Subdivisions: Nizārī-Ismā'īlī, Ithna Ashari Shia, and Sunni
Significant populations in: South Asia, East Africa, Europe and North America
Language The Indo-Aryan languages of Sindhi, Gujarati, Memoni, Kutchi
Religion Primarily Nizārī Ismā'īlī, with significant Twelver Shi'a and Sunni minorities

For the religious-political dynasty in Xinjiang see Khoja (Turkestan)

The Khojas (Sindhi: کوجا، خوجا، خواجا, Turkish: Hodja, Hoca, Albanian: Hoxha) are a group of diverse people who converted to Islam in South Asia. The word Khoja derives from Khwāja (New Persian Khājé), a Persian honorific title (خواجه) of pious individuals from Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East..

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, Europe and North America. The Khoja were by then adherents of Nizārī Ismā'īlīsm. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the aftermath of the Aga Khan Case a significant minority separated and adopted Twelver Shi'ism or Sunni Islam, while the majority remained Nizārī Ismā'īlī.[1]

Origin of the name

The term Khwaja, pronounced Khoja in the Gujarati and Sindhi languages, is a Persian honorific title, first bestowed by the allegedly Nizārī Ismā'īlī 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.[2]

Speculation exists that 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 Vaishnavite belief in the Dashavatara,[3][4]


Derived from the Persian khwaja, a term of honour, the word Khoja referred to those converted to Nizari Ismaili Islam in the Indian sub-continent from about the 13th century onward. More particularly, it included certain groups, predominantly from Gujarat and Kutch, who retained strong Indian ethnic roots and caste customs while sustaining their Muslim religious identity under continual threats of persecution. In the 19th century, the Ismaili Imamat (office of the Imam) became established in India and a programme of consolidation and reorganisation of the community and its institutions began. These changes led to differences of opinion among Khojas. While the majority of Khojas remained Ismaili, one group became Ithna‘ ashari and a smaller group adopted Sunnism.

In the context of the overall policy of the Ismaili imam of the time, Aga Khan III, of consolidating the Shi‘a Ismaili identity of his followers, the ethnic connotation of being “Khoja” became diluted over time and a wider sense of self-identification as Ismaili Muslims began to emerge. With the increasing recognition of the diversity of the worldwide Ismaili community itself and the positive value of the pluralist heritage represented within each of the traditions, the Khojas now regard themselves as an integral part of the larger Nizari Ismaili community, to whose development they make a strong contribution.

The Khoja Ithna‘ asharis, while seeking to develop relationship with the larger Twelver Shi‘a community, retain their own organisational framework.

The Khojas live today in East Africa, the Indian sub-continent, Europe and North America, and show a strong commitment to values of Muslim philanthropy in their business entrepreneurship and contribution to societies in which they live.[5]

Khoja communities

Main articles: Pir Sadardin and Jamat khana

Ismā'īlī Khojas

Originally Nizārī Ismā'īlī, 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.[6] The gināns of Nizari Ismailis suggest that the Pir established Nizari Ismaili religious centres (Jamatkhanas) in Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir.[2]

Ithnā‘ashari Khojas

Khojas who follow Twelver Shia Islam and have large communities in Pakistan, India, East Africa, North America and the United Kingdom.

Sunni Khojas

Some Khojas follow Sunni Islam. Khoja or khawajs relating to sunni sect of Islam also called as sheikh, especially in west Punjab now in Pakistan.

Migration to Africa

For hundreds of years, South Asians sailed down the coast of East Africa in their sail ships during the North Eastern monsoons. There were young Khojas amongst these early sailors and some of them stayed behind in East Africa and took advantage of opportunities in commerce and trade.

While the new land offered limitless opportunities to the Khojas, the new environment and prevailing influences called for a reorientation.

The Khojas around the 1870s primarily followed Nizari Ismailism. However, a minority rejected the changes of modernity under the guidance of the Imam of that era and revolted. While some were barred from the Jama'at Khana, the Nizari Ismaili place of worship, others abandoned it willingly. Many of these adopted the larger Ithna'ashari branch of Shi'a Islam and were aided by scholars from Iran, hence the origination of an Agha (Persian) community in Zanzibar. Alongside were the Bahranis, Arab Twelver Shi'a from Bahrain, whose inspirations emanated from Kalbe Aly Khan, a minister to Sultan Majid/Bargash. He proved a great influence and helped a minority of Khojas to secede.

Zanzibar had a prosperous Khoja community and it was quite forthcoming into this secession. In fact, the Kuwwat Jamaat of Zanzibar became the first ever Khoja Twelver Shi'a community (jamaat) in the world in 1882 when the Khojas elsewhere including the South Asia were still facing opposition to establish their separate identity. There were stirring events and emotions were roused as the dissidents fervently built up their mosque. Initially the connection between the two Khoja groups persisted for a while and even a couple of dhegs (large pots) used to be dispatched to the Jama'at Khana from the mosque during jaman (feast). Social traditions also prompted the two counterparts to meet each other. Later, partly at the behest of the Nizari Ismaili Imam, restrictions became severe and even family members separated disconnecting ties between each other or the two met in hiding at a secret place.

Kenya also slowly developed a large Shia community, largely aided by the work of scholars such as Khwaja Muhammad Latif Ansari.

Notable individuals

See also


  1. "Khoja (Islam) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2012-08-03.
  2. 1 2 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.
  3. ,Anṡārī, ʻAlī Sher ʻAlī (1901). A Short Sketch, Historical and Traditional, of the Musalman Races Found in Sind, Baluchistan and Afghanistan, Their Genealogical Sub-divisions and Septs, Together with an Ethnological and Ethnographical Account. Karachi: Commissioner's Press. p. 65. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  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 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. 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
  6. Daftary, Farhad. A Short History of the Ismailis: traditions of a Muslim community. (Edinborough: Edinborough University Press), 1998, p. 179.
N.Khouri & J.P.Leite, "The Ismailis of Mozambique. History of a Twofold Migration (late 19th Century-1975)", in E.Morier-Genoud & M.Cahen (eds), Imperial Migrations. Colonial Communities and Diaspora in the Portuguese World, London: Palgrave, 2012
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