History of the Jews in Pakistan

History of the Jews in Pakistan

Jews (Urdu: یہودی pronounced "Yehudi") are a very small religious group of Pakistan. Various estimates suggest that there were about 2,500 Jews living in Karachi at the beginning of the twentieth century, a smaller community in Peshawar and an undisclosed number scattered elsewhere throughout the country in various urban centres. There were synagogues in both cities and reportedly the one in Peshawar still exists.

Before 1947

According to the 1881 census, there were 153 Jews in Sindh province. [W. W. Hunter, "The Imperial Gazetteer of India," vol XII, Trubner and Co, London, 2nd edition, 1887. Online at: http://www.panhwar.net/rarebooks/The%20Imperial%20Gazetteer%20of%20India%20Vol%20XII%201887.pdf ] By 1919, this figure had risen to about 650. [Joan G. Roland, "The Jewish Communities of India: Identity in a Colonial Era"Pg 149 Limited Preview : http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA149&lpg=PA149&dq=jews+karachi&sig=YzcQuJHDc7pllJ9pKs_lcxe2c_w&id=kHJccZ92IecC&ots=UATw6OEEDF&output=html]

Before 1947 there were about 2,500 Jews living in the Sindh province of British India and most of them lived in Karachi. Most of these Jews were Bene Israel who had migrated from Maharashtra and they lived as tradesman, artisans, poets, philosophers and civil servants. Fact|date=February 2007 Some Baghdadi Jews from Bombay could also be found in the city.


Jews were treated with tolerance and respect, and variety of associations existed to serve the Jewish community in Pakistan such as:
*Young Man's Jewish Association: It was founded in 1903 and whose aim was to encourage sports as well as religious and social activities of the Bene Israel in Karachi.
*Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund: Established to support poor Jews in Karachi
*Karachi Jewish Syndicate: Formed in 1918 and whose aim was to provide homes to poor Jews at reasonable rents.

In Karachi, the Magain Shalome Synagogue was built in 1893 [Israel Goldstein, "My World As a Jew: The Memoirs of Israel Goldstein", Herzl Press, New York, USA, vol 2, Pg 21 Limited preview: http://books.google.com/books?id=mCU0XsXUDOYC&pg=PA21&lpg=PA21&ots=Rf8WikzBrB&dq=jews+karachi&output=html&sig=5giViHwkF4nloob2TatlYnh0k6k] , by Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon (other accounts suggest that it was built by Solomon David, a surveyor for the Karachi Municipality and his wife Sheeoolabai, although these may be different names for the same people). The synagogue soon became the center of a small but vibrant Jewish community, one of whose leaders, Abraham Reuben, became a councilor on the city corporation in 1936. There were various Jewish social organizations operating in Karachi, including the Young Men’s Jewish Association (founded in 1903), the Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund and the Karachi Jewish Syndicate which was formed to provide homes for poor Jews at reasonable rates.


Apart from the Bene Israel and the Baghdadi Jews, the two most prominent Pakistani Jewish communities, Bukharan Jews (also found in neighboring Afghanistan) also formed a small community in the northern city of Peshawar in the Northwest Frontier Province. Peshawar was served by two synagogues.


Some Jews migrated to India at the time of independence but reportedly some 2,000 remained, most of them Bene Yisrale (or Bene Israel) Jews observing Sephardic Jewish rites. The first real exodus from Pakistan came soon after the creation of Israel in 1948, which triggered multiple incidents of violence against Jews in Pakistan including the synagogue in Karachi being set to fire. The Karachi synagogue became the site of anti-Israel demonstrations, and the Pakistani Jews the subject of public mistrust.

More attacks on Jews occurred after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1956 and 1967. Though they were always seen as Pakistanis first, many organizations more often than not, funded by Saudi Arabia, began publishing articles and protesting against this previously well integrated community.

Ayub Khan's era saw the near-disappearance of the Pakistani Jewry. The vast majority left the country, many to Israel, but some to the United States or the United Kingdom. The small Jewish community in Peshawar ceased to exist by the 1960s, and both synagogues were closed. By 1968, the Jewish population in Pakistan had decreased to only 250 people and almost all of them were living in Karachi and were being served by one synagogue. Pakistan did not establish relations with Israel out of Muslim solidarity with Arab states. Efforts to separate the political stance against Zionism vs Jews as a people have often been undermined by orthodox and often illiterate hardliner organizations operating within the country and most often financed and supported by Saudi Arabia.


In his address as chair of the Second Islamic Summit in 1974, Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto asserted: “To Jews as Jews we bear no malice; to Jews as Zionists, intoxicated with their militarism and reeking with technological arrogance, we refuse to be hospitable.”

Magen Shalome, Karachi’s last synagogue, was demolished in the 1980s to make way for a shopping plaza.


A tiny Jewish community still remains in Karachi, Pakistan. Most of the Karachi Jews now live in Ramla, Israel, and built a synagogue they named Magen Shalome after the Pakistani Synagogue. Most Pakistani Jews are often mistaken for Parsis (Pakistanis belonging to the Zoroastrian faith.

Developments in the Middle East peace process such as the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza strip led to the first high level meeting between Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers. President Musharraf has also praised and thanked the Jewish community in the United States for its solidarity and support for victims of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.

Developments in the Middle East peace process such as the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza strip led to the first high level meeting between Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers. The foreign ministers of both countries met publicly for the first time in Istanbul, a diplomatic breakthrough brokered by Turkey.



Above material is based on an article of Prof. Adil Najam of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, published in Pakistan's newspaper The Daily Times. [http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_16-9-2005_pg3_3 1]

Related Links

* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Pakistan.html Jews of Pakistan]
* [http://www.geocities.com/scn_pk/peshawar_jews.html Peshawar Jews]
* [http://jewishrefugees.blogspot.com/2005/09/surprise-there-are-still-jews-in.html Surprise! There are still Jews in Pakistan]
* [http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/02/the_other_phobia.html The Other Phobia] By Keith Roderick
* [http://www.dawn.com/2007/05/06/local11.htm Bene Israel graveyard: buried in time or conscience?]

See also

* Religion in Pakistan

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