All About Muslims in Nepal

About Muslims in Nepal: – Nepal is a small and beautiful country situated between China in the North and India in the South, east, and west. Nepal is rich in cultural diversity and the population of Nepal is the People of different casts, cultures, and religions live in Nepal. As people of different religions are residing in Nepal but there are mutual co-operation and harmony between people. Earlier, Nepal was a Hindu country but it is changed into the secular country in 2064 B.S.

Muslims constitute the most distinct and well-defined minority group in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal. Besides their adherence to Islam, their ethnocultural affiliation too gives Muslims a distinct identity in a predominantly Hindu-Buddhist set-up. A large majority of Muslim population live in the southern plain areas, while a certain percentage of the Muslim population lives in Kathmandu valley and certain villages of the hill districts.

This geographic range has an acute influence on their lifestyles, cultural activities, and even their religious practices. The Muslims of Nepal are categorized into different ethnic types, divergent by religious behaviors, beliefs, language and relations with the local Hindus.

 

Muslims in Nepal
Muslims in Nepal

The Nepali Kashmiris maintain a definite social status. It is even said that over the other local Nepali Muslims, Nepali Kashmiris entertain a sense of superiority. In Kathmandu valley, they have their own mosque and a separate burial ground. The Kashmiris are not indifferent to the process of cultural assimilation due to very much influenced by indigenous local Nepali culture.

They have adapted as well practiced the several Hindu principles to their cultural practices, but also maintain a penchant for matrimonial and another social bond with families of similar status. Thus, in the case of contracting marriages, Kashmiris are found to be rather conservative although some cases of marriages with non-Kashmiri Muslims do exist. The long history of their residence in Kathmandu has contributed to a real blending of their culture and language with the local people.

Tibetan Muslims can also be found in Nepal. They are mostly Tibetan refugees who run away from Tibet after the Chinese occupation began in 1960. Although Tibetan Muslims has an extended stay in Kathmandu has resulted in a certain degree of blending culture with that of the Kashmiri and Indian Muslims, also today they maintain a distinct Tibetan culture. In Kathmandu valley, there are altogether some 100 Tibetan Muslim families.

A large number of Nepali Muslims live in different parts of the hilly region, mostly in the districts of Gorkha, Tanahun, Kaski, Syangja, Dailekh, Pyuthan, Arghakhanchi, Palpa and Nuwakot. The mosques and small makhtabs are present in major hill Muslim settlements. The Muslims of the hilly region is very much influenced by the surrounding Hindu culture.

The Muslims in the Terai region ( Plainland in the south) is entirely comprised of Indian migrants who came to Nepal in search of employment opportunities. The population of Terai Muslims constitutes almost two million people in the present day. They are scattered in the 20 districts of the Terai region. They have cultural, religious and other social ties associated with the Muslims of Northern India.

In the eastern Terai, the majority of Muslims are Ansari and Mansuri. The Muslims of Terai have a high quality of religious education facilities. In the Terai region, a large number of reputable madrasas, masjids, and yetimkhanas (orphanages) have been established. Muslim children first go to the madrasas for religious education, where the education is given by Maulvis from India. There are also Nepali Muslims trained in India or Saudi Arabia and teach religion at the madrasas.

The Terai Muslims clearly different in several ways from the hill Muslims. The difference is mainly in physical appearance, dress conventions, language, and cultural practices. It is said that Muslims in certain remote villages of hills, in western and far western regions, are completely unaware of Islamic culture and religious practices.

The history of Muslim settlement in Nepal dates back to the early 16·century. However, the recognition of Muslim People as a separate religious group and, consequently, of their own traditional & cultural rights as equal citizens was not granted by the Nepalese state until 1962. From the available historical accounts, it is evident that from 1768 until the middle of the 19″ century. Muslims, along with their Christian counterparts, were treated as virtual outcasts (both social and political) by the newly formed state of unified Nepal.

During the entire Rana period, which began in 1846, Nepalese Muslims held an impure and inferior status in a rigidly hierarchical social structure, based on the Hindu fourfold national caste system. The revolution of 1950, brought an end to the autocratic Rana regime, by replacing the absolute rule of the monarchy with a parliamentary form of government. Their yearning for a democratic system was most evident when, immediately after the overthrow of the Ranas, Muslims tried to organize themselves on a common platform for the overall uplift of their community

According to the 1991 census report, the 6,53,218 Muslims in Nepal comprise 3.8 percent of the total population. Nevertheless, they form the second largest religious minority group, next only to the Buddhists (7.78 percent. The 1991 census data, which for the first time listed 64 ethnic and caste groups, is, however, termed misleading by most of these ethnic/caste groups. Many Muslims, as well as Hindus in Nepal, believe that the exact figure of the Muslim population in Nepal is much higher than shown in the census, and they constitute not less than 6 percent of the total population.

