Muhajir people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Total population
approx. 30 million (2004 estimate)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Karachi, Hyderabad and in many other large cities in Pakistan
Urdu and many other languages of India
Islam (mostly Sunni, minority Shia)

The Muhajir people (also spelled Mahajir and Mohajir) (Urdu: مہاجر‎, Arabic: مهاجر‎) are Muslim immigrants, of multi-ethnic origin, and their descendants, who migrated from various regions of India after the Partition of India to settle in the newly independent state of Pakistan.[2][3][4][5][6] Although many of them speak different languages at the native level, they are primarily identified as native Urdu speakers and hence are called Urdu-speaking people. The term Muhajirs generally refers to those Muslim migrants from India who settled in urban Sindh.[7]


The Urdu term muhājir (Urdu: مہاجر‎) comes from the Arabic muhājir (Arabic: مهاجر‎), meaning an "immigrant",[8][9][10] and the term is associated in early Islamic history to the migration of Muslims. After the independence of Pakistan, a significant number of Muslims emigrated or were out-migrated from territory that remained India. In the aftermath of partition, a huge population exchange occurred between the two newly formed states. In the riots which preceded the partition in the Punjab region, between 200,000 and 2 000,000 people were killed in the retributive genocide.[11][12] UNHCR estimates 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced during the partition; it was the largest mass migration in human history.[13][14][15]

Most of those migrants who settled in the Punjab province of Pakistan came from the neighbouring Indian regions of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi while others were from Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and the United Provinces.

Migrants who moved to the Sindh province of Pakistan came from what then were the British Indian provinces of Bombay, Central Provinces, Berar, and the United Provinces, as well as the princely states of Hyderabad, Baroda, Kutch and the Rajputana Agency. Most of these migrants settled in the towns and cities of Sindh, such as Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas.

Many spoke Urdu, or dialects of the language such as Dakhani, Khariboli, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Mewati, Sadri and Marwari and Haryanvi and became commonly known as Muhajirs. Over a period of a few decades, these disparate groups sharing the common experience of migration, and political opposition to the military regime of Ayub Khan and his civilian successor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto evolved or assimilated into a distinct ethnic grouping.[16]

Origin and conversion theories

Considerable controversy exists both in scholarly and public opinion as to how conversion to Islam came about in the Indian subcontinent, typically represented by the following schools of thought:[17]

  1. Conversion came from Buddhists and the masses of conversions of lower caste Hindus as they were the vulnerable and enticed by uniformity under Islam. (See Indian caste structures).[18]
  2. Conversion was a combination, initially by violence, threat or other pressure against the person followed by a genuine change of heart.[17]
  3. As a socio-cultural process of diffusion and integration over an extended period of time into the sphere of the dominant Muslim civilization and global polity at large.[18]
  4. That conversions occurred for non-religious reasons of pragmatism and patronage such as social mobility among the Muslim ruling elite.[17][18]

Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire

Muslims from Northern India in areas that are now the states of Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were of heterogeneous origin. The Hindustani-speaking Muslim people of Pakistan and India have diverse roots.[citation needed] During the era of Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire, large parts of the Indian Subcontinent came under the direct or indirect rule of Muslim dynasties of the foreign Turkic origin from Central Asia. This era saw conversion of part of native lower caste Hindu population(See Indian caste structures) to Islam.[17] Conversion was a combination of various factors such as violence, threat or other pressure by the foreign, Muslim ruling class on the natives, followed by a genuine change of heart.[17] Conversions also happened as a socio-cultural process of diffusion and integration over an extended period of time into the sphere of then dominant Muslim civilization and global polity at large.[18] and for non-religious reasons of pragmatism and patronage such as social mobility among the Muslim ruling elite.[17][18]

In addition to conversions, a population of Muslim refugees, nobles, technocrats, bureaucrats, soldiers, traders, scientists, architects, artisans, teachers, poets, artists, theologians and Sufis from the rest of the Muslim world migrated and settled in the area. At the court of Sultan Iltemish in Delhi, the first wave of these Muslim refugees, escaping from the Mongol invasion of Central Asia by the hordes of Genghis Khan, brought individuals to the subcontinent from the aforementioned region.[citation needed] Mughal Emperor Babur defeated the Lodi dynasty with Tajik, Turkic and Uzbek soldiers and nobility.

Mughal Empire at its peak in 1699.

