Madrasa Education in Malabar and its Impact upon Beary Muslims of Karnataka

Mohammad Hafeez  (Aligarh Muslim University)

Brief History of Muslims in Malabar, Kerala
The word Malabar comprises of two syllables Mala and Barr. Mala is a Tamil word which means hill or mountain and Barr is probably an Arabic word which means land or country. Today, the area known as Malabar now covers around six northern districts in the political map of Kerala. It was part of the erstwhile Madras presidency for a long time. Malabar constitutes 42.4 per cent of the total population in the state and stretches over 45.01 per cent of the land area. It consists of Kasaragod, Kannur, Waynad, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Palakkad. Kasaragod the last district was formed in 1984.
It has been indisputably proved that Arabia had trade relations with Indian ports long before the establishment of the Roman Empire. These trade contacts helped immensely for the mutual co-operation between the two subcontinents and the advent of Islam in Indian shores during the early period of Islam and the formation of an innate cultural entity.The long-standing Arab contact with the coastal areas of India has left its permanent mark in the form of several communities. The navigators and tradesmen came from Arabian shores and some of them settled in the coastal areas marrying local women. They never brought women folk from Arabia.The native rulers extended all facilities and protection to them because their presence was needed for the prosperity of the Rajas. Malabar was also one of the most important areas on the western coast of India where the Arabs found a fertile soil for the trade activities. The community, which formed in Malabar as a result of the Arab contact, is termed as Mapppila. The word Mappila is derived from the two Dravidian words, Maha (great) and Pilla (child).
In Malabar Islam propagated without support of any Muslim kingdoms. Intensive missionary activities took place on the coastal area and a number of natives supplemented to the mound of Islam because of the utter backwardness and social disabilities of the down-trodden people. Thus, among the Mappilas, we find both the descendants of the Arabs through local women and the converts among the local people. The work of missionaries was instrumental in a big way in the spreading of Islam in these regions. The democratic ideals and universal brotherhood of Islam, the existence of Arab colonies and geographical features of the area, the huge contribution of Muslim traders to the treasury and the cruelties of caste systems, political and religious factors in the region and the positive attitude of the native rulers were the main factors which made the Malabar a fertile soil for Islam.
The System of Madrasa Education in Malabar
It is historical facts that from the very beginning of Islamic history masjids were put to use of educational purposes. Sometime they served as places where political meetings were held to discuss important political matters. They were also utilized for holding judicial courts. The prophet himself used to sit in the masjid with his companions. Prophet also discussed the religious as well as secular matters with his followers. The system of religious education in Malabar must have started at the same time as the first few Masjids were established in Malabar. This system evolved over a thousand year period and even though for a century there was great emphasis on modern education, the religious education system survived and with the addition of some new trends it continues to thrive. In Malabar there exists the different level of religious education system, which has been categorized and termed as follows: –Dars, Othupalli (maktabs) and Madrasas.

