by From a worker among Urdu speakers in India
Islam was first brought to India by Arab traders who came to the coastal area of Malabar as early as the 7th century AD. It arrived in coastal Gujarat in the 11th century, and came to northern India in the 12th century with the Turkic invasions. It has since become a part of India’s religious and cultural heritage. Over the centuries, there has been significant integration of Hindu and Muslim cultures across India, and the Muslims have played a prominent role in India’s economic rise and cultural influence.
During the reign of Akbar the Great (1556-1605 AD) the Persian language became preferred among the top strata of Muslims in northern India. During and after the British rule, English also greatly influenced the language of the people. Today, the Persian and English effect on the language of Muslims (Urdu) is found in nearly every sentence they speak.
If you are a Muslim from north India, it is likely that you will speak Urdu. This language is the unifying factor for the ethnic, social, trade, and religious groups of Muslims in India and Pakistan today. As pointed out last month, Urdu is closely related to Standard Hindi. In South Asia it is often difficult to predict which of these two languages will be spoken in any given situation.
Urdu speakers especially dominate the urban landscape of north India. This is mainly due to the fact that the Moghul (Muslim) emperors built strongholds near water sources, defendable hills, river junctions, and other areas where cities would later develop. They left behind large communities of Muslim people which have grown until the present day. During the 1947 partition of India, many rural Muslims from north India, particularly the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab states, left to join Pakistan. Those remaining in India have tended to stay near other Muslims, instead of spreading out across the country. Their status as a religious minority also encourages people to stay close to one another for protection, employment, financial security, and social support. Regardless of political challenges, a tour from the Islamic schools of Deoband to the Yamuna River banks in Delhi to Agra’s Taj Mahal to the sprawling Bara Imambara Mosque in Lucknow will reveal the extensive heritage Muslims have in this part of the subcontinent.
Alongside religion and language, north Indian Moghul style food is something that Muslims and non-Muslims recognize as distinct. There is a great love for spices, flat bread, slow cooked meat, and anything with the word theeka in the name. One fun dish is named kuta-kut because of the sound made while the chef chops and separates the food when he’s cooking it. Of course every meal needs to be followed by chai, which is a milk tea with copious amounts of sugar.
The last several decades have been challenging for Muslims in India. The decline of historical Muslim-focused political parties has led to more marginalization of this large group of people. The current rise to power of a strong Hindu nationalist party also does not bode well for Muslims and other minorities in India. One example of this challenge is the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992. There are plans to build a Hindu temple on this site, which can only further inflame the tensions between these two major communities.
• There are more than 10 million Urdu speaking Muslims in the northern state of Bihar. Sharukh is from Bihar and he came to faith in Christ more than 10 years ago. Sharukh has moved to Delhi and is married now. He and his wife are Muslim background believers (MBBs), and they intentionally live in a neighborhood dominated by poor Muslim people. They lead classes to help young students gain confidence in their studies. Sharukh is also very intentional about sharing his faith and answering questions about Christianity. God is using Sharukh, and he hopes to lead a discipleship-training program for MBBs in the coming years. Please pray that Sharukh and his family will remain strong in this setting, and that they will be salt and light among the people walking in deep darkness (Isaiah 9:2).
• The need for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is great among the Urdu speakers of north India. A major challenge is the shortage of workers for the harvest who are ministering among them. There are fewer cross-cultural missionaries per capita working among these people in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states than nearly anywhere on earth. Indian believers who are in outreach work also are often hesitant to focus their efforts on Muslims. However, India is a relatively easy place to engage Muslims with the good news, and there are international as well as local workers making sincere efforts here. There are still open doors in cities, small towns, and rural settings among Muslims. Join us in praying that the Lord of the harvest will soon send laborers into this field.
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by Keith Carey, editor, GPD
Dear Praying Friends,
This month’s prayer entries are perfectly sandwiched in between the entries from last month and those for next month! As previously mentioned, the Urdu speakers that we will pray for this month speak a language that is so much like Hindi that they are often mixed together as the “Hindustani” language. The major difference is that Hindi speakers are usually from the Hindu religion, and Urdu speakers are usually Muslims. Many Urdu speakers live either in India or Pakistan. Next month we will pray for the Pashtun people, who live in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. Thus we will have covered an area from the east coast of India through western India and Pakistan through Afghanistan in the west in three months. During this period we will have prayed for about 80 unreached people groups.
We are covering a lot of people this month. Many of the groups have populations that are in the millions, and they are isolated from the gospel by culture and religion. Please do not forget to pray for the Urdu speakers this month!