The Rohilla leader Daud Khan was awarded the Katehar (later called Rohilkhand) region in the then northern India by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (ruled 1658–1707) to suppress the Hindu Rajputs, who were earlier allied with the Mughals. Originally, some 20,000 soldiers from various Afghan Pashtun tribes were hired by Mughals to provide soldiers to the Mughal armies. Their performance was appreciated by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, and an additional force of 25,000 Pashtuns were recruited from Afghanistan, Many of these Afghan Pashtuns settled in northern India and also brought their families from Afghanistan.[citation needed] Due to the large settlement of Rohilla Afghans, the Katehar region gained fame as Rohilkhand.[citation needed] Bareilly was made the capital of the Rohilkhand state and it became Afghan majority city with Gali Nawaban as the main royal street. Other important cities were Moradabad, Rampur, Shahjahanpur, Badaun, and others.[19][20] These diverse ethnic, cultural and linguistic Muslim groups of foreign and native origin, merged over the centuries to the form the Urdu-speaking Muslim population.[citation needed]

The Kayastha community had historically been involved in the occupations of land record keeping and accounting. Many Hindu Kayasthas found favour with the Mughal elite for whom they acted as Qanungos. This close association led to the conversion of some members of the Kayastha community to Islam. The Muslim Kayasths speak local dialects, in addition to the Urdu language[21] while they also speak Sindhi in Pakistan. The Kayastha converts, incidentally uses Siddiqui, Shaikh, Usmani and Farooqi as their surnames, and claim themselves as belonging to the Shaikh community.[22]

Decline of Mughal rule

The Maratha Empire stretched from the Deccan into present Pakistan

The Maratha Empire (1674–1818) ruled large parts of India following the decline of the Mughals. Mountstart Elphinstone termed this a demoralizing period for the Muslims, as many of them lost the will to fight against the Maratha Empire.[23][24][25] The Maratha empire at its peak stretched from Tamil Nadu in the south to the Afghan border in the north.[26][27][28] In early 1771, Mahadji, a notable Maratha general, recaptured Delhi and installed Shah Alam II as the puppet ruler on the Mughal throne. In north India, the Marathas thus regained the territory and the prestige lost as result of the defeat at the Panipat in 1761.[29] Mahadji ruled the Punjab, as it used to be a Mughal territory, and Sikh sardars and other rajas of the cis-Sutlej region paid tributes to him.[30] A considerable portion of the Indian subcontinent came under the sway of the British Empire after the Third Anglo-Maratha War, which ended the Maratha Empire in 1818.

Sikh Empire, established by Ranjit Singh in North-west India.

In northwest India, in the Punjab, Sikhs developed themselves into a powerful force under the authority of twelve Misls. By 1801, Ranjit Singh captured Lahore and ended Afghan rule in North West India.[31] In Afghanistan, Zaman Shah Durrani was defeated by powerful Barakzai chief Fateh Khan, who appointed Mahmud Shah Durrani as the new ruler of Afghanistan and appointed himself as Wazir of Afghanistan.[32] The Sikhs, however, were now stronger than the Afghans and started to annex Afghan provinces. The biggest victory of the Sikh Empire over the Durrani Empire came in the Battle of Attock, fought in 1813 between the Sikhs and the Wazir of Afghanistan Fateh Khan and his younger brother Dost Mohammad Khan. The Afghans were routed by the Sikh army and the Afghans lost over 9,000 soldiers in this battle. Dost Mohammad was seriously injured, whereas his brother Wazir Fateh Khan fled back to Kabul fearing that his brother was dead.[33] In 1818 they[who?] slaughtered Afghans and Muslims in the trading city of Multan, killing Afghan governor Nawab Muzzafar Khan and five of his sons in the Siege of Multan.[34] In 1819 the last Indian Province of Kashmir was conquered by Sikhs who registered another victory over weak Afghan General Jabbar Khan.[35] The Koh-i-Noor diamond was also taken by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1814. In 1823, a Sikh Army routed Dost Mohammad Khan, the Sultan of Afghanistan, and his brother Azim Khan at Naushera (near Peshawar). By 1834, the Sikh Empire extended up to the Khyber Pass. Hari Singh Nalwa, a Sikh general, remained the governor of Khyber Agency till his death in 1837. He consolidated Sikh control in tribal provinces. The northernmost Indian territories of Gilgit, Baltistan and Ladakh was annexed between 1831–1840.[36]

British Rule

Prior to 1857, British territories were controlled by the East India Company.The company maintained the fiction of running the territories on behalf of the Mughal empire.The crushing defeat of Mutineers in 1857 -1858 led to the abolition of the Mughal empire and the British government taking direct control of the Indian territories[37]. In the immediate aftermath of the rebellion, upper-class Muslim were targeted by the British, as some of the leadership for the war came from this community based in areas around Delhi and what is now Uttar Pradesh; thousands of them and their families were shot, hanged or blown by canon.Per Mirza Ghalib, even women were not spared because the rebel soldiers disguised themselves as women[38].

