In or around the year 1404, about 700 families consisting of about 6178 individuals belonging to the famous Lohana section of Hindus accepted Islam. These reverts came to be known as Momins or Memons.
Historical books of Sindh refer to these erstwhile Lohanas living there around 300BC, during the time when Alexander the Great came to that region. The then ruler of Sindh was King Ind. After King Ind's demise, Raja Chach, the first king of the Brahmin dynasty, ruled in 7 A.D. Arab historians and other travellers of those days have furnished flowery descriptions of Sindh and Raja Chach. They mention that the Hindus were divided into 4 castes, and Lohanas, owing to their business acumen, were classified as members of the business caste, The Vaishyas. Lohanas themselves were divided into 10 tribes; each tribe carried a title, which in the Sindh language is called a "Nukh".
In 589 A.D. Muhammad Bin Qassim, as ordered by Hajjaj Bin Yusuf, laid the foundation of a strong kingdom, and ruled over Sindh fairly and justly. The Arabs ruled Sindh for about 300 years during which time the feeling of brotherhood, culture, morality and spiritualism of Islam produced a lasting impression on the people of Sindh as a whole. It was then that 700 Lohana families living in Thatta accepted Islam at the hands of Pir Yousufuddin Saheb (May the mercy of Allah be upon him). The Pir Saheb came from a long line of eminent Muslim saints who were direct descendants of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Gilani (May the mercy of Allah be upon him).
At that time, the region of Sindh was ruled by the king of Kabul whose Governor for the region was Ayub Khan, and his deputy, Murakkab Khan. At that time, three leading members of the Lohanas were appointed special advisors to Murakkab Khan. Manekji, a leading member of the 700 odd Lohana families, was the first to accept Islam, impressed by the Pir's nature and love of humanity. Manekii was followed by his son, Ravji, and the Pir named him Ahmed. A little later, Ravji's two sons, Sunderji and Hansraj, accepted Islam, and were named Adam and Taj Muhammad. Soon thereafter, the rest of the 700 Lohana families opted for conversion to Islam.
Watching the determination of the reverts, courage and strong faith, Pir Yousufuddin called them "Momins". The term "Momin" was not coined by the Saint but it is an honour bestowed centuries ago by Almighty Allah. This word was later changed to "Memon". Sunderji, now known as Adam, was appointed as the leader, and was gifted a special dress that became the Cutchi Memons' traditional attire: a long shirt, trouser, waist coat jacket and a turban.
Pir Yousufuddin addressed the new reverts thus:
"Dear Brethren, from today, you are Muslims! You have one God, one Prophet, one Holy Book (The Holy Quran), and you all are brothers. Believe in one God, follow his Path, and according to the orders given in the Holy Quran. You will be honoured in religion as well as in the world, and you and your offspring will prosper for a long time".
Soon thereafter, the Memons felt the ire of their fellow countrymen, Sindhi Hindus, whose fold they had left. The Lohanas severed all social and economic relations with these reverts. The Memons approached Pir Yousufuddin for guidance. The Saint advised them to migrate to a new land, similar to the advice given by our Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) during the early years of Islam.
Following the saint's advice, about 150 Memon families migrated from Thatta to a place on the banks of a nearby river named Variya. The Memons had a tough time even after moving away from Sindh Because of chaos and disorder in the entire area. The Memons decided to move further from Variya, and went in several directions: one group, under the leadership of Ladha, went to Halai in Kathiawar (also known as Saurashtra) in Western India (presently the side of Gujarat) and came to be known as Halai Memons. Another group travelled along the coast and reached Surat and came to be known as Surati Memons. A group of fifty young men proceeded to Punjab and settled in Lahore, but nothing is known of this group today. One group, under the leadership of Ruknuddin (previously known as Markun), son of Adam, travelled to Bhuj, the capital of Cutch, and settled down there. This group came to be known as Cutchi Memons.
