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West Asians (Arabs, Persians and Jews) in India

The time is the 1990s, the place is the United States. An Arab man responds to a car ad placed by a man with an Arab name. When they meet, the Arab is surprised to see someone who appears to be an Indian man! The Indian man explains that many centuries ago, his family migrated to India from Arabia and never changed their family name.

Indians of West Asian descent are not uncommon. In the pre-modern era, commerce and diplomacy encouraged exchange of people and ideas between the flourishing civilizations of old India, Persia and the Arab world. Even today, there are Parsees and Jews in India, descendants of West Asian immigrants and locals.


Around 711 AD, Arabs brought Islam into north India by invading modern day Pakistan. In later years Arabs arrived in India as Muslim missionaries, merchants and mercenaries. Arab mariners had navigated the Spice Route between West Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia for centuries. Many Arabs settled in India and married locals.

Further Reading

Persians (Parsees)

In the early eighth century, Zoroastrians fleeing Muslim persecution in Persia arrived in western India. They were given asylum by the Chalukyas of India. Their descendants are the Parsis/Parsees of India. During the Islamic era, Persians came to India as Muslim missionaries, merchants and mercenaries. The Persian presence in India predates the Zoroastrian refugees. In 530 BC, the Persian empire extended to part of Punjab.

Further Reading:


There are 3 distinct groups of Indian Jews: the Bene Israel, who believe themselves to be descended from Jewish settlers who came to India as early as the 2nd century B.C.E; the Jews of Malabar, whose ancestors came from Europe, West Asia and North Africa as early as 1000 years ago; and the Iraqi Jews, called Baghdadis, who came to India in the late 18th century. 1

There has been almost no anti-Semitism in India. Around 1000 C.E., local authorities in Cochin granted Jewish community leaders certain privileges including the permission to ride in elephant howdahs. The Paradesi ("white Jews" of European, North African and West Asian ancestry) still have the copper tablets on which these privileges were inscribed.2 A second group of Cochin Jews, the "black Jews", are black-skinned and resemble their Indian neighbors. They often have biblical names and are believed to predate the Paradesi.3 The offspring of native slave women and Jewish men are recognized as a separate group of Cochin Jews called the Meshuhrarim.

  1. Jewish Communities of the World, ed. Dr Avi Beker, p239
  2. Jewish Communities of the World, p240
  3. Jewish Communities of the World, p240