

can still be traced in East Africa and are generally classified as Indo-Pakistanis. Mulla

Shambe, of Persian Baloch extraction lived in Mombasa and was the headman of the

Allidina Visram caravan plying to and from Uganda. He passed away in early 1940’s at an

advanced age and lies buried in the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Cemetery, Mombasa.


Hatim M. Amiji – “Some Notes on religious dissent in nineteenth century East Africa.



African Experience


Asgharali M. M. Jaffer: from Outline History of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri in East Africa, P.5

(Encyclopedia Britannica 1972 Vol. I, p. 301).


See Ahmed Rashid: Taliban P.86/88. Also related references quoted in Chapter 1.


See V.S. Naipaul; India - A Million Mutinies Now- Chapter 6 on Luknow.


See Ahmed Rashid: Talian P.86/88. Also related references quoted in Chapter 1.


Khatib Rajab on “Indian Muslims in Zanzibar” 24 June, 1999. Muslim Network.com, P.5.




According to the book, Shi'ayan-e Tanzania Diyrooz wa Imrooz written by Amir Bahram

Arab Ahmadi (former Iranian Cultural Attachee in Tanzania), on the stone of the grave of

Kalbe Ali Khan, it was written that he was from the tribe of Afshar of Khorasan. (p. 226)

Syed Shushtari, son of Syed Mehdi Shushtari has written to me: “In one of his unpublished

works, my father has written: "Marhum Kalbe Ali Khan son of Marhum

Muhammad Khan Afshar Urumiyyeh died in Zanzibar in 1297 Hijri." Urumiyyeh is the

capital of West Azarbayjan Province, west of Iran. It is not surprising if he was born in

Khorasan but his originality is Urumieh. Ayatullah Khamenei is from Mashhad but originally

from Azarbayjan.

“Kalbe Ali Khan had only one daughter who was married to Suleiman - a minister or one

well-known personality in the court of Sultan Sayyid Majid. They had a son named Seif.

Seif had a step brother who was living in Mombasa and was the one who inherited him. If

we can find who this one from Mombasa was, maybe we can find from his inheritors valuable

things from Kalbe Ali Khan.”


Light magazine issued by Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania


Khatib Rajab - The Indian Muslims in Zanzibar. (Islamic News and nformation Net, 24

June, 1999


Khatib Rajab. See Note No.16


From a Gujarati publication: Lamu na Khoja Shia Ithna-Asherio na kusanp no tunk ehval by

Alimohamed Shariff, dated Zanzibar, November, 1910. P.56/59


Prof. Abdul Sheriff - Slaves, Spices & Ivory in Zanzibar, Tanzanian Publishing House and

James Curry Publishers, 1987, p.136


Khatib Rajab. P.8


Prof. Abdul Sheriff - Slaves, Spices & Ivory in Zanzibar, Tanzanian Publishing House and

James Curry Publishers, 1987, p.136




For account of the life of Sir Tharia Topan, see:





From a Gujarati publication: Lamu na Khoja Shia Ithna-Asherio na kusanp no tunk ehval by

Alimohamed Shariff, dated Zanzibar, November, 1910.,P.56/59. Also see Note 24e


See Chapt. 1. Section 17 on Muscati Khoja where aspects of common perceptions about

Ibadhi beliefs are discussed.


The Endangered Species


Alimohamed Shariff. See Note 25


Alimohamed Sharif. See Note 25


Hatim Amijee. P.613/614




Zanzibar Stone Town, an architectural exploration; Pof. Abdul Sheriff and Javed Jafferji,

1998, The Gallery Publications, Zanzibar, P.38/41




Federation Samachar Vol.31, No.3 – April, 1999. See article by Abdulrazak Sheriff Fazel

under the heading: A Short History of Zanzibar Khoja Ithna-Asheries.


Alimohamed Sharif. See Note 25

**According legend, and an account that I have often heard from elders in Zanzibar and

Mombasa, Sir Tharia Topan is reported to have mocked at Dewji Jamal with a comment that

for a handful of people to build such a large Mosque would be difficult to maintain. It would

soon lapse into a state of disrepair that would ‘attract crows to make their nests in’. Reference

to ‘crows nest’ is a colloquial Indian expression attributed to ruins. Dewji Jamal is

reported to have retorted: ‘It is Allah’s place and He will protect it’– almost echoing the spirit

of the response given to Abraha by Abdul Muttalib. This historic account of Abraha and Abdul

Muttalib is often narrated in majalis and is etched in Muslim minds.


Karachi Jamaat formation


n reviewing the evolution of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri

Community, we notice that while much has been written

about developments in Mumbai, Zanzibar, Nagalpur, Mahuva

and Bhawnagar, little is known about Karachi. The name of the Karachi

Jamaat, known as The Khoja (Pirhai) Shia Ithna-Asheri

Jamaat often causes some confusion. Not many from outside Karachi,

including many of the post independence migrants to Karachi

are aware of the relevance of the word Pirhai.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, among the

Khoja community members living in Karachi, those openly practicing

the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith were few. Contribution of the

residents of Karachi and the struggle put up by the valiant members

of the community in Karachi in upholding and promoting the

Shia Ithna-Asheri faith has been no less significant than that of

Mumbai or elsewhere in Gujarat and in Africa. Very little is however

known about the early history of the community in Karachi.

Among the pioneer Jamaats which played significant role in the

evolution of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community, Karachi too

has its place of honour. Karachi produced the first Khoja martyr to

whom Mulla Qadir Husein has paid such rich tributes in his auto-


The Endangered Species

biography. Besides, Karachi community also produced an illustrious

Khoja named Mohamed Ali Jinnah, later to be known as Quaide-Azam,

the founding father of Pakistan.

Writing in a Gujarati book entitled Khoja biradari no itihas

(History of the Khoja community), 1 Pyarali Hirani records that by

1871 there were already two groups in Karachi. One group was the

obedient follower of the Aga Khan and the other group was known

as the Pirhai group which had stopped recognizing the Aga Khan as

their spiritual head and had also stopped paying dues levied to the

followers of the Aga Khan. Both groups however lived in harmony

with each other and both shared a common burial place.

Mulla Qadir Hussein records in his autobiography that in 1873

while traveling from Basra to Mumbai with Dewji Jamal and other

Zuwwar, the ship they were traveling in stopped in Karachi. Mulla

Qader Husein disembarked in Karachi and stayed for some time as

guest of Lalan Alidina. “It was the habit of good Lalan Alidina to

preach the tenets of the right path secretly and thus kindle the

flame of guidance in the hearts of ignorant people” in Karachi, records

Mulla Qader Husein. The activities of Lalan Alidina did not go

well with the Khoja Community in Karachi who accused him of “introducing

innovations.” 2

Once when Lalan Alidina was returning after participating in a

Majlis of Imam Husein, he was attacked and seriously wounded.

This incident took place on 2 nd March, 1876 at around 7 p.m. Lalan

Alidina was returning from Majlis at a place called Baara (twelve)

Imam otherwise also known as Town Imambara located near Pan


Karachi Jamaat Formation

Mandi in what is now known as Nishtar Road. Most of the shops in

the area were closed by then and there were not many people

around. Lalan Alidina was attacked from behind. Despite the fact

that he was wearing a turban, the blow on his head left a deep cut

on his head and his lips also were cut as he fell down. Lalan survived

the murderous attack. In his turban Lalan had a tasbih

(rosary). As a result of the blow on his head, the rosary beads were

scattered and some of the beads penetrated the open wound in his

head. The Doctors who treated Lalan managed to remove several

beads but a few beads still remained embedded in his head which

could not be dislodged lest it caused any injury to his brain. The

perpetrators of the crime were later arrested, tried in Court and

sentenced according to law.

This tragic happening did not deter Lalan Alidina in his resolve

to practice and promote the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith. After recovering

from his wounds, he continued in his quest and took special

interest in delivering Azaan (call to prayers) and in arranging

majalis of Imam Husein.

Karachi Jamaat, known as The Khoja (Pirhai) Shia Ithna-Asheri

Jamaat was formally registered in 1892. As in the case of Mumbai

and elsewhere in Gujarat, prior to formal registration of the local

Ithna-Asheri Jamaat, the Community was quietly functioning as

they went about practicing their faith and in arranging congregations

for salaat and majalis at each others residence or at other

Shia centers operated by the non Khoja Shia. The murderous attack

on Lalan Alidina made the small Khoja Ithna-Asheri community in


The Endangered Species

Karachi realize that it would not be safe to go to Town Imambara

which was at a distance from the main Khoja locality in Kharadar.

