Description of Major Muslim Communities in India – Abdal, Arab (Chavuse), Arain, Arghon, Atishbaz and Attarwala

In this blog, I will look at some of larger Muslim communities or castes found in India. I will keep the description brief and I have added a bibliography at the end for people interested in further reading. This is my first posting and hopefully several more will follow time permitting. What I wish to show is the extraordinary diversity of the of Indian Muslim community.

Abdal

The Abdal are one of a number of Muslim semi-nomadic community, traditionally associated with begging at shrines of Sufi saints. They are likely to be a division of the Domba community. The word Abdal is the plural form of the Arabic word Abdul, which means slave or follower. According to the traditions of the Abdal, they acquired this name on account of the fact that they were followers of various Sufi saints. As such, the Abdal is not a single community, but refers to groups that are traditionally associated with begging at shrines. The Abdal of Bihar, who speak the Maithili language, and are found mainly in the district of Purnea, while other Abdal communities speak the language of the region they reside in.I n Gujarat, the Abdal are a community of beggars, who are also known as Dafalis and Nagarchis. Their traditional occupation was beating drums at Muslim shrines. The community is found mainly in Ahmedabad city.
In West Bengal, according to the traditions of the community, the community is known as Abdal, as they are true slaves of God, and the word Abdal means a servant of God. Little is known when the community emerged in West Bengal, but presently form a distinct Muslim community.

Sectarian Affaliation

The Abdal belief incorporate several folk traditions, and follow several Sufi orders such as the Qadriya and Sarwariya.

Distribution

In terms of distribution, the Abdal are found mainly in Bihar, Gujarat and West Bengal.

 

Arabs in Gujarat, also known as Chavuse

The Arabs community found in Gujarat, also known as the Chavuse, are descendents of Arabs soldiers who were in the employment of various rulers of states in Gujarat, Kathiawar and Kutch. They are said to have arrived in India in the 17th, 18 and 19th Century. According Satish Chandra Mishra, they are divided in 169 clans, but generally divided into groups, the Hejazi, originating from Saudi Arabia, and the Hadhramis from Yemen. With the collapse of Mughal authority in Gujarat in early 18th Century, a number of local feudal chieftains, both Hindu and Muslim became independent. Most of their armies were made up of mercenaries, and Arabs became the main source of soldiers. This was especially the case in Jamnagar, Junagadh and Bhavnagar. The Arabs who came were mainly men, very rarely bringing their families, and intermarriage with local Muslim as well as Koli women was common.

The present Arab community has kept a distinct identity, with many moving to the Gulf States, where they have acquired citizenship. They continue to speak a dialect of Gujarati with Arabic loanwords. The Arbs also continue to maintain distance from groups claiming Sayyid or Shaikh status. Arabs are subdivided into the following sub-groups, the Akvon, Acari, Ansari, Anuj, Kathiri, and Qureshi

Sectarian Affiliation
Sunni, many are now Salafi

Distribution

Junagadh, Bhavnagar, Panchmahal and Surat. districts of Gujarat

Arghon

The Arghons are a small community of descendants of immigrants from Yarkand (Xinjiang) and Kashmir that have intermingled with the local Ladakhi community. Most are said to have arrived in the 17th and 18th Century, although some Arghons descend from Kashmiri traders who arrived in the 19th Century. The distinction between the different lineages has disappeared; a new Arghon identity has come into being. Most Arghon are still concentrated in Leh city. The Arghon speak Ladakhi among themselves, but most understand Kashmiri and some also speak Urdu. They are essentially a community of traders and merchants.

Sectarian Affiliation

They are Sunni, and as such quite distinct from the Balti, another Tibetan speaking Muslim group, who are Shia.

Distribution

In Leh District of Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmir), mainly in Leh town.

 

Arain

The Arain in India are now two distinct communities, the Arain of Delhi, and those of Malerkotla. Historic, there were Arain communities in what is now Haryana and East Punjab, but most of these immigrated to Pakistan in 1947.