Dars System
Literally, the Arabic word dars means class. In Malabar the educational system attached with masjids was known as Dars. Malabar’s Dars system is unique and has played a decisive role in the diffusion of Islamic knowledge. Some prototypes of this system of education exist in some places of South India even today. Its scheme is genius in how it utilizes the resources available in the community for the propagation of knowledge. It is most likely that this system might have started along with the advent of Islam in Malabar. Most of the masjids of Malabar are two floors. The purpose of the second floor is not only to hold the overflow of worshippers on special prayers such as Juma (Friday prayer), Ramadan and Eid occasions, but it also serve as a place where a group of students can be lodged and be comfortable. The ground floor of the Masjid served as a classroom during non-prayer times. They get free education from the imam or musliar of the masjid. He teaches the students Arabic and Islamic Sciences. These students are also considered guests of the locality where the masjid is situated and each house of the area is assigned a student and they are responsible for his food. These Dars systems impart religious and Arabic education for Muslim boys only. It was considered as higher religious education centres in early period. Pass out from the Dars system are eligible for getting admissions for higher studies in various premier Madrasas such as Darul Ulum, Deoband, Nadvathul Ulama, Lucknow etc. 
The earliest and well known Dars was in Ponnani, reputed to have been established by Zainudheen Makhdoom, the senior (1467-1521 A.D), which afterward came to be known as the ‘Little Makkah of Malabar’. A large number of students from many parts of India as well as from outside India such as Indonesia, Malaya and Java studied there. In 1887 there were about 400 students in Ponnani Dars, while in 1996 the number was about 300. However, it was so unfortunate, that the center could not be elevated as an excellent center for Muslim education institution in the future. It confined itself to religious teachings alone.
One of the outstanding features of this system is that duration of this course took ten to fifteen years. The books were taught in a sequential manner. The first textbook was known as ‘Path Kitab’ or ‘Asharatu Kutub’, which literally means ten books. It deals with faith (Aqaid), moral sciences (akhlaque), and Islamic mysticism (Tasawwuf). Then grammar book such as Alfiya, Zanjan, Ajnas, etc. were taught. Alfiya was a collection of thousand verses on grammar. Then books on Prophetic traditions such as Mishkat al Masabih, Sahih Bhukhari, Sahih Muslim etc. were taught. Fat’hul Mueen by Shaikh Zainuddin Makhdum (1532-1618 A.D) was taught as Jurisprudence text book. At later stage Tafsir Jalalain was taught. Some of the subjects taught were Arabic language and literature, grammar, rhetorics, geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, logic, philosophy, medicine, history and mysticism. Some of the text books were Uqlaidis (Euclid) in Geometry, Tashreehul Aflak in Astronomy, Tashreehul Mantiq, Sharahu Tahdib Qutubi and Mulla Hasan in Logic, Mabadi in Philosophy and Al-Rahmat in Medicine. But in many Darses all these subjects were not taught. Generally the syllabus was confined to Arabic grammar, Quran, Hadith and Fiqh.
Though the Dars system produced a large number of scholars and theologians, it was not free from terrific setbacks. The teaching method adopted by Dars was defective. So that it could not be sustained far into the future. The Dars system followed its own method mainly based on by hearting the lessons. Today, innumerable Arabic colleges working in and around the State are the outcome of those primitive Dars.

Othupalli or Maktab
Othupalli is a Malabaric terminology generally used to call primary school to impart religious and Arabic education for Muslim boys and girls. It is known as Pallidars in southern part of Kerala and maktab in North India. The Imam of the mosque also acts as the teacher of the Othupalli and gives basic Islamic education to the children of the area. The Mullakka or Mulla or muaddin were the assistants who helped the Imam to run the Othupalli effectively. The curriculum was limited to recitation of small surahs of the Quran and the duas of prayers and certain dhikrs (enchanting hymns). Even though the students were taught how to read, there was no proper training in the art of writing.They also learn how to pray and other basic Islamic teachings are practiced. The method of teaching in these schools is oral, the imam or mullakka recites the surahs the students would be asked to repeat the same until memorized. It followed the system of Pyal schools.
There was neither any fixed syllabus nor any central board or authority for monitoring the activities. However, this system survives and now serves as centers of Islamic education for students attending schools where they learn modern subjects. Classes under Othupallis are held either before or after regular school hours to accommodate school going children.This educational system did not receive any help from government. Local people supported these Othupallis.

Reforms of Othupallis or Madrasa Movement
Actually the Othupallis or Maktabs were replaced by madrasas in the first decade of the 20th century and they became an effective primary academic movement in modern times. Western education and progressive ideas made the religious leaders to consider the question of educational reforms. They began to realize the defects of Othupalli and Dars systems of education. Then madrasas with revised curriculum, syllabus with text books were established. The forerunner of this movement was A.M. Koyakunchi who founded Ma’danul ‘Ulum Madrasa in Kannur in 1911. Such madrasas were also established in Kuttyadi, Badagara and Calicut. The study on the madrasa system of education in Malabar would not be completed without bring up the contribution of Chalilakath Kunhjahammad Haji (1866-1919) and his reforms. He was the one of the foremost religious scholar of the 19th century.He realized that the religious education in primary stage was to be reformed.He was the real founder of the Madrasa movement, according to Sharafudeen;
“He was responsible for the modernization of Madrasa education and also the reformatory ideas went a long way in reviving religious education on a systematic and proper basis”.
He was responsible for starting a movement for the reform of madrasas. He was the Sadar Mudaris (principal) of the Thanmiyathul Uloom Madarasa at Vazhakkad. First he started higher classes in the madrasa on modern lines and renamed it as Darul Uloom Arabic College. It was the first Arabic College in Malabar as well as in Kerala. In that Arabic College subjects like Malayalam, Logic, astronomy, Geography, Natural Sciences, Mathematics, Quran and Hadith were taught. For teaching these new topics modern teaching aids such as globes, maps, atlases, charts, photos, models, latest dictionaries, etc. were used. He also used the modern examination system on western lines in this college. Haji was not satisfied with the reform of this Arabic College. He realized that the religious education in primary stage was also to be reformed.So he started a primary madrasa at Vazhakkad with the help of his students. He started classes in the madrasa also on modern lines. While Islamic educational reforms were introduced by Chalilakath Kunhjahammad Haji in Malabar, in Southern Kerala Vakkam Abdul Qadir Maulavi (1873-1932) was introducing reforms on similar lines. He advocated reforms in religious educational system. He also tried to introduce Arabic language in Government and Private Schools.