They felt the need for building a new Imambara in a more secure

location nearer to where like minded members of the Khoja community


Four men volunteered to donate Rs.250/- each and on January,

19, 1876, a piece of land located at the current site of the Khoja

Mosque and Imambara in Kharadar area was purchased at a total

cost of Rs.1,000/- (Rupees One thousand.) The four men who contributed

Rs.250/- each were: Gulamhusein Chagla, Abdulla Jagan,

Thaver Maria, and Lalan Alidina.

Later, a fund of Rs.10, 000 (Ten thousand) was raised to build

the first Imambara in Karachi on this site. For the proposed project

of building an Imambara, Lalan Alidina wrote letters in Khojki,

which is an old Sindhi language, to members of the Khoja community

practicing Shia Ithna-Asheri faith residing in Mumbai.

After the formation of the Karachi Jamaat in 1892, the small

Imambara built served the dual purpose as a Baitussalaat and

Imambara. A proper Mosque was built on the present site in 1910.

There have been subsequent renovations and extensions of the

Mosque and the Imambara since. The piece of land bought in 1876

and on which a small Imambara was built at a cost of Rs.10,000/-

now forms the front part of the current large Imambara and the

adjoining Mosque.

Another Kharadar Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Imambara, also

known as Barha (large) Imambara gained international fame. It is


Karachi Jamaat Formation

from this Imambara that the well known Allama Rashid Turabi

used to deliver his Shame Ghariban majlis on 11 th night of Muharram

relayed live on Radio Pakistan and the PTV. Urdu speaking

listeners from all over the world would tune in to listen to the

Shame Ghariban majlis.

On 28 th February, 1878 at around 0900 Hrs. Lalan Alidina was

walking near the Denso Hall in what is now known as M.A. Jinnah

Road, when a gun shot rang out and Lalan Alidina fell down

wounded. As people in the vicinity started running away for their

own safety, a young Hindu lad named Thalia Shivji mustered courage

to apprehend the assailant. With the help of a labourer near by,

Thalia Shivji also arranged for the injured Lalan to be taken to

Hospital in a handcart operated by one Issu Shaddi. Two hours later,

at around 11 a.m., Lalan Alidina succumbed to his injuries and

passed away. 3

According to Mulla Qadir Husein, when news of Lalan's death

reached Bombay, it cast a gloom and “the hearts of Khojas of Bombay

were pounding with fear.” 4

Initially the body of Lalan was interned as amanat in a local

Miashah Qabrastan. Later, his remains were shipped to Basrah in

his own boat called “Khataupas” for permanent burial in Kerbala.

Lalan was a prosperous businessman involved in the fish trade,

trading with the Far East. A number of Khoja and other local Shia

accompanied the coffin of Lalan Alidina for permanent burial in

Kerbala. 5


The Endangered Species

The Khoja Community in Karachi was then divided between

two groups. One group was known as Panjebhai and the other

group was known as Pirhai. But for this grouping, both groups otherwise

belonged to the same Khoja community.

Until the death of Lalan Alidina in 1878, despite the fact both

Panjebhai and Pirhai groups belonged to the same Khoja community;

they did however operate separate Jamatkhana with separate

Mukhi and Kamadiya for each group. The Pirhai were known as

Pirhai because they used to observe the month of Muharram in the

Kharadar area at a place that was also known as Pirh in Sindhi language.

Hence those who belonged to this group are known as


It is to be recalled here that the original Khoja of Karachi and

Sindh were the Sindhi Khoja. The Gujarati Khoja from Cutch and

Kathiawar were few. Contribution of the Sindhi Khoja in the evolution

of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community in its early days has

been great. The legacy of numerous early Trusts and Waqf properties

now in Karachi has been bequeathed by these pioneering

Sindhi families.

As in the case of Mumbai, Cutch, Kathiawar and Zanzibar, as a

result of the simmering dispute between these two groups, those

who were known as Pirhai declared themselves as Shia Ithna-

Asheri. Again, as it happened in Mumbai, at about the same time,

four leading members of this group in Karachi were excommunicated

from the Khoja community. The four were: Gulamali Chagla,

Nasser Lutafali, Gulamhusein Kassam, and Nurmohamed Lalan.


Karachi Jamaat Formation

‘According to Sind Gazette (P.166) Pirhai were described as a

group of people who, during birth, marriage and death would follow

Hindu customs but in their religious practices they followed

Shia customs. The Pirhai did not have a Mosque (Mosque was built

after 1910) but they would ‘gather at a place three times a day to

offer the Islamic Salaat. This place where they gather is known as

Minber. However they did not have a place for Friday prayers.’ 6

In 1905, Khoja (Pirhai) Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat acquired land

for graveyard and named it as Hussaini Baag. Common Khoja burial

places were supposed to be open for all Khojas, regardless of

whether they practiced Ismaili, Ithna-Asheri or Sunni beliefs. As

reviewed earlier, once Aga Khan gained control over all Khoja

communal properties, and the management of these properties

was taken over by followers of the Aga Khan, the Ithna-Asheri and

Sunni Khoja were denied permission to bury their dead in the ancestral

Khoja cemetery. The Ithna-Asheri and Sunni Khoja were

thus obliged to acquire their own burial grounds. 7 (For more details

in this connection see Part 3, section 4 on Burial ground


Pirhai is a Sindhi word. It means people who get together at a

place to perform matam. Shias who commemorate the martyrdom

of Imam Husein perform Sinazani or Matam during the months of

Muharram and and Safar. For half a century the word Pirh was

generally used for what is now called Imambargah or Imamabara.

In Farsi language, the word Pirh was also known as matamkhana. 8


The Endangered Species

Today Karachi forms the largest Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri

Jamaat in the world. Ithna-Asheri Khoja in Pakistan number

around 40,000 mostly located in Karachi and in major centers of

Sind province. There is no distinction between the original Sindhi

Khoja and the Gujarati Khoja from Cutch and Kathiawar, many of

whom migrated after partition of India in 1947. The community in

Pakistan has grown into a homogenous society. In 1988, an attempt

was made to delete the word Khoja for the Karachi Jamaat.

The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected.

Ali Raza Lakhani in a TV interview aired by a Cable Station has

made an interesting observation outlining how the name Pirhai

was introduced in describing the Karachi Khoja Ithna-Asheri

Community. It is said that in a court case fought over the distribution

of assets of the Khoja Community between the followers of the

Aga Khan Ismaili sect and those who professed to practice the

Ithna-Asheri sect, the presiding Judge pointed out to the Ithna-

Asheri group that while followers of the Aga Khan described themselves

as Ismaili Khoja, how were they to be described? The

witness being taken aback by such a question responded that they

were commonly known as Pirhai Khoja. Thus the name Pirhai has

been linked to the Karachi Jamaat ever since. 9

In Pakistan according to estimates for the year 2007, the Khoja

Ismailis are said to be around 75,000, mostly located in Karachi

and in major center of Sind province. This figure includes around

15,000 who may be classified as original Sindhi and Punjabi Khoja.

There are also about 10,000 Ismailis from Hunza and Chitral who


Karachi Jamaat Formation

have moved to Karachi and form part of the local Khoja Ismaili

community. At one stage the Ismaili Khoja population in Karachi

was said to be much higher. Many have however moved to the

West, the Middle East and Far East. Several Ismaili families are

also known to have moved to the northern areas of Pakistan where

the Aga Khan has initiated many development projects and economic

opportunities are found for members of the community.

The Sunni Khoja in Karachi are said to be around 5,000. Additionally

there are around 2,000 former Ismaili migrants from

Hunza and Chitral in the northern areas who have converted to the

Sunni faith and are with the local Khoja Sunni Jamat. Jama'ate

Islami has a strong hold in the northern areas of Pakistan. They are

very active in their tabligh activities and have succeeded in converting

many Ismailis from the northern areas of Pakistan towards

the Sunni faith.