The Pakistan movement, to constitute a separate state comprising the Muslim-majority provinces, was pioneered by the Muslim elite and many notables of the Aligarh Movement. It was initiated in the 19th century when Sir Syed Ahmed Khan expounded the cause of Muslim autonomy in Aligarh. Many Muslim nobles such as nawabs (aristocrats and landed gentry) supported the idea. As the idea spread, it gained great support amongst the Muslim population and in particular the rising middle and upper classes.

The Muslims launched the movement under the banner of the All India Muslim League and Delhi was its main centre. The headquarters of All India Muslim League (the founding party of Pakistan) was based there since its creation in 1906 in Dhaka (present day Bangladesh). The Muslim League won 90 percent of reserved Muslim seats in the 1946 elections and its demand for the creation of Pakistan received overwhelming popular support among Indian Muslims, especially in those provinces of British India such as U.P. where Muslims were a minority.[39][40][41]


Prior to the partition, the majority of urban Sindh's population was Hindu[42] but after the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the majority of Sindh's Hindus migrated to India,[43] although a substantial number of Hindus did remain in Sindh.[44] 1.1 million Muslims from Uttar Pradesh, Bombay Presidency, Delhi and Rajasthan settled in their place; half in Karachi and the rest across Sindh's other cities.[43][7] By the 1951 census, the migrants constituted 57 percent of the population of Karachi, 65 percent in Hyderabad and 55 percent in Sukkur. As Karachi was the capital of the new nation, educated urban migrants from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bombay, Bihar and Hyderabad Deccan preferred it as their site of settlement for better access to employment opportunities. The migrants were compensated for their properties lost in India by being granted the evacuee property left behind by the departing Hindus.[45] A sizable community of Malayali Muslims (the Mappila), originally from Kerala in South India, also settled in Karachi.[46]

Many Muslim families from India continued migrating to Pakistan throughout the 1950s and even early 1960s. Research has found that there were three predominant stages of Muslim migration from India to West Pakistan. The first stage lasted from August–November 1947. In this stage of migration the Musim immigrants originated from East Punjab, Delhi, the four adjacent districts of U.P. and the princely states of Alwar and Bharatpur which are now part of the present day Indian state of Rajasthan.[47] The violence affecting these areas during partition precipitated an exodus of Muslims from these areas to Pakistan.[47]

Punjabi Muslims from East Punjab crossed to West Punjab and settled in a culturally and linguistically similar environment.[43] But the migration to Sindh was of a different nature to that in Punjab as the migrants to Sindh were ethnically heterogenous and were linguistically different to the locals. The migrants were also more educated than the native, and predominantly rural,[48] Sindhi Muslims who had been less educated and less prosperous than the former Sindhi Hindu residents. The migrants, who were urban, also tended to regard the local Sindhis as backwards and subservient to landowners.[45]

The second stage (December 1947-December 1971) of the migration was from areas in present-day Indian states of U.P., Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The main destination of these migrants was Karachi and the other urban centers of Sindh.[47]

In 1959 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) published a report stating that between the period of 1951-1956, a number of 650,000 Muslims from India relocated to West Pakistan.[47] However, Visaria (1969) raised doubts about the authenticity of the claims about Indian Muslim migration to Pakistan, since the 1961 Census of Pakistan did not corroborate these figures. However, the 1961 Census of Pakistan did incorporate a statement suggesting that there had been a migration of 800,000 people from India to Pakistan throughout the previous decade.[49] Of those who had left for Pakistan, most never came back. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru conveyed distress about the continued migration of Indian Muslims to West Pakistan:[47]

There has...since 1950 been a movement of some Muslims from India to Western Pakistan through the Jodhpur-Sindh via Khokhropar. Normally, traffic between India and West Pakistan was controlled by the permit system. But these Muslims going via Khokhropar went without permits to West Pakistan. From January 1952 to the end of September, 53,209 Muslim emigrants went via Khokhropar....Most of these probably came from the U.P. In October 1952, up to the 14th, 6,808 went by this route. After that Pakistan became much stricter on allowing entry on the introduction of the passport system. From the 15th of October to the end of October, 1,247 went by this route. From the 1st November, 1,203 went via Khokhropar.[47]

Indian Muslim migration to West Pakistan continued unabated despite the cessation of the permit system between the two countries and the introduction of the passport system between the two countries. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once again expressed concern at the continued migration of Indian Muslims to West Pakistan in a communication to one of his chief ministers (dated 1, December 1953):

