Derived from the Persian khwajah, a term of honor, the word Khoja referred to those converted to Nizari Isma˓ili Islam in the Indian subcontinent from about the thirteenth century onward. More particularly, it included certain groups, predominantly from Gujarat and Cutch, who retained strong Indian ethnic roots and caste customs while sustaining their Muslim religious identity under continual threats of persecution. In the nineteenth century, the Isma˓ili imamat (office of the imam) became established in India and a program of consolidation and reorganization of the community and its institutions began. These changes led to differences of opinion among Khojas. While the majority of the Khojas remained Isma˓ili, one group became Ithna˒ ˓Ashari and a smaller number adopted Sunnism.
In the context of the overall policy of the Isma˓ili imam of the time, Aga Khan III, of consolidating the Shi˓a Isma˓ili identity of his followers, the ethnic connotation of being "Khoja" became diluted over time and a wider sense of self-identification as Isma˓ili Muslims began to emerge. With the increasing recognition of the diversity of the worldwide Isma˓ili community itself and the positive value of the pluralist heritage represented within each of the traditions, the Khojas now regard themselves as an integral part of the larger community, to whose development they make a strong contribution.
The Khoja Ithna˒ ˓Asharis, while seeking to develop relations with the larger Twelver Shi˓a community, retain their own organizational framework.
The Khojas live today in East Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Europe, and North America and show a strong commitment to values of Muslim philanthropy in their entrepreneurship and contribution to societies in which they live.