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History of Memons

HISTORY OF MEMONS BELONGING TO

KOLSA MOHALLA RANAVAV AND HALAI MEMON JAMAT

The name of the Jamat "Kolsa Mohalla (Ranavav) Halai Memon Jamat shows that the Jamat was established by the Memon migrants from Ranavav & Halar region. The Memons from Ranavav migrated to Mumbai in the beginning of the 19th century. This records can be collected from the Parsi News Pamphlets of 1818, Jani Bombai (Soul of Bombay) Gazetteers of Bombay 1899 other Gazetteers and collection of history of Memons by Late Alimohammed Naaz, also the book titled 'The Memons' by Mihir Bose. The old records of Jamat, especially a marriage register from 1905 onwards, and narrations from older people and old Trust of Memons and records from Jama Masjid Trust are also sources of getting information regarding history of Kolsa Mohalla Halai Memon Jamat.

Origin of the Memons from Ranavav, Porbunder and Halar
Memon researchers and historians and even Memons believes that Memons are convert and most of them converted around fifteenth century. In the Gazetteer of Bombay published in 1880, James Campbell states in volume V that 700 families of Lohana community embraced Islam at the hands of Pir Yusufuddin, the sixth descendent of the Saint of Saints Abdul Qadir Muhiyaddin Jilani of Baghdad in 838 AH (1421 AD) at Nagar Thatta in Sindh. The Pir Saheb called his newly converts 'Momins' which changed into 'Memons' with the passage of time. The Gazetteer of Bombay published in 1899 states "The Memons (i.e. Muamins or Believers) are converts to Islam from Lohana and Cutch Bania castes". Most of the Memon researcher believes the story of John Campbell. According to another English writer Richard Burton, Memons were converted in Sindh at the hands of Pir Rashid. Late Alimohammed Naaz also made a research on the origin of Memons and he considered the story of James Campbell as fiction and fabricated.

According to him in the ancient Sindh there was a caste called Meman or Maiman. He further confirmed that the Memons were converted from the Lohana community. There are different views on the subject. One writer Karim Baksh Khalid came up with the theory that Arabs of Qatif near Taif, who were weavers came along with Mohammed bin Qasim to Sindh. They belong to the tribe of Banu Tamim and constituted the right wing of his army which means Maymanah in Arabic. This word of Maymanah changed to Memons with the passage of time. If this theory is accepted then the Memons are original Arab. There is one constant theme in all theories relating to Memons is that the Memons ancestors were converted, some says nearer to the advent of Islam, some suggesting that they actually belong to greater Arab community from which the Prophet (SAW.S) and his followers sprang. The views of majority of writers on conversion of Memons is otherwise and this is very well summed up by Mihir Bose the writer of 'The Memons' who states "Memons did convert around fifteenth century. Some were probably converted in Thatta, others elsewhere, some by one Pir, others by another Pir, like the rest of Muslims of Indians subcontinent in diverse ways, Memons became Muslims. Thus it is confirmed that all Memons were converts. Memons hailing from Sindh were called Sindhi Memons, those from Cutch were called Cutchi Memons and those from Kathiwar and Halar were called Halai Memons.

Even Surti Memons came into existence when Memons from these regions migrated to Surat in 16th Century. The Memons of Ranavav and Porbunder were from Kathiawar region and the Memons from Halar followed them and are Halai Memons also converted during that time.

Reasons of Migration to Bombay in 18th Century
The shifting of East India Company's head quarters from Surat to Bombay in 1687 led to the eclipse of Surat as principle trading centre. In 1715, Charles Boone became the Governor of Bombay and he implemented Gen. Aungier Plan of fortification of the Island. In 1717 the Fort was built on the island. Thenafter in 1735 shipping industry  was started and the master ship builder Lowjee Nusserbanji was induced to move from Surat to Bombay where he built the first docks and took the name of Wadia. By the middle of this century migration of the people from Gujarat to Bombay started and the traders and Weavers were first to migrate followed by others and few Memons were among them. In the year 1780 the population of Bombay was 13,726. The British history of India speaks that the storm of 1782 and the famine of 1790 in Gujarat compelled the people of Gujarat to migrate to Bombay for their livelihood.