Influence of Muslim Organizations on Madrasa Education in Malabar
It is an undeniable fact that Malabar has witnessed a significant development in the field of madrasa education even before the formation of the state on 26th November 1956. The Arabic and Islamic learning was exercised in schools from the dawn of 20th century onwards. Analyzing the development of madrasa education in Malabar during the 20th century A.D., one should go through various significant dimensions related to the issue. During the British period, religious instruction was given in government and aided schools, and after independence the practice of giving religious instruction in schools was stopped. This made the Muslim community alert, and they started making arrangements for religious education. These changes mainly took place under the initiative of different Muslim organizations. So thousands of Madrasas were started by different Muslim organizations in different parts of the Malabar, and for this commendable development all major religious organizations have played their respective role.
In Kerala, the following major organizations manage the madrasa educationand they have their own private organizational Madrasa Boards, which are mentionedbelow:

 Major Organizations

Madrasa Boards      
Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen    Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen Vidhyabhyasa Board      
Nadvathul Mujahideen of Kerala    The Council for Islamic Education and Research (CIER)      
Samastha Kerala Jamiyathul Ulama    Samastha Kerala Islam Matha Vidhyabhyasa Board (SKIMVB)      
Samastha Kerala Jamiyathul Ulama (AP Group)    Samastha Kerala Sunni Islam Matha Vidhyabhyasa Board (SKSIMVB)      
Jamaat-E-Islami Hind (Kerala Chapter)    Majlis al Taalimul Islami, (Majlis Education Trust) Kerala     
First of all Kerala Jamiyathul Ulama, it was the earliest of the three early Ulama (Religious Scholars) organization in Kerala, formed in the year of 1924 in a meeting held at Aluway under the leadership of K.M. Moulavi, M.C.C. Abdu Rahman Moulavi and E.K. Moulavi. Then it shifted under Kerala Nadvathul Mujjahideen (KNM), which was formed on 20 April 1950 in Kerala, under the leadership of the scholars of the Kerala Jamiyathul Ulama. Under this organization a special madrasa board, i.e. Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen Vidhyabhyasa Boardwas established in 1954. Today under this organization there are more than 500 madrasas working.
The second effort was endeavored by Samastha Kerala Jamiyat al Ulama, established in 1926. This organization was founded by Sayyid Abdurahman Mullakoya (d.1932), K K Muhammad Abdul Bari (d. 1965), and P K Muhammad Miran (d. 1960). Under this organization a special madrasa board, Samastha Kerala Islam Matha Vidyabyasa Board was established in 1951. Today under this organization there are more than 8000 madrasas working. Jama’at-i- Islami (Kerala Chapter) have also contributed their share in this regard. The organization was formed in 1948 in Kerala by V P Muhammad Ali, popularly known as Haji Sahib (d. 1959), one of the disciples of Maulana Mawdudi (d.1979). Under this organization, a separate board named Majlista’lim al Islamiwas established in 1980, which runs around 150 Madrasas. Recently Samastha Kerala Jamyiatul Ulama (AP Group) has separately formed Samastha Kerala Sunni Islam Matha Vidyabyasa Board in 1990 after the split of the parent organization Samatha Kerala Jamyiathululama in 1989. This Board is running over 5000 Madrasas. Nadvathul Mujahideen of Kerala have also established their own Madrasa Board separately, namely The Council for Islamic Education and Research (CIER). This Board is running over 300 madrasas.
Considering the syllabus of these Madrasas, an inherent diversity can be noticed because of the degree of ideological differences among the religious organizations. Each and every Board does use its own syllabus and media of instruction in Malayalam. Somewhere the old traditional Arabic based Malayalam called Arabic-Malayalam. However, it is obvious that all syllabuses are almost covering Quran, Aqaid (Beliefs), Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Tarikh-ul-Islam (Islamic History), Akhlaq (Moral Sciences), Nahv (Grammar), Hadith (Prophetic Traditions) relatively. Apart from madrasas there are several schools and institutions adopted these syllabuses in their educational institutions which are aimed to providing both modern and religious education simultaneously to the children. The classes conducted by the madrasas are held for two hours a day, either in the early mornings or in evening, thus allowing their students to attend regular school simultaneously. It is significant to note that most of the madrasas have classes at least until fifth standard. Many madrasas have classes up to 7th, 10th and even +1 and +2 classes. For administrative purposes divisions have been made as range, area, taluq and district. The teachers are qualified in Arabic language and religious educations.
The main function of these Boards is to conduct exams, supervise and monitor the academic activities. For this purpose, they have constituted different bodies and officials like text book committee, division of training and inspectors (Mufathishs). The duty of inspectors is to visit each and every madrasa of their area; they examine the standard of education, checkup the physical condition and atmosphere of madrasa, give necessary recommendations to teachers and madrasa managing committee and report the functioning of each madrasa to the Boards. The Boards directly holds centralized Public Examinations in the 5th, 7th and 10th classes.
In short, the system of Madrasa eventually enables the child to grasp the fundamental knowledge and obligatory duties of Islam and by which young generation can be enlightened with Islamic knowledge.

