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The term Gujarati Muslim is usually used to signify an Indian Muslim from the state of Gujarat in western coast of India. Most Gujarati Muslims have Gujarati language as their mother tongue, but some communities such as the Momin Ansari, Memons, Gujarati Shaikh (Hansotis) and others, have Urdu as their mother tongue. The majority of Gujarati Muslims are Sunni, with a minority of Shi'ite groups.
The Gujarati Muslims are further sub-divided into groups, such as the Sunni Vohra/Bohra, Ismāʿīlī, Khoja, Dawoodi Bohra, Memon, Surti, Miyan Bhai, Pathan people/Hansotis, Khatri, Ghanchi and Chhipa each with their own customs and traditions.
Gujarati Muslim merchants played a pivotal role in establishing Islam in Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of South East Asia.
Gujarati Muslims are very prominent in industry and medium-sized businesses and there is a very large Gujarati Muslim community in Mumbai. A large number of this community migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and have settled in Sindh province especially in Karachi. Having earned a formidable accolade as some of India's greatest seafaring merchants, the centuries-old Gujarati diaspora is found scattered throughout the Near East, Indian Ocean and Southern Hemisphere regions everywhere in between Africa and Japan with a notable presence in: Hong Kong, Britain, Portugal, Réunion, Oman, Yemen, Mozambique, Zanzibar, United Arab Emirates, Burma, Madagascar, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Pakistan, Zambia and East Africa.
Located in the westernmost portion of India, Gujarat includes the region of Kutch, Saurashtra and the territories between the rivers Banas and Damanganga. Islam came early to Gujarat, with immigrant communities of Arab and Persian traders. Most came as traders as they did before Islam and built a masjid during the times of Muhammad and other parts of the western seacoast of India as early as the 8th century C.E, spreading Islam soon as the religion gained a foothold in the Arabian peninsula. They were later joined by Arab and Persian traders from the Middle East. Many of these early merchants were Ismaili Shia, both Mustaali and Nizari. They laid the foundation of the Bohra and Khoja communities. In the early era however Gujarat was ruled by the Valabhi dynasty. In the thirteenth century, the last Hindu ruler Karna, was defeated by Alauddin Khalji, the Turkic Sultan of Dehli. This episode ushered a period of five centuries of Muslim Turkic and Mughal rule, leading to a conversion of a number of Hindu Gujarati people to Islam and the creation of new communities such as the Molesalam and Miyana communities.
In the sixteenth century, the Memon community immigrated from Sindh and settled in Kutch and Kathiawar. While in Bharuch and Surat, a schism occurred among the Bohras and a new community of Sunni Bohras was created. Another Muslim sect, the Mahdawi also settled in Gujarat and led to the creation of the Tai community. In 1593, the Mughal Emperor Akbar conquered Gujarat and incorporated Gujarat in the Mughal Empire. This period led to the settlement of the Mughal community. A good many Sayyid and Shaikh families also are said to have arrived during the period of Mughal rule. With the establishment of the Sufi Suhrawardi and Chishti orders in Multan, Sind and Gujarat, pirs enjoyed state patronage. At the same time, the Muslims from various provinces such as Hyderabad Deccan, Kerala, Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab, Gujarat, Kashmir and other parts of South Asia also moved to capitals of Muslim empire in Delhi and Agra. After the death of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, in 1707, Mughal rule began weaken after ruling for a century. Most of Gujarat fell to the Marathas, and this period saw the dispersal of further Pathans and Baluchis, who came as mercenaries and were destroyed or defeated by the Marathas. Gujarat fell to British in the late 19th century.
Gujarati Muslim merchants played an historically important role in facilitating the Portuguese discovery of "the East Indies", in spreading and propagating Islam to the Far East and in promoting the British discovery of Africa. In Southeast Asia, Malays referred to the Islamic elite among them by the noble title of adhirajas. The Sufi trader, Shaikh Randeri (Shaikh Raneri) was responsible for spreading Islam to Acheh in Indonesia. Surti merchants in particular also pioneered the use of scientific concepts and invented structural and mechanical advances in technology for the nationbuilding of Mauritius, such as introducing hydro-electric power to the people of Mauritius.