At that time Hornby Vellard (1784) at Breach Candy was the first major engineering project which transformed the seven islands of Bombay into one land mass by WilIiam Hornby the then Governor of Bombay against the wishes of the Directors of the East India Company. The purpose of this Vellard was to block the Worli Creek and prevent low line areas of Bombay from being flooded at high tide. It joined main island of Bombay to Worli. Thenafter, BelIasis Road was built by General George Bellasis in 1793 at his private expenses as a famine relief effort for the people of Gujarat. This causeway was instrumental in shaping the city. The Bellasis Road extending from Malabar Hill to Mazagaon opened up residential houses to its south leading to the development of Byculla, Kamathipura and Tardeo.

In 1794 the Bombay population count was made as the Civil Administration was put in the place by the President of East India Company. It was found that there were 1000 houses inside the fort walls and 6500 houses outside it. The Fort had three main walls. One was Apollo Gate near the present day location of St Andrews Church. The most well known was Church Gate named after St Thomas Church standing almost exactly on the spot now that the Flora Fountain occupies. The third was Bazaar Gate opposite the present dome of the General Post Office. Then there was Fort George built on the site of Dongri Fort (1769) and the Mazagaon Dock (1770). At that time Byculla was the distant suburb.

The Muslims made their presence felt in the scares and rising population of Bombay at that time which comprised of Koknis, Mughals, Arabs, Pathans and Shaikhs. There were two famous Muslim shrines of Makhdoom Mahimi (14th century) and Haji Ali (15th century). The Kokni Muslim had well established themselves in the Bombay. Their presence in the city is since 14th Century and is historically placed on the records. Shaikh Makhdum Fakih Mahimi also known as Ali Paru (1372 - 1431) a Sufi saint and a Kokni Muslim of that time and his Dargah is the proof of their presence. Many Koknis moved from Mahim to the Fort area and were one of the richest and influential community of the Bombay in 18th and 19th Century. Shipping was there main occupation and they owned several vessels. Their presence in the city was also near Jumma Masjid (first built in 1770 and expanded and reconstructed as standing today in 1805 and 1814), Dongri, Khadak and Pawdhonie. The Memon migrants from Gujarat selected these areas for their settlement because of mosques and the people of their religion and some earlier migrants from their region. Thus the last two decade of 18th century saw the migration of some Memons to Bombay and the main reason for this was famine and search of livelihood.

Migration in first half of 19th century
The 1899 edition of Bombay Gazetteer volume I describes "Though famine was instrumental in temporarily augmenting the population of Bombay between 1800 and 1814 (Sir James Mackintosh stated in 1804 that the monthly average of famine refugees relieved by Bombay Government was 9125) "a considerable concourse of merchant arrived at this period and took up the permanent residence in the island.

Among them were the Dasa Jains from Cutch, many Parsis and several Mohammedans notably the Memons". The British history of India speaks of the worst famine in beginning of 19th Century. This famine of 1813 devasted the entire region of Gujarat and the people of North Gujrat and especially from Kathiawar, Halar & Bhavnagar were worst sufferers. The Memons from these regions migrated to different port of Gujarat especially to Ahmedabad, Surat & Bombay.

The Gazetteer of Bombay 1899 City and Island on page 160 has referred to a Parsi Pamphlet Jani Bombay (Soul of Bombay) of 1818 showing the presence of Memons in Bombay as Fuel Sellers or Charcoal Traders and the Khojas as the hawkers of rice. The Memons had begun to make an impression on the city that was to become the India’s greatest Metropolis. It should be noted here that the presence of Memons mentioned as fuel sellers were no other than the Memons of Ranavav and Porbunder and they settled at Pawdhonie at that time. In the initial stage one or two male members of a family migrated followed by few families and their success in finding suitable livelihood for them led to further migration.

The migration of Memons to Bombay increased after a severe famine followed in 1839 in Kathiawar, which forced thousands of people to migrate to Bombay and the Memons always looking for the trade also followed, and among them were also the Memons of Ranavav and Porbunder. During that time Mohammed Ali Roghay who was one of the wealthiest man of Bombay and owning acres of land on the island was having one of his residence at Nakhuda House near Pawdhonie. He helped many people from Gujarat who were affected by the famine to settle in Bombay. The Memons of Ranavav were also helped by him to settle near his Nakhuda House and Pawdhonie, the part of which later on became Kolsa Mohalla.