At the time of this migration, Cutch was ruled by Raja Rakhengarji. He invited Ruknuddin's son Kana Seth (Seth being an honour specific for respect) and his followers to settle in Cutch. The Raja knew that the Memons' business acumen would bring prosperity to his kingdom. He bestowed titles on Kana Seth, and offered him the traditional dress. Eventually, Kana Seth came to be respected in Bhuj and in Cutch. He constructed a huge mosque in Bhuj. Kana Seth's son, Mamman, also constructed a mosque. Several Cutchi Memons families were attributed with the construction of mosques and musafirkhanas (free guest houses), and other forms of public welfare activity.
It should be noted however, that during the migration from Nagar Thatta to Bhuj via Variva, the Cutchi Memons economic condition deteriorated. They lived from hand to mouth but remained firm in their faith. They had good characters, habits and were blessed with of virtues charity, brotherhood and honesty. Their unity made them powerful and praiseworthy. They abstained from the forbidden and earned lawfully and righteously. They were kind-hearted, humble and tolerant. Their domestic life was simple and honourable.
Soon, Almighty Allah mercifully rewarded the Cutchi Memons for their patience and endurance. Cutchi Memons settled in Cutch, then in Bombay, and other parts of India such as Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. It is worth pointing out that Cutchi Memons settled in places which had business opportunities in commercial centres established by the British occupation. The British traders who arrived in India were inexperienced and had little knowledge of commerce in India, and they sought the help of local traders, and Cutchi Memons were advantaged with business acumen and knowledge of trade.
British greed to rule was not confined to India. Wherever they conquered and started ruling, Cutchi Memons began to benefit from their expanded network. They went to several countries in Asia and Africa including Japan and China. By the end of the century, Cutchi Memons were one of the leading businessmen. We can estimate their worth and financial value from the fact that, during the last quarter of the 19th century, they established many charitable funds, constructed mosques and musafirkhanas, Schools and hospitals, etc. Names of such philanthropists abound in history books: Seth Cummoo Sulleman, Seth Mohammad Haji Saboo Siddick, Seth Haji Kassam Ladha, Seth Ismail Habib, Seth Issa Abbas, etc.
The close of the 19th century saw a yearning in the Indian people to throw off the British yoke of servitude. Cutchi Memons took an active part in the "freedom" movement both physically and financially. Many went to jail, and the wealthy donated much to the cause. Umar Sobhani was associated with Mrs. Annie Besant's Home Rule League from its inception, and contributed for much of is expenses. He also vigorously participated in the Khilafath movement, and donated One Lakh Rupees to the Khilafath fund. When, Mahatma Gandhi asked him to contribute some money to the Tilak Swaraiya Fund, Sobhani gave the Father of the Nation a blank cheque; the Mahatma himself wrote the amount of Rupees One Lakh! Such is the magnanimity of a Cutchi Memon heart.
With the change in lifestyle, Cutchi Memons become involved with education. Literacy ran high, and many Cutchi Memons become eminent doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, etc. Some entered politics, and earned a name for themselves. This probably would have not happened if Cutchi Memons were not as dynamic as they are. The period from 1947-2016 has seen many developments in the life of the Cutchi Memons and change in the fortunes of many. What continues to remain as a part of our clan is the business acumen and the grit to adapt to change — social, political and economic.
The golden era of the last 200 years of Cutchi Memon history should be written in gold. The Cutchi Memons' honesty, integrity, magnanimity, courage and dignity are worth mentioning as the simple yet powerful values that kept them firm in their faith, aloft in their misery and level headed in their prosperity.
This history of Cutchi Memons is an abridged representation from the article that was edited by Arif G. Kadwani in December 2008 from the original written by the late Abdul Qadir Moosa Dadani, an eminent Cutchi Memon, who was associated in various capacities with the Cutchi Memon Students' Circle, the Cutchi Memon Jamath and the all India Cutchi Memon Federation, all based in Mumbai, India. The article was published in the "Souvenir" by the All India Cutchi Memon federations on the occasion of its World Conference in 1993.