Gujarati speaking Muslim society has a unique custom known as Jamat Bandi, literally meaning communal solidarity. This system is the traditional expression of communal solidarity. It is designed to regulate the affairs of the community and apply sanctions against infractions of the communal code. Almost all the main Gujarat communities, such as the Ismāʿīlī, Khoja, Dawoodi Bohra, Chhipa and Sunni Bohra have caste associations, known as jamats. Social organization at the Jamat Bandi level varies from community to community. In some communities, the Jamat simply runs a mosque and attached rest house and a madrasah. Some larger communities, such as the Khoja and Memon have developed elaborate and highly formalized systems with written and registered constitutions. Their organizations own large properties, undertake housing projects and schools, dispensaries and weekly newspapers.
The region of Kutch has always been historically distinct, with the Muslims there accounting for about twenty percent of the population. This region is characterised by salt deserts, such as the Rann of Kutch. Because of this landscape, the Kutch Muslims are Maldhari pastoral nomads found in the Banni region of Kutch. Most of them are said to have originated in Sindh and speak a dialect of Kutchi which has many Sindhi loanwords. Major Maldhari communities include the Sandhai Muslims, Jats, Halaypotra, Hingora, Hingorja, Juneja. The other important Muslim community is the Khatiawari Memon community, that migrated and resettled beyond Gujarat.
The Gujarat coastline is also home to significant numbers of Siddi, otherwise known as Zanji or Habshi, descendants of Africans e.g. Royal Habshis (Abyssinian aristocracy e.g. Siddi Sayyid) or Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa that were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by the Portuguese and Arab merchants. Siddis are primarily Sufi Muslims, although some are Hindus and others Roman Catholic Christians. Malik Ambar, a prominent military figure in Indian history at large, remains a figure of veneration to the Siddis of Gujarat.
There is historical evidence of Arabs and Persians settling along the Konkan-Gujarat coast as early as the 9th, 8th and perhaps 7th century. Arab traders landed at Ghogha (located just across the narrow Gulf of Cambay from Bharuch/Surat) around the early seventh century and built a masjid there facing Jeruselum. Thus Gujarat has the oldest mosque in India built between 624 and 626 C.E. by the Arabs who traded and stayed there. These Arabs and others who settled in Bharuch and Surat were sailors, merchants and nakhudas, who belonged to various South Arabian coastal tribes while others were from the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean, and large numbers married local women adopting the local Gujarati language and customs over time.
Over the course of history, a number of famous Arab travelers, scholars, Sufi-saints and geographers who visited India, have described the presence of thriving Arab Muslim communities scattered along the Konkan-Gujarat coast. Suleiman of Basra who reached Thana in 841 AD, observed that the Rashtrakuta empire which extended from Bharuch to Chaul during his time, was on friendly terms with the Arabs and Balhara kings appointed Arab merchant princes as governors and administrators in their vast kingdom. Ibn Hawqal, a 10th-century Muslim Arab geographer and chronicler while on his travels observed that mosques flourished in four cities of Gujarat that had Hindu kings, with mosques being found in Cambay, Kutch, Saymur and Patan, alluding to an atmosphere where Muslim foreigners were assimilated into the local milieu of medieval Gujarati societies. His well-known Iranian contemporary Estakhri, the Persian medieval geographer who traveled to Cambay and other regions of Gujarat during the same period, echoed the words spoken by his predecessors alongside his itineraries. Al-Masudi, an Arab historian from Baghdad who was a descendant of Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud, a companion of Muhammad traveled to Gujarat in 918 C.E. and bore written witness account that more than 10,000 Arab Muslims from Siraf (Persia) Madha in Oman, Hadhramaut in Yemen, Basra, Baghdad, and other cities in the Middle East, had settled in the seaport of Chamoor, a port close to Bharuch.