The same Gazetteer of Bombay of 1899 also read "When Memons first commenced to do business at Bombay at the opening of 19th Century they appeared to have open Tailoring Establishment at Lohar Chawl, which was known as thieves bazaar (Chor Bazaar) but their status steadily progress as Bombay advanced in material prosperity." The Memons who settled near Lohar Chawl and Jumma Masjid hailed mainly from Kutiyana and some from Bantva. The Memons from Kutiyana also settled near Khadak between Dongri and Pawdhonie area.

Thus the first half of the 19th century saw the migration of Memons to Bombay due to severe famines of 1813 and 1839, the decay of Mughal power in Delhi, the Mughal-Maratha rivalries and also the instability in Gujarat draw artisans and merchants to the island for the refugee and Bombay began to grow and the Memons also grew with it and saw the Bombay being joined or connected with Salsette by a cause way in Sion in 1803, thenafter the island of Colaba joined to Bombay in 1838 by a cause way now called Colaba cause way and the cause way connecting Mahim and Bandra in 1835. The centre of growing Fort city at that time was Apollo, St. Thomas, Bazaar Gate, the Town Hall (1833) and the Elphinston Circle (which later on became Horniman Circle). Hornby Road was the Main during those days. Outside the Fort, the main areas of the settlements were on the islands of Mahim, Worli, Mazgaon and Colaba. The other points were Mahalaxmi, Tardeo, Walkeshwar and Banganga. Outside the Fort, Camp Maidan (Azad Maidan), Jumma Masjid, Lohar Chawl, Pawdhonie, Nakhuda House, Memonwada, Old Kazi Mohalla, Dongri, J.J. Bellasis Road, Kamathipura and Byculla were other main areas which had Muslims settlements alongwith Memons.

On the other side Khetwadi, Dhobi Talao, Thakurdwar, Grant Road, Charni (Grazing area), Marine Street were other areas of settlements. At that time the Governor of Bombay was Robert Grant (1779-1838) and he was responsible for construction of number of roads between the Bombay and the hinter land. The Grant Medical College was built, attached to Sir Jamshedjee Jeejibhoy (J. J.) Group of Hospitals thus this J. J. area was developed at that time. This area also had one Nakhuda House of Late Mohammed Ali Roghay I, who was fast friend and business part of Jamshedjee Jeejibhoy. This area was having Muslims settlements and all this developments induced those settled Memons to call their families and relatives to this dream island.

Migration in second half of 19th Century
The Mutiny of 1857 and the complete downfall of the Mughal Empire and the instability in Gujarat made the Memons to follow their brethren who migrated before them. The areas selected this time increased and the Memons migrated to the far extent till South Africa. Memons always moved from their native place to a flourishing city of that time in search of trade & livelihood. As history speaks itself, while migrating preferred to migrate to a port city and that too a flourishing port city. It was due to this Memons spread to Surat, Bombay, Malabar Coast, Madras, Calcutta, Burma, Siam, Singapore, Jawa, and ports of Arabian Peninsula (except Muscut) and South Africa from second half of 18th Century. The Memon History speaks that the first Memon to land in South Africa was in 1843 and the Memons from Porbunder and Ranavav were the first to migrate there. Aboobakar Ahmed was the person to set a shop in 1875 in Durban and by 1890 he had fifteen branches all over Durban in the name of 'Dada Abdullah & Co.' It was Abdullah Seth of Porbunder who called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) also of orbunder to fight his case of claim in the court of Durban, and it was from South Africa only that the political life of Gandhiji started and that too in association with Memons who were migrants from Porbunder. It was here that Gandhiji formulated and tested his unique concept of satyagrah which finally sweep British out of Sub Continents. It is notable that it was the house of Dada Abdullah, a Memon from Porbunder, where Natal Indian Congress was found in 1894 and Abdullah Haji Adam was elected founder President and Gandhiji, the General Secretary and six Memons were on the Founder Committee. Gandhiji's campaign in South Africa lasted for 20 years and later on he returned to India and carried on the struggle of freedom which was definitely initiated and encouraged by the Memons and that too from Porbunder.

In 1858 following the first war of independence (the British called it the "Sepoy Mutiny") of 1857 the East India Company was accused of mismanagement and it was dissolved and the administration of India became the responsibility of the British Crown. In 1862 Sir Baartle Frere was appointed the Governor of Bombay.

In 1862 the town has spread over the lands reclaimed through the construction of the cause ways and it was from this day the people saw the rise of Bombay.

