Emergence and evolution of Mahal system in Kerala

Subair Marakkara   (Darul Huda Islamic University)

This paper explores emergence and historical evolution of the Mahals as those are small units of Islamic community in every village. Really, Mahals play many significant roles which could fetch empowerment of Islam in every place in all aspects including social, cultural and economic structure. Historically, advent of Islam in Kerala triggered really for a drastic change in then-prevailing uncultured phase of the state. It helped the state to take an ideal cultural form which could utterly attract non-Muslim social sects’ even local kings, who affectionately hosted Islamic missionary activists. Later on, many kings, Muslims and non-Muslims helped in the constructions of the Masjid and formation of the Mahals throughout state.
There was a static period made by advent of colonel powers in such traditional drastic growth. It also brought about a lot of merits and demerits in accordance to the invasion of foreign-monopolies that has deviated attention of Muslim community from the reformation of the present system and threw them away to the battle field. In accordance to this colonial process, it pushed the community to the behind of mainstream and took more time to overcome that one. And it caused the historical backwardness of the Muslim community and enlarged the generation gap among Islamic followers and others in each and every field especially in education. In these adverse conditions, the Mahal were glorified with Palli Dars educational system paved the way for Madrasa education and later on integrated education. Such institutions imparted the patriotism and religious awareness to the Muslim people.

Mahals are small forms of Islamic government. Any way it is form that deals with each and every part of Muslim life. It acts as a country, court, economic source, charitable trust and cultural school also. And it touches all parts of the body of Muslim society. The emergence and evolution of the system is not obviously documented in the history of Kerala due to the intruding of colored historians by their vested attempt throughout the circle. So that the role of Muslims in the freedom movement such as struggles in Malabar and khilafath movement, interpreted and disclosed in the history as Hindu-Muslim communal riots. From this erased atmosphere, after a long historic inaction the discussion of Mahals is more active as those are small units of the Muslim community in every village. After that grew and expanded away, it bestowed Muslims the identity of unity.

Advent of Islam in Kerala
There is no doubt on the advent of Islam to Kerala at the time of Prophet Muhammad (s), but the debate stands on issue of conversion of King Sheraman Perumal.
The systematic preaching was established after the arrival of Malik Dinar (R) and his group including 44 persons by ship in 642-43. According to the major opinion Malik Bin Dinar is a direct follower of Prophet Muhammad(s). This opinion is undoubtedly established by Thwaqa Ahmad Moulavi in his work ‘Malik Deenar enna Swahabi’. Malik bin Dinar reached in Kerala with systematic spreading rules was in Ad 642-43 (Hijra 21).
They travelled and preached Islam and constructed Masjids across Kerala especially in coastal areas. Despite, the rulers of that period were given all supports to these processes.

Formation of Mahal Jama’a
Mahals are the smallest unit of Muslim Society. Exactly Muslim society is the organization of a number of Mahals. Mahal is not an institution which made by somebody who summoned to express opinion about something to a negotiating committee. But it is a system that forms through the growth of community, occasionally.
The main factors in the formation of Mahals are Masjids and surrounded and stayed Muslims along it. Whenever people converted into Islam, they needed a place to act their customs and rituals usually as it is a Masjid established in a place. Every Masjid which constructed for the prayer of five times one gradually extended and become established Jumu’a. Then it becomes Islamic cultural centre of that place. After that, the religious and cultural activities of Muslim will be centered into that Masjid.

History of Mahal System
Muslims accepted this style of Mahal system from the period of Prophet (S). The Prophet (S) was initiated the smallest unit of Islamic social structure, by constructing Masjid u- Nabawi in Madeena. The first Mahal formed in the surround of that holy Masjid. It was not only a Masjid of believers, but also a hub of Islamic state. That date the wooden-building was the parliament, Panchayath and school of Medina Muslims. The classification on the problem the first generation of this community and its solution also had found inside that Masjid.
Its Imam was the teacher, leader, judge, commander, ruler and guide of the people. The prophet Muhammad (S) had treated the best society in the history of Muslims. Islam and its message had spread through the territories, continents and countries across the world. The holy religion Islam and Muslims had reached the all area of the world, which have soil, water and gas. Firstly, small Masjids Secondly, believers surround it and thirdly the Mahals had formed.
 The followers of Muhammad(s) had carried out the ideas of the Holy Prophet.  The missionaries of Islam had accepted the ideal of Masjid Nabawi and let them make it efficient as the centre of Muslims at that places. Kerala is one of the place in which Sahaba directly reached.

