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Cutchi Memon Jamath, Alleppey

Cutchi Memon Jamath, Alleppey, (NOW KNOWN AS ALAPPUZHA), Kerala, India

A few Cutchi Memon families from Cutch and Bombay (now Mumbai) came to Alleppey in the early part of the 19th century.  The illustrious and famous Dewan of Travancore State, Raja Kesava Dasa, invited them to establish trade and business in Alleppey, then a developing port.  A few Gujarati and Parsi families were also invited.  Traditionally a business community, Cutchi Memons found Alleppey   to have all facilities for conducting proper business, and migrated in large numbers. Prospering in business and making good fortunes, Cutchi Memons helped the public and earned good revenue for the state.  They soon became respectable   owing to their honesty and integrity in their business dealings. Even the Maharajas of Travancore noticed the Cutchi Memons’ business acumen and honesty, and granted interviews to prominent Cutchi Memons whenever they visited Alleppey. The two canals connecting the backwater lake and the sea were constructed for the sake of these merchants so that they could bring their merchandise into the town economically.  Thus, Alleppey soon developed into a major port, and became a big commercial center, earning the name, "Venice of the East".

Just as Cutchi Memons elsewhere excelled in charitable and philanthropic deeds, the Cutchi Memons in Alleppey utilized their surplus wealth in constructing masjids and establishing charitable trusts.  The Cutchi Memon Noorani Masjid in Alleppey, a most beautiful structure in this part of Kerala constructed by the famous Noorani family of Bombay, is a shining example of Cutchi Memons’ deep sense of generosity and religiosity.  The Juma Hashim Masjid, the Abba Nakhuda Masjid and the Nathani Masjid are some of the other masjids constructed by Cutchi Memons in Alleppey during that period.  A Trust created by Janab Abdulla Arab and later expanded by Haji Hasham Haji Esa Sait by dedicating some of his own properties and named “Hashmia Madrassa Wakf” is also an example of their philanthropy and generosity.  From 1972, this Trust was under the management of the Kerala Wakf Board, and in 1993 the Cutchi Memon Jamat of Alleppey was trying to gain control. [It is not known whether it was successful.  We are making efforts to ascertain this fact from the Jamath - Editor]

Some Cutchi Memon families, who came to Travancore, finally settled in Kayamkulam and Arattupuzha, a few miles south of Alleppey. These were smaller ports and were centers of coir and other coconut products.  When Alleppey developed as a major port and big commercial center, some of these families moved back to Alleppey.  Later, a few from Alleppey moved to Quilon and Trivandrum (now known as Thiruvananthapuram).  They became exporters in Trivandrum, and also undertook contracts to supply food grains, provisions and other consumer goods to private individuals and government offices.

We have authentic information of the early settlers in Alleppey.   In the Noorani Masjid at Alleppey, the sahan has graves of the following members of the Noorani family:

Haji Suleman Haji Ebrahim
passed away on Friday, the21st of Jamadil Avval 1262  (corresponding to approximately 1841 A.D.)

Haji Yousuf Haji Noormohammed
passed away Friday, the 20th of Zul-khad 1264 (corresponding to approximately 1843 A.D.)

Haji Jacob Haji Yousuf Noormohammed
passed away Wednesday, the 12th of Ramadan 1290 (corresponding to approximately 1869 A.D.)

Haji Elias Haji Yousuf Noormohammed
passed away Thursday, the 18th of Zul Haj 1297 (corresponding to approximately 1876 A.D.)

Mariam Bai binte Haji Yousuf Noormohammed
passed away Friday, the 20th of Rabiul Akhar 1310 (corresponding to approximately 1854 A.D.)

Haji Mohammed Haji Jacob
passed away Monday, the 11th of Rabiul Avval 1315 (corresponding to approximately 1859 A.D.)

Khadija Bai binte Haji Mohamed Haji Jacob
passed away 17th of Rabiul Akhar 1317 (corresponding to approximately 1861 A.D.)

Haji Dawood Haji Mohammed
passed away 22nd Shaban 1317 (corresponding to approximately 1861 A.D.)