Despite the medieval conquest of Gujarat by Alauddin Khalji and its annexation to the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century, peaceful Islamic settlements appear to have continued under Hindu rule. Bi-lingual Indian inscriptions from Somnath in Sanskrit and Arabic, make reference to the Arab and Iranian shipowners who constructed mosques in Gujarat from the grants given to Muslims by the Vaghela rajput ruler, Arjunadeva.  Similar epitaphs mention the arrival of pious Muslim nakhudas from Hormuz as well as families from Bam residing in Cambay, and from the discovery of tombstones of personages from Siraf, at the time one of the most important ports on the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf, suggests altogether that the Muslim community of Junagadh had a strong and established link with Iran through the commercial sea routes. The 19th century European Gazetteer by George Newenham Wright, corroborates this cultural exchange through the ages as he points out that the Arab inhabitants of Mukalla, capital city of the Hadhramaut coastal region in Yemen, were known to intermarry with the Muslims of Kathiawar and those resident from other areas of Gujarat.
Arabic sources speak of the warm reception of the significant immigration of Hadhrami sāda (descendants of Muhammed) who settled in Surat during the Gujarat Sultanate. Prominent and well respected Sāda who claimed noble descent through Abu Bakr al-Aydarus ("Patron Saint of Aden"), were held in high esteem among the people and became established as Arab religious leaderships of local Muslims. Intermarriages with Indian Muslim women were highly sought which led to a creole Hadhrami-Indian community to flourish in Gujarat by the 17th century.
Early 14th-century Maghrebi adventurer, Ibn Batuta, who visited India with his entourage, recalls in his memoirs about Cambay, one of the great emporia of the Indian Ocean that indeed:
Cambay is one of the most beautiful cities as regards the artistic architecture of its houses and the construction of its mosques. The reason is that the majority of its inhabitants are foreign merchants, who continually build their beautiful houses and wonderful mosques - an achievement in which they endeavor to surpass each other.
In the 17th century, the eminent city of Surat, famous for its cargo export of silk and diamonds had come on a par with contemporary Venice and Beijing which were some of the great mercantile cities of Europe and Asia, and earned the distinguished title, Bab al-Makkah (Gate of Mecca) because it is one of the great places of the subcontinent where ancient Hindus welcomed Islam and it flourished as time went on.
Abdur Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera of the UK who is a prominent Islamic Scholar once listed as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world, Ismail ibn Musa Menk, another prominent Islamic Scholar also of Gujarati descent, Azim Premji Chairman of Wipro Limited, South African cricketer Hashim Amla, South African Quran - Bible Scholar Ahmed Deedat, Carabbean eschatologist and Islamic scholar Imran N. Hosein, Badruddin Tyabji, a Congress president and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. Bollywood is represented by Asha Parekh who is half Gujarati Muslim, Farooq Shaikh, Nushrat Bharucha , and Sanjeeda Sheikh. Famous Indian film score composers include Salim–Sulaiman Merchant who are Ismaili Shia and Taher Saifuddin, who was the 51st Da'i al-Mutlaq of the Dawoodi Bohras, a sect within Shia Islam. Famous political activists such as Ahmed Timol, Yusuf Dadoo and Ahmed Kathrada played a leading role in the anti-apartheid movement of South Africa.
Out of Pakistan's forty-two largest industrial groups, thirty-six were in the hands of Karachi-based businessmen - generally members of the Gujarati/Kutchi/Kathiawari trading sects, both Sunni (Memon) and Shia (Khojas, Bohras, etc.) Whereas they accounted for 0.4 per cent of Pakistan's total population, Gujarati trading groups (they are considered Muhajir since many of their members were already settled in Karachi before the independence) controlled 43 per cent of the country's industrial capital. Halai Memons alone (0.3 per cent of the national population) owned 27 per cent of these industries. And while he patronised Pashtun entrepreneurs in Karachi, Ayub Khan also relied upon Gujarati businessmen to finance his electoral campaign in 1964, while facilitating the entry into politics of some Muhajir entrepreneurs, such as Sadiq Dawood, a Memon industrialist who became an MNA, and the Treasurer of Ayub's Convention Muslim League.
Of the Asian trading communities the most successful were the Gujaratis, as witnessed not only by Pires and Barbosa but by a variety of other sources. All confirm that merchants from the Gujarati community routinely held the most senior post open to an expatriate trader, that of shah-bandar (controller of maritime trade).