At the time of partition in 1947, the total population of Karachi

was estimated to be around 400,000. Besides, Karachi was also

reputed as a very clean city in India. The Kharadar area was the

main business centre. Majority of the trading community members

from amongst the Khoja, Bohra, Memon communities migrating

from India initially settled in and around the Kharadar area. As the

city grew over the years, an outward movement started from the

congested ‘old town’ area to the newly developing locations in the

vastly expanding Karachi metropolis. Towards mid 1976, the newly

appointed energetic President of the Karachi Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Jamaat took a decision to shift the Jamaat Office from the


The Endangered Species

Kharadar area to it is present location in Soldiers Bazaar where

Mehfile Shahe Khorasan is also located.

By early 1960, handful families who had established business

in East Africa were attracted towards Pakistan. This happened particularly

during the reign of Ayub Khan (1958/69). They settled in

Karachi and Hyderabad. Some established business ventures while

others went for small industries like cotton ginning in Hydeabad.

In the aftermath of Zanzibar Revolution in 1964 and merger of

Zanzibar and Tanganyika to form a new state known as Tanzania,

socialism trends gained momentum in Tanzania. With nationalization

of properties, farms and industries in Tanzania, more Khoja

families left Tanzania to seek settlement prospects in Pakistan.

Not used to big cities like Karachi, migrants from East Arica who

mostly settled in the newly developing PECHS society, found it difficult

to attend religious functions in Mehfile Shahe Khorasan or the

Khoja Mosque in Kharadar. Also desirous of maintaining their east

African traditional practice they felt the need for setting up local


According to Mehfile Murtaza website: “Among the few families

settled in Karachi, Late Mohammed Husein Sharif Dewji initiated a

small gathering at his place every Sunday afternoon to exchange

views and share experiences. Slowly this gathering gained momentum

and it was converted into religious lectures by Abbas M.

Alidina, followed by Maghrib Prayers and dinner. During the month

of Holy Ramadhan, nightly Duas used to take place for gents at Mohammed

Husein Sharif Dewji’s place and for ladies at Mohamed Ali


Karachi Jamaat Formation

Hansraj’s place and at Mehmood M.R. Fazal’s place. This continued

till the early 1970’s. Again the war between India and Pakistan during

1971 was a setback for some families who packed up and

returned to East Africa.”

In 1972, however, the need was felt to have a proper place to cater

for the social and religious needs of these families. Thus, a small

group comprising of Anver Rajpar, Abdullah Suleiman Khaku (Abu),

Hussein J. Dhanji, Sherali Manji and others took the initiative and

rented premises were acquired off Allama Iqbal Road. Thus, Mehfile-Murtaza

was established on 13th Rajab 1393 (1973). Within a

short period, Mehfil-e-Murtaza gained recognition within the Khoja

community and other Shia organizations because of its efficiency,

organized system and excellent services.

During the initial short span of three years, the then Managing

Committee of Mehfil-e-Murtaza took a bold decision to acquire a

plot in Block III, P.E.C.H.S. and build its own Mehfil premises. The

foundation laying ceremony was performed on 13 Rajab 1396 (12

July, 1976) by Alhaj Juma Haji. Time was not wasted and construction

work commenced very quickly which enabled the opening of

the Mehfil's present premises on 23 Zilhaj (25 November, 1978) by

Mustafa Gokal.

The expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972 saw a further

inflow of Khoja families in Karachi. It was during this time that

TUKIS Union (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya Ithna-Asheri Sports Union)

was formed with the first ever sports rally being organized

at Society Ground. The name of the Club was changed a number


The Endangered Species

of times until 16 years ago when the name was finally changed to

Hussaini Sports Club, a name which prevails to this day.

In due course the activities of the Mehfil expanded to the

field of religious and social activities. In the field of religious education,

the Hussaini Society has produced many outstanding

youths in the last 25 years.

Another milestone for the Mehfil was to start a primary

school for the community. Rented premises were acquired and

Al-Murtaza School came into existence in 1982. The school is

now independently run and includes a junior, girls and boys


Sensing the need for housing and better living conditions for

the less fortunate members of the community, on the 1400th

Birth Anniversary of Janabe Zainab Binte Ali (A.S.), Zainabia

Trust was formed to eradicate this problem. This organization

has done remarkable work for the community and it is hoped

that in the near future Zainabia Trust will achieve the goal of

providing all deserving members of the community with proper


Mehfile Murtaza is not a Jamaat. It is a Mehfil, essentially catering

for the needs for the Community members located around

the area. All members of the Mehfile Murtaza are also members

of the only one Karachi Jamaat, The Khoja Shia (Pirhai) Ithna

Asheri Jamaat, Karachi.


Karachi Jamaat Formation

Regrettably a photograph

of Lalan

Alidina is not available.


here is the photograph

of his son

Nurmohamed Lalan,

who is believed to

have the likeness of

his father Lalan

Alidina. Lalan

Alidina had four

sons and all of them

followed the footsteps

of their father

in serving the community

and in

promoting tabligh

work. 10

“Pirh” in Kharadar,

Karachi, where beautifully


wooden Tazia and

Alam are kept and

taken out in

procession during

Muharram. The

name “Pirhai” for the

Karachi Jamaat is

derived from this



The Endangered Species

In a small square, opposite the main “Pirh” is another smaller place where Tazia and Alam

are kept. In the background is the original house of Lalan Alidina in traditional Sindhi style.

While the neighbouring dwellings are in modern concrete structures, the classic Lalan Alidina

House has been retained in its original style. Decedents of Lalan continue to reside in this

house. Standing between the house of Lalan and the small “Pirh” is a huge Alam which is a

permanent feature of this place. After 18 th Zil Hajj until the beginning of Muharram, large

crowds, at times up to 10,000 to 15,000 converge around this place when they beat drums

and sound bugles proclaiming the sacrifices and the ultimate lasting victory of Imam Husein

in Kerbala - a traditional practice that continues to date.

The famous “Barha Imambara’, built

in 1878, Kharadar, Karachi, from

where the ‘Shaame Ghariban” Majalis

by Allama Rashid Turabi were relayed

by Pak Radio/TV.


Karachi Jamaat Formation

“Chota Imambara” -

Kharadar, Karachi.

Current Mosque and

Imambara rebuilt on

the original site of

the first Khoja

(Pirhai) Shia Ithna-

Asheri Mosque and


Kharadar, Karachi.


The Endangered Species

The Muscati Khoja Imambara,

Kharadar, Karachi. There are hardly

any Muscati Khoja families in

Karachi now. The place is opened

for Muharram Majalis. For more

details about the Muscati Khoja

see section on Muscati Khoja in

this book.

Main Gate of the

“Hoosaini Bagh” Cemetery

acquired by the Khoja Shia

Ithna-Asheri Community,

Karachi in 1905. Until then

all Khoja, whether Ismaili,

Sunni or Ithna-Asheri

staked their right to be

buried in the ancestral

Khoja cemetery.


Karachi Jamaat Formation

Among the early graves in this newly

acquired cemetery of Karachi is one of

Haji Satchu Peera “Mutawalli of

Daresslaam” Tanzania, who passed

away in Karachi in 1906 while returning

from Ziyarat to Kerbala. In 1902,

Satchu Peera had donated land for

the Daresslaam Cemetery, Mosque,

Imambara and Musafarkhana.

Ghulam Husain Khaliqdina

A public Hall known as “The Khaliqdina Hall”

(below), built by Late Ghulam Husain

Khaliqdina (left)


The Endangered Species

An important Karachi landmark ‘Fadoo Tower’ (above),

Built by Late Jaffer Fadu (right).


Karachi Jamaat Formation

Denso Hall, where

Lalaln Alidina was


Denso Hall, named

after an English man

during the British

Rule in India is an

historic building neglected

in a state of

disrepair – a trend in

Karachi where many

classic historical

buildings are left to

crumble in order to

make way for modern

shopping plazas.

Entrance to the “Baara

Imam” Imambara from

where Lalan Alidina

came out after attending

a Majlis. On his way to

the Kharadar area where

he lived, he was shot and

killed near Denso Hall.


The Endangered Species

Another classic

building near the

Kharadar area


owned by a

Hindu who left

for India at the

time of partition

is left in a state

of neglect by the

Karachi City

Government. A

trend noticed in

various parts of


Mohatta Palace,


Once owned by a

Hindu who left for

India at the time

of partition is one

of the few such

classic buildings

that are well


Mohtarama Fatima

Jinnah used to

reside in this

building where

she died. Now this

place is a well

kept national



Karachi Jamaat Formation

Karachi Jamaat

Offices were moved

from Kharadar area

to the Soldiers

Bazaar area, known

also as Guru

Mandir. Sanding in

front of the imposing

Jamaat Office

and School building

is the energetic

Secretary of Karachi

Jamaat Altaf

Bhojani and Minhas

Tejani, administrator

of the Jamaat

educational institutions.