Already on 16th April, 1853 a 21 mile long railway line, between Bombay's Victoria Terminus and Thana was opened, and the Works of the Vihar Water Works commenced in January, 1856 and was completed in 1860 during governorship of John Lord Elphinstone. In 1857 the University of Bombay was built and before that Elphinstone High School Institution (1840), Jamshedjee Jeejibhoy Education Institution (1840), and later on Elphinstone College were the Educational Institutions established at that time. In 1864 Flora Fountain was erected and the Victoria Gardens were also built. The Municipal Markets were built in the city for the convenience of the people. The Crawford Market was the first market of the city built and donated by Cawasji Jehangir. This market was named by him after Mr. Arthur Crawford the first municipal commissioner of Bombay. In the following decades municipal markets in other areas were also opened and Null Bazaar was also one of them. Between 1872 and 1879 Tulsi Lake was constructed by damming and redirecting the river Tansa and the Powai Lake was completed in 1889 and Tansa reservoir in 1892 and the water supply was started for the benefit of the people of the city. In between these years Kala Ghoda was installed at Rampart Raw in 1870, Rajabhai Tower was built in 1878 and Victoria Terminus was opened for public on the New Year’s Day in 1882. In 1887 India's first engine puffed out to neighbouring Thane to Bombay and the Princess Docks was built in 1885 and the Municipal Corporation Building in 1893. All these constructions and developments made the Bombay more flourishing port and the people were attracted towards it. The significance of city of Bombay as a port was growing fast because of decline of Surat as a main trading port, the defeat of Marathas by British, the opening of Suez Canal and the selection of Bombay as Central port city of western India by British for the development of their world trades made the people of these region move to Bombay and the Memons also followed this and started migrating to Bombay. It is notable that the Memons of Ranavav and Porbunder were among the first Memons to migrate to Bombay as mentioned earlier. With the development of Bombay their number also increased as it was easy to find suitable trade and livelihood in developing city, where they joined their brethren from their native place and also went for the same trade and later on they all formed a Jamat in second half of the 19th Century and this was named by them as Kolsa Mohalla Ranavav and Halar Memon Jamat.

The presence of Memons in those years is again reported in the Gazetteer of Bombay of 1899 which reads" at present date the Memons indulge in every class of trade from shop keeping, brokering and peddling to furniture dealing and timber dealing and includes some of the richest individuals in Bombay native society". In the Gazetteer there is also a reference of Urdu Booklet "Nuzhatul Akbar" published in 1873 by Sayyed Amirudin Nuzhat in which he has narrated his story of wandering about the streets of Bombay searching for livelihood and notices various Muslim castes, Koknis, Memons, Kutchis, Khojas, Bohras and Mughals.

Among them he finds Memons as wealthy, spread out in Bombay and also flourishing. In this Gazetteers it is further mentioned that "the fruiters of Bombay are mostly Marathas from Deccan but comprises of few Banias from Cutch and few Memons, Khojas and Parsees, while vegetable traders also includes Kharvas of Veraval, Mangrol and Porbunder and Memons". Another Memon business was that of Lime Kilns and the Memons has established virtual monopoly in this field led by one, Haji Mohammed Usman. "The first lime burner (Chunawala) in Bombay accordingly to the local report was Haji Mohammed Usman who built a Kiln at Powder Works Bunder in 1874 and in the year 1901 census the Lime Kiln in Bombay were numbered at 109 and the sellers of these articles were 311 and chief dealers in lime were Memons. From the above reports of Gazetteers and other sources, it is definite that Kolsawalas, Fruitwalas, (few) Bakalis among Memons were from Kolsa Mohalla in the beginning of 18th century and were migrants from Ranavav and Porbunder. The other Memons mentioned above in the Gazetteers during these periods were from Kutiyana and trading at Lohar Chawl and Jama Masjid and residing at Rangari Mohalla, definitely belonged to Market Halai Memon Jamat. One more fact can be mentioned here is that during this period other Memons from Kutiyana selected Memon Mohalla as their residential area and opted for Timber Trade and the migrants from Bhavnagar selected Kazi Mohalla and Bhavnagari Mohalla as their residential area and ware oil shop-keepers and trading in hawking of cloths from door to door. In the last two decade of the century there was rising of the famous Memon families Begmohammeds, Mithas, Chhotanis, Allanas, Agboatwalas, Saudagars, Kolsawalas; Patels, Chunawalas and others in Bombay. The Memons migrating from the same region or a same native place settled at one selected area or mohalla of the city and even started the same trade also. This proves that the Memons always at any time aimed at living in groups or society or with their relatives and natives so as to be socially attached and secured. As the time went on their families, relatives, friends & neighbors from their native town joined them and this principle was also followed by the Memons of Ranavav, Porbunder and Halar.