Evolutionary Stages of Mahals in Kerala
In the formation of Mahals were various stages in the history from its primary stage of emergence and in the voyage to the culmination of growth and progress. It goes through the Malik Dinar age (primary and pre colonial age) that took the initiate to the Islamic propaganda activities in the coast of Kerala. Then to Maqdoomian age (colonial age) it witnessed to the anti colonial struggles and wars under the Mahal system. And at last the after colonial age that made many reforms and enlightening activities under the outstanding leaders.
Malik Dinar Age (pre- Colonial age)
There are many written documents about the advent of Islam in Kerala at Prophet’s time. The firstly converted Muslims were from the coastal areas of Kerala for centuries. That is why; the ancient Masjids and Mahals are at that area. It was the condition of ancient Muslim inhabitant areas. Famous Islamic Scholar and historian Zainudheen Maqdoom definitely says in his prominent historic work ‘Thuhfathul Mujahideen’ that, ‘the deputation under Malik Dinar (642-43) had constructed ten Masjids in the first time. The sites of ten Masjids are in Arabic and Persian;
1. Kadangallur (Kodungallur) 2.Kulam (Kollam) 3. Helimadai (Ezhimalamaday) 4.Janfathul (Shrikandapuram) 5.Dhahfathan (Darmadam) 6.Fandareen (Panthalayini) 7.Shilishath (Chaliyam) 8.Fakanoor (Bakanoor in north Karnataka) 9.Manjanoor (Mangalapuram) 10.Kancharkooth (Kasargod)’
Otherwise in the work of Umar bin Muhammad Suhravardi, Rihlathul Mulook  can be seen appropriately eight Masjids alternatively constructed of this ten; Mahi-chombal, Mahi-Peringadi-Thalassery, Chavakkad, Tanur, Kochi, Pallurithi, Ponnani, Trivandrum and Pavar. Those Mahals appointed Qazis. Through the multi-dimensional power they led the community to the right path. There was no distance between the people and Qazis due to their performance nearby in coastal and urban areas haring that time, because the major Masjids and Qazis homes were formed and constructed in sea areas. It was the first Mahal system.  Most of these Masjids were destroyed in the colonial period and some of them remained as monuments in several areas such as Chaliyam, Malik Dinar Masjid etc.
Under this system, Islam expanded through nearby areas. As this process empowered by Qazis and missionary groups as a result of this activity, the adverse condition of other religious communities also attracted non-Muslims into Islam.

