From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Khojas of Western India ca. 1855-1862
Regions with significant populations
Gujarat, Sindh, Maharashtra
Gujarati, Kutchi, Sindhi, Hindi-Urdu
Nizari-Ismaili Shia (majority), Twelver Shia, Sunni (minority)

The Khoja are a mainly Nizari Isma'ili Shia community of people from the western Indian subcontinent. Khojas predominantly reside in India, Pakistan and eastern Africa.[1]

In India, most Khojas live in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the city of Hyderabad. Many Khojas have also migrated and settled over the centuries in East Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and North America. The Khoja were by then adherents of Nizari Isma'ilism. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the aftermath of the Aga Khan Case a significant minority separated and adopted Sunni Islam and Twelver shi'ism, while the majority remained Nizari Isma'ili. In Pakistan, most Khoja live in Karachi in Sindh province.[2]


The term Khoja derives from Khwāja (New Persian Khājé), a Persian honorific title (خواجه) of pious individuals used in Turco-Persian influenced regions of the Muslim world.

The specific term Khoja in the Gujarati and Sindhi languages, was first bestowed by the Persianate Nizari Isma'ili Sadardin (died c. 15th century) upon his followers during the lifetime of the Nizari Ismaili Imam Islam Shah (1368-1423 CE). As such, Pir Shihab al-din Shah, brother of one of the Nizari Ismaili imams, wrote regarding the origins of the Khojas that the very formation of the community came about through Pir Sadardin's devotion to the Imam.[3]

Many Lohanas of Gujarat converted to Nizari Ismailism due to the efforts of Pir Sadardin. They gradually used the title Khoja. Before the arrival of the Aga Khan from Persia to British ruled India in the 19th century, Khojas retained many Hindu traditions, including a variation on the belief in the Dashavatara.[4][5]


A photograph of a Khoja man, 1911

Origins and Syncretism[edit]

The Khojas originate from Hindu Lohanas from Sindh, who were converted to Nizārī Ismāʿīlism by Pīr Ṣadr al-Dīn in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.. Ṣadr al-Dīn was dāʿī ("missionary") acting on behalf of the Nizārī imām who lived in Persia. Derived from the Persian khwaja, a term of honour, a translation of the their traditional title of ṭhakkar. Ṣadr al-Dīn belonged to a hereditary lineage of pīrs who served as leaders for the Khoja community as a deputy of the imām in Persia.[6][7][8]

Additionally, it included certain groups such as Charanas,[9][10] predominantly from Gujarat and Kutch, who retained strong Indian ethnic roots and caste customs while sustaining their Muslim religious identity..

The pīrs composed religious hymns called gināns that served as the religious scriptures for the Khojas rather than the Qurʾān. The majority of the gināns glorify the Nizārī imām as an absolute and infallible leader. Some gināns contain large amounts of Hindu-Muslim syncretism, with Hindu deities being identified with Muslim figures. The gināns took inspiration from diverse traditions, including Nizārī Ismāʿīlism, Hindu Sant and Bhakti traditions, and Ṣūfism. Such syncretism with Hinduism has been viewed as a strategy by the Ismāʿīlī missionaries to convert Hindus, as well as taqiyya to hide them from other Muslims. The religion of the Khojas was known as Satpanth.[7]

At the end of the fifteenth century, the imām in Persia, al-Mustanṣir bi-llāh II, abolished the pīrs as a source of religious authority, and replaced them with a book called Pandiyāt-i jawānmardī, which was then translated into Gujarātī. Imām Shāh (d. 1513) was supposed to become the next pīr, but in response to the imām's decision, Imam Shāh's son Nār Muḥammad claimed he was the imām and founded a splinter sect called the Imām-Shāhīs aka Sat-Panthīs.[7]

In the nineteenth century, the Khojas gathered in jamāʿatkhāna buildings, did not read the Qurʾān, and generally did not follow Islamic law.[7]

