Islamic Perspective: A Biannual Journal. A special issue on Bohras, Khojas and Memons. Ed. by Asghar Ali Engineer, Bombay, Institute of Islamic Studies. vol.1, Jan 1988, pp. 41-48;
Chapter 3, Historical Background:
Now we shall deal with the other important business community under our study, i.e.., Memons. Memons are also from Gujarat, and unlike the other two communities dealt so far, they are Sunnis. Most of them belong to the Kutch area in Gujarat. According to Dadani: Memon community came into existence in 842 A.H..., 1432 A.D., when 700 families comprising of 6178 persons belonging to the old and famous Lohana community of Sindh accepted Islam53.
The Lohanas were a business community belonging to the Vaishya Caste. They were divided into 108 tribes, and each tribe carried a different name which in Sindhi language is called a nukh (meaning title)54. According to Karim Master, the Lohanas are descendants of Shri Ramachandraji's son Laule, (Lab) and they were found in the area stretching from Sindh to Lahore before Muslims arrived55. According to Naz, these Lohanas were converted to Islam at the hands of Hazarat Yusuffuddin, a descendent of the great saint Ghaus -ul 'Azam, and were called 'Mumins (i.e., those who are faithful). The word Mumin was distorted to Memon56.
Mr. A.G.M. Dadani, who has written about it, states:
"During those days Sindh was under the King of Kabul who had appointed Ayyub Khan as its Governor and Murakkab Khan as the Deputy Governor. These two people welcomed Pir Yusuffuddin and made him their guest. At that time three leading persons of the Lohana community were acting as advisers to Murakkab Khan in the State Ministry. Murakkab Khan who had great faith in Pir Yusuffuddin, visited the saint frequently. ... These frequent visits of Murakkab Khan attracted people of other communities towards Pir Yusuffuddin and the three leaders of Lohana community who were impressed by the saint's compassion, humility, purity of soul, and high virtues, accepted Islam. Manekji was first to adopt Islam and he was followed by his son Ravji whom the Pir Saheb gave the new name of Ahmed. Later on two out of Rajiv's three sons whose names were Sunderji and Hansrajji followed their father's footsteps and they were named Adam and Taj Mohammed respectively. After these influential leaders had accepted Islam, many people living in Thatta and surrounding places followed the footsteps of their leaders"57.
However, it is doubtful whether or not any ruler by the name Murakkab Khan ever ruled the province of Sindh during that period. Around 1454 one Raydan ruled the Province, and it was in A.D. 1421-22 that Pir Yusuffuddin came there. It is possible that around that period Raydan ruled the frontiers of Sindh and not Murakkab Khan, as stated above58. This story, moreover, was popularised by Syed Amiruddin Nushat's booklet in Urdu Abrazul Haq, and it was on the basis of this booklet that James Campbell in his Bombay Gazetteer wrote the history of the Memon community.
Let us leave out the question of whether Murakkab Khan existed or not, or whether Pir Yusuffuddin played any role in the conversion of the Lohanas or not. What is certain is that around the 1430s some Lohanas were converted to Islam in the Sindh area, and also, that the present Memon community basically stems from these converted Lohanas. It is also true that the converted community of Memons thereafter migrated to the Cutch area in Gujarat. About the migration Mr. Dadani maintains that the converted Memons were persecuted (socially boycotted) by those who did not like conversion of their erstwhile fellow-religionists, and that Pir Yusuffuddin advised them to migrate as the Prophet of Islam had advised his followers to migrate when they were persecuted60.
There are some authors who have raised a controversy about Memons having been converted from the Lohana community. Mirza Mohammad Quasim Barla published a book in 1905 from Bombay in which he tried to prove on the basis of Tod's Annals of Rajasthan, that the Memons were not converted from the Lohanas of Sindh but from some low caste Hindus settled around the Sindh and Kutch coasts who were given refuge by some Muslim rulers at a place between Makran and Sistan. They became subsequently known as Ma'mun (i.e., protected) which, in course of time took the form of Memon. Another writer, Abdul Karim Yusuf Naliwala claims that Memons were converted from the Khemani Rajputs, not Lohanas. Yet another scholar, Abdur Rahman Asir, in this book Memon Qaum ni Utppati (The origin of the Memon Community), brings out that the Lohanas were original rulers of Sindh and that their capital was in Brahmanabad. The Memon community, according to him, came into existence not in the Fourteenth or the Fifteenth century but in the Seventh century itself. The Memons, he says, are more that 1200 years old, and not 500 years as commonly believed61. However, Asir hardly adduces any historical evidence for his claims.
Karimbaksh Khalid has come forward with yet another story. According to him, some Arabs of Qatif, near Ta'if who were weavers came along with Muhammad bin Qasim. They belonged to the tribe of Banu Tamim and constituted the right-wing of his army. Hence they were known as Maymenah (right-wingers in the army) and later became popular as Memons62. Thus, according to this account, Memons were originally Arabs. Many of these families, according to this account, later migrated to Kutch to escape the persecution of Arguns and Tarkhans. Khan Bahadur Muhammad Siddique, Memon in his book 'Sindh's Literary History' (Sindhji Adabi Tarikh) has said that it was in 1650 that Memons were converted to Islam by Sheikh Yusuf Baghdadi (perhaps Pir Yusuffuddin) from the Lohana community.
