<<In many ways East African Khojas have an air of superiority.>> 

I'm sorry to butt in but with all due respect, we often get misled by scribblers into things that play on the feelings of community members. Being keen on the issue of Khoja diaspora i'm tempted to analyze and point up our history though in a different perspective to redeem this controversy. 

The East African settlement dates back to six generations around 1850s when Khojas from Kutch and Kathiawad sailed to Zanzibar. It was also Zanzibar where in 1881 the first ever Khoja Ithnashri jamaat was formed. It was the era of Khoja zealots who built mosques, imambaras, mehfils and the fundamental 'Fez' school in their surrounding. This demanded regular attendance from the faithful and thus the built in quality that made them inherently very exclusive. Besides, the presence of the Aghas (Persians), Arabs and Waswahilis influenced the Khojas a lot. Amazingly they not only got the better of the language Kiswahili but even contemplated through it. It was also the era of the British Colonial rule that imposed its administrative and educational system on Zanzibar. All that made the Zanzibar Khojas quite distinct and to this very day binds them religiously, socially and economically. 

The Zanzibaris even evolved their own style of 'shabih' and 'nauha/matam' recitation. The Aghas’ Persian dialect aided them in this delivery. The likes of Mamu Valli Dharsi and family played vital role in this resurrection. The concept 'nyaaz' came to acquire sanctity of its own. In fact when the Khoja dissident movement was at its severest and many were debarred from attending the 'jamaatkhana' they would gather at this particular spot (the eventual School Fez, there was no mosques and Imambara prior to 1881) where they said namaaz, recited majlis and towards the end performed the nyaaz ritual. They served 'thaalis' and this came to assume the form of sumptuous meal/feast. This had tremendous effect and led to the momentum in the process of conversion. Eventually it resulted in the establishment of the 'Kuwattul Islam Jamaat'. The Karachi and Bombay jamaats were formed much later in 1890 and 1892. 

Oddly enough, the Jangbarias (as the Zanzibaris are referred to) were criticized and mocked by their counterparts but nothing could deter them from their rigidity and they stood out with their own identity. The other East African jamaats which were formed much later (in the 20th century) also emulated Zanzibar, and right through these days wherever there are East Africans they tend to practice the accepted Zanzibari norms for their rites and rituals, and would like to evolve the identity of their own. Also with the span of time (after some three generations) the East African Khojas lost all the traces of relatives and contacts in the subcontinent. However over the course of time they found themselves vulnerable to the political changes that were taking place in their part of the world. The Zanzibar Revolution, the nationalization of houses in Tanzania and the expulsion of Asians from Uganda led to the dispersal of the community. 

As for the Kutchi and Kathawadi Khojas who had not immigrated to East Africa, they dispersed to Bombay and other cities. The post partition phase placed most of them in Karachi where the Sindhi, Punjabi and Pathan influence was unavoidable. Having stayed in Bombay in the sixties I found it a different place altogether. I used to frequent the Khoja mosque on Samuel St. during Muharram and Ramadhan but could never relate it to the fervency i'd experienced in Zanzibar. Partly it could be psychological. I even visited Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and the Kutch towns but the differential aspect was obvious. Strangely in the Kutch household there could be Ismailis as well as Ithnashris within one family. The Ismailis there are referred to as ‘Vaddi Jamaat’ and the Ithnashris as ‘Nindhi Jamaat’. Interestingly both pay visit to the ‘Peer’ resorts in Kero and Mundra, ie Gurmali Peer and Hassan Peer respectively, to show their reverence for the Peers. In 1969 I visited Karachi in Muharram and had the rare opportunity of attending the majlises of Allama Rashid Turabi four times a day at different venues. Karachi with its population exuded mass hysteria. During my later visits to Karachi i could sense the drift as East African community there had put up their own mosque (Mehfile Murtaza) at PECHS (Society) and somewhat set themselves apart from the Peerai Jamaat. To the locals the segregation and discriminatory attitude became evident. 

The exodus to UK, USA and Canada as usual called for unity among the East Africans and they formed their own jamaats and put up their own mosques and imambaras. I also had a stint of 4 years in Dubai in the 70s where disappointingly I experienced a middling attitude. Dubai was being sought as green pasture and it generated a ‘nauve riche’ society. Personally with my own complexity having my liking and disliking I got put off by certain tendencies and opted for the Pakistani mosque at Bur Dubai and the Sajwanis along Nife Road. The Sajwanis if i'm not mistaken took over the Bur Dubai place and in its place built up a big imambara. The East Africans had earlier acquired a place at Horalain (courtesy of a local Irani). I recall due to some renovation taking place there the gathering shifted to Fish Market at the top of where I myself was residing. Later they acquired a place in Ghusais or Satwa and eventually procured this plot at Satwa. 

It is not that i'm tending towards the Pakistanis and Indians but they are warm hearted people of friendly disposition. The point of fact also remains that owing to circumstances the East African Khojas can not customarily adjust themselves. While charities and donations form part of Islamic way of life it is not surprising if the Indians and Pakistanis have donated towards the cause of East Africans and vice versa. In today's world we have to come of age and sort out such issues amicably.



Last updated November 2007 Copyright © Abdulrazak Fazal 2007 - All Rights Reserved