A fair number of Muslims cross over to Pakistan from India, via Rajasthan and Sindh daily. Why do these Muslims cross over to Pakistan at the rate of three to four thousand a month? This is worth enquiring into, because it is not to our credit that this should be so. Mostly they come from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan or Delhi. It is evident that they do not go there unless there is some fear or pressure on them. Some may go in the hope of employment there. But most of them appear to feel that there is no great future for them in India. I have already drawn your attention to difficulties in the way of Government service. Another reason, I think, is the fear of Evacuee Property Laws [EPL]. I have always considered these laws both in India and Pakistan as most iniquitous. In trying to punish a few guilty persons, we punish or injure large numbers of perfectly innocent people...the pressure of the Evacuee Property Laws applies to almost all Muslims in certain areas of India. They cannot easily dispose of their property or carry on trade for fear that the long arm of this law might hold them down in its grip. It is this continuing fear that comes in the way of normal functioning and normal business and exercises a powerful pressure on large numbers of Muslims in India, especially in the North and the West.[47]

In 1952 the passport system was introduced for travel purposes between the two countries. This made it possible for Indian Muslims to legally move to Pakistan. Pakistan still required educated and skill workers to absorb into its economy at the time, due to relatively low levels of education in the regions which became part of Pakistan. As late as December 1971, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi was authorized to issue documents to educationally qualified Indians to migrate to Pakistan.[47] The legal route was taken by unemployed but educated Indian Muslims seeking better fortunes, however poorer Muslims from India continued to go illegally via the Rajasthan-Sindh border until the 1965 India-Pakistan war when that route was shut. After the conclusion of the 1965 war, most Muslims who wanted to go to Pakistan had to go there via the India-East Pakistani border. Once reaching Dhaka, most made their way to the final destination-Karachi. However, not all managed to reach West Pakistan from East Pakistan.[47]

The third stage which lasted between 1973 and the 1990s was when migration levels of Indian Muslims to Pakistan was reduced to its lowest levels since 1947.[47]

Indian Muslim migration to Pakistan declined drastically in the 1970s, a trend noticed by the Pakistani authorities. On June 1995, Pakistan's interior minister, Naseerullah Babar, informed the National Assembly that between the period of 1973-1994, as many as 800,000 visitors came from India on valid travel documents. Of these only 3,393 stayed back.[47] In a related trend, intermarriages between Indian and Pakistani Muslims have declined sharply. According to a November 1995 statement of Riaz Khokhar, the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi, the number of cross-border marriages has declined from 40,000 a year in the 1950s and 1960s to barely 300 annually.[47]

A large number of Urdu-speaking Muslims from Bihar went to East Pakistan after independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. After the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Biharis maintained their loyalty to Pakistan and wanted to leave Bangladesh for Pakistan. The majority of these people still await repatriation, however, 178,00 have been repatriated.[50] In 2015, the Pakistani government stated that the remaining 'Stranded Pakistanis' are not its responsibility but rather the responsibility of Bangladesh.[51]

Upon arrival to West Pakistan, many refugees hastened to change their surnames, taking on the names Sayyid or Qureshi, for example, in order to lay claim to a more prestigious lineage. Others played on the proximity of the names Ansars (descendents of Medina, ashrafs) and Ansaris (caste of weavers, ajlafs). The partition brought about quite exceptional circumstances that facilitated the implementation of these strategies.[52]



Upon arrival in Pakistan, the Muhajirs did not assert themselves as a separate ethnic identity but were at the forefront of trying to construct an Islamic Pakistani identity.[53] Muhajirs dominated the bureaucracy of Sindh in the early years of the Pakistani state, largely due to their higher levels of educational attainment.[54] Prior to the partition, Hindus dominated the professions of lawyers, teachers and tradesmen in Sindh and the vacancies they left behind were filled up by the Muhajirs.[43]

Many Urdu-speaking people had higher education and civil service experience from working for the British Raj and Muslim princely states. Out of the 101 Muslims in India's civil service, 95 chose to leave India. A third of those civil servants were Punjabis but there were many Muhajirs among them too.[43] From 1947 to 1958, Urdu-speaking Muhajirs held more jobs in the Government of Pakistan than their proportion in the country's population (3.3%). In 1951, of the 95 senior civil services jobs, 33 were held by Urdu-speaking people and 40 by Punjabis. The Muhajirs also had a strong hold over the economy, 36 of the 42 largest private companies belonged to Muhajirs, mainly those from the Indian state of Gujarat.[43]

Gradually, as education became more widespread, Sindhis and Pashtuns, as well as other ethnic groups, started to take their fair share of the pool in the bureaucracy.[55] But even by the early 1960s, 34.5 percent of Pakistan's civil servants were those who had not been born in the territory comprising Pakistan in 1947, many of them were born in the United Provinces.[43]


