The Urdu of India and Pakistan
A cluster of the two main Urdu groups.

[IMAGE] The 46 million Urdu speakers can be found throughout all of Pakistan and in the northern states of India including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. Urdu communities can also be found in West Bengal and Bombay.

The term "Urdu" does not adequately describe the Urdu people themselves, but is merely a language distinction. Urdu-speaking Muslims are not an ethnic group in the strictest sense, but are rather a collection of ethnic groups who have been widely dispersed geographically. They possess a sense of "group identity" based on cultural and historical factors: the Islamic religion, Persian cultural tradition and its Indian offspring, the Urdu language, and the tradition of Muslim supremacy in northern India.

The Urdu language was developed during the 500-year period of Muslim rule, evolving from the Hindi language spoken in the Delhi region. It provided a means of communication among the court, the army, and the general public. It is heavily laden with Persian and Arabic words, and is written in the Persian script. Today, it is the official language of Pakistan.

What are their lives like?
From their homes in the Ganges River valley to the sand dunes of the Thar Desert, the Urdu-speaking Muslims can be found in every level of society. They form the illiterate and the educated, the poor and the money lenders, the landlords and the religious leaders.

The Urdu of northern India and the Deccan are mostly the descendants of immigrants who were the "cream of society" in their own countries. Some are the descendants of Arab merchants and soldiers, while others descended from Turks, Persians, and Pushtan.

Between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Urdu established political dominance in the area. Non-immigrant Urdu consisted of Hindus who had converted to Islam. For this reason, Muslim rulers always had an ingrained prejudice against local converts.

Presently, there is such diversity among the Urdu speakers that it is difficult to generalize their lifestyles. Within any given region, their differences are related to class distinctions.

More than 75% of the Urdu population are directly dependent on agriculture. In their society, access to irrigation is the key to social status and economic wealth. There are three categories within the typical Urdu village structure: the land owners; the Muslim "religious group," which consists of the direct descendants of Mohammed or his family; and non-agricultural occupations, such as carpenters, barbers, and blacksmiths.

Housing ranges from mud homes to modern buildings. They are often modeled after the traditional homes in which the women had separate quarters. Urdu-speaking women are responsible for all of the household duties as well as caring for the children. They also enjoy embroidering, sewing, and visiting with other neighborhood women.

Among the Urdu Muslims, there is still much social pressure to "maintain honor" in all levels of their societies. Purdah (the seclusion, concealment, or unsociability of women) still exists, but to varying degrees. In some areas, the entire covering of the body with only an embroidered screen for vision is required. A woman is generally secluded from public view and is protected from dangerous contacts. This is done to protect either the her husband's honor or the honor of her father's family. In other areas, however, the women are much more outspoken. They may cover just their heads and wear dark glasses to maintain a sense of privacy.

In some of the wealthy, urban levels of society, purdah is losing its value as it competes with western values. Women entering professions lean toward such occupations as teaching or practicing medicine in which their clients will be female.

What are their beliefs?
Although the Urdu speakers are all Muslims, this is no longer a unifying factor. There are intense differences among the various Muslim sects (the Hanafites, Shafiites, and Ithna-Asharis), especially over religious interpretations of the Holy Koran.

Indian converts to Islam ultimately outnumbered the Muslim immigrants. Though many conversions were made out of conviction, others were simply for convenience sake. This is still the case with many today. Incomplete conversion to Islam was common; and many former Hindus still continue in their Hindu rituals and caste identities.

What are their needs?
The Bible, as well as the Jesus film, has already been translated into Urdu. Christian radio and television broadcasts are also available in their language. Although several missions agencies are targeting the Urdu-speaking communities, they remain less than one percent Christian. Greater efforts must be made to effectively reach them with the Gospel.

Many of the Urdu-speaking Muslims consider the moral values of Western Christians to be pagan. For this reason, they are very leery of opening up to the Gospel. They need to see true Christianity lived out.

Fundamental Muslims are very outspoken against Christianity. Fervent intercession is needed to break down the barriers that have long separated them from the Truth.

Prayer Points

  • Pray against the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Urdu bound for many generations.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to multiply the effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Urdu.
  • Pray that God will open doors for Christian businessmen to share the Gospel with them.
  • Ask God to complete the work begun in the hearts of the Urdu Christians through adequate discipleship.
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit will soften the hearts of the Urdu towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Ask God to call out prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Urdu through dreams and visions.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up a triumphant Church among the Urdu of Pakistan and India for the glory of His name.
[Map] [Table]

See also:The Diaspora Urdu.

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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