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The History of Twelver Khoja (part 2)

In the previous article, we discussed the Isma’ili and Sunni Khojas. In this article, we are going to learn more about the Twelver Shi’a Khojas.


Twelver Shi’a Khojas

After the conflict between some of the Khoja families and the Aga Khan, some dissidents in the Khoja groups, seceding in 1877 and 1901, formed the Ithna-Asheri (Twelver) Khoja communities in Bombay and East Africa.

In the early 1900s, some Twelver Shi’a Khojas went to visit the holy shrines in Iraq. During their discussions with one of the prominent scholars of the time, Shaykh Zayn al-‘Abidīn al-Mazandarānī, they asked him to send a scholar to India so that he could teach them the basic principles of Islam. At the request of Shaykh al-Mazandarānī, Mulla Qadir Hussein went to India and taught some Khoja families the essentials of the Twelver Shi’i faith.

From these few families, the Khoja Twelver Shi’i community has now grown globally to over 125,000 members. The success of the Twelver Khojas in Bombay in forming their own group spread throughout the Khoja world. The act of spreading Twelver teachings was symbolized by the construction of Islamic mosques instead of the jamaatkhanas as well as the performance of regular Muslim practices like the Salat. On realizing this influence of Twelver Shi‘ism among their followers, Nizari leaders started to impose restrictions on Twelver Shi‘a practices. Under the order of Aga Khan III, the Nizari Khoja community declared its separate identity, dissociating itself from Twelver religious practices.

An important figure in the conversion to and dissemination of Twelver Shi‘i teachings was Haji Gulamali Haji Isma‘il, known as Haji Naji. He was the one who translated the Twelver Shi’i Arabic and Persian religious texts to Gujarati, a language spoken by most Twelver Khoja Shi‘as then. Many of these texts promoted Shi‘i beliefs and practices among the community.

Many Khojas who lived in India migrated to East Africa in the 1840s. They left India due to famine and poverty and with the prospect of better financial opportunities in Africa. Most of the Twelver and Nizari Khojas migrated to the West in 1972-3, as a result of the East African governments’ policies that preferred Africans in the social, economic, and educational spheres. Increased immigration by the Khoja community was also accelerated by the revolution in Zanzibar in 1964 and the expulsion of Ugandan Asians in 1972.

Khoja Shi’as from Tanzania and Kenya also migrated due to the inimical socio-political conditions in their homeland countries. They consolidated their identity and engaged in educational and socioeconomic reforms that made the community self-sufficient.


Khoja Shi’as in the present world

Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslims are a united Shi’a minority with a population of about 125 thousand people who are famous for their sense of discipline and organization. In 1976, they established a world body called the “World Federation of Khoja Shi‘a Ithna‘asheri Jamaat” in England. With the help of this world body, they have established centers of worship all through the world. The Federation’s stated aim is to act as an umbrella organization, catering to the needs of the world Khoja community. The biggest Twelver Khoja congregation in America is in New York. There are other Khoja centers in cities like Los Angeles, Orlando, Minneapolis, and Allentown. But the Ithna-Asheri Khoja Shias live in the five continents of the world and have autonomous communities in every country.

Taken from “Khojas” by Liyakat Takim


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