In the name of Allãh, the Kind, Merciful. All Praise is due to Allãh, the Lord of the Universe. May God shower His blessings upon Prophet Muhammad & his progeny.
Islam is one of the major world religions. Every fifth person on the face of this earth is a Muslim. Muslims are found in the Middle East, in north, west and east Africa, in Asia and Eastern Europe. In modern times, Muslims are found in large numbers in Western Europe, the Americas and Australia through immigration as well as conversion. Recent statistics show that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the USA. With the vast world turning into a “global village,” such a wide-spread religion followed by over a billion people indeed deserves a careful study.
WHAT IS ISLAM?
Islam is not just a religion in the conventional sense of the word; it is a way of life—it guides it followers in every aspect of their lives.
The name “Islãm” is an Arab name. (“Islaam” is pronounced with “s” sound and not with “z” as in “Izlaam”.) It comes from the root word “as-silm” which means “peace”. “Islãm” itself means “submission to the will of God”. It means that real peace comes only after a person submits himself to the will of God.
Although Islam started fourteen centuries ago in Arabia, for Muslims it is not a new beginning—Islam, for Muslims, is the culmination of the message of God for human society. Muslims believe that God from day one of human creation sent prophets and messengers to guide the human society. Many prophets were sent to various regions of the world. Muslims are required to have faith in the prophethood of all of them. The most famous of the past prophets were: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
The essential message of all the prophets was the same:
Some historians maintain that he converted the Thakkers to Nizari Ismailis. Whatever may be the case, these converts could no longer be called Thakkers in the Hindu community and Pir Sadruddin gave them the title of Khwaja. The word Khoja is a phonetic corruption of the word Khwaja.
Over a period of time, several pirs came after Sadrudin and gradually, the beliefs crystallised to those of the Ismaili Nizari faith; particularly after the arrival of the Aga Khan 1 from Iran to India in the first half of the 19th Century. By this time the Khojas had spread all over over Kutch and Gujarat. Some had also moved to Bombay and Muscat. They paid their dues to the Ismaili Jamaat Khaana and lived quite harmoniously within their society. The main place of worship was the Jamaat Khaana and the (Jamaat) community was organised round the Jamaat Khaana – which served as a religious as well as a social centre.
With the arrival of the Aga Khan 1 in India, greater control was exercised by the Aga Khan in the affairs of the community. This led to certain groups dissenting and being ousted from the Jamaat Khaana. The most celebrated one was the case of the Bar Bhaya where an influential family by the name of Habib Ibrahim refused to accept the dictate (firman) by the Aga Khan that all the property that belonged to the Jamaat would now vest in the Aga Khan. Eventually this group was out-casted and influenced by the Sunni Aalims they became Sunnites.
This was followed by several court cases and much commotion in the community, In the early 1800s some Khojas went for Ziyarat and while in Najaf they met the Mujtahid of the time, Sheikh Zainul Aabedeen Mazandarani. During their discussions they realised that there was a need for a teacher to come to India to teach the community Islam. Soon after, at the behest of Sheikh Mazandarani, Mulla Kader Hussein arrived in India and some Khoja families left the Ismaili sect and learnt from Mulla Kader the principles of Shia Ithnaasheri faith.
From these few families the community has now grown to well over 100,000 Khoja Shia Ithnaasheries. The overall number is still very small when considering that there are an estimated 60 – 90 million Shia Ithnaasheries in the world today. The Ismaili Khojas number over 270 thousand and there are still a handful of Sunni Khojas.