The Arain have a number of origin myths, including descent from Arabs soldiers that came to India with Mohammed bin Qasim. Among the Malerkotla Arains, the tradition of Arab descent is growing, although others still make reference to Raja Bhutta, ruler of Uchh in what is now Pakistan, who lost his kingdom and settled along the banks of the Sutlej. The Malerkotla Arain are Punjabi speaking, and remnants of much larger community in found in eastern Punjab that immigrated to Pakistan at partition.

Separate from the Punjab Arain are those of Delhi. They claim descent from Rai Jaj, grandson of Lara, the mythical founder of the city of Lahore. This Jaj was the ruler of Sirsa territory, and was thus called Rai, a title used by rulers in ancient Haryana. This was latter corrupted to Arain over time. They were converted to Islam during the rule of Mohammed Ghori. The Arain of Delhi are said to have emigrated from Sirsa, during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. A good many of the Delhi Arain emigrated to Pakistan, at the time of partition of India.

The community was traditionally involved in horticulture and the selling of vegetables. They had their gardens and agriculture lands in Kureni near Narela, Jharoda, Azadpur, Malikpur Chuni and Model Town localities. Malikpur Chuni was traditionally an Arain locality, getting its name from Malik, meaning chief, which is a common surname found among the Arain. From the 1960s onwards, the lands of the Arain have been taken over by the Delhi Development Authority. Many are involved in various trades and businesses.

Sectarian Affiliation

Entirely Sunni

Distribution

Malerkotla in Punjab, and Delhi State

Atishbaz,

The Atishbaz are also known as Atishbaz Shaikh or sometimes just Shaikh.

The word atishbaz literally means a firework maker, from the Persian atish meaning fire, and baz meaning to play, and the community is said to have acquired the name on account of their traditional occupation, which was the manufacture of fireworks. According to the traditions of the community, they were originally brought over by the Mughals from Central Asia, as their ancestors were specialists in the manufacture of gunpowder. With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the community took to the manufacturing of fireworks.

Sectarian Affiliation
They are entirely Sunni.

Distribution
In easternUttar Pradesh, in the districts of Mirzapur, Azamgarh, Jaunpur, Basti, Gonda and Varanasi. In Varanasi, they are found in the Kashipura, Aurangabad and Ram Nagar localities

Attarwala

The word attarwala simply means the manufacturer of perfumes. The Attarwala claim to be descended from a group of Hazara soldiers who were initially settled in Agra, during the rule of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. After the failure of 1857 uprising, the Attarwala moved to Gujarat. Once settled in Gujarat, the community took up the occupation of manufacturing of perfumes known locally as ittars.

The community is subdivided into biradari, literally meaning lineages, the larger ones being the Peer Baksh, Ammer Ali, Khorata, Mandusa, Hussainsa, Zahur Hussain, Mohammad Hussain, Khodar Baksh, Barkhan, Mashoob Khan and Ghulam Khan. They also differ from other Gujarati groups in that they still speak Urdu, although most also understand Gujarati.

Sectarian Affiliation
Ithna Ashri Shia

Distribution
Mainly in Ahmadabad in Gujarat, a few also in Baroda

 

Muslim Communities of Gujarat

According to a survey carried out by the anthropologist Satish Chandra Misra in early 1960s, he identified the following Muslim communities in Gujarat, in the order of their numerical strength: Shaikh, Bohra (Sunni Hanafi), Pathan, Momin, Bohra (Ismaili Mustaali), Ghanchi, Malik, Garasia, Syed, Fakir, Musalman, Mansoori, Khatki, Chhippa, Kadia, Sipahi, Tai, Memon, Patel Vohra, Sindhi.Sandhi, Hajam, Pinjara, Mughal, Kasbati, Kumbhar, Dudhwala, Baluch, Makrani, Behlim, Qureshi, Mirasi, Khatri, Khokhar, Dhobi, and Jat.