A view of the

Khoja Shia


Jamaat Cemetery,


Unlike the general

state of average

Muslim cemeteries


Karachites, impressed

with this

neat laid out

graves have

dubbed this

Qabrastan as a

“Military type”


1 Pyarali Hirani in Khoja biradari no itihas p.158, Ramzanali Hirani, Hirani publication, One

Allegny Road, Pensylvania, U.S.A

2 Mulla Qader Husein, Autobiography. P.21/31


The Endangered Species

3 Zulfikar Gujarati Weeky, Karachi. 23.1.1973. I am indebted to Mehboob Ali Wazir, current

Editor of Zulfikar weekly, Karachi, for making available for me old copies of the Zulfikar from

which related details about Lalan Alidina have been extracted. Regrettably no photograph of

Lalan Alidina is available

4 ibid

5 Mullla Qader Husein, Autobiography.

6 Zulfikar Weekly, Karachi, 1973.

7 Information extracted from Guajarti article appearing in Zulkfikar, Karachi, dated Friday, February,

14, 1969

8 ibid

9 Ali Raza Lakhani, well known as an active social worker in Karachi involved in various Jamaat

activities. He heads the matriomonial committee and also the organization fired in 2004 for the

senior members of the community.

10 Photo; courtesy - Mehboob Ali Wazir, Editor, Zulfikar, Karachi.


Early Struggle to Learn

and Practice Faith


nitially the small Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Communities established

in Africa (Zanzibar, Dares salaam, Bagmoyo, Kilwa,

Lindi, Lamu, Mombasa, Pangani and Tulear (Madagascar) and

in India, (Bombay, Bhuj, Nagalpur, Mundra, Kera, Mahuva, Bhavnagar,

Karachi) had to improvise with make-shift community

centers for a while until they were able to register as Jamaats and

build Mosques, Imambara and Madrassah of their own.

The first Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Mosque and Imambara were

built in Zanzibar in 1881 while the one in Karachi was built in

1892. The mosque at Bagamoyo (Tanzania) was also built in 1892.

Because of litigations, the Mosque in Bombay was built in 1901. A

century later, history was to repeat itself as the community members

displaced from Africa and the Indian subcontinent settled in

Europe and North America. From 1960 onwards they operated as

small communities in makeshift accommodation in basements of

various houses until they were able to sufficiently organize them-


The Endangered Species

selves to build Mosques and Imambaras and run weekend religious


Towards the end of nineteenth century, the early Khojas have

been variously described as “novices” in matters of their belief as

they tried to shed the lingering influences of the Ismaili faith as

practiced by followers of the Aga Khan. The desire to operate as

practicing Muslims and to help promote the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith

has been the cherished desire of the growing community members.

These endeavours were not confined to only those known as

‘Mulla’ but were avidly pursued by an average individual with no

less enthusiasm. Here it is worth recalling an interesting African

experience and mention the account of Ali Nathoo who secured

from the British Resident a declaration of two public holidays in

Zanzibar to mark two days of great importance for the followers of

he Shia faith world wide.

Ali Nathoo arrived in Zanzibar in 1886 from Nagalpur, Cutch,

India. He became a successful businessman and “amassed wealth

from his business and his charity knew no bounds.” In local Swahili

language he was called by the local Zanzibaris as 'Ali ma noti' –

Ali with currency notes. The Kuwwat Imambara built upon the old

one was fully financed by him and it was done on a grand scale.

Ali Nathoo succeeded Pira Walli as the second President of the

Kuwwat Jamaat and served in this position for a record 23 years.

“Ali Nathoo’s charity after the First World War (1914/18) and

during the famine in Zanzibar was unsurpassable” for which the

British Resident Zanzibar offered to honour him. According to


Early struggle to learn and practice faith.

some reports, “knighthood was offered to him but he declined the

title ‘Sir.’ The British Resident was so much impressed by his nobility

and selflessness that he enquired of him if he could be of

service to him. The great man requested for public holidays for

10th of Muharram and the 21 st of Ramadan. His wishes were

granted and these two sacred days were marked as public holidays

for 45 years from 1920 to 1964 in Zanzibar”. 1

Tenth of Muharram is the day of Ashura the day on which

Imam Husein was martyred in Kerbala. This day is commemorated

with much solemnity and observed as public holiday in many

countries. The twenty-first day of Ramadan marks the day of the

martyrdom of Imam Ali. It is unique that in a predominantly Sunni

society ruled by a titular Ibadhi ruler, these two days of great significance

for the followers of the Shia faith should be observed as

public holidays in Zanzibar for so long.

In the spirit of ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, in India

and in Africa, in absence of trained Muballigh and Gujarati -

speaking Ulema, local family heads and well read individuals took

it upon themselves to officiate as religious instructors. Such dedicated

individuals, providing honorary services, proved to be the

backbone of the society and left their mark on the evolution of the

Community. Survival and growth of this emerging Khoja Shia Ithna

Asheri community owes much to such self taught and dedicated

individuals. With the exception of men like Haji Gulamali Haji

Esmail, who was initially trained by Mulla Qadir Husein, few of

them had attended any institute of higher learning to acquire Is-


The Endangered Species

lamic education. Based on whatever knowledge they could acquire

with personal endeavours, motivated by a burning desire to preserve

and promote their rediscovered faith, they devoted their

lives to the cause. In the process several such individuals acquired

status in the society as islamically learned individuals. The community

recognized their services and such individuals were

respectfully addressed with the title Mulla for men, and as

Mulyani, for women.

The services of the indigenous Mulla and Mulyani were not restricted

to imparting religious education to children attending

Madrasah classes. In addition to conducting classes for children,

they performed various religious practices in leading daily congregational

salat prayers, reciting dua after daily prayers and

reciting Dua-e-Kumayl and Ziayarate Waritha on Thursday nights.

They took an active interest in match making, arranging and solemnizing

marriages according to Islamic rites by performing

Nikah. They delivered Muharram majalis; arranged washing of the

dead bodies, supervised burial and the related funeral rites. Regardless

of their personal vocations or economic status, because of

their services, Mulla and Mulyani generally commanded respect

within the society as individuals of integrity and piety. In addition,

they were often called upon as conciliators in resolving matrimonial

disputes and to arbitrate in any conflict resolution within the

Community. It was often jocularly stated that the Mulla would solemnize

marriage by performing Nikah acting as vakil - attorneyfor

the bride or the bridegroom. At the end of it all, the bridegroom


Early struggle to learn and practice faith.

may forget to kiss his hand and the volunteers may even forget to

serve him with halwa – Turkish delight – that is customarily

served on such occasions. For Mulla it has always been a labour of

love for which he would derive innate satisfaction. Regardless of

the public recognition, a devoted Mulla or Mulyani would move

around always carrying small booklets for the recitation of dua,

marthiya or majlis. They would respond to the call for duty at

short notice to cheerfully render their honorary services.

When a person was sick and the doctors had given up hope, a

Mulla would be summoned to recite Quran and offer special prayers

for the dying. When medical science had given up and all hope

was lost, it was the turn of the Mulla to perform miracles! This

may appear to be a lighthearted comment which may not be understood

by the younger generation today. If only one could

visualize the state of the community, small groupings scattered in

remote villages and townships all over Eastern Africa and in the

villages of Gujarat in the latter half of the 19 th century and the first

half of the 20 th century, with individuals not literate enough to

read for themselves in Arabic or Gujarati, the great role played by

such Mulla will be better understood. Our evolution to date owes

much to their selfless services over the last century.

Soon the Khoja community produced many well read and articulate

individuls who stood out as active Muballigh in India and

in Africa, as writers and lecturers enthusiastically volunteering to

keep the spirit alive. 2


The Endangered Species

With the migration of the community to the West during the

last quarter of the twentieth century, history was to repeat itself.

Before the structured Jamats with Mosques and Imambaras were

set up in Europe and North America, the need for local Mulla and

Mulyani were strongly felt. Individuals who had never taught in

Madrasah, those who had never ascended the pulpit to give religious

talk while in Africa, or those who had never publicly recited

Dua or Ziayarat at Mosques after the congregational prayers or

Thursday nights, responded to the need of the time in entirely new

environments. Many unknown individuals have thus been catapulted

into a position of responsibility. To keep the Islamic spirit

alive, they have gallantly filled the void.

