Arabs of Qatif


Another weriter, Karimbaksh Khalid, came up with the theory that Arabs of Qatif, near Ta’if, who were weavers came alongwith Muhammad Bin Qasim. They belonged to the tribe of Banu Tamim and constituted the right-wing of his army. They were known as Maymenah, right-wingers in the army, and later this word was corrupted to Memons. If this theory is accepted, then the Memons were originally Arabs.

There is one constant theme in all these theories. The desire by all these writers to suggest that their Memon ancestors were converted nearer to the advent of Islam, with some suggesting they actually belonged to the greater Arab community from which the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and his followers sprang.

In this we can detect a very interesting feature. It was one that was noticed and commented upon by E.H. Aitken, editor of the Gazetteer of Sind, published in 1907. This Gazeteer is so highly regarded that it was reprinted in Karachi in 1986 with a very fulsome introduction by Mahar Yusuf, who also noticed this trait. What was this trait that the Englishman who worked in the Bombay Salt department but was an indefatigable researcher had noticed ? It was this:

“ Every Sindhi tribe converted to Mohamedanism began presently, like the rich American, to look about for ancestors, and where should they look but in the country of the prophet of their new religion”.

Mahar Yusuf comments: “The Gazetteer postulates a theory which is equally true today”.

Many references can be given from contemporary sources to support Mahar Yusuf’s contention that many Muslims would like to believe that they were not converted from Hindus but are descendants of people who were Muslims before they arrived in the subcontinent.

Clearly some Muslims considered themselves superior to other Muslims. In India in the medieval ages if you were a foreign-born Muslim in a country ruled by descendants of foreign-born Muslims, to be able to say that you were already a Muslim before you arrived in the countrywas a distinct advantage. Not surprisingly this made many a Muslim claim that his Islamic ancestry was older than it really was.

So where does all this leave our original conversion story ? As we have seen, Nuzhat got some details wrong, may be he exaggerated to make the story more convincing but that something like that happened in Thatta is probably not untrue. No other story of Memon conversion contains so many details or so many references to people and families involved as this story by Nuzhat. Unless we accept, as Naz does, that Nuzhat is some sort of deceitful story teller who wove from a cloth of pure imagination, the conclusion must be that he had some genuine material to work from. He may have embroidered it with some of his own imagination, spiced it, or to use the expression familiar on the subcontinent, added plentry or mirchi and masala, but there were some genuine ingredients to begin with.

I would suggest that the different pre-Islamic communities, mostly Hindus, although some of them could have been Buddhist or even tribal, became Memons in different pats of the country and in different ways. All this leads me to conclude that Memons did convert round about the fifteenth century. Some were probably converted in Thatta, others, elsewhere. Some by one Pir, others by another Pir. Like the rest of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent in diverse ways Memons become Muslims.

Memon researchers have been rather hung up on the idea that the community became Memons in only one way and spread from Sindh to the rest of India. The fact is that just as Hindus converted to Islam in various wasys, so Memons also took diverse paths. In other words there is not one conversion story but several, just as there is not one Memon community but several.