Maqdoomian Age (Colonial age)
After the time of Malik Dinar, Mahals system was undergone for a static period. The system initiated by Malik Dinar and his followers could not advance for a long time. And the history also unknown of that period until Maqdooms of Ponnani takes the wheel of renaissance in Kerala. The well known historian Ibin Bathutha talks in his travelogue about Qazi of Mangalapuram Badrudheen Ma’bari. The system of post-graduation was took place in the great Masjid of Maqdooms due to the lack of preachers when increased the invasion. It was begun under Zainudheen Maqdoom Al-Kabir (born in March 18/1467 (hijra- 871) at home in Kochi).
He made the knowledge revolution in Kerala after his completion of education from four parts of the world. After his return to Kerala, he stated a system of Vilakkiniruthal. According to the construction of great Masjid of Ponnani the knowledge become popular and he as the first man made the Dars system more popular. The students even from foreign countries reached at Ponnani to receive vary of light from that lamp. The scholarly products of Ponnani were appointed as Qazis in the various parts of Malabar. They made Masjids and established Mahals according to the instructions of Maqdoom. Portuguese arrived by the sea during this time. Maqdoom who declared war without treaty to Portuguese wrote a book “Thahreed” which was an ant-imperial poetry. And he sent letters to Arab kings and other foreign countries to help against Portuguese invasion. The Muslim community marched under Imams of Mahals and helped the freedom movement in each and every ways. He passed away in 1522 July 10(Hijra 928 sha’ban 16).
The next was Shaik Abdul Aziz Maqdoom Al Ma’bari has born as the first son of Maqdoom al Kabir. (In AD 1586 he passed away from Ponnani)
In foreign issues he followed his fathers’ policy by taking anti colonial agenda. And in this policy he went much ahead than his father as becoming as soldier in the struggle for Chaliyam fort. And he decorated the leading position in this war. The author of famous Muhyudheen Mala Qazi Muhammad is obviously talks in his anti colonial text Fathhul Mubeen about the role of Maqdoom al Aziz in the Chaliyam struggle. He declared Fathwa in both religious and political issues and promoted the community for anti invasion movements.
After him Maqdoom Sagir who famed as Maqdoom 2nd (1524 AD (938 h.) is come. To the study subsequently he came to Ponnani and engaged in the propaganda of knowledge. Maqdoom Sagir’s beginning was as a co-teacher with his father Abdul Aziz. He continued in the teaching field for 36 years. His presence had revolutionary changes in knowledge and social field until the view point of the world had offered Ponnani as knowledge city. After Al-Azhar Islamic university Ponnani become the next. It is regarded that, the works Zainudheen Sagir are; Fathhul Mueen, Irshadul Ibad, Thuhfathul Mujahideen fee Bagdi Akbaril Burthugaliyyeen as world level works. He was the first historian among the Keralites. His texts played an important role in encouraging Mapilas for struggle. And Maqdoom followed the same path of preaching of his predecessors. There are different opinions in the year of his demise; 991, 978 and 1028. He passed away from Chombal and grave is also there.
The Jamie Masjid of Ponnani and Ponnani itself is known as the Mecca of Malabar and small Mecca. The main reason to get the leading power for Ponnani was that, the coast of Ponnani has taken a clear position in the commercial field during that time. The great Jamie Masjid played the Major role in the struggle against the Portuguese also.
Despite, the mode of struggle which accepted by the ancient Masjids of Kerala against the invaders was remarkable. The peculiarly of Maqdoomian time was the united form of the Muslim community under Ponnani for the protection of both country and religion. And Islam bagged a supreme power. It spread to the local and urban areas ultimately. There are more Mahals and Masjids constructed under a religious leader.  The Muslim leadership of Malabar carried out by the Maqdooms family from 1400-1619(until the demise of Maqdoom 2nd) to the advent of Mamburam Thangal in 1183 hijra Ramadan 19.

Role of Kozhikode Qazis
The complete details of Kozhikode Qazi series are unknown. Though, many documents sign its many evidences. The ancient copy of Muhyadddeen mala that written before 200 years ago was found from the library of Arakkal fort at Kannur and it reveals that the sixth generation of Qazi Muhammad was before him. Some of them are: Qazi Muhammad, Qazi Aboobakar, Qazi Ramadan, Qazi Kunchi Musa and Qazi Muahammad Shafi. But their history is unknown. Either it might be destroyed in the colonial attacks on Masjids and libraries or it hadn’t written in their times. Chaliyam was their first core. Any way the historical background of Kozhikode Muslim community was fruitful by the spiritual and political guidance of Kozhikode Qazis. And their great contribution is the molding of great scholars such as Maqdoomian scholars.
Qazi Muhammad, the author of Muhyuddeen Mala 1607 (752) was born as a son of Qazi Abdul Aziz. He has many books but remarkable is “Fathul Mubeen’ an anti-colonial text. He took the stewardship of war against Portuguese to retake Chaliyam fort as a soldier and promoter. His aim was to coordinate community under Qaderee order and rise up them to the spiritual world. He passed away in 1025hijri. His grave is in the Kuttaichira Masjid.
After him Qazi Muhayddeen was born in 1004 at Kozhikode as the son of Qazi Muhammad. In his time Portuguese was undergone for relegation and Dutch (Lanthakkar) tried to intrude but Qazi Muhyadeen accepted his fathers’ policy against them. He has more texts, Poems and prose. His demise was in 1067 in his Kozhikode residency.
After him the Qazi position of Kozhikode was lost its extreme power and clout, so that the heart of Muslims community was concentrated to Mamburam.