After the Uganda exodus in 1972, various families found themselves

in remote places in North America and in Scandinavia,

without any community members around. Elders of such families

have rendered yeoman services in holding the families together

and bringing up their children as practicing Muslims in a completely

strange environment without any community support. A

study of the struggle of such families settled in the West from

1960 onwards would provide fascinating reading. 3

The purpose of this exercise is not to concentrate endeavours

at tracing in great details the early history of the evolution of the

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community in different parts of the world.

To undertake a comprehensive exercise in reviewing the developments

in East Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, La ReUnion,

Mozambique, India and Pakistan, Burma, the Persian Gulf, Far East


Early struggle to learn and practice faith.

and in Europe and North America would be a monumentous effort.

It is to be hoped that some day emerging youths interested in history

and sociology would undertake a systematic inquiry in this


Perusal of the early editions of Rahe Najat and Isna-Asher,

Chaudmi Sadi and other magazine published in India and Salsabil

from Zanzibar Rehbar from Mombasa and Inqilab from

Daressalaam would help to spotlight various local developments.

With this brief historical background to serve as a backdrop, it is

hoped that the narrative may help to focus the spotlight on the

purpose for which we came into existence as a community in the

first place and to identify the current realities and the challenges

that lie ahead.

Syed Abdulhusein Mara'shi

(d.1905) was the first resident

Aalim sent to Zanzibar in 1885

by Ayatulla Sheikh Zainul

Aabedin Mazindarani at the

‘request of Dewji Jamal for a

high caliber Alim.'


The Endangered Species

Syed Husein Syed Habibullah Shushtary was the

second resident Aalim in Zanzibar. He took the place

of his father in law in Syed Abdulhusein in 1929 and

remained n his position until his death I 1943.

1 Federation Samachar, Vol 31, No.3. April1999. A short histry of Zanzibar Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheries by Abdulrazak Sheriff Fazel, P.xi/xiv.

2 For interesting brief accounts of various Mulla and Mulyani who have rendered great services

in East Africa, see Outline History of the K.S.I in Eastern Africa by Mulla Asgharali M.M. Jaffer

1983. Also writings of Prof King and Syed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi referred to earlier. Also Urdu Book -

Khurshide Khawar by Syed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi.

3 For the community settled in the West, history was repeating itself. Many individuals and

heads of families have risen to the occasion in striving to preserve Islamic values for their own

families in strange environments and under very difficult circumstances. In the process they

have also helped develop the local community at the same time. To illustrate the activities of

such pioneering work done in the West, I may mention Akberali Rajmohamed of Allentown.

After the exodus from Uganda, Akberali Rrajmohamed, along with his parents, his family and

the family of his maternal relations comprising of 19 souls in all landed in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Out of the 19 souls there were 12 boys and girls who were to be brought up as practicing

Muslims in an environment that was not supportive for the development of traditional Islamic

ways of life. The Church Missionary organization that sponsored the family for settlement in

Pennsylvania was helpful. Akberali Rajmohamed acted as not only head of the family, but as

religious teacher for young boys and girls, as a local Mulla, and as leader of the tiny community.

With the passage of time, the Community in Allentown has now grown to over 400 heads with

an imposing Mosque and Community centre and full fledged religious activities.

There are many Akberali Rajmohameds all over Europe and North America. I have been urging

them to record their experience for posterity and I hope the surviving elders everywhere will

see the value of such historic records.


African Tabligh Approach


uring the last forty years, the Khoja Ithna-Asheri community

in Africa took an historic decision to work

towards promoting their faith on a broader front among

the indigenous African population. Having settled in Africa for

over a century, the Khoja Community had relatively prospered.

They recalled their own checkered history of conversion from the

ancestral Hinduism to Islam and then into in a loose form of Shia

faith. In the early days their faith could be described as a ‘hodge

podge’ of combined Sunni, Ismaili and Ithna-Asheri beliefs and

practices and with conspicuous lingering of the ancestral Hindu

practices and traditions. Later on, they were further sucked in as

ardent followers of the Aga Khans with all their innovative practices

that at times ran contrary to the broad Islamic principles.

When the successive Aga Khans began to openly espouse the

Nizari Ismaili sect, it led to schism and the formation of a distinct

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community. Recalling their historical

background, the Khojas in Africa felt obliged to look beyond their

immediate compatriots to spread the message of Islam to humani-


The Endangered Species

ty at large. In this context they were encouraged by the Shia

Mujtahid in Iraq. 1

Undertaking the missionary work to spread the Shia faith was

a way for the Community to recognize its obligation and as an expression

of gratitude for the divine blessings. Several well-versed

individual members of the Community in Zanzibar, Mombasa,

Tanga and Lamu are known to have maintained very good relationships

with the local Arab and African societies and their

Ulema, many of whom were followers of the Shaf’i Sunni sect.

Early records suggest that “It was in the year 1932, due to the

efforts of Marhum Syed Baqer, a resident of Tanga, two

Tanganyikans (in 1932 there was no Tanzania) namely: Mr. Mohamed

Amin of Lushoto and Mr. Seifu Jumbe of Tanga, embraced

Shia Ithna-Asheri faith.” 2 One well known Sharifu in Lamu had

also publicly embraced the Shia faith in late 1940’s or early

1950’s. 3

Towards the end of the 1950’s, Husein A. Rahim of Zanzibar

wrote in the Gujarati magazine Salsabeel advocating organized

missionary work to attract the indigenous African population towards

the Shia faith. Ayatullah Syed Muhsin el Hakim in a meeting

with Ebrahim Husein Sheriff, then President of the Federation of

the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaats of Africa “gently admonished

the leaders of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris for their self centered,

proprietary and possessive frame of mind. He directed them to

preach the Truth to the African masses.” 4 Among the few Ulema

visiting East Africa who saw the need for embarking upon Tabligh


African Tabligh Approach

activities to enlighten the local African masses of the Shia faith,

mention must be made of Khwaja Mohamed Latif Ansari, a resident

Aalim of Mombasa Jamaat in late 1950’s. In an address to the

Conference of the African Jamaats held in Arusha in 1958, he

urged the Community to look beyond the confines of their limited

circles. At about the same time two visiting scholars, Allama Syed

Ibne Hasan Jarchvi of Pakistan and Dr. Zakir Husein Farooqi of India

made a similar appeal.

For an organized collective endeavour to undertake missionary

work to spread the Shia faith among the indigenous African

population, in 1962 and again in 1964 “Maulana Syed Saeed

Akhtar Rizvi submitted a pilot scheme” 5 Later, “A paper jointly

prepared by Maulana Syed Saeed Akhter Rizvi, Maulana Seyyid Ali

Abid Rizvi, Haji Ali Mohamed Jaffer Sheriff Dewji, and Haji Mohamed

Raffiq Gulamali Somji” 6 advocating the formation of the

Bilal Muslim Mission was presented to the triennial Conference

held in Tanga in December,1964. Thus, Bilal Muslim Mission came

into being.

Financial resources were allocated for outreach programs by

publishing books and periodicals, offering correspondence courses,

setting up mosques, madrassas, nursery and primary schools,

health centers and adult classes for women to help improve their

economic lot in the rural areas in different parts of East Africa and

Madagascar. Today this movement has gained momentum in

Southern Africa and is also duplicated in Europe and North America.


The Endangered Species

In a spirit of ‘labour of love’, many enlightened and dedicated

individuals, successful in their own professional vocations, in Africa,

Europe and North America volunteer their services for the

cause. Some ill-informed detractors may relish in finding faults, for

this very small community of Khoja Ithna-Asheris in Africa. However,

it must be acknowledged that with very limited human and

financial resources, they embarked upon an ambitious program to

empower the indigenous African population not only to understand

and accept the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith but to organise them as structured

communities to be able to operate independently on the pattern

of the Khoja community when they first settled in Africa.

Innate satisfaction is derived from the realization that if ever

the entire Asian communities in Africa were to be displaced, as it

happened in Zanzibar, Uganda, Somalia and Mozambique, the legacy

of the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith bequeathed in Africa by the

Khoja Community will survive. It is unfortunate that despite being

in Somalia for over a century, the Khoja community did not reach

out to convert the local population. As a result, with the evacuation

of the entire Khoja Shia community from Somalia in 1991, there

are no indigenous Somali practicing the Shia faith to ensure that

the Ithna-Asheri Mosque and Imambara in Mogadishu and Merca

are put to use according to Shia tenets.