The 1889 Hong Kong Directory and Hong List for the Far East lists three Sindhi firms in Hong Kong among a total of thirty-one firms, of which the majority were Parsi and Gujarati Muslim.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
Raziah Locate is a manager in a hospitality school. Her grandfather Omarjee Ismael embarked on a voyage with his wife in 1870 from Kathor, near Surat, in Gujarat. He came to Reunion Island to seek better opportunities to further his trade in clothing. Her grandfather was one of the 40,000 merchants, traders and artisans from Gujarat who are said to have voluntary migrated to Reunion Island starting in the 1850s. Her grandfather was one of the pioneers who paved the way for other Gujarati Muslims to settle in Reunion, who have built a mosque and a madrasa on the island.
Mr. Haji, clad in the gold-trimmed, white cap that is standard for Bohra men, was in a flurry on a recent Friday, as he catered to streams of constituents and answered phone calls. He slid effortlessly between Arabic, Urdu, English and Dawat ni zabaan—a strain of Gujarati particular to Bohras that is peppered with Arabic and Persian. He explained that they have other shrines in Yemen, but this is one of the most important. Some 10,000 Bohras, mostly from India but also from their populations in Pakistan, East Africa, the United States, Europe and the Middle East, travel here each year.
After ties broke down between India and Portugal, Gujarati Muslims stranded in Mozambique were given Pakistani citizenship...Merchants from Diu had settled on the island of Mozambique in the early 1800s. Hindus from Diu, Sunni Muslims from Daman, and others from Goa migrated to Mozambique as small traders, construction workers and petty employees. Many Gujaratis moved from South Africa to Mozambique in the latter half of the 19th century.
Some centuries later, the Gujarati merchants established permanent trading posts in Zanzibar, consolidating their influence in the Indian Ocean... Gujarati Muslims, and their Omani partners, engaged in a network of mercantile activities among Oman, Zanzibar and Bombay. Thanks to those mercantile Gujarati, India remained by far the principal trading partner of Zanzibar.
Lot of Muslims had gone from Surat and still there is a beautiful Surti mosque. Muslims in Myanmar are highly diverse. There are very few ethnic Burmese Muslims, most of them are migrants from different parts of India when Burma was a part of India. There are large number of Tamil, Gujarati and Bengali and Bohra Muslims and very few Urdu speaking Muslims since Urdu speaking are not in business.
Gujarati merchants may also have financed slave voyages to Madagascar in the nineteenth century. They sailed to its west coast from the mid 1810s to the mid 1820s but do not appear to have become extensively involved in this trafficking, either as shippers or as financiers. This is likely explained by the increasing presence in coastal Madagascar of Khoja and Bohra Shi'ia merchants from Kutch who, together with the Bhatiya merchants, established a significant presence there as financiers of the slave trade from the second decade of the nineteenth century.
Islam was introduced into Gujarat in the 7th century C.E. The first Arab raid came in 635 when the Governor of Bahrain sent an expedition against Broach. Then through the centuries colonies of Arab and Persian merchants began sprouting in the port cities of Gujarat, such as Cambay, Broach and Surat.
In the early period, it appears that the Ismailis in western India, consisted of ethnic Arab and Persian merchant settlers, as well as local converts from pastoralist, cultivating or merchant groups. They may have included militarized peasants and pastoralists from north-west India, some of whom went on to become part of the emerging Rajput status hierarchy... After the fall of Alamut to the Mongols in 1256, more Nizari missionaries came to Sind and Gujarat, Ucch in particular becoming an important centre.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
The Mahdawi movement was important in Gujarat in the sixteenth century and was widely accepted during the reign of Sultan Akbar by the administrative, military, landowning, and merchant elites.
Historians have differed over the identity of the sailor, calling him a Christian, a Muslim and a Gujarati. According to another account, he was the famous Arab navigator Ibn Majid. Some historians suggest Majid could not have been near the vicinity at the time. German author Justus says it was Malam who accompanied Vasco...Italian researcher Sinthia Salvadori too has concluded that it was Malam who showed Gama the way to India. Salvadori has made this observation in her 'We Came In Dhows', an account written after interacting with people in Gujarat.
