Oriya Muslims are a community of people hailing from the Indian state of Odisha who follow Islam. They mostly descend from indigenous converts to Islam along with a small proportion that has migrated from Northern India. They are marked by their distinctive religious practices, food habits and language.
It is impossible to state with any certainty when Islam first made inroads into Orissa. It is believed that the first significant Islamic presence dates from the invasion of the renegade Bengali general, Kalapahad. Commanding the army of Sulaiman Kirrani, the Sultan of Bengal, Kalapahad defeated Raja Mukund Deva of Cuttack in 1568 CE.
Kirrani brought with him Muslim soldiers who settled down in Odisha, however their number was very few. Some early Oriya Muslims were converts. However, the number of these Muslims, almost all converts from Hinduism, was statistically insignificant and though they were Muslims by faith, they continued subscribing to the local customs and traditions and retained Oriya as their native tongue, as opposed to Persian or Urdu, the then lingua franca of most Indian Muslims. The descendants of these Muslims are still found in the districts of Puri, Khurda and Cuttack.
Later migration continued under Mughal as well as the Nawab of Bengal's rule. The majority of these were traders or clergy, sent to preside over the courts, both secular and Islamic. Post independence, a number of Muslims from other parts of India have made their way to the cities of Rourkela and Bhubaneswar.
Islam has had a very slow rate of growth in Odisha even during the Muslim rule as there had never been any major Musim missionary work. The current population of Muslims in Odisha is 761,985 (2001 census), roughly 2.1% of the total population. The city of Bhadrak has the maximum number of Muslims as a percentage of the total population (about 35%). There is a large population in the coastal cities of Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Kendrapada and Jajpur. Cuttack, Jajpur and Bhadrak districts also have a substantial rural Muslim population. Isolated Muslim populations exist all along the Orissa coast, primarily in old towns and villages that lie along the main trade routes. In the interiors, the city of Rourkela has a large number of Urdu speaking Muslims, mostly employed with the Rourkela Steel Plant. Sambalpur has another important Muslim population. The community has a literacy rate of 71.3%, higher than the national average of 64.9%.
Outside Orissa, Oriya Muslims may be found as a part of the Oriya diaspora in Delhi, Bangalore and Calcutta. A small proportion migrated to East Pakistan during the Partition of India. Another community of Oriya Muslims, largely from the prosperous upper classes of old Cuttack district, migrated to Karachi, Pakistan around the same time. These form a part of the Muhajir community in Pakistan. Familial ties with relatives in Orissa remained strong till increasing restrictions in the 1980s led to their decline. Outside the Indian Subcontinent, Oriya Muslims may be found in Dubai and the United States of America.
The vast majority of Oriya Muslims are Sunni Muslims belonging to the Hanafi school. The Sunnis are divided between the Deobandi and Barelvi sub-sects. The sectarian differences are acute and are often the cause of minor conflict. A small population of Shia Muslims, mainly of Persian descent may be found in Cuttack city. The Ahmadiyya community, considered heretical by mainstream Muslims also has a substantial presence, mainly in Kerang of Khurda District.
A large proportion of Oriya Muslims are bilingual and speak both Oriya and Urdu. The use of Urdu, the traditional prestige dialect of North Indian Muslims, marks them out from Hindu Oriyas. Orissa Urdu displays significant variation from the standard dialect. It is marked by many loan words from Oriya and Bangla and has no fixed grammar. For this reason it remains a spoken dialect and is not used in print. Oriya or Standard Urdu is preferred on formal occasions. Telugu is often used by Muslims of Brahmapur in South Orissa and Bengali by those in Balasore district. Hindi and Urdu are spoken by the Muslims of Western Orissa.
The food habits of Oriya Muslims are no different from that of their Hindu neighbours with some minor differences. Seafood features heavily inspite of the Hanafi school's disapproval of shellfish. Meat, both red and white, is widely consumed. Beef is the preferred meat across Muslims of Coastal Orissa.
The traditional sari is preferred by most women. Hijab rules are generally relaxed though the burkha is becoming increasingly common. Men use the lungi, a type of sarong, to cover their lower body unlike the dhoti that is worn by the Hindus.
Religious observance is generally high among Oriya Muslims, though many practices have clearly Hindu roots. Evangelical Muslim organisations like the Tableeghi Jamaat have sought to counter this admixture. Nevertheless, faith in dargahs, shrines and other local holy spots remains pervasive.
The medieval shrine of Qadam Rasul in Cuttack is one of the most important Muslim spots in Orissa. It is believed to contain the footprints of the Prophet Muhammad. Important dargahs are at Kaipadar, near Khurda and at Dhamnagar, near Bhadrak. Mughal mosques exist at Cuttack, Jajpur and at the ancient Buddhist site of Lalitagiri. Capital Mosque at Bhubaneswar is the largest such structure in Orissa.
The Urdu Academy of Odisha, a wing of the Department of Culture, Government of Odisha is engaged in the propagation and popularization of the Urdu language in Odisha. Sayeed Seminary at Cuttack is the oldest and largest Islamic educational institution that provides both secular as well as religious education. Jamia Ashraful Uloom at Kendrapara town is the largest madarsa in the state. Markazul Uloom, Sungda established in the 1940s by Maulana Syed Ismail Qasmi of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind is a prominent centre of Deobandi Islamic learning in Odisha. Important Barelvi madarsas exist at Bhadrak.
- History of Modern Orissa: 1936-2000 page:5 by Kartik Chandra Rout, Published by Anmol Publications PVT. LTD., 2004, ISBN 81-261-2006-1, ISBN 978-81-261-2006-2
- Indian Census