Lhasa-Khazis or Tibetan-Muslims

A person is called a Tibetan Muslim, or in Tibetan, a "Lhasa-Khazi", sometimes, "Beoba-Khazi" one who or whose family lived in Tibet. The mother tongue being Tibetan and culturally integrated with the main Tibetan Buddhist society. Ethnically, most of the TM families belong to the Tibeto-mongoloid stock. All TMs are believers of Islam (Sunni sect) and this is the sole difference between the two communities. The TM, referred in this work is to be differentiated with the Chinese Muslims, known as Hui, Habalingkas and the Ladakhi-Muslims of Tibet.

The latter two have their own separate identity, culture, and origin. However, the Ladakhi-Muslims and the TMs have many things in common, but the difference in some major areas remains. On the other hand, the TMs as a community can be classified into three sub-groups: (i) of the Kashmiri origin, (ii) the Singba-Khazis and the (iii) the last group who trace their origin from Central Asia. The first group forms the majority and has traces of "kashmiri" features; the second group was originally the prisoners of the Zorawar Singh army, converted to Islam in Tibet and gradually found itself after marrying Tibetan wives, assimilating in the TM society. The origins of the last group are not as clear as the first two groups and it is not so easy to link up their ancestry with any Central Asian country, historically speaking.

Roughly, 350 families are scattered in Srinagar(JK,India), Darjeeling-Kalimpong region(WB,India), Kathmandu, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and some continue to live in Lhasa and Shigatse, Tibet.

This community as it has come to become a definite community today may not have been so in the past. The formation of this community as it is today may have been a late phenomenon, as late as the early seventeenth century during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Different scholars have suggested presence of Muslims in Tibet as early as the eighth century through interaction with the Arab countries (Barthold, Encyclopedia of Islam, Masood Butt, Tibetan Bulletin). It was only from the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama that the formation of this loosely knit community started becoming cohesive as well as the flow of more Kashmiri merchants in Tibet grew more in number and settling down.

The majority of these people lived in and around the Barkhor, Lhasa; some in Shigatse and some in Tsetang. Practically, all of them were doing brisk business in bringing consumer goods from Calcutta, India and offloading Tibetan wool in Kalimpong. While in Tibet, they had shops selling consumer goods as well specializing in making of Tibetan dress and hats.

Although being pious practitioners of Islam, they were well integrated with the main Tibetan society and considered Tibet and anything Tibetan to be their own. In the sphere of Tibetan literature and music, their contributions are widely recognized. Similarly, spoken Lhasa-dialect Tibetan is another area where the TMs have specialized.

They celebrated their Muslim festivals in a Tibetan manner. Marriage rites were strictly as per Islamic law but were followed by such gaiety and merrymaking that was typical Tibetan. For instance, a marriage was to be followed by a three-day picnicking. Islamic prohibitions like liquor were strictly observed.

They were subject to the jurisdiction of Tibetan law, but the "Poonch", their own Committee head of which was called "Khazi Pompo", adjudicated trivial matters. They recognized and were loyal to the Dalai Lamas as their sovereign head.

Whatever Kashmiri connections the settlers had were completely lost soon after their settlement in Tibet and there was no-looking back. They had adopted the new country as their homeland. But when the political events in the form of Chinese intrusions from 1950 to 1960 took place, it not only destroyed the Tibetan nation and culture but also came as a rude shock for this community. Like everyone, the members of this community also left Tibet and found refuge in India. Those who could not make it continued to languish under Chinese oppression and suffered a great deal.

Once in India, the Indian Government came forwarded and included the members of this community in Indian citizenship status on the basis of their Kashmiri ancestry. The Jammu & Kashmir State Government also took the initiative and housed them in camps and later in make- shift houses. The Government in Exile of His Holiness also remained in constant touch and offered assistance wherever feasible. His Holiness also visited paid a visit to their colony in 1975.

By Bai Fazulla

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