The predominant Muslim position in the international trade was also represented by Muslim outposts along the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. They included Randir, Surat and Cambay (in Gujarat). In fact, they had been supposed to have not only played a significant role in international Muslim trade, but also in the spread of Islam, in supposedly in the Malay-Indonesian archipelago.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
After the opening up of East Africa in the nineteenth century, they became pioneers of trading activity there, dominating not only the financial world but also the political affairs of the region. Interestingly, it was these Gujarati Muslim traders along with Kutchi Bhatias who provided equipment, rations and financial services to European explorers such as, Stanley, Livingstone, Burton and Cameron, and thus facilitated the 'discovery of Africa'
All the Gujarati merchants were Muslims, and the elite among them were termed adhiraja, a Malay title of nobility, seemingly as an acknowledgment that there was a local mix of the resident Gujarati merchant elite and the Malay political aristocracy.
Muslims of Gujarat are probably the most diverse of Muslim population of any other Indian state. Some of them came from different parts of the Islamic world over a period of thousand years to seek security, employment, trade, and to spread Islam; bringing with them their culture, knowledge, and their own versions of Islam. Though there has been much interaction with different Muslim groups, the differences have survived to make Gujarati Muslims a very diverse ummah...First came the Arabs; within the first 100 years of revelation of Quran, there were a number of Muslim towns along the coast of Gujarat. They were followed by Iranians, Africans, and Central Asians. Earlier Muslims came as traders; some came with the invading armies and settled down. Many others came seeking better employment opportunities, while some like Bohras came here fleeing persecution.
... since the captains of the African and Arab vessels bore the title Sidi (from Sayyid, or the lineage of Muhammad), the African settlers on the Indian mainland came to be called Siddis ...
... Among the Siddi families in Karnataka there are Catholics, Hindus and Muslims ... It was a normal procedure for the Portuguese to baptise African slaves ... After living for generations among Hindus they considered themselves to be Hindus ... The Siddi Hindus owe allegiance to Saudmath ...
Up to about the tenth century the largest settlement of Arabs and Persian Muslim traders are not found in Malabar however but rather more to the north in coastal towns of the Konkan and Gujarat, where in pre-Islamic times the Persians dominated the trade with the west. Here the main impetus to Muslim settlement came from the merchants of the Persian Gulf and Oman, with a minority from Hadramaut.
Many of these "foreign merchants" were transient visitors, men of South Arabian and Persian Gulf ports, who migrated in and out of Cambay with the rhythm of the monsoons. But others were men with Arab or Persian patronyms whose families had settled in the town generations, even centuries earlier, intermarrying with Gujarati women, and assimilating everyday customs of the Hindu hinterland.
The history of Indian Ocean trade is a succession of alien merchant diasporas establishing themselves and eventually dominating the region. Gujarat's Muslim community, for example, had originated from traders their mosques, and later the very small settlements of merchants from Turkey, Egypt, Persia and Arabia.
The social world of the Muslim merchants was complex. The heterogeneity of the Muslim merchant community was made up by the trade settlers originating from various countries, as well as by those who were itinerant traders, coming from places like Persia, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
The accounts of Arab travellers like Masudi, Istakhari, Ibn Hauqal and others, who visited Gujarat between the 9th and 12th centuries, amply testify to the settlements of Muslims in Cambay and other cities of Gujarat.