The new generation of African converts to the Shia faith in

Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and in Madagascar are sufficiently enlightened

and deeply committed to keep the flag flying.


African Tabligh Approach

Some people have tended to draw simplistic conclusions that

the growth of tabligh activity in Africa has been developed around

the 1980s, only after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. As we have

seen from the preceding paragraphs this generalized assessment

is contrary to the reality.

In a paper entitled Asian Muslims in Kenya, Prof Mohamed

Bakari of the University of Nairobi comments on the effectiveness

of the tabligh activities undertaken by the small Khoja Ithna-

Asheri Community of under 3,000 in Kenya. “The Ithna-Asheris

have become better known through the missionary activities of

the ‘Bilal Muslim Mission’ with its network of bookshops in Nairobi

and Mombasa. Although Sunni/Shia relationship are still

uneasy, the activities of the Bilal Mission have helped somewhat to

deflect some of the earlier, and often blind prejudices against Shia

in general. The endogamous Bohra and Ismailis do not encourage

conversion outside the community, whereas the Ithna Asheri, who

may not necessarily encourage intermarriage with the other surrounding

communities, have embarked on outreach programs to

encourage conversion to Shi'ism” Prof Bakari however goes on to

attribute this phenomenon to the rise of Khomeini and the Islamic

Revolution in Iran and that “the events in Iran, like elsewhere in

the Islamic world, have given them a new found confidence, enthusiasm

and zeal in their Islamic identity.”

Commenting on the impact of these outreach endeavours, Prof.

Bakari further writes: “The Shia have also attracted some young

Sunni, who were fascinated by the rhetoric of Khomeini and the


The Endangered Species

success of his revolution. It is also a reflection of the disillusionment

of these young people with the ineffectiveness of their

Ulema. While a number of these young people now openly profess

Shia doctrines, a small number has chosen to remain crypto-Shia

for fear of being ostracized. Even where there is no overt profession

of Shia doctrines and practices, some important individuals,

with fiercely independent views have shown open sympathy towards

the Shia.” 7

In the light of representations made on the Constitutional Review

Commission in Kenya, which will be reviewed in Part Five,

Section One of this volume, it is recognized that for the survival

and progress of the indigenous Shia Communities in Africa, dispersed

widely in major centers and in small hamlets in the

outlying districts all over the East African countries, that it is necessary

to organize them as self supporting structured

communities. Here the local dynamics applicable in the respective

countries in the continent of Africa and in the Indian Ocean Islands

of Madagascar have to be taken into account. They could also draw

from the experience of the Khoja community that has been operating

in Africa for over a century. The first approach in this context

is towards improving their educational standards and focusing on

their economic welfare. This is to be followed by setting up of

structured communities that would be self supporting and would

take care of their local needs in religious education and for social

welfare. Various steps are afoot in this direction. The local Khoja

community in Africa and from overseas, especially those who mi-


African Tabligh Approach

grated from Africa, are actively supportive of the related endeavours.

A remarkable feature of the early Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri who

settled in Africa was that they were driven by religious zeal to help

propagate the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith. As early settlers in Africa,

their early focus of attention was essentially directed towards

their compatriots, the Khoja Ismaili. Before the community was

sufficiently organized with structured bodies to manage the community

affairs they could not embark upon any outward approach

towards propagating the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith among the indigenous

African population. However, looking at the early Waqf and

Trust deeds, it is apparent that the pioneers were not restricted

with a narrow clannish outlook. In matters of faith, despite the lingering

of the Indian clannish outlook in many ways, they took pain

to ensure that in bequeathing properties for Waqf for religious

purposes, they were strictly guided by the non discriminatory Islamic


The following excerpt from the first paragraph of the Waqf

deed of the Khoja Shia Ithana-Asheri (Bostani) Mosque and

Imambara, Mombasa, Kenya, dated 3 rd July, 1899, written in Gujarati

language is revealing in this context.

“Besides this they as well as others having subscribed the under

mentioned amounts according to their means have to please

the Almighty given away as complete wakf with equal rights the

Mosque and the Imamwada do in the course of erection for Shia

Ithna-Asheri of all casts whether they may be Arabs, Persians, Indi-


The Endangered Species

ans, or others therefore no one shall have ownership of or control

over them because they have given away as complete and independent

wakf. Purely for the sake of God in which no one has any

right whatever to perform any ceremony or function of any other

kind except only the ceremonies of the Shia Ithna-Asheri creed.” 8 A

similar philosophy was also applied in the first Kuwwatul Islam

Mosque and Imambara built in Zanzibar in 1880.


In 1962, Ayatullah Syed Muhsin Al Hakim mentioned to Haji Ebrahim Husein Sheriff, then

President of the Federation of the K.S.I. Jamats of Africa. See An Outline History of Khoja Shia

Ithna Asheri in East Africa, by Asgherali M. M. Jaffer. 1983.


African Tableeghi Experience and Challenges by, Fazleabbas Datoo and Muslim Bhanji.

Sept.2005. Paper submitted to a Muballigh training Seminar organized by the World Federation

of the K.S.I. Muslim Communities, in London.


Sharif Muhammad Badawi, of Lamu; Personal recollection and based on reports from my

late father. See also subsequent chapters. Among other notable converts who were attracted

towards the Shia faith even before the formation of the Bilal Muslim Mission of Kenya in

1976 are Dr.Ahmed Khatib of Lamu and Sheikh Abdillahi Nasser of Mombasa.


By Asgharali M. M.Jaffer - An outline History of K.S.I in East Africa 1983, P.24.




African Tableeghi Experience and Challenges by Fazrelabbas Datoo and Muslim Bhanji,



From: Islam in Kenya. - Proceedings of the National Seminar on contemporary Islam in Kenya

– Mews Publications, Nairobi, 1995. See contribution by Prof. Mohamed Bakari, under

the heading: Asian Muslims in Kenya, P.65/66


Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat, Mombasa archives.



Khoja Experience


East Africa – as little India

False sense of security

Traumatic experience

Pakistani quagmire

Jinnah – a Khoja

Indian tragedy

African settlers in India




part from the desire to protect their faith, the Ithna-

Asheri Khoja developed outreach programs in Africa to

promote the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith. Until the 1950s such

outreach approaches were targeted mainly towards their immediate

kith and kin from the Ismaili Khoja Community. Over the years,

there was steady conversion from the Ismaili to the Ithna-Asheri

faith and the Community grew as a result. An account of various

families on how they left the Aga Khani Ismaili Community to join

the Ithna-Asheri Community under varying circumstances would

make fascinating reading. Sadly, no systematic effort has been

made over the past decades to compile such records.

At the same time, there were many among the Ismaili Khoja

who, while publicly professing to be Ismaili, continued to practice

the Ithna-Asheri faith privately. Family ties and fear of economic

backlash were often major factors constraining their public declaration.

Until the late 1950s, in Mombasa and Zanzibar, there were

Private Mehfils, where Ismaili Khoja families gathered during the

months of Muharram and Ramadan and on special occasions. In

1350 A.H. a group of Ismaili individuals in Zanzibar established a


Khoja Outreach

Mehfil to be known as Mehfile Muhibbane Husein (a.s). At one stage

it was also known as Abdulrasul Peera Dewji Mehfil. Now Madrastu

Ahlul Bait run by the Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania is housed in

this building. In Mombasa such gatherings were held at the residence

of Ithna-Asheri with their own mehfil. Ithna-Asheri Mullas in

Zanzibar and Mombasa would visit the Ismaili congregations gathered

to lead prayers and narrate the accounts of the tragedy of

Kerbala, commonly known as Muharram Majalis. 1

Instances of Ithna-Asheri Khoja reverting to the Ismaili faith

are rare. Some rare cases reported in Africa and in India have arisen

essentially on account of love marriages. 2

Towards the early 1950’s, the Aga Khan directed his community

to adopt western attire and prevailed upon the Ismaili women

to shed their head-scarves known in Gujarati and Cutchi as

Pachedi for “political and economic reasons”. 3 At the same time in

Africa, representatives of the Ismaili communities stopped even

token attendance at religious functions like the Meelad-un-Nabi

and Hussein Day organized by the Ithna-Asheri Community. 4

Whether they were restrained from doing so by the Aga Khan

himself is difficult to say. There are however evidences to suggest

that earlier on in 1899 and again in 1905, fearing the slide towards

the Ithna-Asheri faith, Aga Khan III had ordered his followers to

“break off all social and economic ties” with the Ithna-Asheris” 5 .

