This is an article from the January-February 1989 issue: GCOWE 2000

A Tale of Two Cities

Profiles of Muslim Peoples in Delhi and Bombay

A Tale of Two Cities

India, a vast land of unimaginable diversity, is known as a Hindu nation. Yet not all of India’s millions bow to idols. Hidden among masses of Hindus, and virtually neglected by missionary efforts, lie more than one hundred million Muslims. Some unofficial estimates suggest that as many Muslims live in India as in the entire Arab world! In the following pages we will describe some of the Muslim communities in two major Indian cities. Names of individuals have been changed.


Delhi, the capital of India, displays the diversity and contrasts of a modernizing third world urban center. Imported cars and city buses share crowded streets with horse-drawn carts and wandering cows. People of varying languages, educational levels, and cultures migrate to Delhi from all over India, drawn by both economic and educational opportunities. Temples of all shapes and sizes, scattered steeples of ancient churches, and myriads of mosque minarets reflect the religious diversity in this metropolis of eight million people.

More than one million of these people are Muslims. Unlike nominal Muslims in countries where they are the majority, many Delhi Muslims are devout adherents to Islam. When the call to prayer sounds out across the city five times a day, many men head for the mosques with white caps on for prayer. Women at home faithfully read their Quran and bow in prayer toward Mecca. Even so, a caste system and the use of charms and spiritual mediators indicate the influence of Hinduism on Indian Islam.

Dehli Muslims themselves, however, display vast diversities. Cultural, educational, and economic differences divide them into distinct groups with limited interaction. Separate church-planting efforts are needed if all these groups are to be reached.

In a sense, all North Indian Muslims look to Delhi as the focal point of Islam. Because of this, if a church movement were birthed among Dehli’s Muslims, it could well ripple across the more than one hundred million Muslims of India.

Old Delhi Muslims

Old Delhi is well known as the traditional Muslim sector of the city. The largest mosque in India is located at its center, and within its neighborhoods can be found families whose ancestors walked these same streets 400 years ago.

Many Old Delhi Muslims pray daily at the mosque. Their Islamic steadfastness is seen in their high regard for the Quran and its teachings. The women almost always wear the bourdka, a black veil that covers from head to foot for modesty. Children also go to the mosque regularly to learn how to pray and chant the Quran in Arabic.

New Delhi Muslims

Whereas Old Delhi Muslim families trace their city roots back centuries, most of the 200,000 Muslims in New Delhi are middle-class families who arrived in the city some time within the past forty years. Seeking new educational and occupational opportunities, New Delhi Muslims usually settle near a major Muslim university in the suburbs.

Many New Delhi Muslims believe the study of Islam is an important part of their education. Even though they are financially successful and modernizing, they still choose to devoutly follow the Islamic faith and practices. Their high morals and community concern have earned them the respect of other Muslims in Delhi.

A breakthrough among New Delhi Muslims may well have long-reaching effects. They have strong influence on the education and direction of the younger generation. Because of their good reputation and strong family ties in various North Indian towns, an exciting spread of the gospel could occur if New Delhi Muslims came to Christ.

East Delhi Muslims

Across the Jamuna River, away from the bustling centers of Old and New Delhi, lies East Delhi, a newly settled and generally despised area. Here thousands of Muslim migrants find low-cost housing for their families.

Thirty to forty thousand middle-class Muslim businessmen are drawn to East Delhi by opportunities to make money. The owners of small manufacturing or retail enterprises, they seldom interact with Muslims across the river and mostly befriend other East Delhi businessmen. However, their closest ties remain with relatives in the villages from which they have come.

East Delhi Muslims can read and write— unlike their illiterate, hired workers. But they are less educated and more traditional than modernized Muslims settling in New Delhi. East Delhi Muslims are more concerned with immediate financial success than with higher education. Because of these values, other Delhi Muslims consider East Delhi businessmen to be uncultured and ignorant.

Poor Laborers

Poor laborers make up approximately 35% of Delhi’s Muslims, making them the largest group of unreached Muslims in Delhi. These unskilled and semi-skilled laborers make up the lowest economic class. Many spend twelve hours a day performing grueling manual labor. Others sell vegetables from a cart or work in small factories. Some seek a better life, yet few rise above their low status. Most have lost hope of ever escaping mundane, low- paying jobs.

