The Sikh Empire a sanctuary for the Jewish people

Most of the refugee Jewish families who came to the Sikh empire settled in Rawalpindi, specifically in the area of Babu Mohallah neighborhood, and in Peshawar.


By Jespal Singh Brar | Opinion |

The year 1839 is a defining moment in Sikh history. In that year, Jewish refugees find sanctuary and a home in the Sikh Empire of Ranjit Singh. It was a moment etched in time when the Sikh Empire granted Jewish refugees rights to settle in the Sikh Empire when the Jews were fleeing pogroms and persecution. 1839 was also a watershed moment when later within the same year Ranjit Singh the Sher-e-Punjab or “Lion of Punjab”, the founder of the Sikh Empire, died. 

This Jewish narrative is another chapter in the long history in the persecution of the Jews. In 1839 the Jews were fleeing pogroms and persecution in Persia.  Many of the Jews fled north to Merv within the Russian influence, while others fled east from Persia to the Sikh Empire. 

The Jewish refugees who came to settle in the Sikh Empire were escaping the Allahdad pogrom perpetrated by Shiite Muslims against the Mashhadi Jewish community in the city of Mashhad, in Qajar era Persia. The pogroms of the Jews were characterized by the mass-killing and forced conversion of the Jews in the area of Mashhad to Islam.

On March 27, 1839, an estimated 36 Jews were killed and seven Jewish girls abducted to become Muslim child brides. Within the next 24 hours, under the risk of death, approximately 300 Jewish families made the pretense of converting to Islam, while many other Jews fled. The Allahdad incident was another prominent event in the history of the Jews.

Synagogue in Rawalpindi

Most of the refugee Jewish families who came to the Sikh empire settled in Rawalpindi, specifically in the area of Babu Mohallah neighborhood, and in Peshawar. Babu Mohallah of Rawalpindi is one of the oldest neighborhoods and business hubs of the city. Since many of the Jews were merchants, Babu Mohallah became a Jewish center. According to 1901 census and Rawalpindi Gazette, Mashhadi Jews were a thriving community of Rawalpindi.

However, in 1947 after the partition of Punjab between Pakistan and India, many Jewish families fled again to India and migrated to Mumbai and the last few remaining Jews left Rawalpindi in the late 60s. Many of the Mashhadi Jewish families who fled from Punjab in Pakistan later also migrated to Israel via Mumbai in India. Worldwide there are about 20,000 Mashhadis, of which about 10,000 live in Israel. Of the Mashhadis in the United States, many of them live in Great Neck, New York.  

Punjab has always been a land of migrants with cities such as Lahore being very cosmopolitan and being the gateway between Central Asia, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Lahore had many diverse communities of merchants such as Europeans, Persians, Armenians, Jews and other peoples of Central Asia, living and trading in Lahore. Within this familiar world the Jewish community found a safe haven to settle under the protection of the Sikh Empire.  

The Jewish people and the Sikhs have a kindred experience of facing extreme persecution and pogroms in their history. Both the Jewish and Sikh faiths have about similar number of adherents in the world as well. There are many parallels between the Jews and Sikhs


Khalsa Kingdom the inclusive kingdoms (Asia Samachar, 1 Nov 2022)

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