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The Isma‘ili – Isna ‘Ashari Divide Among the Khojas: Exploring Forgotten Judicial Data from Karachi

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2014

MICHEL BOIVIN*
Affiliation:
Centre for South Asia Sutdies, CNRS-EESS (Paris), mboivin@ehess.fr

Abstract

This paper explores the interaction between a religious leader, the Aga Khan, and a cluster of castes, the Khojas, in Colonial India. While scholars have usually investigated the Bombay judicial sources, claiming that the Aga Khan Case of 1866 put an end to dissent among the Khojas who rejected his authority, the Karachi judicial sources provide a new perspective on the issues. It will be argued that the so called dissenters were fighting for the autonomy of the Khojas as a caste that they were able to keep in turning to Isna ‘Ashari. Therefore, this paper deals with how the British colonials attempted to control the people of India through the courts, but also how Indian actors used the courts for reaching their goals. Furthermore, the religious discourse through which the claims were expressed was but a shell concealing economic pursuits as well as issues of social rank.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 2014 

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References

1 Green, Nile, Bombay Islam. The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean 1840–1915 (Cambridge, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 This does not mean that no academic papers have been published on this topic; rather, no thorough study has been devoted to the impressive transformation of Karachi in the second half of the nineteenth century that led to it being described as the “Pearl of the East”. Khuhro, Hamida and Mooraj, Anwer, Karachi Megacity of Our Times (Karachi, 1997), p. 29 Google Scholar.

3 See, for example, Masselos, J. C., “The Khojas of Bombay: the defining of formal membership criteria during the nineteenth century”, in Caste and Social Stratification among Muslims in India, (ed.) Ahmad, Imtiaz (New Delhi, 1973)Google Scholar; Shodan, Amrita, A Question of Community: Religious Groups and Colonial Law (Calcutta, 2001)Google Scholar; and Purohit, Teena, The Aga Khan Case. Religion and Identity in Colonial India (Harvard, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 In Bombay, the dissent included the birth of a Sunni community among the Khojas. This is not stated to have happened in Karachi and Sindh. The present-day Sunni Khoja community of Karachi migrated from Bombay after partition in 1947.

5 E. H. Aitken, Gazetteer of the Province of Sind (Karachi, 1907), p. 369.

6 Khuhro, Hamida and Mooraj, Anwer (eds.), Karachi. Megacity of Our Times (Karachi, 1997), p. 40 Google Scholar.

7 Aitken, E. H., Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh (Karachi, 1907), pp. 182183 Google Scholar.

8 See Lata Parwani, “Myths of Hhule Lal: Deconstructing a Sindhi Cultural Icon”, in Interpreting the Sindhi World. Essays on Society and History, (ed.) Michel Boivin and Matthew A. Coook (Karachi, 2010).

9 Dalpat Sufi was the author of Sufi kalams [works] in Sindhi, Persian and Hindi. He was an amil from Sehwan Sharif, but he gave up his work in the Talpur amirs’ administration, and opened a shrine in Hyderabad where he spent his days in meditation. His poetry is still sung in the Sufi shrines of Sindh, especially in Jhok Sharif, a place he visited many times.

10 Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–1898) was a Muslim reformer who advocated the reintroduction of the primacy of reason in Islamic sciences. He was also convinced that the integration of European sciences into Islamic teachings could benefit India's Muslims. He launched the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh on 24 May 1875 which became a university in 1920.

11 The tithe, known as dasond, was between 10–12 per cent of the followers’ earnings. Many other taxes were to be paid by the Khojas for any action they performed in relation to the Aga Khans.

12 Masselos, “The Khojas of Bombay”, pp. 8–9.

13 The two main branches of Persian and Indian Shi‘ism are Isna Ashari Shi‘ism, or Twelver Shiism, and Isma‘ili Shi‘ism. The first branch is commonly tagged as Shi‘ism. On Isma‘ilism, see Daftary, Farhad, The Isma‘ilis: Their History and their doctrines (Cambridge, 1992)Google Scholar.

14 ‘Alidina, S., Tarikh-i Imamat (Karachi, 1952), p. 69 Google Scholar.

15 Utamsing, V., Selected Decisions of the Sind Sadar Court Relating to the Local Laws and Customs of the Province of Sind (Karachi, 1909–1910), pp. 391430 Google Scholar.

