Today there are approximately 33 million Muslim Jat spread throughout Northwest India and Pakistan.
Because lineage is extremely important in this region, who you are depends on who you are related to. There are dozens and dozens of major and minor clans among the Muslim Jat. Though primarily Punjabi-speaking, Jat Muslims speak several other secondary languages.
Jat were originally known as agriculturalists and herders. Over time, as the Jat settled in the great northern plains of India, with its fertile soil and fresh river water, they became known as “zamindars” or landowners, growing in wealth and status.
As Islam spread into the region during the 7th and 8th centuries, some Jat converted to Islam. Whether this was by choice or by force is debated. Many became soldiers in the armies of their new Arab leaders to acquire greater status. They also gained a reputation as warriors during the Muslim rule of India, and as good soldiers in the Indian Army under British rule and in the independent Indian armed forces today.
Jat are Sunni Muslims, but Islam in the region is also deeply impacted by Sufi mystic influences.
Technically, there is no caste system in Islam, but it is a reality for the Jat. While customs have become more relaxed in cities in recent years, a Muslim hierarchy of high, moderate, or low status permeates Jat culture. While Pakistan is majority Muslim (97%), Muslims remain a minority in India (13% of the population).
Though others perceive many Jat as financially well-off and fairly represented in government, the Jat realize that land ownership is not as lucrative as it once was. Now that a globalized economy favors technology, innovation, and urbanization, they are feeling left behind in terms of economic growth. The Jat have been farmers and landowners, but others have developed and benefitted from agricultural processing and manufacturing.
Because of this, in India’s Haryana state, conflict between minority Jat Muslims and majority Hindus led to major social unrest and severe economic disruption in 2016. The Jat rioted to receive a share of government-issued quotas for jobs and educational scholarships.
Christian resources are available for the Jat, including The Jesus Film and other gospel resources, but Christianity is seen as a foreign and unwelcome influence that divides families.
There are Jat believers but no known movements to Christ. Movements among whole clans would reduce the stigma of conversion and the impact of persecution on new believers. God is increasingly using dreams and visions, and sometimes even the Quran itself, to draw Muslims to Himself among unreached people.
There are several networks and outreaches among the Jat, but there is a need for greater access to the Bible in their language. The Jat are known to be a proud, fierce people, and it can be intimidating for outsiders trying to gain acceptance among their communities. However, Christian aid workers helping to alleviate poverty and provide educational opportunities may have better access.