||It has been suggested that this article be merged into Gujarati Muslims. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2012.|
Surti Muslims, who are commonly referred to as "Surtis", are Gujarati Muslims. Most of them adhere to Hanafi Sunni Islam. They are mainly of Indian origin, however it has been claimed that they may be at least in part originally descended from Arabs from Southern Arabia who migrated and settled in the districts of Surat in the state of Gujarat, India. With some who may have partial lineages from Muslim Central Asian/Afghan (Turko-Persian, Mongol, Pashtun) invaders, refugees, theologians and merchant settlers. Many members of the Surti Muslims community have migrated to Pakistan after independence and have settled in Karachi, Sindh.
Arab traders landed at Ghogha (located just across the narrow Gulf of Khambhat from Surat) around the early 7th century and built a masjid there facing Jeruselum. Thus, Gujarat has the oldest mosque in India built between 624-626 AD by the Arabs who settled there.
It was in Surat that Britain established its first foothold in India in 1612, when the East India Company received permission from the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, to establish a trading “factory”. Surat was then, as it is now, a prosperous city and centre of trade between India, Arabia and Iran. It remained Britain’s chief settlement on the western coast of India until 1687, when Bombay succeeded it. Prior to British settlement in Surat, the Dutch and the Portuguese were already there and fought wars with the British over this lucrative piece of land. The French also arrived later to settle and started to trade with this prosperous city.
The city of Surat was also called Bab-al-Makkah (Gateway to Makkah) because it was a famous port and during Mughal times pilgrims arrived and left for Mecca from there. Sir Monier Williams suggests that the old name of the city was “Surya”, which is Sanskrit for sun. However, a Muslim ruler wished to change the name and converted it to “Surat”, which is a term that refers to a chapter in the Qur'an. Another story about the name of the town reveals that 'Surat' was derived from the Persian word "khubsurat", which means beautiful. Under Mughal rule, Surat enjoyed peace and rose to be one of the most prosperous cities in India. During the first half of the 17th century, the principal cargo of export from Surat was silk and cotton and diamonds.
Many Surti Muslims, who are commonly referred to as Vohra claim they may have some origins in Southern Arabia. Their Arab ancestors probably came from the city of Taif, Madina, and Hadramaut in Saudi Arabia, and from the city of Basra, Najaf or Kufa in Iraq, as well as other places in West Asia. They are said to have migrated as traders and sailors to the districts of Surat and Bharuch in the state of Gujarat, India. It is claimed that they married local women and settled in Surat, over time adopting the Gujarati language and local customs.
|“||Not only is Surat the world's center for the pearl trade, but it also holds the premier position in all of India for gold and silver wire, and tinsel and brocade work and pre-eminently for the spangles and spirals of silver and silver guilt, which it exports to Madras, Delhi, and many other centers. The Mahomedan population of Surat is very enterprising in foreign trade. Scarcely a family has not a branch establishment somewhere. From Tibet to South Africa, from Siam to Mombasa, everywhere the Rander and Surat Bohras penetrate and take with them silk and other goods manufactured in Surat.||”|
A large number of Surti Muslims have immigrated throughout the world, especially to the United Kingdom, South Africa, the United States of America, and Canada. The majority of them follow the Deobandi school for religious guidance. They have established a number of mosques and madrassahs throughout the world and have produced a large number of respected 'Ulama and Huffaz. They mostly own medium-sized businesses, though the younger generations are increasingly opting for professional white collar jobs. Due to their consistent higher education levels, Surti Muslims have succeeded in the professional sphere in both India and Pakistan.
The etymological root of the Bohras is in the Gujarati term ‘vohoru’, meaning ‘to trade’. Bohras have been given the name 'Bohra' due to the occupations that they are associated with, particularly in the case of the Dawoodi Bohra who are Shia. Sunni Vohra tend to be associated with agricultural occupations but may have been called vohra due to cultural and ancestral links with the Dawoodi Bohras. It's possible that the Vaishya caste provided the bulk of the converts due to associations with trade and agriculture.
The creation of the Sunni Bohra/Vohra according to some sources dates back to the 15th century when there was schism in the Bohra community of Patan in Gujarat. It's claimed that apparently large numbers of Gujaratis converted from Mustaali Ismaili to Hanafi Sunni fiqh. The leader of this conversion movement to Sunni was Jafar. Thus this new group is known as Jafari Bohras and Patani Bohras. In 1538, Syed Jafar Ahmad Shirazi convinced Patani Bohras to cease social relations with Ismaili Bohras. The cumulative results of these pressures resulted in over one million Bohras converting from Ismaili Shia Fiqh to Sunni Hanafi Fiqh.
