Kashmiri Shawl Traders Took Islam To Nepal, Constructed Oldest Kathmandu Mosque


SRINAGAR: Kashmiris are believed to have taken Islam to Nepal and built one of the oldest mosques in the country that still is one of the major praying space for Muslims. They were mainly traders and their arrival to the region is recorded to have happened somewhere in the fifteenth century.

Kashmiri Panch-Takiya Jama Masjid Kathmandu. This was built by Kashmiris, who also introduced Islam to Nepal. Photo by Nishant Gurang

The mosque, one of the major mosques in the country, has many names. It is being called Kashmiri Panch-Takiya Jama Masjid Kathmandu and Nepali Kashmiri Jamia Masjid as well.

The mosque is a huge premises comprising three complexes – the main prayer hall, an annexe and a vast madrasah. Within the mosque, premises are the tombs of Haji Mishkin Shah and Khwaja Gyasuddin Shah.

Kashmiri Muslim traders entered Nepal during the time of King Ratna Malla and the mosque was built in the time of King Pratap Malla. The mosque has undergone multiple renovations. The existing structure of the mosque dates back to the reign of King Prithvi Narayan Shah. They had supported the king against the Malla dynasty. It was much later after Kashmiri’s entry into Nepal that Muslims from Afghanistan, Iran and Middle East joined them.

Nepali historians believe that it was Ratna Malla’s envoy to Lhasa who actually invited Kashmiri Muslims to Kathmandu in an attempt to profit from the rugs, carpets, shawls and woollen goods they traded between Kashmir, Ladakh and Lhasa. The first batch of Muslims came with a Kashmiri saint who built the first mosque, Kashmiri Taquia, in 1524, according to Shamima Siddika, who authored Muslims of Nepal.

Most Kashmiri traders are reported to have fled to the Indian plains during the economic blockade a subsequent ruler Prithbi Narayan Shah imposed. This created a situation that by 1774, quite a handful of Kashmiri merchants stayed back in Nepal. This was despite the fact that Kashmiri traders helped the unification process envisaging the joining of the Gorkha kingdom with Kathmandu valley and making of modern Nepal in the later eighteenth century. “Historians say that Prithbi Narayan Shah employed them as spies and informants as they had personal contacts with the Malla rulers,” one write-up in a prominent Nepal newspaper. “After his victory, he gave them permission to build a mosque, now near Tri-Chandra Campus.”

Even now, the Kashmir community lives in Nepal. In the last 30 years, scores of Kashmir families went to the Himalayan country for trade, mostly handicrafts. Thamel and Lazimpat are the key hubs for many Kashmiri businesses. There are Kashmiri handicraft shops around most of the hotels in Boudha, Pokhara and Jyatha. In Kathmandu and Nepal’s touristic city, Pokhara more than 500 Kashmiris are living in harmony with the larger Nepali population. Around 4.5 per cent of Nepal’s 27 million population is Muslim.


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