The Indian state of Orissa * was known in ancient times as the kingdom of Kalinga, a fiercely independent nation that had trading relations with countries as far away as Indonesia and that was hard to defeat in battle. Several Muslim armies were not able to conquer Orissa, until the Afghan general Sulaiman Karrani succeeded in 1568. The state came under the rule of the Moguls, and later under British rule in the mid-18th century.
* Orissa was renamed as Odisha and Oriya language was renamed as Odia on November 9, 2010 by the Parliament of India.
Despite nearly 200 years of Muslim rule in one form or another, Islam never spread rapidly in Orissa, and today Muslims make up only about three per cent of the population (over 1 million of Orissa’s estimated population of 40 million). The first Muslims came from Bengal in the 1400s, and while there are still some Bengali-speaking Muslims in the state, the majority of the Muslim population is Urdu-speaking.
Orissa State Extremes
Muslims in Orissa largely work as impoverished labourers and farmers, and are considerably less advanced educationally and developmentally than many other segments of society. Orissa state has also seen some persecution of Muslims by Hindu fanatics – something that has happened to Christians too. Dara Singh, who was convicted of the murder of Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons, was also accused of involvement in the murder of a Muslim in the same area.
External threats have made the Muslims more susceptible to influence from extremist elements. For example, recently in the town of Bhadrak, a Muslim man who had been drinking (contrary to what is normally allowed in Muslim society) pronounced a declaration of divorce (“talak”) on his wife, but later when he was sober he regretted having done so. However, the local Muslim leadership said that the divorce declaration was irrevocable. A large number of Muslims even demonstrated in Bhadrak in support of their leaders’ decision.
At the other extreme, folk Islamic practices strongly influence many of the Muslims of Orissa (as is the case throughout most of South Asia). Cuttack town is one of a number of places in Eastern India and Bangladesh that has a Qadam-i-Rasul shrine, containing what is alleged to be a footprint of the Prophet Mohammed; both Muslims and Hindus venerate this shrine. In some places, Muslims even participate in Hindu rituals related to the Rath Yatra “Festival” dedicated to the Orissan deity Jaganath.
Missionary teams are needed to go to Orissa to proclaim the Messiah to the Muslims of the cities and rural areas. Practical demonstrations of God’s love, through community development programmes, literacy and education, and even small business loans, are crucial as well.
Prayer for the Muslims in Orissa, India:
* Pray that God will reveal Himself to Muslims in Orissa through dreams, visions and miracles (Acts 10:1-44).
* Pray that the believers in Orissa will proclaim the gospel to Muslims in a meaningful and culturally relevant way.
* Pray for other workers to come from outside Orissa and ask God to grant them favour among the Muslims (Acts 11:20-21).
* Pray for God’s protection on all those seeking to proclaim the gospel in Orissa – even in the midst of difficulty (2 Thess 3:1-2).