Arab origins of Vohras are suggested because 'Mas'udi, a well known Arab topographer visited Bharuch and Khambhat in 303/915, and when he reached Chaimur, a port close to Bharuch, he witnessed a colony of about 10,000 Arab Muslims who had just arrived from Baghdad, Kufa Najaf and Basra, both cities in Iraq. They were known as Baysarah and had settled down in this strategic point.
Sulaiman Basri and Abu Zaid Sirani who visited India in the middle of the 3rd century have recorded in their Safar (travel logs and ledgers) that a large number of Arab traders were present in India in Kambhayath (Cambay, present day Khambhat), Bharuch (Broach), Chaimur, Ghander, Thana, Sopara and other areas. When Al-Mas'udi came to India in the beginning of the 4th century, he spoke of a presence of what he estimated to be 10,000 Arab Muslims in one area of Gujarat alone.
Following Arab conquests, the Arab traders poured into Gujarat through the sea route as well as by land. It is possible that well-known Nur Al-Din came to Gujarat via Multan and Sindh, alongside an influx of the other Arab traders and soldiers. From a number of internal evidences, we can infer that the Arabs came to Gujarat in the 1st century of Islam.
Following the Conquest of Gujarat in 1024 by Mahmud of Ghazni, with Afghan troops reaching, conquering and settling as far south as Surat District, it is commonly claimed by many Surti Muslims that they are descended from Muslim Turkomen (Turk-Iman) invaders.
The Surti Muslims families that claim Middle Eastern ancestry in India are as follows:
- Kanoriwala Family
There was a great scholar called Muhammed Saddiq Wa'iz (d. 1041/1641) who’s is the author of a tafsir (commentary) of the Qur'an and another book called Tanbih Al-Juhhal (Warning to Ignorants). Both works are well known. His Brother Muhammed Salih was also a great scholar wrote the well known work of Sadqullah (The Truth of Allah), the hand written copy which is deposited in the Pir Muhammed Shah Library in Ahmadabad. Shaikh Muhammed Salif wrote in the introduction his book that one Shaikh Ahmad Quraishi came from Madina, Arabia to Kambhayath (Cambay) and settled down there. History recorded that he had a son called Yaqub, who was still residing there in 1041/1631 when the book was written. In margin of this book, the entire family genealogy is reproduced which goes back to Abu Bakr Siddiq who was descendant from Adnan from the Adnani Arabs who was descendants from Prophet Ismael the son of Prophet Ibrahim from Babylon southern Iraq.
- The Narmawala Family
The Narmawala Family living in Ahmadabad and Surat and they are originally from Taif in Arabia and their complete genealogy is available detailing their origin from Shaikh Muhammed Salih. This family came initially for business purpose only, and later settled down in Surat, a district of the province of Gujarat in India. Haji Abdul Rahim Narmawala, one of the leading scions of the Narmawala family living India and interviewed by Nadawi, said that up to thirty years ago, members of his family still resides in Taif, Arabia (Nadawi 1936, 65).
- The Waliullah Family
Well known Arab origin family of Ahmadabad and Surat originally from Jeddah and Madinah. Their forefathers were great Ulama of their time. Mawlana Nur Al-Din, Mawlana Imad Al-Din and Mawlana Waliullah were well known both in Hijaz and India for their knowledge, scholarship and piety. Along with their trade, they continued teaching and imparting religious knowledge and their schools and madaris (religious schools) which they had established there.
- Randerian Surtis (Families from Rander)
Another group of Arab Muslim traders came from Kufa near Najaf in Iraq to Rander in Surat. This is during the Caliphate of Saffah Abbasi the Caliph of the Abbasid Empire in Iraq, Baghdad (d. 132/749) and they have settled to Rander. The residents of Rander claim that during the reign of Saffah Abbasi around (132/749), The Mumin tribe of Kufa came to the port of Rander on business. They eventually settled down in Rander. This is the reason that people of Rander consider themselves as "descendants of Arabs" (Kafletwi n.d., 54). The ancient Arab historians, Abu Raihan Al-Biruni writes "The historians used to refer to Rander as the 'bride' of all the cities in India.
There are people who are the descendants of the Prophet Muhammed through his cousin and brother-in-law Imam Ali and the Prophet's daughter Fatima Az zahra through their sons Hassan and Hussain. They call them Sayyids, and all of them are from the lineage of Hussain. These Sayyids are Shia's in Surat. They mostly live North of Surat.
Surti Muslims are subdivided into clans or Ataks (originating from Turkic root word Ata- literally translates to fatherhood or patri-lineage). These indicate the lineage of Surti Muslims.
Muslim rulers of Gujarat: Ghazni, Lodhi or Mughal all have been known to elicit the Surti Muslim warrior-folk in their campaigns. Historical evidence exists most obviously in feudal titles, names of settlements, mosques and monuments to victory. One such monument is the Turk-Sur (Turkishwar/Tadkeshwar) stones, which clearly carve Muslim Turkmen victory over King Bhim.