The above gravesites establish that the Nooranis settled in Alleppey some 175 years ago.  They constructed another masjid in Tellicherry, which is being looked after by a local committee.  For the maintenance of the Noorani Masjid at Alleppey, the Nooranis bequeathed landed properties in Alleppey, as well as a sum of Rs. 300 annually from their Trust in Bombay.  Their document recorded with the Charity Commissioner of Maharashtra in Bombay states, "Rs. 300/- per year for the upkeep of the Masjid at Alpada".  This amount is received from Bombay each year. 

Toward the end of the 19th century, Haji Hasham Haji Essa Sait was the "Sait" (President) of the Cutchi Memon Jamat of Alleppey as well as the Muthavally of the Noorani Masjid. At that time, the post of the "Sait" (President) was hereditary in nature per the norm followed by almost all Jamats in India. The position of Muthavally of the Masjid became hereditary too.  After the death of Haji Hasham Haji Essa Sait, his son, Haji Esmail Haji Hasham Sait automatically became the President of the Cutch Memon Jamat of Alleppey as well as the Muthavally of the Noorani Masjid. On his demise in 1940, his eldest son, Haji Ebrahim Haji Esmail Sait assumed charge as President of the Jamath but he assigned the duties of the Muthavally of the Noorani Masjid to his younger brother, Mr. H.E. Abdulkarim Sait.  It is interesting to note that the position of the Sait (President) was considered exalted by all.  All honored the President’s words.  There was strict discipline in the Jamath.  The President attended all marriages and other events of the Jamath members, and he was always offered guidance, when asked.  The laga was the only source of income for the Jamath, and there was no need for any other social activities.

At that time, the affluent, generous and philanthropic in the Jamath attended individually to the social and economic needs of the community members.  In 1930, Haji Hassan Haji Haroon Sait, a philanthropist, constructed two pay ward rooms in the then Government Hospital Compound (presently the W &
C Hospital) and donated it to the community.  This ward was inaugurated by Sir Habibullah, the then Dewan of Travancore State, and it was later named the "Habibullah Ward". The rooms in this ward are rent-free for members of the Cutchi Memon community per the desire of the donor.  Later, his son, Mohamed Jaffer Hassan Sait constructed a masjid in the heart of the town; this masjid is now known as Jaffer Masjid.  He is also the founder of the Young Memon Muslim Association as well as the present "Y.M.M.A. L.P. School n Zackaria Bazaar, Alleppey.  He donated the entire sum of money for the construction of this school building.  He managed the school until his demise, when his son, Mr. M.J. Abdul Rahim Sait took over the management.

After 1960, Jamaths all over India gradually abolished the system of hereditary Presidentship, allowing first for installation of a President by the General Body, and later by democratic means through a General Body election.  Rules and regulations were framed according to the needs of the Jamath's Working Committee.  A Vice President, a Secretary and a Treasurer were also elected to assist the President.  This welcome change helped the Jamath in many ways, paving the way for social activities such as starting madrassas, tailoring schools, K.G. schools, hostels, hospitals, clinics and other relief activities.

The Jamath also adopted a Byelaw of its own on April 26, 1970, for the first time. Haji Ebrahim Haji Esmail Sait, our President, moved to Cochin in 1969.  In his place, Mr. A.R.Sulaiman Sait became the first elected President of our Jamath, and continued until his demise in 1972.  The Vice President at that time, Mr. A. Ismail Sait became the acting President, and continued until January 13,1973 when Haji Esmail Haji Gulmohamed Sait was elected President.  He continued in this position until March 28, 1974 when Mr. S. Abdul Rahman Sait was elected President.

As stated earlier, our Jamath also manages the Cutchi Memon Noorani Masjid.  It has a separate Committee and the Jamath’s General Body elects a Muthavally.

September 5, 1975 was a golden day for our Jamath.  That day marked the registration of the Deed for the purchase of the present Jamatkhana building and compound.  Ours is the first Jamath in Kerala to acquire a property of its own.  After the purchase of this Jamatkhana, our activities increased, and we diverted out attention to other social activities such as establishing a Deeni Madrassa, a tailoring school for girls, a Relief Fund, a Mayyath fund, scholarships for students, distribution of textbooks, etc.

