Memons are a Muslim ethnic group originating from Indian subcontinent. Traditionally, the Memons have been a mercantile community. But, as the years have passed, they have increasingly diversified in to various other professions.
Memons are known for their involvement in philanthropy. A number of mosques, orphanages, sanatoria, educational institutions, dispensaries, hospitals, musafirkhanas, societies, etc. have been built by munificent Memons at various times and in different places.
Due to various reasons, the members of the Memon community have migrated to and settled in different parts of the world. But, a major chunk of Memons still reside in India and Pakistan. Wherever they go, if there is a substantial Memon population, they form themselves into Jamats. These Jamats are elected bodies and look after the welfare of the community.
Today, a major chunk of the Memon Community is based out of India and Pakistan; apart from significant communities in the United Kingdom, Canada, USA, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Middle East, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, Mauritius, Singapore Burma and Australia.
Memoni is the language that Memons speak. The Memons of different regions have slightly different styles of speaking this language, thanks to local influences and years of isolation from each other. However, these dialects remain mutually intelligible. Memoni is believed to have originated as a dialect of Sindhi. It is mutually intelligible with Kutchi with borrowed vocabulary from Gujarati, Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu) and lately English. Memoni as a language does not have its own script. However, in the past, there have been attempts to write Memoni using Gujrati and Urdu scripts. Off late, with the increasing popularity of computers and communication mediums such as emails, messages, etc. Memoni has increasingly started being written in the Roman Script too.
Across the world, Memons are no longer mere businessmen or industrialists, they are now among the most enlightened and progressive communities in the world.
Nirun Kot (present Hyderabad-Sindh), Debal, Sama & Lakha forts and the surrounding areas were populated by a Hindu community known as the Lohanas. This region was called Lohana Desh or Lohana Puraganas. Thattha and the surrounding region were also included in the Lohana Desh. Brahamanabad was their chief city.
Members of the Lohana community were engaged in all types of trades, industries, animal husbandry and agriculture. They hearkened to the teachings of Gautama and were converted to Buddhism. In course of time, Buddhism lost its hold over the community and they became believers of the Shiva aspect of the Hindu Trinity, and a number of Devis and Devtas.
Eventually, as a result of the spread of the Islamic empires and longterm occupation by the Muslim invaders, there was a heavy influence on the language, culture and lifestyle of the people in that region. In 1422 AD, Abu Zakaria Yahya Yusufuddin, a direct descendant of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad came to Sindh to spread Islam. After labouring there for 10 years, he succeeded in winning over to islam 700 families of the Lohana caste. These 700 families, who had embraced Islam, formed in to a community and called themselves Momins, which means: true believers of God and faithful followers of Islam.
Over time, the word Momin was distorted, in the course of time, and the word Memon took its place.
Due to this conversion, a conflict arose between the neo-Muslim and the Hindu Lohanas with whom they had very close social relations. On Sayyid Yusufuddin’s advice, these 700 families migrated to Variya, which was situated near Thattha. A few years later, about 600 Memons migrated to Halar in Kathiawar and settled there permanently. They came to be called Halari or Halai Memons. A 100 years later, the 100 families remaining at Variya went to Bhuj, the Capital of Kutch to settle down permanently. They came to be known as Kutchi Memons. A few of these Kutchi Memons have migrated to Okha and have come to be known as Okhai Memons. Surat, in Gujarat was a n important trading centre from 1580 to 1680 and Memons made their bounty there. (Later, some of these Memons reached Bombay). While, Memon farmers who had opted to stay on in Southern Sindh were called Sindhi Memons.
These Memons in Kutch, Halar, Okha and Sindh stayed in their respective regions for a considerable period and developed characteristics and peculiarities region-wise and were markedly differentiated from each other. They later developed a sense of difference and pride, from one another, which regrettably exists even today.
Due to political upheavals, changing social patterns, call of professions, occupation or other prospects; Memons spread across the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent and the world. Wherever they went, Memons formed themselves into Jamats. These Jamats are elected bodies and look after the welfare of the community.
Excerpted from: “Memons: Their Origins and Brief History” by F.A. Chotani & A.M. Allana as published in the Memons International Directory, 1st edition 1971.
A History of Memons by Anwar Motan
Races and Castes of Bombay Presidency by Anthovan
The Preaching of Islam by T. W. Arnold
Islamic Perspective: A Biannual Journal. A special issue on Bohras, Khojas and Memons. Ed. by Asghar Ali Engineer, Bombay, Institute of Islamic Studies. vol.1, Jan 1988, pp. 192-211
Levin, Sergey (1974). “The Upper Bourgeoisie from the Muslim Commercial Community of Memons in Pakistan, 1947 to 1971”. Asian Survey 14 (3): 231.