Arrival of Āghā Khān and Ismāʿīlī Islamisation/De-Hinduisation[edit]

In 1845, Ḥasan ʿAlī Shāh aka Āghā Khān I moved to India due to conflict with the Qajar dynasty in Persia. He settled in Bombay, which had the largest concentration of Khojas in India. For centuries the Khojas had been a self governing community with nominal allegiance to a distant Nizārī imām in Persia, but the newly-arrived Āghā Khān sought to interfere in their internal affairs. This led to conflict in the Khoja community, culminating in the Āghā Khān case of 1866. The Khoja plaintiffs argued that community in fact were Sunnī Muslims and thus were not under the authority of the Āghā Khān imām. The British judge decided in favour of the defendant, Āghā Khān I, ruling that the Khojas were the descendants of Hindus who became Shīʿa Ismāʿīlīs and thus were under the religious authority of the imām, Āghā Khān I. In response to the verdict, some Khojas converted to Sunnī Islam.[7]

The imām succeeding the next imām, Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āghā Khān III (r. 1885–1957) continued to attempt exert his authority over the Khojas and push them towards normative Ismāʿīlī–Shīʿa Islam; this led to the Haji Bibi case. The plaintiffs in the Haji Bibi case of 1908 claimed that the Khojas were followers of Twelver Shīʿa Islam, however the British judge upheld that the Khojas were Ismāʿīlī and so those Khojas split off to follow Twelver Shi'ism.[7]

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Khojas were under pressure from the Āghā Khāns as well as Muslim and Hindu fundamentalist movements to alter their religion. The religious fundamentalists considered the Khojas to be heretics who should convert to Sunnī or Twelver Shīʿī Islam or normative Hinduism. The Āghā Khāns who wielded religious power over the community as imām sought to Islamise the community to normative Ismāʿīlism. The gināns were codified under their authority, those with Hindu influences were purged, and new gināns were composed with Qurʾānic verses. The use of the Gujarātī language was also replaced by English. By the time of the current imām, Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āghā Khān IV, the Khojas had been integrated into a transnational Ismāʿīlī community with a focus on the Qurʾān and literacy of Islamic concepts.[7]

The Khojas live today in East Africa, India, Pakistan, Europe, and North America, and show a strong commitment to the values of Muslim philanthropy in their business entrepreneurship and contribution to societies in which they live. From the 18th century, some of the Khojas have migrated to the Persian Gulf region, mainly in the Sultanate of Oman and U.A.E, where they are known as Al-Lawatia.[11]

Khoja communities[edit]

Isma'ili Khojas[edit]

Khoja woman, Bombay

Originally Nizari Isma'ili, after the 1866 Aga Khan Case that consolidated the bulk of the Bombay Khoja community under the leadership of the Aga Khan. The Khojas credit their title to Pir Sadr al-Din who allegedly laid the foundations for the Nizari Ismaili community in India, even before the Anjudan phase of the history of Nizari Ismailism.[12]

Twelver Khojas[edit]

Khojas who follow Twelver Shia Islam and have large communities in Pakistan, India, East Africa, North America and the United Kingdom. Moulvi Ali Baksh who had settled in Mumbai in the mid-late 1800s was a prominent Moulvi with great respect in Ithna'ashari Khoja community. It is said that then the Shias were organised into a distinct community by Moulvi Ali Baksh himself. (Excerpts as translated from the book Greatness Bygone authored by Ziauddin Ahmed Barni Published by Taleemi Markaz Karachi on 30 July 1961, Page: 342 written on one of 93 great personalities Ali Mohammed Moulvi. The author had not met only 2 of the 93 personalities noted in his book).