Many laborers come to Delhi from villages in surrounding states. They either sleep in the factory where they work or rent a small room with other workers. Their earnings, which are sent back to families, are much more than they could make in the villages. They try to visit their families as often as possible, and eventually they move their families to Delhi, where they usually live in small thatched huts or rented rooms. These shelters seldom provide electricity or plumbing.

These laborers have little time to carry out the daily obligations of a good Muslim. Many also lack knowledge of Islamic teachings and add superstitions to their religious practices.

Prayer Focus

The Muslims in Delhi are committed to their Islamic faith, but God is committed to bringing them into his kingdom. Pray with power for God to break the stronghold of Islam (Mt. 16:18).

Pray for the salvation of India’s highest Islamic leader, Shahi Imam Buchari, living in Delhi.

A movement beginning in Delhi could turn North India upside down. Pray for a powerful Muslim convert church to arise in Delhi among those with the greatest potential to influence other Muslims.

Pray that God’s people would take advantage of the Delhi Muslims’ rare openness to Christians.


Diverse Muslim Cultures "There are one and one-half million Muslims in Bombay…and only a handful of persecuted, scattered converts. No church has yet been effective in reaching out to them,” laments a leading national Christian.

Churches in Bombay are filled with Catholics and converted Hindus, but devoid of converted Muslims. Ever since the Muslims invaded India 800 years ago, the situation has remained the same: no generation of Muslims has yet been reached with the gospel. The need for compassionate, committed Christians to live and share the good news with Bombay Muslims is great, but no one is doing it.

Each day thousands of Bombay Muslims make their way to mosques to pray. Islam teaches them to ceremonially wash before each of their five daily prayers. Many of these Muslims earnestly seek to know the one true God, yet they fail to recognize their need for an intercessor between man and God. They reject the idea that to be clean before God, men must be washed in Christ’s blood. Unknowingly, they are following a path that leads to eternity apart from God!

So each day the process continues… Bombay’s Muslims making their way to their mosques, washing five times a day, but never really becoming clean. Several culturally distinct Muslim groups live in this city of ten million people. They include:

The Memons

In the 15th century 700 families converted from Hinduism to Islam and then endured severe persecution. Today their descendants are known as Memons. The 50,000 Memons in Bombay are highly respected for their great faith, community identity, and business success. There are no Memons known to be followers of Jesus, and the tight community structure would make it extremely difficult for a few Memons to stand alone if they were to choose such a path. What is needed is a mass movement to Christ, similar to the Memons' past movement to Islam.

For 500 years Memons have followed Islam. Today they remain untouched by the Gospel. Will another 500 years pass before they have an opportunity to follow Christ? Not necessarily. Memon churches could become a reality. If the Indian church and Christians throughout the world will wholeheartedly seek God on their behalf, thousands of Memons could well decide to follow Jesus. Rev. 7:9 promises that there will be Memons before the throne of God. Pray this into being!

The Isna Ashri

Approximately 400,000 followers of the evangelistic Shia Isna Ashri sect of Islam live in Bombay. Many are Iranians who highly revere the Ayatollah Khomeini among other leaders. They consider themselves the only true Muslims, but most are not as fanatical as their counterparts in Iran.

“His Holiness” Al-Moosavi Saheb heads the Shia Isna Ashri sect for all India and southeast Asia. He maintains personal contact with Khomeini and in his friendly, personable way serves as administrator and spiritual leader for this Muslim sect in Bombay. He has persuaded Muslims from other sects to become Shia Isna Ashri and has stated his regret that money is not presently available to send out foreign missionaries.

The Malayalis

The quarter million Malayalis are probably the most prominent group of migrants in Bombay. They speak Malayalam in a world of Urdu-speaking Muslims. Eighty percent are men who, leaving their families behind, migrate to Bombay, determined to make money. They live crammed together, fifteen to twenty in a single room (a lati) and save their rupees to support their wives and children, whom they may only see once every ten months. Even though there are many Malayali churches in Bombay, there is a cultural chasm between Malayalam Christians and Malayalan Muslims, which no Muslim can cross without committing social suicide.

Nevertheless, there is reason for hope for the thousands of Malayalis and other Muslim migrants in Bombay. Compared to others, they have an amazing amount of freedom in their lives since they are not bound by the restrictions of normal family life. This freedom, coupled with the loneliness of separation from family, makes migrants ripe for the gospel.

The Bohras

Perhaps the most distinct Muslim people group in Bombay are the 50,000 Bohras. Their spiritual leader is the Syedna, a man who must approve of all marriages, business endeavors, and other major decisions within the community. The Syedna demands complete allegiance from his followers and requires blind faith in his decisions. But many Bohras are beginning to question his integrity and ethics, and unrest and discontent are therefore on the increase within this people group.

