Introduction / History The term "Urdu" does not adequately describe the Urdu people as such, 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, a Persian cultural tradition, the Urdu language, and the tradition of Muslim supremacy in northern India.
A majority of the Urdu speakers live in Pakistan and the northern states of India. However, in recent years, many Urdu-speaking Muslims have emigrated to the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, searching for economic opportunities. Skilled laborers and highly educated professionals have also emigrated to Western Europe, North America, and the Commonwealth countries.
Urdu, now the national language of Pakistan, is an Indo-Iranian language that developed from the Hindi language. It is heavily laden with Persian and Arabic words and is written in the Persian script.
What are their lives like? Urdu-speaking Muslims can be found in every level of society. They are the illiterate and the educated, the poor and the money lenders, the landlords and the religious leaders.
The Urdu speakers are the descendants of immigrants who were the "cream of society" in their own countries. Some are the descendants of Arab merchants and soldiers. Others descended from Turks, Persians, and Pushtuns.
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.
Before the partition of Pakistan and India in 1947, the Urdu consisted of a wide range of economic and social classes. When Pakistan became independent in 1947, many Urdu-speaking Muslims stayed in India. While the petty merchants and laborers only noticed minor economic changes, the landholders experienced drastic changes. Middle class immigrants to the Persian Gulf and other nearby regions felt discriminated against in jobs and educational opportunities. Such immigrants tend to retain their original citizenship. The bulk of their earnings are sent back to their families in Pakistan and India. On the other hand, those who immigrate to westernized countries usually take on the citizenship of their new country. However, unless they live in neighborhoods containing numbers of other Urdu speakers, the second generation often loses contact with their native language and culture.
In rural areas, housing takes the form of a mud hut with separate living quarters for the women. Urban dwellers live in more modern houses or apartments.
Urdu 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 Urdu speaking 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. A woman is generally secluded from public view and is protected from "dangerous" contacts. This is done to protect either her husband's honor or the honor of her father's family. In some areas, the entire covering of the body with only an embroidered screen for vision is required. In other areas, 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 students and clients will be female.
What are their beliefs? Although the Urdu 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).
Since entire communities tended to migrate together, different Islamic sects are found in different countries. For example, in Turkey and South Africa, the Urdu speakers are almost completely Sunni Muslims; whereas in Canada and in Pakistan, they are almost completely Hanafite Muslims.
What are their needs? Unfortunately, very few mission agencies are focusing on Urdu speaking communities. Greater efforts must be made to effectively reach them with the Gospel.
Many of the Urdu, such as those living in Bahrain, consider the moral values of Western Christians to be pagan. For this reason, they are very suspicious of opening up to Christianity. They need to see true Christianity lived out.
Fundamentalist Muslims are very outspoken against Christianity. Fervent prayerful intercession is needed to break down the barriers that have long separated them from the Truth.
Prayer Points * Pray that God will open doors for Christian businessmen to share the Gospel with them.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Urdu Muslims that have become followers of Christ.
* Pray that these converts will be bold in their witness for Christ.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Urdu towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among Diaspora Urdu speakers.