History 

Located in the westermost portion of central India, Gujarat includes the region of Kutch, Saurashtra, and the territories between the rivers Banas and DamangangaIslam came early to Gujarat, with immigrant communities of Arab trading communities settling on the western seacoast of India as early as the 8th Century A.D. They were later joinded by Persian traders. Many of these early merchants were Ismaili, both Mustaali and Nizari. They laid the foundation of the Bohra and Khoja communities. Gujarat at this time was ruled by the Valabhi dynasty. In the thirteenth century, the last Hindu ruler Karna, was defeated by Alauddin Khilji, the Turkic Sultan of Dehli. This ushered a period of five centuries of Muslim Turkic and Mughal ruler. This led to a conversion of a number of Hindu Gujarati people to Islam, and led to 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 schismoccurred among the Bohras, and 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 arrived during the period of Mughal rule. After the death of the MughalEmperor 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 Pathan and Baluch, who came as mercenaries and were destroyed or defeated by the Marathas. Gujarat fell to British in the late 19th Century.

Jamat Bandi

Gujarati 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 Memon, Chhipa, Ghanchi, Khoja, Bohra 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 Bohra and Khoja 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. Perhaps the Memon have most formalized jamats, with census of community members, and distinct residential colonies.

 

Gujarati Muslim society can roughly divided into four major groupings, each of whom have traditional occupations. Here is a brief description of the various Muslim communities, starting with those who claim actual or putative foreign descen

Foreign Descended Groups

 

Community Sect Clans Language Distribution
Sayyid Sunni and Ithna Ashri Shia Shirazi, Mattari, Bukhari, Naqvi, Tirmizi, Zaidi, Rifai, Bhaktari, Qadiris, Chishti, Mahdawai, Kitoi, Mashadi, Idrusi, and Bahraini Gujarati and Urdu found throughout Gujarat
Shaikh Sunni Hashemi, Siddiqui, Qureshi, Farooqi, and Osmani in Gujarat and Shaikh Dada, Shaikh Syed and Shaikh Faqir in Kutch Gujarati, Kutchi and Hansoti, found throughout Gujarat
Pathan Sunni, some Ithna Ashri Shia Babi, Sama, Khanzada, Yousafzai, Lohani, Mandori, Suleiymani, Surat Turk and Zadran Gujarati, Kutchi and Urdu found throughout Gujarat, but large numbers in Baroda and Junagadh
Mughal Sunni and Ithna Ashri Shia Two sub-groups, the Irani who are Shia and the Turani who are Sunni Gujarati and Urdu found throughout Gujarat. Cambay was a Mughal ruled Princely State
Arabs, also known as Chavuse Sunni Akvon, Acari, Ansari, Anuj, Kathiri, and Qureshi Gujarati Junagadh, Bhavnagar, Panchmahal and Surat
Siddis Sunni None Gujarati Saurashtra, mainly in Junagadh District
Baluchis Sunni and Ithna Ashri Shia Gabol, Lashari, Birri, Gopang, Sukhe, Hooth and Korai Gujarati and Kutchi, some Sindhi Saurashtra and Kutch
Makrani Sunni Raees, Askani, Baluch, Umarzai, Rind-Baluch, Mulkajee and Gudizai Gujarati Saurashtra

 

Trading classes

Most people associate Gujarat with trading communities such as the Bohra, Khoja and Memon, but in fact they form no more then 10% of the total Muslim community.

 

Community Sect Language Distribution
Alavi Bohra Shia Ismaili Mustaali Gujarati Mainly in Vadodara District
Khoja

 

Ithna Ashri Shia Gujarati throughout Gujarat
Khoja

 

Shia Ismaili Nizari Gujarati and Kutchi found throughout Gujarat
Dawoodi Bohra Shia Ismaili Mustaali Gujarati throughout Gujarat
Doodwala Sunni Gujarati

 

throughout Gujarat
Memon who are further divided into the Hallari, Kathiawadi, Kutch, Juberi and Okhai Memon communities Sunni Gujarati, Kutchi and their own language known as Memoni Found mainly in Kutch and Saurashtra
Patni Jamat Sunni Gujarati Found in Veraval, Govindpura, Naodra, Kalji, Chourbad, Keshod and Junagadh.
Sulaymani Bohra

 

Shia Ismaili Mustaali Gujarati Found throughout Gujarat
Vyapari Sunni Gujarati Viramgam and Dholka talukas of Ahmedabad District

 

Landholders and Cultivators

 