On 27 October 1958, General Ayub Khan stage a coup and imposed martial law across Pakistan.[56] The percentage of Urdu-speaking people in the civil service declined while the percentage of Pashtuns in it increased. In the presidential election of 1965, the Muslim League split in two factions: the Muslim League (Fatima Jinnah) supported Fatima Jinnah, the younger sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, while the Convention Muslim League supported General Ayub Khan. The Urdu-speaking people had supported the Muslim League before the independence of Pakistan in 1947 and now supported the Muslim League of Fatima Jinnah. The electoral fraud of the 1965 presidential election and a post-election triumphal march by Gohar Ayub Khan, the son of General Ayub Khan, set off ethnic clashes between Pashtuns and Urdu-speaking people in Karachi on 4 January 1965.[57]

Four years later on 24 March 1969, President Ayub Khan directed a letter to General Yahya Khan, inviting him to deal with the tense political situation in Pakistan. On 26 March 1969, General Yahya appeared on national television and proclaimed martial law over the country. Yahya subsequently abrogated the 1962 Constitution, dissolved parliament, and dismissed President Ayub's civilian officials.[58]


The Pakistani general election, 1970 on 7 December 1970, Awami League won the elections. The Urdu-speaking people voted for the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. The Pakistan Peoples Party government nationalization the financial industry, educational institutions and industry. The nationalization of Pakistan's educational institutions, financial institutions and industry in 1972 by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan Peoples Party impacted the Muhajirs hardest as their educational institutions, commerce and industries were nationalized without any compensation.[59] Subsequently, the quota system was introduced and this limited their access to education and employment.

In 1972 language riots broke out between Sindhis and Urdu-speakers after the passage of the "Teaching, Promotion and use of Sindhi Language" bill in July 1972 by the Sindh Assembly; which declared Sindhi as the only official language of Sindh. Due to the clashes, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto compromised and announced that Urdu and Sindhi would both be official languages of Sindh. The making of Sindhi as an equal language to Urdu for official purposes frustrated the Urdu-speaking people as they did not speak the Sindhi language.[55]


In the 1977 Pakistani general election, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan joined in a coalition named the Pakistan National Alliance. The Urdu-speaking people voted mostly for the Pakistan National Alliance.[42] The electoral fraud by Pakistan Peoples Party caused protests across the country. On 5 July 1977, Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq led a coup d'état against Bhutto and imposed martial law.

Zain Noorani, a prominent member of the Memon community, was appointed as Minister of State for Foreign affairs with the status of a Federal Minister in 1985.

1988 to Present day

The Muhajirs (Urdu-speakers) of Pakistan were largely settled in the Sindh province, particularly in the province's capital, Karachi, where the Muhajirs were in a majority. As a result of their domination of major Sindhi cities, there had been tensions between Muhajirs and the native Sindhis. The Muhajirs, upon their arrival in Pakistan, soon joined the Punjabi-dominated ruling elite of the new-born country due to their high rates of education and urban background.[54] They possessed the required expertise for running Pakistan's nascent bureaucracy and economy.[citation needed] Although the Muhajirs were, socially, urbane and liberal they sided with the country's religious political parties such as Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP).[42]

The dichotomy between the Muhajirs’ social and political dispositions was a result of the sense of insecurity that the community felt in a country where the majority of its inhabitants were ‘natives.’ Lacking the historical and cultural roots of native Pakistani ethnicities, the Mohajirs backed the state's project of constructing a homogenous national identity that repulsed ethnic sentiment.[60] The Mohajirs also echoed the views of the religious parties that eschewed pluralism and ethnic identities and propagated a holistic national unity based on the commonality of the Islamic faith followed by the majority of Pakistanis. By the time of Pakistan's first military regime (Ayub Khan, 1958), the Muhajirs had already begun to lose their influence in the ruling elite.[42][60] With the Baloch, Bengali and Sindhi nationalists distancing themselves from the state's narratives of nationhood, Ayub (who hailed from what is now the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), slowly began to pull the Pakhtuns into the mainstream areas of the economy and politics. This caused the Muhajirs’ to agitate against the Ayub dictatorship from the early 1960s onwards.[57]

Muhajirs had decisively lost their place in the ruling elite, but they were still an economic force to reckon with (especially in urban Sindh). When a Sindhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became the country's head of state in December 1971, the Muhajirs feared that they would be further side-lined, this time by the economic and political resurgence of Sindhis under Bhutto. In response the Mohajirs enthusiastically participated in the 1977 right-wing movement against the Bhutto regime (which was largely led by the religious parties). The movement was particularly strong among Karachi's middle and lower-middle-classes (and aggressively backed by industrialists, traders and the shopkeepers).[55]

But the success of the PNA (Pakistan National Alliance) movement did not see the Muhajirs finding their way back into the ruling elite, even though the Jamaat-i-Islami became an important player in the first cabinet of General Zia regime that came to power through a military coup in July 1977. Disillusioned, some young Muhajir politicians came to the conclusion that their community had been exploited by religious parties, and that these parties had used the shoulders of the Muhajirs to climb into the corridors of power. This galvanised the formation of the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (in 1978) and then the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in 1984. Its founders, Altaf Hussain and Azeem Ahmed Tariq, decided to organise the Mohajir community into a cohesive ethnic whole.

