Although there is no caste system in Islam, the Muslim Community in India is divided among castes, creeds and religious denominations. Among these is Kulhaiya Community found in Purnea, Araria Kishanganj and Katihar districts of Bihar in India and southern part (mainly Denniya) in Nepal. They are sub-groups of Shaikh community. The founding members of this community belonged to the Hadhrami origin tribe of Yeman settled on the coast of Horn of Africa who came as mercenaries and sellsword to North-east Bihar via Sindh and Kutchh, on the invitation of the Bengal Sultanate for reinforcement of Purnea Division army bastion. The mercenaries started marrying local Dalit women in large numbers as well as the women folks from Rajbongshi, Kayastha, and Yadav communities. In the later stages the Gurjara nomads of Kutch and Gujarat, Jats of Sindh of Sindh and Kurmis of present-day Uttar Pradesh who were renowned for their agricultural acumen were invited by local powerful vassals, with the permission of the Bengal Sultanate which had the marital relations with the Nawab of Junagadh as the surplus pasture and arable lands were turning into barren agriculture wastelands due to incessant floods and subsistence agriculture practiced by indigenous locals. Together all of these migrant communities along with the local indigenous populace intermarried extensively amongst themselves, gradually evolving into a unique and intra-genetically diverse but single ethnicity, which over the time became structurally rigid and endogamous. With a distinct culture as well as a Maithili and Kutchhi-based lingua franca and eventual acceptance of Islam as the common religion, the community came to be known as ‘Kulhaiya’.
The word ‘Kulhaiya’ came from Persian language combining words ‘kul (کل)’ meaning complete and ‘haya (حیا)’ meaning modesty. Some chronicle accounts of the community state that it came from word ‘Kulah’ which means turban-type cap which the founding members from Yemen wore while other believe it to come from Sanskrit word ‘Kul’ meaning tribe or family. Most of the customs and practices followed by Kulhaiyas are adopted from local indigenous Hindu communities which combined with the cultures brought by the migrant ethnicities evolved into a very unique and distinct culture.
Founding members of the Kulahiya community were preferred for soldiers in the Bengal Sultanate due to their mercenary background. The Faujdar of Purnea at the time of the Mughal Nawab of Bengal, Saif Khan, appointed Kulahiyas to protect Indian border on the side of Nepal against the invading Gurung and Gurkha tribes. The original members of this community were Arab mercenaries and sellswords from Hadhrami tribe of Yemen claiming lineage (disputed) from the descendants of Abu Bakar Siddiq, the companion of Muhammad. They came to the North-eastern region of Bihar from Sindh and Kutchh region and settled and married local women from different Hindu castes, mostly from Dalit community as well as Rajput, Yadava and Kayastha community. During Bengal Sultanate regime, some accomplished members became landlords who then invited on the order of Nawab the Gurjar herders from Gujarat, Jat farmers from Sindh, and Kurmis from UP to migrate to their region with their families because of their agricultural prowess as well as the availability of vast abundant pasture and arable land. Most of the people settled from outside along with the local non-Muslim populace converted to Islam which gradually amalgamated into a unique Muslim community by intermarriages, having a distinct culture and lingua franca, eventually known as the Kulhaiya. In the later period due to advance in status as well as military and agriculture acumen of Kulhaiyas, the members of upper caste Hindus got into this community by converting to Islam, either sincerely or to evade Jizya tax, though they had to pay Zakat in the same way Jizya was paid. During the British Raj, the community was notified as Criminal Tribe by the administration. Kulhaiya is categorized as OBC under the Indian Reservation system.
Kulhaiya Community suffers from scarcity in basic requirements such as schools, colleges, hospitals, roads. They are backward in terms of education and their economy is based on agriculture, small shops, tongas, bullock carts. A large number of the community migrated to other places in search of jobs and bright future. So far as their religious denomination is concerned, mostly they belong to Deobandi Denomination of Islam.