Twelver Khojas are said to have broken away from the Isma'ili Khojas due to their determination to defend their remembrance practices against Aga Khan's efforts to ban them, in order to elevate his personal status as the reincarnation of Isma'il ibn Ja'far, the seventh Imām of the Isma'ilis.[13]

See also[edit]

  • Khojki, a script used exclusively by the Khoja community to write their language
  • Momna, Nizari Ismailis from northern Gujarat


  1. ^ Khoja at the Encyclopædia Britannica. "Khoja, Persian Khvājeh, caste of Indian Muslims converted from Hinduism to Islam in the 14th century by the Persian pīr (religious leader or teacher) Saḍr-al-Dīn and adopted as members of the Nizārī Ismāʿīliyyah sect of the Shīʿites.".
  2. ^ Boivin, Michel (2014). "The Isma'ili — Isna 'Ashari Divide Among the Khojas: Exploring Forgotten Judicial Data from Karachi". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 24 (3): 381–396. doi:10.1017/S1356186314000224. ISSN 1356-1863. JSTOR 43307309. S2CID 162188373.
  3. ^ Virani, Shafique N. The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, A Search for Salvation (New York: Oxford University Press), 2007, p. 102.
  4. ^ McGregor, R.S.; Mallison, Francoise (1992). Devotional literature in South Asia : current research, 1985-1988 : papers of the Fourth Conference on Devotional Literature in New Indo-Aryan, anglo saxon Languages, held at Wolfson College, Cambridge, 1-4 September 1988 (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 91. ISBN 0521413117. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  5. ^ Morris, H.S., 1958. The divine kingship of the Aga Khan: A study of theocracy in East Africa. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 14(4), pp.454-472 [1]
  6. ^ Tyler, Stephen A. (1986). India: An Anthropological Perspective. Waveland Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-88133-245-2. Some, like the Khojah caste, are Bania groups converted to Islam by Muslim pirs (saints).
  7. ^ a b c d e f g De Smet, Daniel (2020). "Khōja". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Stewart, Devin J. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Brill.
  8. ^ Maclean, Derryl N. (1989). Religion and society in Arab Sind. Leiden New York København Köln: E.J. Brill. p. 142. ISBN 9789004085510.
  9. ^ "Alyque Padamsee: The man who wore several hats". Deccan Herald. 2018-11-17. Retrieved 2021-09-08.
  10. ^ Kapur, Geeta (1978). Contemporary Indian Artists. Vikas. ISBN 978-0-7069-0527-4. The Padamsees, who came from the village of Mauva in Saurashtra, had originally belonged to the caste of Charanyas. Having been converted to the Khoja sect of Islam, their clan had become followers of the Agha Khan. Akbar's grandfather, who was a landlord and village chief , prided himself on the fact that he had , by his own express persuasion , brought the then Agha Khan to visit their village .
  11. ^ This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in the Encyclopaedia of Islam and Muslim World, Vol. II, p. 393, ed. Richard C. Martin, MacMillan Reference Books, New York, 2003
  12. ^ Daftary, Farhad (1998). A Short History of the Ismailis: Traditions of a Muslim Community. Edinburgh University Press. p. 179, 198. ISBN 978-0-7486-0904-8.
  13. ^ Boivin, Michel; Delage, Remy, eds. (2015-12-22). Devotional Islam in Contemporary South Asia. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315674711. ISBN 978-1-317-38000-9.


  • Azim Malikov, Kinship systems of Xoja groups in Southern Kazakhstan in Anthropology of the Middle East, Volume 12, Issue 2, Winter 2017, pр.78-91
  • Azim Malikov, Sacred Lineages in Central Asia: Translocality and Identity in Mobilities, Boundaries, and Travelling Ideas: Rethinking Translocality Beyond Central Asia and the Caucasus edited by Manja Stephan-¬Emmrich and Philipp Schröder (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers), 2018, pp. 121–150
  • Azim Malikov, Khoja in Kazakhstan: identity transformations in Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Department ‘Integration and Conflict’ Field Notes and research Projects VI CASCA – Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia: Framing the Research, Initial Projects. Eds.: Günther Schlee. Halle/Saale, 2013, pp. 101–107

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