For this, they found the need to break away from the community's tradition of being politically allied to the religious parties, and politicise the Muhajirs’ more liberal social dynamics and character. The Muhajir dichotomy between social liberalism and political conservatism was dissolved and replaced with a new identity-narrative concentrating on the formation of Muhajir ethnic nationalism that was socially and politically liberal but fiscally conservative and provincial in outlook.

The project was a success. The MQM successfully broke the electoral hold of the religious parties in Karachi and subsequently re-invented the Muhajirs of Sindh as a distinct ethnic group. By 1992, the MQM had become Sindh's second largest political party (second to the PPP). But as the city's economics and resources continued to come under stress due to the increasing migration to the city from within Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab, corruption in the police and other government institutions operating in Karachi grew two-fold.

The need to use power to tilt the political and economic facets of the city towards the Urdu-speaking community's interests became visible. Thus emerged the militant wings from the city's prominent political groups. These cleavages saw the MQM ghettoising large swaths of the city's Muhajirs in areas where it ruled supreme. This had an adverse impact. It replaced the pluralistic and enterprising disposition of the Muhajirs with a besieged mentality that expressed itself in an awkwardly violent manner attracting the concern and then the wrath of the state and two governments in the 1990s.

In 2002, the MQM began to re-invent itself after the crises of the preceding decade when it decided to end hostilities with the state by allying itself with the General Musharraf dictatorship (1999–2008). The party had already weaned away the Muhajir community from the concept of Pakistani nationhood propagated by the religious parties. Now it added two more dimensions to Muhajir nationalism. It began to explain the Muhajirs as ‘Urdu-speaking Sindhis’ who were connected to the Sindhi-speakers of the province in a spiritual bond emerging from the teachings of Sindh's ‘patron saint’, Shah Abdul Latif.

This was the MQM's way of resolving the Muhajirs’ early failures to fully integrate into Sindhi culture. The other dimension that emerged during this period among the Muhajir community (through the MQM), was to address the disposition of Muhajir identity in the (urban) Muhajir-majority areas of Sindh. This dimension explains Muhajir nationalism in the context of Pakistan's status of being a Muslim-majority state. It expresses Muhajir nationalism through a version of socio-political liberalism based on the modern reworking of 19th century ‘rational and progressive Islam’ (of the likes of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan). It sees spiritual growth as a consequence of material growth (derived from modern free enterprise, science, the arts and the consensual de-politicisation of faith).

Demographics and distribution within Pakistan

Census History of Urdu Speakers in Pakistan[61]
Year Population of Pakistan Percentage Urdu Speakers
1951 33,740,167 07.05% 2,378,681
1961 42,880,378 07.56% 3,246,044
1972 65,309,340 07.60% 4,963,509
1981 84,253,644 07.51% 6,369,575
1998 132,352,279 07.57% 9,939,656
Provinces of Pakistan by Urdu speakers (1998)
Rank Division Urdu speakers Percentage
Pakistan 9,939,656 07.57%
1 Sindh 6,407,596 21.05%
2 Punjab 3,320,320 04.07%
3 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 100,320 00.95%
4 Islamabad Capital Territory 81,409 10.11%
5 Balochistan 63,032 00.96%
6 Federally Administered Tribal Areas 5,717 00.18%

Muhajir diaspora

Many Muhajirs have emigrated from Pakistan and have settled permanently in Europe, North America and Australasia. There are also significant number of Muhajirs who are working in the Middle East, especially in the Persian Gulf countries:

Regions with significant populations of Urdu speakers

Culture and lifestyle

The rich heritage brought by migrants from the urban centres of India, such as Lucknow, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bombay, which had been seats of Islamic culture and learning for centuries, was to have a major influence on the cities of Pakistan, especially Karachi. The notable 20th-century Islamic scholar/author Muhammad Hamidullah was involved in formulating the first Constitution of Pakistan.


The phrase Zaban-e Urdu-e Mualla ("The language of the exalted") written in Nastaʿlīq script.

