Meaning of Khoja

“The new converts during the operation of the Ismaili mission in India became known as the khoja – a title firstly came to be originated during the time of Pir Satgur. Syed Imam Shah (d. 926/1520) describes in his Moman Chetamani (no. 198-199) that, “Pir Satgur Nur had converted them, and consigned a path to be protected. He made them Khojas after conversion, and gave the essence of the path. The Satpanth started since then with a practice of tithe.” Thus, it is not difficult to determine with exactitude that the term khoja came to be known before the period of Pir Shams.

The word khoja is supposed to have derived from koh-cha means small mountain, and later on, it was changed to kauja or kohja. This derivation is almost irrelevant, rather not convincing. Most of the modern scholars claim that it is a corrupt form of khwaja (lord or master), which also seems incorrect. It must be borne in mind that Syed Imam Shah used both the word khoja in Moman Chetamanni (stanza 199) and khwaja (stanza 122) as well, where the question of the corruption itself becomes annulled, and therefore, the modern theory suggesting its root from khwaja seems doubtful. It should also be known that the Ismaili Pirs in India had never introduced any foreign terminology during the early stage of conversion. The above assumption seems to have grown in Sind, where the Iranian terminologies were in vogue in the Sindhi language. In Sind, the word khoja is also pronounced with the corresponding prevalent word khwaja, and it has probably constrained the scholars to attest its derivation from khwaja.

The early extant records indicate that the term khoja stands in its original form without being corrupted. An inscription, for instance, is discovered at Patan, Gujrat by Col. Tod, vide his Travels in Western India (p. 506), belonging to the year 662/1264. This inscription is found in the temple of Harsata, which was originally a mosque in the time of Arjundeva (1262-1274), the second king of Vaghela line of the Solanki dynasty of Anhilvad. It reads that a ship-owner, called Khoja Abu Ibrahim had donated a piece of land, an oil-mill and two shops; and from its income, a mosque had been built. Khoja Abu Ibrahim was an Indian and living in Hormuz in Iranian Gulf. From this antique record, it is difficult to surmise that the above inscribed term khoja should have been khwaja prior to the period of 662/1264. While examining further earliest records, it is known that Kiya Buzrug Ummid (d. 532/1138), the second ruler of Alamut had dispatched his envoy, called Khoja Muhammad Nassihi Shahrastani to the Seljuq court, where he had been murdered in 523/1129. The later records suggest that Syed Mashaikh (d. 1108/1697) compiled about 16 books in 1092/1680, in which he has also used the term khoja like Syed Imam Shah. Virji Premji Parpiya had translated one of the Persian manuscripts of his forefather, called Khoja Ibaloo (d. 1208/1794), entitled Khoja Iblani Vansh’nu Vratant (Bombay, 1917), who begins the account of his forebear, called Khoja Bhaloo (d. 1016/1607) during the time of Pir Dadu (d. 1005/1596). It also contains frequent usage of the term khoja. Captain Alexandar Hamlet reports in 1140/1728 that the wealth of a certain merchant, called Khoja Muhammad Hirji of Bombay was more than that of East India Company. The balance of argument tends to sound that the khoja is an unswerving word since its origin without being adulterated even in later period.

The khoja is a Hindi word, its verb being khoj means to search. According to Encyclopaedia Asiatica (Delhi, 1982, 5:564), the Hindi word khoja means information or search. The Persian Prof. Kassim Sumar Thariani of Elphinstone College of Bombay, also ruled out its origin from khwaja, and writes that, Khoja is a word derived from Hindi word khoj means to dig out, or search in such a sense that it turns to mean one who is engrossed in search of truth in religion. (cf. Khoja Gnanti’nu Gorav by V.N. Hooda, Bombay, 1927, p. 118) The local low castes were simply converted in the time of Pir Satgur without being loaded in the rituals, and after their admission they were consigned the Sufic practice of zikr, for which they were mastered in their former cults; and were instructed to “get absorbed” (kho’ja!) in deep contemplation. This phrase purporting kho’ja (get absorbed) gradually became a significant phrase among the absorptive initiates, rather it became a distinctive title, or identification among local people. In sum, the new converts first embraced Ismaili faith, and then became khoja (the absorptive ones), which also sounds the notion of Moman Chetamanni (stanza 198-199) of Syed Imam Shah.