Surti Muslims around the world
A number of Surti Muslims live in Mumbai, especially in the northern and western suburbs such as Andheri, Jogeshwari, Goregaon, Malad, Kandivali, and Nala Sopara, where the Muslim population is high. They share their space in Mumbai with Hindus and Jains, especially along SV Road. Most of them are Gujarati-speaking and are characterized by writing in Gujarati script rather than Arabic script. They are mainly engaged in medium-sized businesses, but some are prominent industrialists. A number of Surti Muslims live in the middle-class residential areas of Mumbai, such as Sunder Nagar, Madina Manzil, and Rani Sati Nagar on SV Road. Surti Muslims have excelled academically and have a tendency to choose professional careers over business. Surtis once dominated Muslim business in South Africa. Their individualistic nature has prevented them from running strong family businesses, as seen among their Memon counterparts, and commonly end in family feuds. In Gujarat, Surti Muslims reside in the Valsad, Navsari, Surat, Navapur, Ankleshwar, and Bharuch districts and also in the major cities of Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and Surat. A number of Surti Muslims have immigrated to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Myanmar, Canada, Mauritius, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
- Surti Muslims in South Africa
Surti Muslims in South Africa form the majority of professional Muslims in South Africa and have excelled in arts, humanities, science, and medicine. Surti Muslims have also been involved successfully in business in South Africa. Surti Muslims have also contributed to the struggle against apartheid, a number of whom were imprisoned or martyred by the Apartheid Security Police. Also, the majority of Muslim politicians in South Africa are from the Surti community. Surti Muslims have also been involved in sport, especially cricket.
The following individuals have full or partial Surti Muslim heritage.
Business: Randeree Family, Dinath Family; AM Lockhat; AM Moola; Docrats; Paruks; Mia Family; Rashid Bhika;
- Philosophers & Academics
- Ahmed Deedat – A South African Muslim preacher.
- Politics, Military & Civil Services
- Ahmed Patel MP – b. Piraman, Gujrat. AICC Chairman, Rajya Sabha MP (India Upper House). Confidant of Rajiv Gandhi.
- Ismail Ahmed Kharodia – Malawi Ambassador to France, UNDWP, Consul General to Portugal, Former High Commissioner to UK.
- Ismail Mulla – Finance Minister to King Mindon of Burma, c. 19th century.
- Ebrahim Kharodia MBE – Awarded MBE For Services to Pharmacy in Central London and Charity in Malawi.
- Imran Garda – Sports TV anchor/presenter, South Africa.
Social and community:
Mohamed Faruk Desai -MBE for services to Publicly Funded Legal Services. Originally from Tadkeshwar now in Preston Lancashire UK
- Hashim Amla – South African professional cricketer.
- Gulam Hussain Bodi – South African professional cricketer.
- Culture & Conservation
- Academic institutions
- Surti Sunni Vohra Muslim Education Society, ~ Founder: Hajçi Muhammad Dawji Dadabhoy. Est. Hathuran Convention, Bombay Presidency, British India, 1947.
- The Young Surti Sunni Vhora Velfare society,
- Sedeca Development Fund. ~ (Tzedekah) Sedeca Holding fund. Raises, collects and disburses funds, for humanitarian relief and projects without discrimination, to every eligible applicant.
- Charitable Hospital, Kosamba
- Kosamba General Hospital, Kosamba
- Kathor Medical Trust, Kathor
- Haji M. Lockhat Hospital, Surat
- Bana Charitable Dispensary, Turkishwar
- Haji Azam Pipadrawala Hospital, Rander
- The Muslim Welfare Society Dispensary, Bardoli
- Sarvajanic Dispensary, Variav
- Alipore Social Welfare Trust Dispensary, Alipore
- Muslim Charitable Trust, Etarwa
- Gardi Charitable Trust, Dabhel
- Haji Ahmed Suleman Dinath Maternity Home & Dispensary Trust (Dinath Hospital), Surat
- Welcare Hospital, Kharod
- Ash Shifa Hospital, Navapur,
Surti Muslims have an extensive network of agricultural co-operatives, and are very successful agrarians.
- Museums & Heritage–Landmark Administration Groups
- National heritage of the Surti Muslim peoples, includes a diverse range of landmarks, including the Ghaznavi stones in Turkishwar, Many Mosques facing the Jerusalem prayer direction(qibla), restorated ruins of ancient Jain temples, Golden Bridge over the Narmada River a wonderous construction built under British rule.
- Hazrat Maulana Nizamuddin Bajouri, Turkishwar
- Hazrat Shaikh Moosaji Mehtar, Turkishwar
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