The original language of the Mughals had been a Turkic language. After their migration to the area, they came to adopt Persian and later Urdu. Urdu is an Indo-European language, and in the Indo-Aryan subdivision. The word Urdu is believed to be derived from the Turkish word 'Ordu', which means army (Hence Urdu is sometimes called "Lashkarī zabān", Persian for "the language of the army"). It was initially called Zaban-e-Ordu or language of the army and later just Urdu. The word 'Ordu' was later Anglicised as 'Horde'. Urdu was heavily influenced by Persian and Arabic and somewhat by Turkish; however, its grammatical structure is based on old Parakrit or Sanskrit. Urdu speakers have adopted this language as their mother tongue for several centuries.

Autograph and a couplet of Last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, dated 29 April 1844

Urdu has been the medium of the literature, history and journalism of Muslims in the area during the last 400 years. Most of the work was complemented by ancestors of native Urdu speakers in the region. The Persian language, which was the official language during and after the reign of the Mughals, was slowly starting to lose ground to Urdu during the reign of Aali Gohar Shah Alam II. Subsequently, Urdu developed rapidly as the medium of literature, history and journalism of South Asian Muslims. Most of the literary and poetic work was complemented by various historic poets of mughal and subsequent era, among which Mir Taqi Mir, Khwaja Mir Dard, Mir Amman Dehalvi, Mirza Ghalib, Bahadur Shah II Sir Syed Khan and Maulana Hali are the most notable ones. The Persian language, which had its roots during the time of Moguls, was then replaced later by Urdu. Mogul kings like Shah Jahan rendered patronage as well as support. Many poets in Pakistan such as Zafar Iqbal, Sir Mohammed Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Munir Niazi and Saifuddin Saif contributed their efforts for the Urdu language.

Dialects and languages

After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, when the Muslims refugees arrived in Pakistan, the values the migrants brought with them varied from region to region, depending on their origin. The Muslims refugees arrived from different regions often speaking different dialects of the Urdu language such as Awadhi, Khariboli, Braj, Bhojpuri,[62] Bundeli, Rekhta, Hyderabadi or Dakhni, etc. These Urdu dialects were distinguished by their vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation (phonology, including prosody), humor and slangs. Many Muslims refugees spoke regional languages such as Gujarati, Kutchi, Marathi, Konkani, Telugu, etc. The Urdu syllabus taught in the Karachi schools with its strong emphasis on poetry and literature helped to standardise Urdu in Karachi. These dialects and languages slowly merged to form a standard dialect closer to the Awadhi dialect of the Urdu language over the decades. Even the Urdu dialect of Karachi is very diverse, and some neighborhoods such as Nazimabad has its own accent that is different from the Orangi speech; family background, and educational level also has an influence on the language spoken by a person[citation needed].

The Urdu language spoken in Karachi has become gradually more divergent from the Indian dialects and structure of Urdu, since it has engrossed many words, proverbs and phonetics from the regional languages like Punjabi Sindhi, Pashto, and Balochi[citation needed]. The pronunciation pattern of Urdu language also differs in Pakistan and the cadence and lilt are informal compared with corresponding Indian dialects[citation needed]. The Urdu speakers in Karachi consider their accent as the standard dialect of the Urdu language[citation needed]

Contributions to literature

Ghalib poem in Nastaliq


Muhajirs brought their rich poetic culture along with them which they held in their original states centuries ago prior to independence. Some of the most notable ones historic poets are Mir Taqi Mir, Mir Aman Dehalwi, Khawaja Mir Dard, Jigar Muradabad etc. Subsequent to independence, many notable Urdu poets migrated to Pakistan, besides a large number of less famous poets, authors, linguists and amateurs. Consequently, Mushaira and Bait Bazi became a part of the national culture in Pakistan. Josh Malihabadi, Jigar Moradabadi, Akhtar Sheerani, Tabish Dehlvi, Nayyer Madani and Nasir Kazmi are a few of the noteworthy poets. Later, Jon Elia, Parveen Shakir, Dilawar Figar, Iftikhar Arif, Rafi Uddin Raaz and Raees Warsi became noted for their distinction.


With the emergence of Muhajirs in urban areas of Pakistan, Urdu virtually became the lingua franca. The country's first Urdu Conference took place in Karachi in April 1951, under the auspices of the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu. The Anjuman, headed by Maulvi Abdul Haq, not only published the scattered works of classical and modern writers, but also provided a platform for linguists, researchers and authors. Among them Shan-ul-Haq Haqqee, Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi, Josh Malihabadi, Qudrat Naqvi, Mahir-ul-Qadri, Hasan Askari, Jameel Jalibi and Intizar Hussain are significant names. Whereas Akhtar Hussain Raipuri, Sibte Hassan and Sajjad Zaheer were more inclined to produce left-winged literature. Among women writers, Qurratulain Hyder, Khadija Mastoor, Altaf Fatima and Fatima Surayya Bajia became the pioneer female writers on feminist issues.