Establishment of Jamat.
Things did begin to change in 1880’s as Christine Dobbin noted in her book “Urban Leadership in western India Politics and Communities in Bombay City 1840 - 1885 (OUP, 1972). In it she commented" A large number of Muslim Organisations most of them religious were founded in early eighties and the community such as the Memons, whose position was doubtful in the eyes of Islamic Orthodoxy hasten to declare its eagerness to obey the Quranic injunctions in the place of Hindu customary laws". Considering her comments and after collecting the information from all the above sources we can conclude and come closer to a decade of 1860's as the establishment year of Kolsa Mohalla Ranavav and Halar Memon Jamat because the Jamatkhana which was built in 1885 might have taken years of existence of Jamat or Groups in those days, as it would have required years to go into big project of Jamatkhana. The opening of Madressa Anjumane Ikhwat-ul-islam at Kasaiwada (Kolsa Mohalla) in 1895 is also a proof of existence of Jamat at that time.

During the last quarter of the 19th century large number of families started residing in the Kolsa Mohalla, Pawdhonie area and were having a sense of organizing aspect and going for the construction of Jamatkhana and Madrasa leading to a Gujarati and Urdu medium school. The end of 19th century saw the uprising of the Memons of the Kolsa Mohalla Ranavav Halai Memon Jamat at Kolsa Mohalla, Pawdhonie, Nakhuda Mohalla, Chunabhatti, Phoolgalli and Jamli Mohalla. The famous families residing at that time were the family of Abu Sumar Patel who was the first president of Jamat, the families of Ismail Beg Mohammeds, Haji Cassim Mithas, Ebrahim Patels, Moosa Khamisa Ghatkais, Peer Mohammed Purwalas, Ismail Dallas, Ebrahim Moosa Kolsawalas, Abdullah Pradhan, Suleman Noormohammed Adtiyanawala, Ebrahim Moosa Kolsawala, Haji Jusab Chunawala, the well known Haji Mohammed Usman Chunawala, Haji Abdul Rehman Bakhla, Dada Habib, Abbajumma Habib, Usman Habib, Jamal Habib, all sons of well known Habib family (Habibani), were the well known at that time.

The 20th century also saw the progress of the Memons from Ranavav and Porbunder. The members of Jamat spread to the different areas and also opted for different trades. The Gazetteers also speaks that the Memons who were fuel sellers (Charcoal) traders were classified as among city capitalist at the end of 19th Century and were becoming much prominent in trade. The Gazetteer estimated that" The Chief Musalman tribes returned at census of 1902 were Arabs (6000), Khojas (11000), Memons (17500), Pathans (7500) and Shaikhs (89500). It is notable that the Memons are doubled the Pathans but smaller community than Shaikhs. The Gazetteer also puts, "The Capitalist of Bombay belongs to various classes, Bhatia, Jain, Marwari, Khoja, Memons, Bohras, Parsees and Jews. The Bohras and the Memons are the Landlords, Contractors, Stationery Merchants and General Traders. The population of Bombay which was 6,44,405 in 1872 jumped to 9,77,822 by 1906 in 34 years.

The above History of Migration of Memons to Bombay in 18th and 19th Century shows that the Memons were compelled to migrate from their native place due to famine, the downfall of Mughal Empire, the Mughal-Maratha rivalries, the defeat of Marathas by British, the instability in Gujarat, the importance given to the development of Bombay by the British and above all their search for livelihood and trade. The Memons during this centuries selected ports for their migration and wherever they migrated they settled, progressed and made their name. Memons are definitely one of the pioneers of Bombay. In the following century Memons made their names and also made their presence felt in the fast growing city of India  which was to become India’s greatest Metropolis. The Memons of Kolsa Mohalla Ranavav and Halar Memon Jamat who were definitely among the first migrants to this dream city also made their name in the community and progressed with the fast developing Bombay.