Community Sect Clans Language Distribution
Sunni Bohra Sunni, both Deobandi and Barelvi Charotar, Patani, Kadiwal, Bharuch and Surat Jamats Gujarati found mainly in Bharuch, Ahmedabad, Mehsana and Surat districts
Agaria

 

Sunni, None Kutchi Kutch
Bhati Sunni, None Gujarati and Marwari Bharuch and Banaskantha districts
Chauhan Sunni, None

 

Gujarati north Gujarat
Dafer Sunni, None

 

Gujarati Saurashtra
Jat Sunni, Halai Jat (found in Jamnagar and Porbandar), Verai Jat (Banaskantha District), and Kutchi Jat (found in Kutch District) Gujarati and Kutchi Banaskantha District, Saurashtra and Kutch
Kasbatis Rajputs Sunni, Sayyid, Mughal, Qureshi, Shaikh, Pathan, Parmar, Ghori, Rathore, Kokwana, Bhelim, Khokhar and Soomra Gujarati through Gujarat
Khokhar Sunni, None

 

Gujarati North Gujarat
Maliks Sunni, None

 

Gujarati Kheda District
Makwana Sunni, None

 

Gujarati north Gujarat
Mandali Sunni, Kachhote, Salar, Patadia, Waria, Barogia, Adi and Panghed Gujarati Ahmedabad District
Miyana Sunni, Manek, Bhati, Dhona, Kathia, Mour, Ladhani, Malani, Samani, Musani, Jain, Kher, Makwana, Sadhwami, nd Baidmulla Gujarati and Kutchi Kutch and Saurashtra
Molesalam Rajputs / Garasia Sunni, Rathod, Rana, Mahida, Vaghela, Sindhia, Rawal, Bhalavat, Solanki, Parmar, Chauhan and Chavda. Gujarati throughout Gujarat
Momna Ithna Ashri Shia with a small Sunni minority Shersia, Khorzia, Wankaneri, Paradha, Badi, Serasia, Vakalya, Dholkhawalia, Godhrawalia, Kapadia and Chaudhary   the Shia Momna are found in Mehsana District, Ahmedabad city, and the talukas of Dholka and Dhandhuka of Ahmadabad District, while the Sunni Momna who re concentrated in fifty four villages of Wankaner and Morbi talukas of Rajkot District and the Wahabi Momna are found in Mehsana and Banaskantha Districts.
Nayak Sunni None Gujarati Banaskantha District and Saurashtra
Muslim Patel

 

Sunni None Gujarati Bharuch District
Shaikhda Sunni None Gujarati Godhra, Baroda and Ahmedabad
Rathore Sunni None Gujarati Sabarkantha and Banaskantha districts
Parmar Sunni None Gujarati north Gujarat

 

Sandhai Muslims Sunni Sameja, Samma, Jadeja, Nareja, Dal, Gothi, Solanki, Virsa, Theba, Nayi, Bafars, Hala, Shetha, and Khokhar Gujarati and Kutchi Kutch and Saurashtra
Sanghar Sunni None Gujarati and Kutchi Saurashtra and Mandvi Taluka of Kutch
Solankis

 

Sunni None Gujarati north Gujarat
Wagher Sunni Chamdia, Notitar, Chowra, Sodha, Mendani, Chauhan, Manak, Sumania, Juneja, Kero, Bhati, Koda and Ruchcher Gujarati and Kutchi Okha Taluka of Jamnagar District

Muslim Maldhari communities of Kutch

 

The Kutch region of Gujarat is home to a number of cattle rearing tribal communities, known as the Maldhari. Most of them speak Kutchi, with large Sindhi loanwords. All the Maldhari are Sunnis. Here is a list of the larger communities.