16 Lilley, H. J. (reported by), Jaffer Fuddoo Defamation Case Containing Counsel's Addresses to Courts and The Connected History of the Assassins (Karachi, 1925)Google Scholar.

17 Quoted in J. C. Masselos, “The Khojas of Bombay”, p. 16.

18 Anderson, Michael, “Islamic law and the colonial encounter in British India”, in Institutions and Ideology: A SOAS South Asia Reader, (eds) Arnold, David and Robb, Peter, (Richmond, 1993), pp. 174175 Google Scholar.

19 H. J. Lilley, p. 56.

20 “Bill to Amend and Define law as to succession to Khoja” Home Department, Judicial Branch, Proceedings 123–134 (A), National Archives of India, 1884.

21 “Papers related to the Bill to amend and define the Law of Testamentary and Instate Succession to Khojas”, IOR/L/PJ/6/163, file 1987, 1884.

22 “Papers related to the Bill to amend and define the Law of Testamentary and Instate Succession to Khojas”, IOR/L/PJ/6/142/2521.

23 “Papers related to the Bill to amend and define the Law of Testamentary and Instate Succession to Khojas”, IOR/L/PJ/6/163, file 1987, 1884.

24 The exclusion of women from inheritance obviously made sense in a trader community, since it reduced the division of property.

25 Thomas, H. B. (ed.), Memoirs on Sindh, (Karachi 1855), 2, p. 236 Google Scholar.

26 H. J. Lilley, p. 92.

27 Utamsing, V., Selected Decisions of the Sind Sadar Court Relating to the Local Laws and Customs of the Province of Sind (Karachi 1909–1910), p. 400 Google Scholar.

28 H. J. Lilley, p. 71.

29 V. Utamsing, p. 407.

30 Ibid., p. 411. For Richard Burton, they were specialists of marsiyas; the marsiyas are also well attested by the nineteenth-century Khoja manuscripts held by the Institute of Isma‘ili Studies in London.

31 H. J. Lilley, p. 108.

32 Ibid., p. 20.

33 Ibid., pp. 5–6.

34 Ibid., p. 93.

35 Ali, S. A. Sadiq, A Short Sketch Historical and Traditional of the Musulman Races Found in Sindh, Baluchistan and Afghanistan, Their Genealogical Sub-divisions and Sects Together with Ethnological and Ethnographical Accounts, (Karachi, 1901), p. 66 Google Scholar.

36 V. Utamsing, p. 392.

37 Ibid., p. 414.

38 Ibid., p. 392.

39 Aitken, E. H., Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh (Karachi 1907), p. 176 Google Scholar.

40 Indeed, Isna ‘Ashari Khojas have retained that name in Karachi even though very few can explain its meaning today. The Aga Khan's party is still usually named as the Panjbhais, or, Panjabhais, because the Aga Khan I should have been first defended in Bombay by a group of five brothers. The varas was the head of the Panjbhais.

41 The imamwara is a place devoted to the Shi‘i Imams, especially Husain, while the jama‘at khana, as we saw before, was a place devoted to the Aga Khan's cult, and under construction during this period.

42 H. J. Lilley, p. 23.

43 Ibid., p. 92.

44 Ibid., p. 80.

45 Ibid., p. 25.

46 Haji, S. G., Genealogical Table of H. H. the Hon’able Sir Aga Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan (Karachi 1905)Google Scholar. This reference was nevertheless still expressed in the devotional literature of the Khojas; but the literature was kept secret – it was not disclosed to non-Khojas.

47 Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, had met him in Aligarh.

48 H. J. Lilley, p. 100.

49 Ibid., p. 167.

50 Rules of the Shia Imami Isma‘ilis of Karachixe "Karachi" (Karachi, 1928), p. 35.

51 Ibid., p. 36.

52 V. Utamsing, p. 404.

53 Goolamali, K., An Open Letter to H. H. the Aga Khan (Karachi, 1927)Google Scholar.

54 Goolamali, K., An Appeal to Mr. Ali Salomon Khan (Karachi, 1928)Google Scholar.

55 For a detailed analysis of the process, see Boivin, M., Les Agha Khans et les Khojas. Islam chiite et dynamiques sociales dans le sous-continent indien contemporain (Paris, 2013)Google Scholar.

56 On this point, it is interesting to observe that the sources, including the Rules and Regulations of the Khojas of 1928, use the word “excommunication” rather than “ostracism”: as Lilley puts it, excommunication is the “loss of eternal salvation”. H. J. Lilley, p. 77.

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