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Muhajir Urdu-Speaking People (Pakistan)

Muhajir (also known as Urdu-speaking people) (Urdu: مهاجر) is a term used by and for those people of Pakistan who are predominantly native Urdu speaking Muslims of British India, migrated to Pakistan following independence in 1947. Sometimes, the term is used broadly to also include Muslim Biharis (whose mother tongue is not Urdu but one of the Bihari languages such as Magahi, Bhojpuri, Maithili) and Muslim Gujaratis (whose mother tongue is Gujarati) who also speak Urdu beside their mother tongue. Thus, the terms 'Muhajir' or 'Urdu-speaking' do not exactly define an ethnic group as such, since many of these people came from diverse ethnicities as they migrated from various parts of Northern and Central South Asia at independence.

The Muhajirs are a multi-ethnic community who are partly descended from Arabs, Persians, Afghans and Turks. The Muslims of Middle East and Central Asia have historically, travelled to South Asia as technocrats, bureaucrats, soldiers, traders, scientists, architects, teachers, theologians and Sufis during the Islamic Sultanates and Mughal Empire and settled permanently. Most Muhajirs have converted to Islam during the Muslim rule of South Asia under the influence of Sufis. It is estimated that around 30 to 35% of Muhajirs are of Pashtun heritage. The Muhajir community also includes peoples of Punjabi heritage. In broader terms, it also includes Memons, Bohras and Ismailis that spoke Gujarati, Kutchi and Memoni languages and are now assimilating into Muhajir community. The Bengali and Rohingya refugees in Karachi are also assimilating into Muhajir community. The uniting factors of Muhajirs are Islam and Urdu language.

In Arabic, Muhajir refers to a person who has performed a Hijrat, meaning migration. There were other migrants into Pakistan like the Punjabi people (from East Punjab) but they did not need a separate new identity as these people already formed a large part of the population of the territory that became Pakistan at the time of independence

Altaf Hussain (Urdu: الطاف حسین)
(born 17 September 1953, Karachi) is a Pakistani politician, the founder and leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. He lives, as a British citizen, in voluntary exile in North London, United Kingdom, after seeking political asylum in 1992.


A crowd of Muslims at the Old Fort (Purana Qila) in Delhi, migrating to Pakistan. (Manchester Guardian, 27 September 1947)Muhajir (Arabic: مهاجر‎) is an Arabic word meaning immigrant or emigrant. In the Islamic calendar Hejira starts when the Islamic prophet, Muhammad and his companions left Mecca for Medina in what is known as Hijra. They were called Muhajirun. The Arabic root word for immigration and emigration is Hijrat.

Independence of British India

On 2 June 1947, the British government announced the plan to Independence of Pakistan and India. On 18 July 18 1947, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act that finalized the independence arrangement. The Government of India Act 1935 was adapted to provide a legal framework for the two new dominions.

Two self governing countries legally came into existence at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947. The ceremonies for the transfer of power were held on 14 August 1947 at 9:20 AM in Governor General House Karachi, so that the last British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, could attend both the ceremony in Karachi as well as the ceremony in Delhi.

Settling in Pakistan

After independence, a huge population exchange occurred between the two newly-formed states. About 14.5 million people crossed the borders: 7,226,000 Muslims came to the Dominion of Pakistan (including East Bengal, later East Pakistan and now Bangladesh) from the Union of India while 7,249,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan and Bangladesh. About 5.5 million Muslims settled in the Punjab and around 1.5 million settled in Sindh.

According to the 1951 Census, migrants made up 7 million people in Pakistan, 6.3 million in West Pakistan and 700,000 in East Pakistan. The majority were Punjabis who left East Punjab for West Punjab. Rest was made up of a 100,000 Biharis who settled in East Pakistan and a million from the United Provinces, Bombay Presidency and Hyderabad who migrated to West Pakistan.[2][3] At the time of partition, migrants from United Provinces made up only 2% of the migrants and 3% of Pakistan's total population.[4]

Most of the migrants who settled in the Pakistani Punjab came from the Indian Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan. Most of the migrants who arrived in Sindh came from northern and central urban centres of Indian states such as, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Hyderabad Deccan and Rajasthan via the Wagah and Munabao borders. In addition a limited number of 'Muhajirs' arrived by air or by sea.

The overwhelming majority of Urdu speakers who migrated from what is now India were settled in the port city of Karachi, which was capital of Pakistan at that time, in southern Sindh. The remainder settled in other Sindh cities, notably Hyderabad, Sukkur, Nawabshah and Mirpur Khas as well as in Punjab cities such as Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi.

In Sindh two-thirds of the 1.5 million settled in urban areas in 1947. In the case of Karachi, an existing population of around 400,000 in 1947 turned into more than 1.3 million by 1953.

It is estimated around 30 to 35% of Muhajirs are of Pashtun heritage. When the Pashtuns migrated to Muslim India from Afghanistan, they settled in the Muslim majority areas. However the Pashtuns of Afghanistan gradually lost their own language Pashto and culture in India and adopted Urdu (The language of Muslims in India) as their mother tongue. The Rohilla Pashtun formed one of the largest Pashtun diaspora community in Uttar Pradesh, and have given their name to the Rohilkhand region. After independence they migrated to Pakistan, they were recognized as Muhajirs or Urdu speakers as they have integrated with them over the centuries.

The Muhajir community also includes peoples of Punjabi heritage that migrated and settled in Muslim majority areas in Uttar Pradesh especially in Delhi. The Punjabi Saudagaran-e-Delhi are an entirely Urdu speaking community, Punjabi ceased being the spoken language from the eighteenth century onwards. After independence they migrated to Pakistan, they were recognized as Muhajirs or Urdu speakers as they have integrated with them over the centuries.


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