Our Jamath published a Souvenir in 1978.  It was released by the then Honorable Minister for Education, Kerala, Janab U.A. Beeran Saheb on February 5, 1978. The proceeds of this souvenir were utilized for the construction of the C.M.J. Hostel building; Janab Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait, MP, laid the foundation stone on May 17, 1978.  This building was inaugurated by Haji Salehmohamed Ebrahim Sait, ex-MP on November 26, 1979.  Good revenue is generated by the building’s rental income.  There are some ambitious plans on the anvil.  

A. C.M.J. Hall has been constructed. Mr. G.M. Banatwala, MP, laid the foundation stone.

We pray to Almighty Allah to bless our Jamath and guide us properly for the tasks ahead, and to bring back to us all glories of the past.

The above account of the Cutchi Memon Jamat of Alleppey or Alappuzha is taken from the 1993 “Souvenir” published by the All India Cutchi Memon Federation for its World Conference.

For your reference, “Jamat” and “Jamath” mean the same, a society or gathering; the former is the manner in which the word is pronounced in South India.

 As city names in India have changed in recent years, Alleppey is now known as Alappuzha.  This name is nearer to what the Nooranis mentioned in their Document registered with the Charity Commissioner of Bombay – they called it “Alpada” by which name it probably was known at that time – Arif G. Kadwani, May 2009

The Cutchi Memon Noorani Masjid, Alleppey

The Cutchi Memon Noorani Masjid in Alleppey was built by the Noorani family of Bombay some 175 years ago. A few members of the Noorani family settled in Alleppey at that time for conducting business, as that city was an important port of the then princely state of Travancore.  They traded in rice and produces obtained from the surrounding hills.

The Nooranis were the sole contributors for this masjid’s construction and upkeep.  We have no idea of the total investment but by comparing the cost and materials with today’s values we could deduce that the Nooranis contributed upwards of Rs.50,000 at that time.  The masjid is a pucca two-storied building with a total area of 8000 square feet.  Wood with beautiful engraved carvings for this masjid came from Bombay in large pathemaris (boats).  The masjid derives rental income of Rs. 2000 per month.  The building is valued at Rs. 5 lakhs but its income is not sufficient to meet current expenses. To augment revenue, the Masjid plans to construct shops in its vacant space.  However, as there are no surplus funds, such construction is not possible at this time.  InshaAllah, our desire will be fulfilled.

The Masjid is registered with the State Wakf Board under the Kerala Wakf Act of 1954.  The Masjid is under the direct management of a Masjid Committee elected by the Cutchi Memon Jamath, Alleppey every three years with a Muthavally, Secretary and five members.  The President of the Jamath is the ex-officio member of this committee, and has wide powers per the By-Laws of the Jamath in emergencies for the Masjid’s work.

At present, no member of the Noorani family lives in Alleppey or elsewhere in Kerala.

This article by Haji Kasim Ismail Sait, a former Muthavally of the Cutchi Memon Noorani Masjid in Alleppey appeared in the “Souvenir” published by the All India Cutchi Memon Federation on the occasion of its World Conference in 1993.  I am attempting to obtain more information on the present status of the Masjid from its current caretakers.

The Noorani family is known for having constructed the Zakaria Masjid in Bombay and the Hashemiah High School.  The Zakaria Masjid, a landmark masjid in south Mumbai, is indeed a beautiful edifice, and has given its name to a stop on the local bus system, the BEST or Bombay Electric Supply and Transport.  The masjid occupies three streets, the Zakaria Masjid Street (Bhujwari Moholla), Kambekar Street (Memon Moholla) and Yusuf Meherally Road (Masjid Bunder Road). Members of the Noorani family are spread all over the globe:  India, Pakistan, Middle East and the US
– Arif G. Kadwani, May 2009

Information courtesy: Arif G. Kadwani, Cutchi Memon Jamat of North America

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