Memorials can be found in Gujarat honoring Arab Muslims who martyred themselves fighting against Muslim Turks on behalf of Hindu kingdoms. These same kingdoms endowed mosques on behalf of Arab traders.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
The Chinchani copper plates, datable to the early 10th century, mention the appointment of Muhammed Sugapita (Sanskrit - 'Madhumati'), a Tajik, as governor of 'Sanyanapattana' (Sanjan port) by the Rashtrakuta king from 878 to 915 AC (Sircar 1962)... This fact is relevant in that it mentions a Muslim administrator controlling the region during the late 9th, and early 10th century... That Sanjan had a large and cosmopolitan population is mentioned in the accounts of travelers as well as the Indian inscriptions and grants mentioned above. While the local tribal populations consisted largely of Kolis and Mahars, the inscriptions list Muslims and Arabs, Panchagaudiya Brahmins, Modha Baniyas and Zoroastrians (Sankalia 1983: 210)
Most of these "foreign" Muslims were resident in Gujarat, with their own houses there, and so were in fact subjects of Gujarat, whatever their country of birth, which could be Turkey, Egypt, Arabia or Persia. The heterogeneity of the Muslim population was not confined to merchants, for the sultans made a practice of tempting capable foreigners to Gujarat with handsome salaries, to serve in their armies.
The Lar, also called Lardesa, mentioned by Masudi, is evidently the territory of Gujarat and the Northern Konkan, embracing Broach, Thana, and Chaul, and which name is given by Ptolemy as Larike...As regards Balhara, whom Masudi mentions as the reigning prince to whom Saimur was tributary, it has long been identified as the name of the dynasty which reigned at Valabhi (Valabhipura) in Gujarat and according to Soliman, a merchant and one of the greatest travellers of his age, was in his time the chief of all the greatest princes in India, the latter acknowledging his preeminence; while the Arabs themselves were shown great favours and enjoyed great privileges in his dominions.
The person responsible for the construction of the mosque was a sailor and shipowner known as Firuz b. Abu Ibrahim from the state of Hormuz, and in the Arabic version the Muslim ruler to whom these sailors gave their allegiance is recorded as Abu Nusrat Mamud b. Ahmad.... Firuz the shipwner is not the only Persian who appears to have been a person of some standing among the Muslim communities of Gujarat. In Bhadresvar one of the tombstones belongs to one Abu'l-faraj b. Ali, from Siraf, at that time one of the most important ports on the Iranian coast of the Persian Gulf. Another inscription found in Cambay, records the construction of a mosque by Ali b. Shapur in 615/1218-19. The name Shapur shows the Iranian origin of this personage. Other epitaphs are to be found in Cambay belonging to Abi'l-mahasin b. Ardeshir al-Ahwi (d.630/1232-3), Sharaf al-din Murtida b. Mohammad al-Istarabadi, and Ali b Salar b. Ali Yazdi... In the inscription of the mosque at Junagadh, Iraj, the name of a southern Iranian city, near Ramhurmuz, or of the ancestor of Abulqasim b. Ali is also an indication of the Iranian origin of our "chief of the marchants and shipmasters of the town".CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
The coast of Southern Arabia, was explored in 1833, by Mr. Bird. The people at Mukallah intermarry with the Muslims of Katehwar and Gujarat. The sheikh's youngest wife is the daughter of a petty chief in that quarter. The town has rather an imposing appearance as approaching it from the sea.
Indeed, Fernand Braudel likened Surat to some of the great mercantile cities of Europe and Asia, such as Venice and Beijing.... Godinho estimated that Surat's population was more than 100,000, but less with some settlements of people from other cities all over from India residing in the city as well as some foreigners frequenting it for business. He even claimed that it surpasses our "Evora in grandeur"
Surat was then the place of embarkation of pilgrims to Mecca; known as Bab al-Makkah or the Gate of Mecca, it was almost a sacred place for the Muslims of India. More to the point it was the main city for foreign imports, where many merchants had their bases, and all the European trading companies were established. Its population was more than 100, 000.
For a pious emperor, Surat had more than economic and political importance; it was the port from which the hajj (pilgrimage) ships left Mughal India for the Red Sea. The port was variously known as Bab-al-Makkah, the Bab-ul-Hajj, the Dar-al-Hajj and the Bandar-i-Mubarak.
Badruddin Tyabji was the son of Cambay merchant, Tyab Ali, and his wife, Ameena, the daughter of a rich mullah, Meher Ali.
But Jinnah was fluent in Gujarati. He could read as well as write Gujarati, his mother tongue. Jinnah was a native of Paneli — not far from Gandhiji's birthplace Porbandar. It is often said the issue of Partition boiled down to these two Kathiawadis.