It would be difficult to resolve this controversy about the history of the Memons here. In our opinion, the Memons are a community of Indian converts to Islam, mostly Lohanas who migrated from Sindh to Kutch, and later to other parts of Gujarat and Bombay. Memons are supposed to be so devoted to business that there is a saying among them which sounds: Memon viyanhe Makka, tabaser same takke (Memon, even if he goes to Mecca, his attention would remain on weighing and selling). It appears that the Memons migrated from Sindh towards Kutch mainly for the purpose of business. After migration the Memons seem to have been divided into several subgroups.
One group of Memons, according to Dadani, under the leadership of Ladha went to the state of Halar in Kathiawar (present-day Gujarat), and they were known as Halai Memons. Another group proceeded along the West Coast and settled down in Surat, a commercial centre in those days, and are now known as Surati Memons. Similarly, there are also Sindhi Memons who proceeded towards Karachi, a port of Sindh63. There is also a group called Cutchi Memons, which came and settled in Bhuj the capital of Cutch in those days, under the leadership of Kana Seth64. Karim Master maintains that the Memons came to Cutch at the invitation of its Raja Rao Khengar (1548-1584), who himself settled them in a separate locality.
Many Memons migrated to Bombay after A.D. 1813 when the British East India Company lost its monopoly of trade and Bombay was made free for all the British people. This opened a new opportunity for the Cutchi Memons to flourish.
They also went to Calcutta and Madras. Thus, according to Dadani by the end of the nineteenth century Cutchi Memons were one of the leading commercial communities in the world66. The Cutchi Memons, according to Dadani, by the last quarter of Nineteenth century established more than 100 charitable trusts worth crores of rupees. The following passage from a booklet by the World Memon Foundation described their acts of charity in various fields:
The present Memon generation should justly be proud of the achievements of their fore-fathers in the philanthropic field. Not only are they responsible for the establishment of some of the finest social welfare institutions like hospitals, maternity homes, charitable dispensaries, rest homes and orphanages, they have also constructed innumerable Mosques and zealously financed institutions of religious learning. In the educational fields they have built schools and colleges, supported higher education of the Memons as well as that of others. Total contribution by the community to various charitable and altruistic pursuits in different parts of the world, would run into billions of rupees64.
The Memons, as pointed out earlier are Sunni Muslims, and there in no difference between them and other Sunni Muslims in the doctrinal sphere. The differences are of cultural and linguistic nature. As far as religion is concerned, the Memons are closer to other Sunni Muslims in the Indo-Pak subcontinent; but, as far as culture, language and avocation are concerned, they are closer to the Khojas and Bohras. The Memons are a prosperous business community like the Bohras and Khojas with the difference that they are not controlled from above and are more democratic in community which help them in better utilization of their funds.
The Memons have produced many well-known personalities in various spheres, like the Bohras and Khojas. Their leaders took part in the Khilafat, Non-Cooperation and Swedeshi Movements during the freedom struggle. The Memons, particularly the Cutchi Memons, bore huge losses during the Swedeshi Movement as they were mainly dealing in the British goods. But they bore these losses cheerfully for the cause of freedom. Haji Niyan Muhammad Chotani, was a very enthusiastic supporter of the Khilafat Movement and suffered huge losses during the Swedeshi Movement.
In post-independence Muslim politics in India, the Memons have not been playing a very lively and active role. Their activities are confined chiefly to business and industry. The same is true of the Khojas and Bohras as far as Pakistan is concerned.
In India, all these three business communities have not been able to play any leading role in business and industry. They are on the margin. However, compared to the other Muslims, they are better off and command more resources in terms of money. All of the three communities had been adopting more Islamization measures from early nineteenth century onwards and much more so during the early days of freedom struggle. Among the three, the Khojas are the most Hinduized community. The Cutchi Memons also had their traditional or customary law to which they clung right up to 1920 when an act was passed to apply the Islamic Shariah law to them.
This study has been undertaken to gain certain insights into the attitudes--social, economic as well as political--of these three communities through field studies. All the communities are well structured, conscious of their separate identities and have definite attitudes of their own towards various problems in the country. It is also one of the endeavours in this study to find out as to why all the three communities which are better off and command more resources, are yet on the periphery of Muslim politics in India. Are they less interested in politics or do they face some unavoidable constraints or is it the authoritarian structures of their communities which come in their way? They are certainly better educated, more organized and well disciplined. They ought to have played a much greater role in Muslim politics than they do today. The method of case study has been used to gain an insight into these questions.
The historical origins of these three communities help remove misunderstandings about the role of Indian Islam. From the foregoing it will be seen that all the three communities are highly Indianized and are assimilated in the native Gujarat culture.
53. Naz Mangroli, Memon, Tari Arsi, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 1984.
54. Dadani, A Q M., "A glimpse into the past", in All India Cutchi Memon Federation, special number, 1983, Bombay.
55. Karim Mohammad Master, Maha Gujarat na Mussalmani, Baroda, 1969.
56. Naz Mangroli, Memon, Tari Arsi, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 1984.
57. Dadani, A Q M., "A glimpse into the past", in All India Cutchi Memon Federation, special number, 1983, Bombay.
58. Naz Mangroli, Memon, Tari Arsi, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 1984.
59. Naz Mangroli, Memon, Tari Arsi, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 1984.
60. Dadani, A Q M., "A glimpse into the past", in All India Cutchi Memon Federation, special number, 1983, Bombay.
61. Dadani, A Q M., "A glimpse into the past", in All India Cutchi Memon Federation, special number, 1983, Bombay.
62. Karim Mohammad Master, Maha Gujarat na Mussalmani, Baroda, 1969.
63. Dadani, A Q M., "A glimpse into the past", in All India Cutchi Memon Federation, special number, 1983, Bombay.
64. World Memon Foundation's booklet, London.