Social class in the Muslim world

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Contrary to Qur'anic worldview and Islamic teaching in general, some Muslim communities around the world still apply a system of social stratification that has similarity to the caste systems.[1]

Middle East and North Africa

Traditional caste relationships have continued in many places, including the institution of slavery.[2][3][4][5][6]


In Algeria, Desert Berbers and Arabs usually have a rigid caste or class system, having social ranks ranging from nobles to an underclass of menial workers (commonly ethnic Africans).[7]Template:Copyvio link


Template:Main article Al-Akhdam also known as Al-Muhamasheen, "the marginalized ones" is a social group in Yemen, distinguished from the majority by its members' Negrito-like physical features and stature.[8] They are considered to be at the very bottom of the societal ladder and are mostly confined to menial jobs in the country's major cities.[9]

In Indian subcontinent

Sources indicate that the castes among Muslims developed both because of Hindu casteism effect on Indian Muslims.[1][10]

Some data indicates that the castes among Bengali Muslims have never been as rigid as among Hindus.[11] The rate of endogamous marriage, for example, is less than two thirds.[11] An old Bengali saying also goes "Last year I was a Julaha (weaver); this year a Shaikh."[12] However, other scholars disagree with this thesis (see criticism below).


In North India, most of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, some Muslims are classified as Ashrafs, Ajlafs and Arzals.[13] Ashrafs claim a superior status derived from their aristocratic ancestry.[14]

Barani was specific in his recommendation that the "sons of Mohamed" [i.e. Ashrafs] "be given a higher social status than the low-born [i.e. Ajlaf].[15] His most significant contribution in the fatwa was his analysis of the castes with respect to Islam.[15] His assertion was that castes would be mandated through state laws or "Zawabi" and would carry precedence over Sharia law whenever they were in conflict.[15]

Every act which is "contaminated with meanness and based on ignominity, comes elegantly [from the Ajlaf]".[15] Barani also developed an elaborate system of promotion and demotion of Imperial officers ("Wazirs") that was primarily on the basis of their caste.[15]

In addition to the Ashraf/Ajlaf divide, there is also the Arzal caste among Muslims, who were regarded by anti-Caste activists like as the equivalent of untouchables.[16][17] The term "Arzal" stands for "degraded" and the Arzal castes are further subdivided into Bhanar, Halalkhor, Hijra, Kasbi, Lalbegi, Maugta, Mehtar etc.[16][17][18] They are relegated to "menial" professions such as scavenging and carrying night soil.[19][20]


Arzal is the working class destined to labour and provide services to all others.[21][22]

Interaction and mobility

Template:Main article

In Bihar state of India, cases have been reported in which the higher caste Muslims have opposed the burials of lower caste Muslims in the same graveyard.[23] The rate of endogamous marriage among cross cousins and parallel cousins for example, is less than two thirds.[11]

The upper caste Muslim caste include Garha, Iraqis, Mughals, Pathan, Muslim Rajput, Muslim Jatt and Muslim Tyagi.[23] Genetic data has also supported this stratification.[24]

Social class in Pakistan

Some of the different qoums are not permitted to intermarry or live in some of the same community.[25] The Quoms who deal with human emissions are ranked the lowest.[25]

Stephen M. Lyon of University of Kent has written about what he calls "Gujarism", the act of some Gurjars in Pakistan seeking out other Gurjars to form associations, and consolidate ties with them, based strictly on caste affiliation.[26]

Criticism of the system

Muslim scholars have termed the caste-like features as a "flagrant violation of the Qur'anic worldview."[no citations needed here]