Beary Muslims of Karnataka
The Beary Muslims—a Muslim minority community came in to existence through the marriage of Arab sailors and traders to the local women and the converts among the local people, residing in the coastal area of Karnataka—follow various traditions of the Mappilas of Malabar and local Hindu (Tulu) people. Considered to be one of the earliest Muslim populations of India, Beary Muslims are an ethnic society, having its own unique traditions and distinct cultural identity. They speak a dialect known as Beary language or Nakknik Bashe. This language uses words derived from other Dravidian languages like Kannada, Tulu, Konkani and Malayalam. Some Arabic, Persian, and Urdu words are also included in this language. The Beary community holds an important place among the other coastal Muslim communities of India like Nawayaths of the Uttara Kannada district, Mappilas of Malabar and Labbay of the Coramandal coast. The Beary Muslims are intermingled with other religious people in their daily endeavor. There are few signs to distinguish them from other (non-Muslim) communities even though on the surface one could see certain features in food habits, dress and customs, and manners. But the similarities are many. It is quite evident that these factors are evolved from topographical conditions of this terrain. They are influenced in their lives by the habits of the common folks of coastal Karnataka.

The word 'Beary' is referred to a community would mean a trading community and this word is derived from the Tulu word 'Byara', which means trade or business. Since the major portion of the community was involved in business activities, particularly trading, the local Tulu speaking majority called them as Beary or Byari. Another popular theory is that the word ‘Beary’ originates from the Arabic ‘Bahr’ which means ocean. The people who work on the sea are ‘Baharis’ or Bearys means ‘sailor or navigator’. A third theory says that the word ‘Beary’ is derived from the root word ‘Malabar’.
The word Beary may also refer to Vyapari derived from the Sanskrit word Vyavahari meaning as one engaged in trading and commerce. Kittle’s dictionary mentions Beary as Malayalam speaking people. According to the census of 1891, Dakshina Kannada had 92,449 Muslim businessmen consisting of 90,345 Bearys, 2,104 Nawayaths and 2,551 non-Muslims. This means that the district had 95,000 individuals involved in business activities. Records prove that, towards the end of 19th century, the percentage of Muslim traders in the district was as high as 97.3%, and hence the local Tuluvas rightly named this community as Bearys.
Impact of Madrasa Education upon Beary Muslims of Karnataka
History tells that Dakshina Kannada (Beary Muslims residing in this district of Karnataka) has always been considered a part of Malabar. Hence people of Malabar have kept a special relationship with the people of Dakshina Kannada. After the formation of linguistic states, Dakshina Kannada became a part of Karnataka. But spiritually Beary Muslims have always associated themselves with the rest of Malabar and they understand Malyalam language very well.
