(Last Updated on : 08/04/2009)
It is said that the First Ismaili missionary arrived probably in Gujarat, in 1067 AD and practised jihad by persuasion, not by force. The seat of the Dai Tyyabi was shifted from Yemen to India in 1539. Subsequently the sectarian split between the Khojas and Bohras (both Ismailis originally) took place. Probably, it was the Vaishya caste which supplied the bulk of the converts since the word 'vohra' means trader in Gujarati. Some Hindu customs, particularly those associated with marriage, were adopted by them. These include the breaking of a coconut at the wedding reception by the bridegroom.
With the advent of the British their business aptitude came to the forefront. They had no inhibitions against overseas travel and had the virtues of thrift, sobriety, the ability to do hard work and a traditional desire to remain self-employed.
From their places of origin in Gujarat the Dawoodis and Sulaimanis both began to migrate to Mumbai early in the 19th century. Surtis soon achieved a dominant position in the ship chandling business. Others followed the Parsis into the lucrative import-export trade and travelled to far ports of the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, East Africa, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan. Later migrants to Mumbai plied the more traditional Bohra trades in hardware, glass, paints, soap, leather, plumbing, stationery and soda water. Often their occupation and business is reflected in the Dawoodi 'walla' suffix of the surname.