Which Mohammed Ali? Jury is still out

There are at least 3 renowned Mohammed Alis who were associated with Bombay prior to 1940s

Written by ZEESHAN SHAIKH | Mumbai | Updated: June 19, 2017 3:12 am
Minara Masjid, Mohammed Ali Road, Mohammed Ali Johar, Khilafat Movement, Mohammed Ali Rogay Minara Masjid on Mohammad Ali Road lit up for Eid. (Photo by Prashant Nadkar)

Mohammed Ali Road has a reputation. Mumbai’s main thoroughfare that connects south and north Mumbai is known for its vibrant chaos. Thousands of foodies who have been to its narrow bylanes in the last three weeks to partake the numerous Mughlai delicacies during the month of Ramazan are a witness to this chaos. Interestingly, this chaos also creeps into the origins of this road’s name, with local residents relating multiple versions of its origins.
The most popular held assumption is that the road was named after the chief patron of the Khilafat Movement, scholar and activist Mohammed Ali Johar. The Khilafat Movement was started in 1919 by the Muslim community to protest dismembering of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate by Western powers after World War I. Mahatma Gandhi subsequently joined hands with the Johar brothers, main patrons of the movement, to transform it into his first non-cooperation movement.

The most popular held assumption is that the road was named after the chief patron of the Khilafat Movement, scholar and activist Mohammed Ali Johar. The Khilafat Movement was started in 1919 by the Muslim community to protest dismembering of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate by Western powers after World War I. Mahatma Gandhi subsequently joined hands with the Johar brothers, main patrons of the movement, to transform it into his first non-cooperation movement.

Born in Lucknow, the Johar brothers — Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali — had led successful agitations in erstwhile Bombay under the Khilafat Movement. They have major landmarks named after them in the city — Shaukat Ali Road, Mohammed Ali Chowk, etc.

The jury is however still out over whether Mohammed Ali Road is named after one of the two Johar brothers. The confusion stems from the fact that there were a number of renowned Mohammed Alis who were associated with erstwhile Bombay before 1940s. They included noted politician and founder of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah, philanthropist Mohammed Ali Rogay.

“Opinion is divided on whom this road is named after. There were a lot of famous Mohammed Alis who were related to this area. While it is possible that it could be named after Johar brothers as both Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali have landmarks named in the area after them, old timers say it could be named after Nakhoda Mohammed Ali Rogay who was a famous philanthropist,” says Zubair Azmi, director of Urdu Markaz, an organisation working for Urdu literacy and preserving the heritage of areas around Bhendi Bazaar and Mohammed Ali Road.

Rogay was a close associate of the Indian National Congress’s third president Badruddin Tyabji. A trader in the then flourishing trade of opium, he was also a member of the Bombay Legislative Council and was termed by Tyabji as “one of the ablest and most enlightened Mussalmans”. Rogay is also said to have set up a number of schools in the area, and popular legend has it that a part of the land on which the JJ Hospital stands today was donated by him.
“There is confusion on whom this road is named after. Guess this confusion symbolises the bedlam that this road witnesses every day,” sums up Sakina Shaikh, 70, who lives in the locality.

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