Contribution in science and technology

Muhajirs have played an extremely important and influential role in science and technology in Pakistan. Scientists such as Ziauddin Ahmed, Raziuddin Siddiqui and Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, gave birth to Pakistan Science and later built the integrated weapons program, on request of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Muhajir later forwarded to developed the Pakistan's space program and other scientific and strategic programs of Pakistan. Many prominent scientists come from the Muhajir class including Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, Ghulam Murtaza, Raziuddin Siddiqui, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, and Atta ur Rahman to name a few.

Contribution in art and music

The Muhajir community brings a rich culture with it. Muhajirs have and continue to play an essential role in defining and enriching Pakistani culture and more significantly, music. Some famous Muhajir Pakistani musicians include: Nazia Hassan, Mehdi Hassan, Munni Begum, Ahmed Jahanzeb and Maaz Moeed Zoheb Hassan. Muhajirs contribution has not been limited to pop but has spanned various music genres, from traditional Ghazal singing to rock. Muhajirs in Pakistan are also famous for their contribution towards the art of painting. Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi, one of the most famous painter of the world, was a Pakistani painter who was born in Amroha, India.

Contribution in business and industry

After partition in 1947 by the then British Government through Indian Independence Act 1947; the Muslims who immigrated to Pakistan were well educated and consisted of journalists, urban intellectuals, professors, bureaucrats, lawyers, teachers, academics and scholars etc. Although there were those that had migrated who were the bourgeoisie consisting of merchants, industrialists or capitalists, a large number of those who immigrated from the rural areas and villages also consisted of labourers and artisans. The eminent business groups that shifted from India to Pakistan were Habib Bank, Muslim Commercial Bank, Orient Airways, among others. Other businesses were established in Pakistan by some of the notable figures as United Bank Limited, Hamdard Pakistan Limited, Schon group. It is also known that besides founding several Governmental organizations like State Bank of Pakistan, they played an influential role in initiating the Atomic Energy Commission, Kanup, and several other institutions. Muhajirs were also found in administration, establishment and politics.[63]

The initial business elites of Pakistan were Muhajirs. Prominents example of businesses started by them include Habib Bank Limited, Hyesons, M. M. Ispahani Limited, Schon group etc. Nationalization proved to be catastrphpic for Muhajir-owned businesses, and the final blow was delivered as a result of discriminatory policies during the dictatorship of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. In recent years, many Muhajirs have established their businesses in Pakistan, with a focus on textile, garment, leather, food products, cosmetics and personal goods industries. Many of Pakistan's largest financial institutions were founded or headed by Muhajirs, including the State Bank of Pakistan, EOBI, Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation, United Bank Limited Pakistan, First Women Bank et cetera.

Contribution in sports

Muhajir are active in many sports in Pakistan. Muhajirs are playing in the Pakistani cricket team with well-known players such as Javed Miandad, Saeed Anwar, Asif Iqbal, Mohsin Khan, Sikhander Bakht, Rashid Latif, Basit Ali and Moin Khan.[64] There are now younger players like Asad Shafiq, Fawad Alam, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Khurram Manzoor playing for the international team. Muhajirs are notably involved in hockey, tennis, squash and badminton. Bodybuilding and weightlifting are increasing in popularity among younger members of the Muhajir community.


Muhajirs clung to their old established habits and tastes, including a numerous desserts, savoury dishes and beverages. The Mughal heritage played an influential role in the making of their cuisine. In comparison to other native Pakistani dishes, Muhajir cuisine tends to use traditional royal cuisine specific to the old royal dynasties of now defunct states of ancient India. Most of a dastarkhawan dining table include chapatti, rice, dal, vegetable and meat curry. Special dishes include biryani, qorma, kofta, seekh kabab, Nihari and Haleem, Nargisi Koftay, Roghani Naan, Naan, sheer-qurma (sweet), qourma, chai (sweet, milky tea), paan and Hyderabadi cuisine, and other delicacies associated with Muhajir culture.

See also


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External links

  • Pakistan (Archived 2009-11-01) at Encarta
  • Pakistan: The Sindhi-Muhajir conflict
  • Muhajir diaspora
  • Quotas and Karachi
  • Gene Diversity among Some Muslim Populations of Western Uttar Pradesh
  • Gene Diversity Analysis and Microdifferentiation Process in North Indian Muslim Populations
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