The Indian Church

Over the centuries God has made the name of his Son known in India. The church has existed in South India for many years. Recent revivals among tribals in Northeast India brought many to faith in Christ. Although much has happened to give God glory in these places, Jesus is not honored as Lord in most of North India.

The church in Delhi and Bombay has a largely traditional and Western flavor. Many churches show little signs of life, and few have organized outreaches. Some fellowships are growing, rarely because of conversions, but mostly due to South Indian Christians moving to these cities. Several Christian communities exist, but they lack a concern for reaching their Muslim neighbors.

The few evangelical churches in Delhi and Bombay do desire to see Muslims come to Christ, but they spend most of their effort on feeding those within the flock. Most evangelistic outreach is focused on those who are Christian by heritage, not by faith. Some believers may desire to reach out to Muslims, but they do not know how to begin.

Even if Muslims did find Christ, they would not fit into the culture of existing churches. By becoming Christians, Muslims would be forced unnecessarily to leave their culture and embrace a “Christian” one. In turn, Indian Christians have historically been suspicious of any Muslim who turns to Jesus. The prevailing attitude is that Muslims will always resist the gospel, and that those who profess to believe are probably insincere. Also, most Indian Christians do not see the need for Muslim converts to have churches that are culturally suitable for them. Mission agencies run by South Indian Christians are doing solid cross-cultural work. But as yet, none are known to have targeted Muslims in their work.

Prayer Requests

  • Dream with God about an awakened Church in India and the creation of new churches for Muslims.
  • Pray that God might cause the Church in Delhi and Bombay to be born afresh with life and vigor.
  • Pray the Indian Church will reach out to her Muslim neighbors with love and sensitivity.
  • Pray that Indian believers will learn how to share Jesus in a way that it will be “great news” for the Muslims.
  • Pray that believers will live in a way that brings glory to God and makes Christ known.

Javed of East Delhi

Javed is one of these businessmen. Born in a district about 100 kilometers from Delhi, he came to Delhi when in his thirties and soon began a wholesale spice business. He has hired young men from his village to transport goods from farmers to his shop.

When in Delhi, Javed's workers sleep in the warehouse, while he lives upstairs with his wife and six children. All the children work in the family business after school. His oldest son is in his last year of high school and hopes someday to take over the family business.

Javed and his family practice a less-than-orthodox Islam. They believe that charms worn around their necks will break curses and overcome sickness. With the help of local Muslim holy men, they seek to outsmart or escape invisible powers.

The Chaiwalla Family

Living in the very heart of the Memon community in Bombay, the Chaiwalla family eagerly express their pride in being Cutchi Memons. Mrs. Chaiwalla, a widow of 15 years, is a teacher at a Muslim school. Deeply respected and obeyed by her children, she has taught them a real love for life. But their hopes and dreams for the future, along with the emptiness of Islam, will not satisfy their spiritual thirst. They are in desperate need of living water.

Prayer Requests

  • Pray for the hundreds of Memon families like the Chaiwallas.
  • Pray for a turning to Christ and the emergence of a growing, vibrant church among the Memons.

My Friend Mohammed

Each time I passed Mohammed's coconut stall, he would joyfully greet me, "Salaam alaikum" (peace be upon you}, the universal Muslim greeting. He would then pull up a little stool, and slash open a fresh coconut for me to drink, indignantly refusing my three rupees payment. Five times a day he would shut down his stall, don his white prayer cap, and walk a half mile to the nearest mosque to pray.

Prayer Requests

  • Pray for Mohammed, his young wife, and family back in Kerala. Pray that they would hunger for a personal relationship with the one true God through Christ Jesus.
  • Pray Acts 26:18 for Mohammed, that his eyes would be opened so that he may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that he may receive forgiveness of sins.

A Lone Bohra Believer

Farida pays a high price for remaining steadfast in her decision to follow Christ. Her mother threatens suicide if Farida fellowships with other believers. Wider knowledge of her conversion could result in expulsion from her family in a society in which family is everything. If expelled, little hope remains for her family and other Bohras in the community to see a relevant witness of a new life in Christ.

Prayer Requests

  • Pray that Farida and those discipling her would continually seek the Lord as they grapple with tough issues of a Bohra following Christ.
  • Pray for laborers to be raised up to plant a culturally relevant church among the Bohras.


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