Muslims in Nepal
By arrna Published: 07/30/2010
Muslims are the followers of Prophet Mohammed (POB). Prophet Mohammed was the messenger of Islam. Islam is submission to the will of God “Allah” and obedience to his law.
Nepali historians believe that the first Muslims settled in Kathmandu during King Ratna Malla's reign in the late 15th century. Kashmiri traders were probably the first Muslims to arrive, followed by Afghans, Persians and even Iraqis. The ‘Raqi Bajar’ in Indra Chok area gets its name from the Iraqi merchants.
The chaubise kings of west Nepal also employed Afghan and Indian Muslims to train Nepali soldiers to use firearms and ammunition. Ratna Malla's envoy to Lhasa invited Kashmiri Muslims to Kathmandu in an attempt to profit from the rugs, carpets, shawls and woollen goods they traded between Kashmir, Ladakh and Lhasa. The first batch of Muslims came with a Kashmiri saint who built the first mosque, Kashmiri Taquia, in 1524, writes Shamima Siddikan in her book ‘Muslims of Nepal’.
Influenced by the system of Mughal courts in Delhi, the Mallas also invited Indian Muslims to work as courtiers and counsellors-leading to rivalry with Newar nobles of the Malla courts. While the Muslim courtiers did not last long and returned to India, other Muslims stayed on. The Mallas also got Indian Muslims from the Mughal Empire to join their courts as musicians and specialists on perfumes and ornaments. Historian Baburam Acharya believes they were also there to protect King Ratna Malla from rebellious relatives and senior court officials.
Following Nepal's unification, King Prithvi Narayan Shah also encouraged Muslim traders to settle down with their families. Besides trade, the Muslims from Afghanistan and India were experts in manufacturing guns, cartridges and canons, while others were useful in international diplomacy because of their knowledge of Persian and Arabic.
Many Muslims, especially Kashmiri traders, are said to have fled to India during the economic blockade that Prithvi Narayan Shah imposed on the Valley. Fearing persecution from a Hindu king due to their religion and their ties with the Mallas, the traders left despite assurances that they would come to no harm. By 1774, only a handful of Kashmiri merchants remained. Even so, Kashmiri traders proved to be a great help during the unification process. Historians say that Prithvi Narayan Shah employed them as spies and informants as they had personal contacts with the Malla rulers. After his victory, he gave them permission to build a mosque (the Kashimiri Mashjid), now near Tri-Chandra Campus.
During Jang Bahadur Rana's regime, a large number of Muslims migrated to the tarai from India fleeing persecution by the British army during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. These refugees settled in the terai, selling leather goods or working as agricultural labourers. A senior courtier to Delhi Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar also fled to Kathmandu. Later, he renovated the Jama Masjid and was buried there. During the Sepoy Mutiny, Begum Hazrat, wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow also escaped to Kathmandu via Nepalganj and was allowed by Jang Bahadur to take refuge in Nepal. She settled down at the Thapathali Durbar, and later died in Kathmandu and was also buried at the Nepali mosque.
Today four districts of Terai namely Banke, Kapilbastu, Parsa and Rautahat with over fifty percent of Muslim population are now Muslim-majority districts. In five districts namely, Bara, Mahottari, Dhanusha, Sirha and Sunsari Muslims are the second religious majority and in two districts namely Rupandehi and Sarlahi they constitute as a significantly third religious group.
The Muslims of Nepal had always accepted their lower social status as loyal citizens and accordingly maintained a very low and profile under the Hindu Monarchy system of governance. It may be interesting to note that even after their long presence in Nepal during the monarchy there was hardly any significant communal problem in the kingdom. Living in Hindu scriptures-based cultural milieu and related social environment for centuries they accepted the situation as it was.
Some reports suggest that the ISI of Pakistan with a view to make Nepal its hide out for exporting terrorism to India also financed some NGOs to bring demographic imbalance in Terai region by infiltration of Bangladeshi Muslims. The report said, “The official figures show that the strength of the Muslim community in Nepal has grown from 2% of the population in 1981 to 3.5 in 1991. Data compiled by the Nepalese Election Commission in connection with the recent general elections indicates that this figure could now have crossed 5% and more even be close to 10%. Steady migration of Bangladesh Muslims to the Terai considerably contributed to this increase”. (India Today, June 12, 2000). Today there are 300 madrassas and 343 mosques within 10 k.m. of the boarder in Indian side while 181 madrassas and 282 mosques are in Nepal side. (Dastider). It is said that the Islamist world is quite liberal in financing the NGOs to the insidious growth of the Islamist fundamentalist net work in Nepal.
As per 1991 Census Report Muslims constitutes 3.4 % of the total population of Nepal, though the figure claimed by the Muslim organisations of the country is between 8 to 10 %. (The figure is based on the source: CBS, Population monograph, Kathmandu, 1994 as quoted in Understanding Nepal by Mollica Dastider, Har-Anand Publication, 2007, page80).
Since the government of Nepal did not contest such claim of the Muslim organisations, the figure of 10% appears to be nearer to the factual position. The ethnic structure of Terai region as suggested by Dastider also corroborates it.
Whatever may be the correct figure of Muslims in Nepal, it is something amazing to see how this significant followers of Islam compromised with anti-Shariat (Islamic laws) un-Islamic Hindu environment and lived there peacefully for centuries. Socio-political scientists might have their own analysis but it gives credence to some views that Shariat could be made flexible if it serves the interest of political Islamists.
On September 1, 2004, thousands of demonstrators stormed the main mosque in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, sets furniture and carpet on fire, tore up a copy of Quran and chanted “Down with Islam’. They were protesting against the killing of 12 Nepalese labourers in Iraq. Police had to open fire to control the crowd. The incident was a signal for the future relation between Hindu and Muslims of the country, who were living peacefully for centuries. Thus ignorance and backwardness are rampant among Nepalese Muslims, and this had led to their forfeiture of their human rights in the country.
Even in the faith that they profess, their knowledge of Islamic principles and culture is very meagre, and they do need guidance and direction in this respect. Many of them are Muslims in name only, but hardly know anything else about Islam as well as society.
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