The Muslim population in Nepal is quite distributed and mainly concentrated in outlying areas along the Indian border. Population data, based on the 1991 census, shows that Muslims can be found in all other districts except north-west district Manang, ie, they are present in 74 out of the total 75 districts of Nepal. The narrow plain strip of land of the Terai belt starts from the foothills of Siwalik range of the Himalayas and stretches up to the Gigantic plains of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India.

For this geographical region, the word ‘Terai’ is used interchangeably with ‘Madhes’ which is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Madhyadesh’, meaning the mid-country between the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in the north and Vindhya Mountains in the south. People living in this region are therefore described as Madhesis. In this study, the word ‘Terai’, however, only refers to the plain strip of land lying within the southern boundary of Nepal, ie, the Terai region that exclusively belongs to Nepal. The Terai area of Nepal has its own share of multiple ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural groups of people.

Among them, Tharus are numerically the largest and historically the oldest indigenous people of the area. The Gorkha rulers’ policy on encouraging new settlements in Terai ever since its unification (in 1768), and later on followed by the Ranas during their rule till 1950, had greatly influenced the demography of Nepal. The beginning of the settlement of people of ‘Indian origin’ is thus inseparably linked with the history of settlements in Terai.

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A sizeable increase in the population of Indian origin occurred when the British government returned the territories of far- western Terai to Nepal (which were taken away by them during the Anglo-Nepali War of 1814-16), as a goodwill gesture to the Ranas, who had provided military assistance to the British to suppress the Indian Mutiny in 1857-58. The restoration of Terai districts like Banke, Bardia, Kailali, and Kanchanpur by the British to Nepal increased the number of Muslims in the western Terai, as these districts already had a sizeable Muslim population before integration into Nepal.

Also during this period, the bordering areas of the mid-western district of Kapilbastu saw the settlement of big Muslim landlords from Awadh region, as they were invited by the Ranas for their zamindari skills. They were given vast areas of land of forests at nominal rates for maximizing agricultural production and revenues from the lands. Muslims in Terai constitute 3.28 percent out of their total 3.53 percent representation in the whole of Nepal. Among the Terai caste/ethnic groups, they form the third largest group, coming only after the Tharus (6.46 percent) and Yadavs (4.01 percent).

Thus the Muslim population in Nepal is predominantly of Madhesi origin as around 97 percent of the total Muslims in Nepal reside in the plains of Terai. According to the figures given in the Statistical Year Book of Nepal of year 1995, the highest number of Muslims are found in the central Terai district of Rautahat (71,379), followed by the western district of Kapilbastu (62,512), and then again by the central districts of Mahottari (53,852) and Bara (48,648). The next Terai district, which is famous for its Muslim population, is the mid-western district of Banke (45,787).

The growing significance of Muslim presence in the Terai districts has been rightly underlined in a recent study by Harka Gurung, where he has pointed out that Muslims, in fact, constitute the single largest social group in the districts of Parsa, Rautahat, Kapilbastu, and Banke. The other conclusion drawn from the census data is that while the central districts of Terai record the highest concentration of Muslims, there has been a substantial increase in Muslim presence in the east region of Terai, i.e., the region bordering Darbhanga, Saharsa and Purnea districts of Bihar.

The districts on the Nepali side and the population of Muslims there are Morang (26,987), Sunsari (45,737), Saptari (35,020) and Siraha (32,116). In one of the CNAS studies, shows the population increase to the latest arrival of Bihari Muslims and caste Hindus from across the border into the Nepal Terai. There are also reports of alleged infiltration of Bihari (Muslims) refugees from Bangladesh, who entered the eastern Terai region of Nepal in the post-1971 period. However, due to lack of adequate data on such infiltrations, it is difficult to confirm such reports. 

As for the legal status of the Muslims as a religious minority group, the Legal Code of 1963 (the present code) which abolished caste-based social stratification, guarantees equal rights and opportunities for all people of Nepal, regardless of ethnic origins and faith.

Accordingly, Muslims of Nepal are free to practice their customs and have been treated as an integral part of Nepalese society. They are also free to engage in religious activities and build mosques. Muslims in Terai not only account for 12-13 percent of the total Terai population, they also constitute the third largest caste/ethnic group among the Terai social groups (3.28 percent, coming only after the Tharus and Yadavs).

Hence, the strength of the Muslims in the region is giving the community a new feeling of group identity in the present set-up of pluralist polity, which acknowledges the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of Nepali society. The political transformation from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy is slowly but surely having some effect on the peripheral and religious minority groups like the Muslims.

The incidence of Hindu-Muslim tension in Tulsipur (Dang district) and its fallout on the Muslims and later in 1994 and 1995, Hindu-Muslim conflicts in Nepalganj (Banke), testify to a mobilization of Muslims along ethno-religious lines and the growing intolerance towards such minority declaration on the part of the majority.

The migration of people is increasing in Nepal. Muslims from Hills migrate to Terai and Muslims from Terai migrate to Hills. Many opportunities are also given to the Muslims community for their development.

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