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Cutchi Memon Jamath, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India


The history of Cutchi Memons of Chennai (formerly known as Madras) is more than 150 years old. [We will intermittently use both names, Chennai and Madras – Editor] There is no authentic record of the first migration of Cutchi Memons to Madras.  It is, however, known that a Cutchi Memon, Mr. Abdul Rahim Patel was deputed from Karachi as the “Patel of Madras” sometime before 1870.  He is known to have conducted business in Madras after his arrival.  Records show that his son, Mr. Zackaria Abdul Rahim Sait “Mateen”, who became a prolific writer, was born in 1884 in Madras.  Early records also show that, in 1880, the Corporation of Madras allotted land for Cutchi Memons to use as their cemetery.

During this period, many Cutchi Memon families settled in Madras.  For reasons of convenience, they resided in Anderson Street and Chinna Thambi Street of Georgetown area.  By the turn of the 20th century, it is on record that the first President of the Cutchi Memon Jamath was Janab Hajee Ebrahim Sait followed by Janab Hajee Jounus Abba Sait.  Both had their hearts and souls for the betterment and welfare of the community. To safeguard the interests of the community, the Cutchi Memon Jamath was registered under the Society Act, and included in it a clause (numbered 4) defining a Cutchi Memon as one whose father and mother were both Cutchi Memons. Twenty five years ago, this clause was challenged in a court of law.  Our Jamath’s lawyer offered, in support of his arguments, a well known legal treatise written by the famous jurist, Mr. Justice Mulla of the Bombay High Court; the treatise contains a reference to Cutchi Memons as being one of many Muslim communities.  [It is believed that this treatise was Mulla's "Mohamedan Law", which contains references to Cutchi Memons, and the two Acts concerning their identity as Muslims to be governed by the Mohamedan Law in India - Editor]  Our Jamath won the case on the ground that Cutchi Memons are not a religious body or representatives of any particular religious group but a community with full faith in Islam and having an identity of its own, promoting the education, economical and social interest of its members. There has been smooth sailing ever since, as we have followed our legal counsel’s advice, “Maintain your identity or get lost”.

The grandeur of our community with flourishing textile trade continued, and by the turn of the century, the new generation began taking up higher studies with diversification of interests.  Following are the names of a few illustrious names of Cutchi Memons of yesteryears who are remembered and revered to this day:

  • Hajee Essa Abba Sait was a businessman and respected philanthropist. During 1917, he gifted a property in Chinna Thambi Street in Georgetown to be used as a Jamath Khana for Cutchi Memons, and a few other properties to meet the social needs of the poorer of our members.  He created a Trust in 1919 to establish a Madrassa to impart religious teachings and to donate books to all deserving Cutchi Memon children.  He also established a Musafirkhana for all Muslim visitors to Madras, and took an active interest in the construction of a Masjid in Anderson Street; this Masjid is today called the “Memon Masjid”.

  • An illustrious Cutchi Memon, Adam Hajee Mohammed Sait arrived in Madras in 1902 from Cochin (now known as Kochi).  He started dealing in tobacco and in general merchandise.  He was the first Cutchi Memon of Madras to be conferred the title of Khan Bahadur by the British.  Already the President of the South India Chamber of Commerce, he became the Sheriff of Madras.  During the last days of the British Empire in India, when Sir James Taylor was the Governor of the Reserve Bank at Delhi, Mr. Adam Hajee Mohammed Sait was made the Reserve Bank Director of Madras Province.

  • Two other Cutchi Memons of Madras were honored with the title of Khan Bahadur by the British:  Mr. Moosa Hajee Ebrahim Sait and Hajee Yousuff Hajee Joonus Sait.

  • We then have Mr. Joonus Abba Sait (brother-in-law of Hajee Essa Abba Sait) from Bellary in 1904 in Madras taking to the textile business.  Another family in the same line of business was that of Hajee Aboobacker & sons.  The eldest son was Mr.Ebrahim Sait, whose daughter Aansa acquired literary fame.  Her literary contributions appeared in reputed Urdu periodicals such as Asmath, Hareem, Naye-Range Khayaal, etc.

  • A Cutchi Memon graduate from Aligarh, Mr.Hameed Hassan, migrated to Madras in 1920 or so, and practiced law in the Madras High Court. He was responsible for framing the Rules and Regulations of Hajee Essa Abba Sait Trust.  His eldest son, Mr. Mahmood Hassan, was connected with the Deccan Times before the partition of India.  He migrated to Pakistan, and becoming a favorite of Mr. Mohamed Ali Jinnah, joined the Dawn of Karachi, where he worked with distinction. It is interesting to note that Mr. Mahmood Hassan brought to Hajee Essa Abba Sait’s Madrassa an Englishman by the name of Mr. Marmaduke Pickthall to address its students. This gentleman, a convert to Islam, is well known for his academic work, particularly his translation of the Holy Koran into English.

  • Mr. Yacoob Hassan Sait was another noteworthy Cutchi Memon who entered politics and was a member of the Madras Legislative council in 1916.  He was later a member of the Rajaji Cabinet in 1941.

  • Cutchi Memons did not lag behind in the literary field.  Mr. Ismail Sait Maghmoom was a poet in Urdu and Persian (Farsi) languages.  His collection of poems, the Kuziyat-e-Maghmoom, was published in 1929.  A journalist, Mr. Md. Ismail Sait was the owner and editor of an Urdu magazine, the Dilchasp.

It would not be out of place to list the names of the following Cutchi Memons who have done our community proud in several fields:

  • Dr. Abdul Khader Yousuff Sait, now a leading neurosurgeon in Saudi Arabia

  • Muneer Sait, hockey Olympian in 1968 (Mexico), and now a member in the committee of the International Hockey Federation

  • Zackria & Sons, lading auctioneers and real estate agents

  • Aijaz Ahmed Sait, coach of the Tamil Nadu basketball team.

Today, there are about 250 Cutchi Memon families in Madras, pursuing various interests.  The Jamath is functioning well and serving its members in all spheres: looking after the needy and the ailing, extending interest-free loans to deserving young men who wish to be employed abroad and become self-reliant and giving scholarships to male and female students for pursing their education.

Our Jamath has also constructed a beautiful Masjid at our Kabrastan.  This Masjid is well maintained. Our dedicated team of young Cutchi Memons collects funds in the holy month of Ramadan for distribution to the needy and deserving.

The above report by Mr.Moosa Sattar Sait, M.A., President, Cutchi Memon Jamath, Madras, appeared in the 1993 Souvenir of the All India Cutchi Memon Federation’s World Conference.  I am sure much has changed since then, all for the better.  I am attempting to obtain latest information from the Cutchi Memon Jamath, Chennai
–Arif G. Kadwani May 2009

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

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