See also




  1. 1.0 1.1 Burton-Page, J., Hindū, Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W. P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2006. Brill Online.
  2. Hilary Andersson, "Born to be a slave in Niger", BBC Africa, Niger
  3. "Kayaking to Timbuktu, Writer Sees Slave Trade, More", National Geographic.
  4. "The Shackles of Slavery in Niger". ABC News. 2005-06-03. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  5. "Niger: Slavery - an unbroken chain". Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  6. "On the way to freedom, Niger's slaves stuck in limbo", Christian Science Monitor
  7. Oxfam by 'ethnic Africans' it is meant negro
  8. Lehmann, Hermann (1954). "Distribution of the sickle cell trait". Eugenics Review 46 (2): 113–116. PMC 2973326. PMID 21260667. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  9. Robert F. Worth, "Languishing at the Bottom of Yemen’s Ladder", New York Times, (February 27 2008)
  10. Muslim Caste in Uttar Pradesh (A Study of Culture Contact), Ghaus Ansari, Lucknow, 1960, Page 66
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Madan, T.N. (1976). Muslim communities of South Asia : culture and society. Vkas Publishing House. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-7069-0462-8. 
  12. Ikram, S. M. (1964). "The Interaction of Islam and Hinduism". Muslim Civilization in India. New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  13. Asghar Ali Engineer. "On reservation for Muslims". The Milli Gazette. Pharos Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd,. Retrieved 2004-09-01. 
  14. Aggarwal, Patrap (1978). Caste and Social Stratification Among Muslims in India. Manohar. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Das, Arbind, Arthashastra of Kautilya and Fatwa-i-Jahandari of Ziauddin Barrani: an analysis, Pratibha Publications, Delhi 1996, ISBN 81-85268-45-2 pp. 124-143
  16. 16.0 16.1 Ambedkar, Bhimrao. Pakistan or the Partition of India. Thackers Publishers. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Web resource for Pakistan or the Partition of India
  18. Gitte Dyrhagen and Mazharul Islam (2006-10-18). "Consultative Meeting on the situation of caste in Bangladesh". International Dalit Solidarity Network. Archived from the original on 2007-08-03. Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  19. Dereserve these myths by Tanweer Fazal,Indian express
  20. Falahi, Masood. "Caste and caste based discrimination s Among Indian Muslims’".,_Caste_and_Caste_Based_Discriminations_Among_Indian_Muslims.pdf. Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  21. Habib, Mohammed (1358), The Political Theory of the Delhi Sultanate
  22. Asghar Ali Engineer. "On reservation for Muslims". The Milli Gazette. Pharos Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd,. Retrieved 2004-09-01
  23. 23.0 23.1 Anand Mohan Sahay. "Backward Muslims protest denial of burial". Retrieved 2003-03-06. 
  24. Gene Diversity in Some Muslim Populations of North India Human Biology - Volume 77, Number 3, June 2005, pp. 343-353 - Wayne State University Press
  25. 25.0 25.1 Barth, Fredrik (1962). "The System Of Social Stratification In Swat, North Pakistan". In E. R. Leach. Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon, and North-West Pakistan. Cambridge University Press. p. 113. Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  26. Stephen M. Lyon. "Gujars and Gujarism: simple quaum versus network activism". University of Kent at Canterbury. Retrieved 2007-05-31. 

Further reading

  • Ahmad, Imtiaz (1978). Caste and social stratification among Muslims in India. New Delhi: Manohar. OCLC 5147249. 
  • Ali, A.F. Imam (September 1993). Changing Social Stratification in Rural Bangladesh. South Asia Books. ISBN 978-81-7169-267-5. 
  • Sikand, Yoginder (2004). Islam, Caste and Muslim Relations in India. Global Media Publications. ISBN 81-88869-06-6. 
  • Ali, Syed (December 2002). "Collective and Elective Ethnicity: Caste Among Urban Muslims in India". Sociological Forum 17 (4): 593–620. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0884-8971. 
  • Ahmad, S. Shamim; A. K. Chakravarti (January 1981). "Some regional characteristics of Muslim caste systems in India". GeoJournal 5 (1): 55–60. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0343-2521. 
  • Berreman, Gerald D. (June 1972). "Social Categories and Social Interaction in Urban India". American Anthropologist 74 (3): 567–586. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0002-7294. 

External links

Template:Segregation by type Template:Discrimination