 

Community Distribution
Bafan village of Nagiari, as well as other parts of the Banni. There are also smaller communities in Jamnagar and Sabarkantha.
Bayad mainly in the town of Anjar, with a small number are found in Bhuj.
Chakee mainly in the cities of Bhuj, Mandvi, Mundra and Moghpat in Kutch, as well as the district of Jamnagar.
Halaypotra mainly in the talukas of Bhuj, Abdasa and Mandvi in Kutch District
Hingora mainly in the talukas of Bhuj, Abdasa and Mandvi in Kutch District
Hingorja mainly in the villages of Nandi Daddar, Mota Banda and Dumcara in the taluka of Bhuj
Juneja mainly in the districts of Amerli, Rajkot and the Banni region of Kutch
Ker mainly in talukas of Bhuj, Abdasa and Lakhpat in Kutch District
Khaskheli

 

Meta Qureshi

 

Mutwa

 

Node

 

Raysipotra

 

Royma found in Sukhpar village in Bhuj taluka, as well as other parts of Bhuj, Mandvi, Anjan and Lakhpat talukas of Kutch District. Concentrated in the Kanthi region of Kutch.
Samma four sub-divisions, the Gha Samma distributed in the Banni region, the Saheb Samma who are found in other areas of Kutch, the Chudasama, who are still Hindu, and distributed in Junagadh District and finally the Dangar Samma, who are found in Ahmedabad.
Sanghar found in twelve villages, namely Vandh, Bidada, Pipri, Ratodia, Bhojay, Undot, Khojachora, Asani and Serdi, all along the coast. In addition to these settlements, they are also found in the village of Mota Jakh in Nakhatrana Taluka as well as in Abdasa Taluka
Soomra

 

Theba Jadura village in Bhuj taluka, and other parts of the Bhuj taluka.

Artisans

Community Sect Traditional Occupation Distribution
Abdal Sunni Sufi singing and begging at Sufi shrines Ahmedabad
Ansari Sunni weavers Junagarh, Surat, Ahmedabad and Bharuch
Attarwala

 

Shia perfumers Ahmedabad
Bhadala

 

Sunni fishermen and sailors Kutch District
Bharbhunja

 

Sunni grain parchers Ahmedabad and Surat
Bhishti

 

Sunni water carriers Ahmadabad
Chhipa

 

Sunni Barelvi/Deobandi) calico printers throughout Gujarat
Chundrigar Sunni silk knot printing, and manufacture of a piece of cloth known as the chunri or dupata mainly in Surat
Chunara

 

Sunni manufacturers of lime mainly in Vadodara.
Dhobi Sunni washermen mainly in Baroda, Ahmedabad, Banaskantha and Kaira districts
Dhuldhoya Sunni straining dust and separating gold particles. mainly in Baroda and Sabarkantha districts.
Faqir Sunni mendicants and shrine keepers throughout Gujarat
Galiara Sunni engaged in the extraction of indigo and dyeing Bhavnagar, Rajkot and Junagadh districts
Ghanchi Sunni oil pressers Panchmahal, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha and North Gujarat.
Ghanchi-Pinjara Sunni oil pressers mainly in the districts of Junagadh, Amreli, Rajkot, Surendranagar, and Bhavnagar.
Kadia Sunni masons and brick layers Dhaboji town and the nearby city of Vadodara.
Kagzi Sunni paper manufacturers Shahpur area of Ahmedabad,
Khalipha Sunni Barbers, also musicians Central Gujarat
Khateek Sunni goat meat butchers Central Gujarat
Langha Sunni musicians and entertainers in Kutch District
Machiyar Sunni fishermen Saurasthra

 

Manihar

 

Sunni bangle makers throughout Gujarat
Mir Sunni musicians  
Mansoori Sunni cotton carders throughout Gujarat
Mirasi Sunni genealogist throughout Gujarat
Multani

 

Sunni cotton carders  
Multani Lohar Sunni blacksmiths the Zhalmed from Ahmadabad, the Gohilvad from Surat, the Chorasi from Rajkot and the Kathiawari from Kathiawar
Muslim Rangrez

 

Sunni dyers throughout Gujarat
Nagori Sunni blacksmiths throughout Gujarat
Panar Sunni weavers Dholka in Ahmedabad District
Salaat

 

Sunni stonemasons Palanpur District
Soni Sunni goldsmiths throughout Gujarat
Turk Jamat

 

Sunni soldiers Kathiawar
Tai Mahdawi weavers Viramgam, Dharangadhra and Ahmadabad