(Last Updated on : 31/08/2010)
Khoja are an ethno-religious community of Islam. This sect is found mainly in Punjab, Sindh, Mumbai, in Zanzibar and its neighbourhood, and under the name Mawali or Mawlai on the north-west frontier of India. It is also found in scattered groups in Central Asia. In India they are descendants of converts and in Zanzibar immigrants from India. The Mumbai section and its dependencies regard the sacred person of the Aga Khan as the head of the community and pays him a tithe and dues at births, marriages, burials and the new moon. However, each congregation is otherwise independent, having its own centre which is meeting-house and mosque, and its own officials, president, treasurer and secretary. These are sometimes appointed by the Aga Khan but are usually elected. A Persian book written about 1594 for the instruction of the Indian Khojas is revered in its old Sindhi form as the twenty-sixth in the list of Khoja saints.
The Khojas owe their origins to Ismaili Pir Sadr al-din. It was due to his contributions to Islam that the community came about. The Pir laid the foundations of the Nizari community in India. The Khojas were originally Ismaili and remain so even today. He established Ismaili religious centres (jamaat khanas) in Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir.
In the life and belief system and lifestyle of the Khojas, the Muslim law of succession does not apply. Till recently, their marriages were performed before a Sunni judge. No divorce is permitted without the sanction of the community which usually requires the consent of both parties. A second wife is not allowed during the lifetime of the first without the approval of the community which is usually granted if two thousand rupees are deposited for the support of the first wife. When death approaches, water is sprinkled to the reading of the Das-Avatar.
The Khojas in Central Asia belong to the Nizari branch of the Ismailis. Those in the Punjab do not recognize the Aga Khan as head but go to Sunni members of the Qadiri or Chisht orders for religious guidance. Originally the beliefs of the Mumbai branch were the same as those of the Punjab group but respect for the Aga Khan has removed them from the influence of the Indian religious orders.