Is Bombay Gazzatter Story True


But is this glimpse accurate / The answer to that is while the great majority of Memons believe in it there is now a band of so-called historians and intellectuals who have grave doubts that the story of the Pir and his conversion of seven hundred Lohana families has any historical validity.

Their doubts centre on the source of the story. The Gazetteer had used an Urdu booklet published in 1873 by one Sayad Amir-ud-din Nuzhat. The Gazetteer called it Nuzhat-ul-Akbar, as we shall see this booklet also goes by another name, and thisis perhaps the most controversial book ever written about the Memons. Not much is known about Nuzhat, not even whether he was a Memon. His story of the Memon conversion reads like a great discovery, having something of the fairy tale about it.

As he narrates in the booklet, he is wandering about the streets of Bombay searching for livelihood and notices various Muslim castes, Koknis, Memons, Cutchis, Khojas, Bohras and Mughals etc. Amongst them he finds that Memons are wealthy, spread in many lands and flourishing. He wants to find out how they became Muslims. He eventually comes to the conclusion that they must have been converted by some holy man. Then one day a “gentleman” tells him about Pir Buzurg Ali of Mundra in Kachh. He visits him and finds him living in object poverty. He reluctantly drawns the story of the conversion from him and publishers it in a booklet. The story gains currency and Memons begin to give money to the Pir. The community appears to have solved the mystery of how they were converted.

However the skeptics who doubt this story, point to the fact that there are many inconsistencies in the story as given by Amir-ud-din Nuzhat. For a start, history does not have any record of an individual by the name of Markab Khan as having ruled any part of Sindh. There are also other errors. Nuzhat got some dates wrong in his conversion story. He says his story of the Memon conversion is supported by a Ikarnama (agreement) which the Memons of Nagar-Thatta were supposed to have entered into when they were willingly bound not only themselves but their sons, grandsons, great-grandsons and all their descendants to maintain the family of the Pir and his descendants.

However one Memon researcher skeptical of the story, abdul Rahman Asir, in his book, Memon Qaum ni Utpatti (The Origins of the Memon Communtiy), has suggested that atleast some of those who signed this agreement were not Memons and one of the signatures appears to be that of a man, another saint, who died more than fifty years before Sayad Eusuf-ud-din arrived in Sindh. It would be a remarkable case of posthumous effort for a man to sign a document so long after his death. Some Memon skeptics have also picked up such trifling points as the fact that while Nuzhat’s booklet talks of Nagar-Thatta, the name of the place when Eusuf-ud-din came was Thatta, the prefix Nagar, which means town, was not added until some time after. There is also doubt whether Eusuf-ud-din did indeed belong to the Gilani family.

All these alleged historical defects have made some modern-day Memon writers pour much derision and scorn on the claims of Nuzhat. Ali Mohammad Naz, a prominent Memon of Bombay, was in no doubt that this entire story of conversion was a fiction and fabricated. He argued that Nuzhat was a fraud who had spread the story for self-gain. But it is not that easy to write off Nuzhat’s story as rubbish.

So did the Memons get converted by Pir Eusuf-ud-din or not ? The answer is that some of them probably did, if not by a Pir called Eusuf-ud-din, then by some other Pir. However that is not the whole story as I will explain.

I do agree with Naz that Nuzhat’s that claim seven hundred families were converted may be doubtful. But Naz’s reason for doubting sounds strange. He argues that if seven hundred families of Lohana were converted would not some historian have mentioned it ? It would be an event, says Naz, “of historical importance and the historians of Sindh must have taken note of this in their books. Even Alisher Kaane, the author of Tohfatul Kiram who was a resident of Nagar-Thatta has not made any mention of this even in his book of the history of Sindh. It means no such event has taken place at Nagar-Thatta”.

The fact that an event is not recorded in a particular history book does not mean it did not take place. If one takes such a didactic, not to say peculiar, view of history then a great deal of our history would have been thrown away. In any case why should the conversion of seven hundred Lohana families be newsworthy ? Historians record events that are considered important. Were the Lohanas important ? No. They were a Hindu caste of traders, who neither had power nor great wealth.

Five hundred years ago, long before modern mass media, such events were not recorded. What happened was they passed into folklore. Word of mouth spread the story and we know from our experience when we hear a story from someone who, in turn, has heard it from someone else, that there is always an element of exaggeration. Probably the Thatta conversion story was embellished: may be seventy, not seven hundred families were converted and they in the course of retelling became seven hundred. But more likely than not there was an inner core of truth from which the story first emerged. There is one other source which suggests Nuzhat was not entirely wrong. This is Richard Burton, who in his History of Sindh refers to a Pir Rashid who was a notable Sufi and founder of two Sufi houses in Sindh. This what Burton had to say:had to say:

The term “Meman”, a corruption of the Arabic word, “Mumin” ( a true believer), was probably given to the people that go by the name now, when they are converted from Hindusm to Islam. The word in its fullest significance is applied to two distinct races of people: in the first place to the Khwajeh tribe and secondly, the Meman Sayyat (i.e. green, from the Sindhi, Sawo or Achhra, white) who are followers of Abu Hanifeh. Many Memans are found settled in Sind, especially about Hyderabad, Sehwan and Kurrachee. Cutch is probably their original country, a large number of them are still found there. In our province they are employed chiefly in agriculture and breeding camels. Their dress is that of the common Sindhi, except that they frequently shave the head, especially when old and wear turban, sometimes though rarely, they adapt the peculiar Sindhi hat. They

have produced many very learned men and have done much to introduce the religious science into this country.

What makes Burton very interesting is he wrote the book in 1851, twenty-two years before Nuzhat’s booklet. So Burton could not have been influenced by the booklet as the compilers of the Gazetteers undoubtedly were. Despite this, Burton mentions a Pir and his story of conversion has a similar ring to that given twenty-two years later by Nuzhat, albeit Burton does not have Nuzhat’s details.

Memon writers unwilling to accept the story of seven hundred Lohana families are keen to advance a variety of other versions.