Daftary records that around 1910 Persian Ismaili who were following

Persian Shi’i “rituals of praying, ablution, fasting, the hajj

pilgrimage, and so forth” were directed by Aga Khan III to “set


The Endangered Species

themselves completely apart from the Twelvers, asserting their

own identity as a religious Community.” Furthermore “they were

also discouraged from going to the twelvers at their Mosques on

special occasions, and from participating in the Shi’i mourning rituals

of Muharram, because the Nizari had a living and present

(‘mawjud’ and ‘hadhir’) imam and did not need to commemorate

any of their dead imams”. 6

The latter proclamation by the Aga Khan after the 1952 Evian

Conference was followed by an economic package for the Ismaili

community such as the setting up of housing projects, schools,

hospitals and finance and insurance corporations. Economic and

social welfare packages strengthened the hold of the Aga Khan

over his followers. Unlike other Asian Communities living in Africa,

at the behest of the Aga Khan, Ismailis were quick to adopt

western attire and western life style. At the same time they were

also groomed as a tightly knit society living in their enclosed housing

compounds, with exclusive community schools and clubs.

Such insular and introvert trends of living described derisively

by social activists as ‘communal ghettos’, were also emulated on a

smaller scale by several Asian Muslim and Hindu Communities in

East Africa, including the Bohra and the Ithna-Asheri Khojas. Despite

the social and economic benefits derived to the Community

as a result, this introverted trend had its own negative effect. It

often led to the development of parochial and insular communal

attitudes. At the same time when hospital and school projects

were initiated, the colonial government granted support to the


Khoja Outreach

projects in what is known as “grant-in-aid” for the development of

such communal projects. A number of Asian communities including

the Bohra and the Ithna-Asheri Khoja took advantage of such

facility to establish similar educational institutions. In so doing,

the British colonial rulers in Africa lent liberal support to and subtly

encouraged respective Asian communities to develop

separately. In the process, they helped to perpetuate the old Indian

class system in their colonies. Whether viewed as a tolerant

attitude or a policy of ‘divide and rule’, colonial rule in Africa operated

on the basis of dealing separately with Europeans, Asians,

Arabs and Africans. Following independence of the East African

territories, by early the 1960s all semblance of segregation or restriction

on racial or communal grounds were eased. With the

introduction of a non-racial approach as a national policy, the

doors of every public service institution became opened to all.


The Endangered Species

“Mehfiule Muhibbane Husein A.S.,” Zanzibar, otherwise also known as “Mehfile Private.”

This Mehfil has been in operation for more than seventy years. The building is now used as a

Madrassa run by the Bilal Muslim Mission of Zanzibar For relevant details see Footnote 1


The building in Mombasa was the residence of an Ithna-Asheri–Mulla, G.A.D. Musa, nicknamed,

“Mulla Bishon” - where ‘private mehfil’ for the Ismaili followers of the Aga Khan were



Khoja Outreach


A detailed account of the formation of the Mehfile Muhibbane Husein (a.s.), appeared in a

Gujarati publication Noore Hidayat on 24 th Dhulhijja, 1350. An English translation of the

report outlining the activities of the Mehfil over the past seventy years has been reproduced

in Light magazine, published by the Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania,

From my personal recollection, between 1940 and the late 1950s’ such private gatherings

for Ismailis were held in Mombasa. My late grandfather Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji, Mullah

Abdul Rasul Dewji and Mulla Gulamhusein A.D. Musa, nicknamed “Mulla Bishon” used

to conduct such services for the Ismaili privately practicing the Shia faith. Where such

gatherings could not be held in Ismaili homes Mulla Bishon would make available his

house to facilitate such gatherings. I have also known some of the Ismailis who participated

in such gatherings, many of whom are now deceased. In order not to embarrass their

families, I have refrained from giving out their names.


I can recall only one such case in Kenya in the last seventy years.


Dr. Shirin R. Walji in Ismailis in Kenya: Some perspective on continuity and change in Islam

in Kenya, MEWA publication, 1995.


Until around the mid 1950s at least two representatives of the Agha Khani Ismaili Community

used to attend the “Husein Day” gatherings organised by the Ithna-Asheri

Community in Mombasa and were represented by their senior most local leaders Varas

Fatehali Dhala and Count Kassamali Paroo. In 1952, the Agha Khan convened a Conference

of the Ismailis in Evian, France, to review the future of his community. After the earlier

challenges to his status, Aga Khan III’s was accepted unquestionably by his followers.

Among the numerous Farmans issued by the Aga Khan there was one related to the abolition

of the veil. For a related account see Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis p. 525/526.


Hatim M. Amiji - in Some notes on religious dissent in nineteenth century East Africa, p.612.


Daftary P.537


East Africa - as Little India


sians in East Africa, mostly from the Indian subcontinent,

were mainly fragmented between Punjabis, Gujaratis,

and Goans. Other conspicuous non-Indian Asian settlers

in East Africa, relatively smaller in number, were Chinese and

Cylonis (now known as Sri Lankans). Indian settlers in Africa

were further divided between the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian

and Parsi communities. To compound the divisions, the Hindus

were divided between Punjabi and Gujarati Hindu. Gujarati Hindus

were further classified between Brahmin, Jain, Shah, Patel, Lohana,

Bhatia and a number of other smaller clans. Punjabi Hindus were

mostly known as ‘Arya Samaji’. Sikhs do not approve of being

grouped as Hindu. They claim their distinct identity as Sikh. So do

the Parsi who prefer to be known as Zoroastrians.

Muslims were fragmented between the Shia and Sunni. The

Shias were further divided between Ismaili Khoja, Ithna-Asheri

Khoja and Dawoodi Bohra – all Gujarati speaking clans. There

were also the Urdu speaking Punjabi and Kashmiri Shia. Sunnis

were divided between the Punjabi and Gujarati Sunnis. Among the

Gujarati Sunni were Memon, Luhar, Samatri, Bhadala, Kumbhar,


East Africa as Little India

and Hajam, from Cutch, Kathiawar and Gujarat. There was also a

small Kokni community from Bombay and the Maharashtra Province.

Like their Gujarati compatriots, Punjabi Muslims also

operated as a distinct community. Among the Punjabi Muslims

were Sunni, Shia, and the Ahmadi, otherwise also known as

Qadiani or Mirzai. Several Punjabi and Kashmiri Shia families

were located mostly in Nairobi. The Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri in

Nairobi were linked to the non Khoja Shia community. Despite the

Khoja now being in the majority in Nairobi, the Nairobi Jamaat is

still known as Shia –Ithna-Asheri Jamaat and not as Khoja Shia

Ithna-Asheri Jamaat. The Nairobi Jamaat is an active member of

the central organization: The Federation of the Khoja Shia Ithna-

Asheri Jamaats of Africa.

Indians in East Africa lived in their own “little India”, with all

their different languages and dialects, customs and traditions. The

ancient Indian customs and traditions with all the tapering of their

clan heritage were freely practiced in Africa. They continued to

blossom even after the East African countries acquired independence

in the 1960s. Interestingly, despite subsequent migration

from Africa to the West, Asians settled in U.K., and in North America

are duplicating their African and Indo-Pakistani outlook as they

vainly struggle to re-live their past. They often fail to recognize the

need for reformation and change. As a result they fail to plan for

and manage change. They remain oblivious to the historical fate

that befell the early Indian settlers in Fiji in the East Indies and in

the Bahamas in West Indies. For the younger generation of peo-


The Endangered Species

ple of Indo-Pak origin born and bred in the West and largely assimilated

into the Western ways of life, their only linkage and

understanding of the south Asian culture is based on Bollywood


The Khoja Ismaili Community especially, evolved as a tightly

knit society. They did not mingle much with the rest of the Asian

Communities in social, religious and political activities. Individual

freedom of an Ismaili Khoja was often curtailed as the community

is held under a tight leash. This was amply demonstrated before

the advent of independence to the East African countries when

Asian residents were granted separate electoral voting rights for

Muslims and non Muslims. Ismaili voters, unlike the Ithna-Asheri

Khoja and members of the other Asian Muslim and Hindu communities,

always voted en-bloc in general elections. No Ismaili

individual would dare to take an independent public stand even on

national political issues contrary to the stand subtly espoused by

the community’s hierarchy. 1 Such developments only increased

their estrangement and helped to restrict any intellectual intercourse

with the rest of the Asian Muslims and especially the Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheri communities.