When Prophet Muhammad (SAW) started his religious mission in Arabia, the Arab merchants and traders came into the fold of Islam and became the carriers of Islam. They propagated it sincerely wherever they went and through them it reached in the south west coast area of India also. Francis Day’s assumption that the first settlement of the Muslims on the western area took place sometime in the seventh century strengthens this view. In Karnataka the Bearys may be the first community to come to the fold of Islam because they were more closely connected with the Arabs. Inscriptions have been found in Barakur (near Mangalore) that proves the Arab trade links with Tulunadu (the old name of Mangalore). The great Islamic Da'ee, Malik bin Dinar had arrived on the coast of Malabar during the 7th century with a group of peoples or Da’ees (Islamic propagators). Some members from his group travelled through Tulunadu and propagated Islam into the coastal area of Karnataka. They also built mosques in Kasaragod, Mangalore and Barkur. On account of their dedicated effort they have been able to set up ten masjids which also became centers of religious teaching and learning. Sheikh Zainuddin Makhdoom, Junior (1539-1581 A D) has given full account of these ten masjids, which were constructed in Kodungalur, Kollam, Ezhimala-Madayi, Shrikantapuaram, Dharmadam, Panthalayani, Chaliyam, Mangalore, Kasaragod and Fakanur. Besides, Umar bin Ahmad Suhrawadi has made reference to eight more masjids and has given the list of Qazis appointed by Malik bin Habib as Jafer bin Sulaiman (Chaliyam), Abdulla bin Dinar (Panthalayani-Kollam), Jafer bin Malik (Mahi-Chombal), Ali bin Jabir (Tanur), Habib bin Malik (Mahi), Hassan bin Malik (Dharmapattanam), Abdullah bin Malik (Ezhimala), Jabir bin Malik (Ullal- Mangalore), Hamid bin Malik (Mangalore), Qazi Hammad (Kochi- Palluruthi), Qazi Musa (Alappuzha), Qazi Abdul Majeed bin Malik (Ponnani), QaziAasi (Kollam), QaziBuraidha (Thiruvanathapuram), QaziZubair (Puvar), Qasim (Kavilpattanam) and Jabir bin Malik (Chavakkad).
Thus, this brief overview shows that through this process of Islamization, some da’ees arrived in the coastal area of Karnataka and they built some masjids in this area which also became centers of religious teaching and learning. The history of the process and development of madrasa education among Beary Muslims is same as that of Malabar. From Malabar, in the early stages, Da’ees came to preach and teach the Beary Muslims the religious sciences in Malayalam language of Malabar, through the Arabic-Malayalam script. Beary Muslims, like Malabar Muslims, followed the Shafii school of thought in jurisprudence.
In the educational process, throughout the ages, the change in curriculum, medium, and other academic activities (like formation of Boards), there have been similar changes in both areas. But the media of instruction is now shifted to Kannada from Arabic-Malayalam and Malayalam language. But, even to this day, the Beary Muslims invite teachers from Malabar for their madrasas. There are so many madrasa teachers among Beary Muslims, but got their religious education from Malabar. Among Bearys Mundu, Chatte and Toppi was preferred as uniform for boys in Madrasas. Girls do wear a long gown with a head-dress known as Yalsara. But today this traditional dress pattern is vanishing. Boys are going for shirt – trousers and girls are adopting Churidars and Salwar Kameez style. In those villages where there is no separate building facility available to run Madrasas independently, this education is however imparted in the mosques itself. Thus masjids some time do play the role of Madrasas in many Beary dominant villages.
Thus, to conclude, if we look into the history of the Beary Muslims, it is safe to argue that there is much influence of the Malabar as for as the religious education, its curriculum and pattern, their text books, and teachers and even their ideology is concerned. And there is not much influence of other Muslims as such on the educational pattern or procedure of Beary Muslims.


AUTHOR: Mohammad Hafeez
  (Aligarh Muslim University)