Impressed with the commendable social and welfare project

initiated by the Aga Khan for his Community, other Asian Communities,

Muslims and non- Muslim alike, including the Ithna-Asheri,

emulated them with corresponding developments of their own for

their respective communities. In the process they too withdrew


East Africa as Little India

into their restrictive shells to further entrench their clannish outlook.

During the last fifty years, the few remaining vestiges of interaction

between the two Khoja communities virtually ended. With

that the trickle of conversion from the Ismaili to Ithna-Asheri faith,

especially in Africa, almost petered out. In India and Pakistan

however, because of their greater number and close family ties

between the three Khoja communities, various forms of interaction

between family members and friends continued. This was

particularly noted on occasions of marriage or death in the family.

There are also many cases of mixed marriages between Ithna-

Asheri and Ismaili boys and girls. Similarly in India and Pakistan

marriages with Sunni Khoja and non-Khoja Sunni also are not uncommon.

2 Such developments help to open a window of amity and

opportunities. Despite the overall constraints, in the Indian subcontinent

at least, conversion from Ismaili to the Ithna-Asheri faith

has continued to date, though in more limited numbers.


There are several known incidents of this nature. In 1956, during a general election in

Kenya for an Asian Muslim seat from Mombasa, there were two candidates, Dr. M. A. Rana,

President of the local Muslim Association, and Dr. S. A. Hassan, a retired Provincial Veterinary

Officer. A leading Ismaili figure had signed the nomination papers for Dr. Rana as his

proposer. Soon after, the Ismaili hierarchy decided to back Dr. Hassan. As a result, the erstwhile

gentleman who had signed the nomination papers of Dr. Rana was obliged to

backtrack and toe the community’s line much to the chagrin of his former protégé. Few

years later, Mr. A. H. Nurmohamed, an Ithna-Asheri Khoja stood in election against Dr. S. A.

Hasan. The Ismaili community voted en-bloc for Dr.Hassan. As the Ismaili had majority

votes among Asian Muslim community, Dr.Hassan won. Recognizing the general popularity

of Mr. Nurmohamed, the British colonial government appointed Mr. Nurmohamed as a

nominated member of the Legislative Council.


In The Sunni Khoja under the heading of In Retrospect, Chapter VII –“Intermarriage gradually

became common and today the daughters of Sunni Khoja are in the homes of Shia

Imami Ismaili and the Shia Isna Asheri Khojas as their daughters are in Sunni Khoja homes”.



False Sense of Security


y the time the Second World War ended in 1945, the respective

Khoja communities were sufficiently structured

and organized to function for their limited numbers. This

was particularly noteworthy in Africa. In the process, growing realization

began to emerge among Khojas that there were few

prospects for any noteworthy growth or decline in their numbers

as a result of further conversions from the other Khoja communities.

This led to a false sense of security and contentment within

the respective societies.

Until the mid 1950s, several individuals in the Indian subcontinent

and in Africa made household names for themselves as

writers and authors of various forms of publications. These were

avidly read across the divide to provide topics for lively discussions

among respective community members. Reactionary

polemic writings by ill-informed and immature Ithna-Asheri Khoja

writers also contributed towards the widening of the gulf. Such

writings were detrimental to the long term interest of the underlying

objective i.e. to spread the message of the Shia beliefs and win

over Ismaili Khoja as converts to the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith. With


False Sense of Security

growing estrangement between the Khoja communities, from the

mid 1950’s onwards, intellectual challenges posed to both communities

to discuss and defend their respective faiths diminished.

At the same time, in Africa especially, English was fast replacing

Gujarati. This trend led to the widening of the gulf between the

Communities settled in Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Later

on, the introduction of TV and video culture also had its detrimental

effect on the reading culture. As a result, among the Khoja

Shia Ithna-Asheri Community we notice in Africa for example,

once highly popular monthly magazines like 'Salsabil' from Zanzibar,

'Rahbar' from Mombasa and 'Inqilab' from Daressalaam

ceased their publications. 'Ithna Asheri Masik', 'Chaudmi Sadi' from

Mumbai and 'Rahe Najaat' from Bhawnagar and Karachi are still

continuing their publications with declining readership. We also

notice a declining number of writers and authors in the Gujrati

language, especially from Africa. In Gujarat and Karachi, a number

of new magazines like Alamdar from Ahmedabad and Zulfikar

from Karachi have emerged and are struggling to survive. A bold

attempt at publication of a glossy magazine in English from Toronto

known as The Shia World ceased publication with the sudden

demise of its enthusiastic publisher, Mohamedhusein Panjwani.

The culture of reading, once the hallmark of enlightenment is

fast receding. This trend is not only peculiar to the Khoja Shia

Ithna-Asheri Community but is viewed as a form of new virus affecting

all communities. Relative economic well-being and a

pervasive sense of contentment for the manner in which people


The Endangered Species

practiced their faith have their share of pitfalls as well. It develops

a state of intellectual inertia as the society degenerates into static,

tradition bound and blind ritualism in the name of religion. Deepseated

Indian cultural baggage blended into the religious customs

and traditions are particularly pronounced in the Indian subcontinent.

It is also blindly emulated in Africa and surprisingly, more so

in the West also. Some of the practices which cannot be explained

away rationally or philosophically often alienate new converts and

also raise questions for the younger generation. The silent majority

is often loath to question the relevance of many traditions and

practices for fear of being branded by vociferous bigoted elements,

while the religious pundits opt to remain silent for fear of courting

mass unpopularity.

Lately, such trends with some innovative additions to the traditional

practices appear to have gained greater momentum.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of

the twentieth century, the spirit of inquiry and a desire to understand

fundamentals of the Islamic faith and the philosophical

meanings behind certain beliefs and practices has been the driving

force for the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community. This spirit of inquiry

brought into open their differences with the Nizari Ismaili

beliefs and practices. But for this spirit of inquiry, the Khoja Shia

Ithna-Asheri Community would not have separated. The current

passive approach within society in blindly accepting or tolerating

innovative traditional practices emulated from the Indo-Pakistan


False Sense of Security

subcontinent or from Iran is unfortunate. This trend does not augur

well for the community.

One silver lining on the horizon in this context is that the new

breed of educated youths, especially those living in the West, are

now approaching the issues of their beliefs in a much more enlightened

manner in order to be able to stand up with their heads

held high in an otherwise hostile, non-Muslim, secular, and even

anti-Shia fanatical Muslim religious environments. The dilemma

facing such youths becomes highly pronounced when they enroll

in colleges and universities. Their situation however, is not helped

by the majority of the traditional Ulema and lecturers operating in

the West, many of whom, in effect, are only translating into English

their stereotyped rhetorical outlook. They are often unaware of

the local dynamics. They are either incapable or unable to establish

an appropriate wavelength with the growing generation to

provide them with the requisite counseling. There are a few exceptions

however. A number of young traditional Ulema are known to

have adapted themselves to the Western environments and are

striving hard to meet local challenges.

On the other side of the spectrum, in their enthusiasm to encourage

an increasing number of educated youths to acquire

further Islamic education, parents, aided by enthusiastic workers

hastily send out half baked individuals to acquire higher education

in traditional madaris in Iran. Religious institutions operating in

the Middle East and in the Indo-Pak sub continent are not sufficiently

equipped to fulfill the needs of the modern generation. As a


The Endangered Species

result, some of the students return with a ‘holier than thou’ attitude,

out to replicate the oriental thinking and approach in

western languages. Many of them soon find out that they are unable

to relate to especially the western environments and end up

being frustrated as a result. It is a dilemma not too dissimilar to

that of the normal academic education where students end up taking

courses for which they have no real aptitudes and as a result

are not ideally suited for the professions of their choice.

Because of a dearth of trained Khoja Ulema, the Khoja Shia

Ithna-Asheri Community in India, notably after independence in

1947, depended more on Urdu speaking Ulema and Zakirs from

Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Hyderabad to assume roles a