From Maqdooms to Mamburam Thangal 
The glorious leadership of Maqdooms made Ponnani the Capital city of Kerala Muslims. After, this position was decorated by Mamburam in Thirurangadi. The notable thing to be said is that, Sayyid Hasan Jifri (the uncle of Mamburam Thangal) was the first man who planted the Muslim capital to a coast free area. The whole Kerala attracted to Sayyid Alawi Mamburam Thangal  (1166 Dulhija 23 Saturday) due to his knowledge, spirituality and the anti-invasion politics. The Keralites visited him for their needs, irrespective of cast and religion. Whenever the society was suffering torture from British, he was in front of the struggles against them, as a soldier rather than a leader.
As a need of Islamic propaganda, he visited nearby places and studied about the movement of Islam there. After, he spread Islam into all parts of Malabar and constructed Masjid. After his advent, Thirurangadi was known as Samarkand of Malabar.
Hundreds of Masjids were built due to this movement. Kuttur Puthupparamba Kucnali Sahib constructed by the instruction of Mamburam Thangal, the old Ramanchira Juma’ Masjid constructed by Thekku Veettil Kuncharamutty Sahib, Tanur Vadakke Masjid, Kodinchi Juma Masjid, Kananjeri Masjid, Chappanangadi Masjid, Vellar Ramanchira Masjid, Koyappapa Masjid, Ponmundam Masjid, Moonnur Odungatt Cheenakkal Masjid and Muttiyarakkal Masjid etc. The main factor behind the construction that, he realized the Masjids are the centre of Kerala Muslims progress and identified the refugee centre for Muslim Mappilas, who lost their strength and unity due to the lack of religious awareness at the 16-17 centuries. He did many strenuous efforts and endeavors to degrade the colonial powers. He coordinated Mahals by appointing Qazis and Imams to curb community well.
The same time Qazi Umar (Umar Qazi) was active at Veliyamkode. He also put forward the idea of non corporation against British. Umar Qazi was a peer of Mamburam Thangal. He guided the community to a right dimension. His friend Parappanangadi Aboobakkar Musliyar was also a good Islamic scholar and worked hardly to eradicate immoral activities of Muslim community, he was a reformer in Mahals also and Qazi in Valiyakulangara Masjid in Tanur. Umar Qazi has been decorated the Qazi position in various Mahals such as Kodungallur and Chetuva until he passes away in 1852.
Sayyid Fadal Thangal Mamburam is next remarkable chapter in history of Muslim Keralites. He took birth in 1240 h, as the son of Mamburam Thangal. He is the founder of Mamburam Juma’ Masjid same time the son of 20 when his father died.
The ambition to freedom and anti-imperial activities which got from father, existed strongly. He was the well-wisher of the peasants and downtrodden people, who suffered the torturing of feudal silently. Many groups of farmers came to Islam during that period. These are capable reasons to provoke the feudal. In spite of that he promoted to fight against the British even in Quthubas (Speech) on Fridays.  In other words, Mahals were become the training centre of the Mappila soldiers especially in his period. “The major Reason for all struggles in Malabar is Fadal Thangal” declared by Cannollee the collector.Then the British Commissioner commanded to exile Thangal. But he hasn’t responded to his decision due to avoid a bloodshed revolution in Malabar. Eventually, in 1852 (1268) he turned his travel to Arabia with 57 insisted group with relatives.
After his exile, the conditions of Malabar become worse. The collector Cannollee shot died and many riots occurred. Meanwhile, many Masjids were constructed in local areas but those hadn’t gotten a place in history due to the independence war.

Other Reformers
After them the leaders from freedom background were come. Almost of them focused both in freedom struggle and in the solution of Muslim educational problems. After Fadal Thangal of Mamburam, Muslims scholars came as the leaders of freedom fighters such as Ali Musliyar (died 1922) who considered religious education as the real weapon against the colonialists. So, he constructed a number of Madrasa in various parts of Malabar. After taking the great Qazi position of Thirurangadi in1907 he became the indomitable leader of Malabar. 
After him the forerunners were Kattilashery Muhammad Musliyar, E Moidu Maoulavi sahib, K.M Moulavi Sahib(1882-1964), Sanaullah Mathi Thangal(1847-1912), Moulana Chalilakath Kunchahamad Haji(1275-1338,hijri), Shaikh Muhammad Mahin Hamadani Thangal(died in1922) and they all did for the educational processes as far as possible.
But the reform activities of Vakkam Abdul Kadar Moulavi (1873-1932) took a vast level approach according to the Mahals. In 1921 august 21 a meeting held in Trivandrum at Arya Sala hall under presidency of N.A Muhammad Kunchi Sahib by coordinating the 300 representatives from Thiruvithangur. And the meeting put forward some instructions such as; take the census of each Mahal, implement marriage registration in all Mahals, ensure the education for both Muslim girls and boys, construct library and reading halls nearby to all Masjid and Madrassa and construct schools for Muslim education empowerment were good steps in the history of Mahals but some challenges in reformation against Islamic religious rules caused to the protest of Sunni spiritual leaders. That is why; it partially took success. 
Actually freedom movement helped for the coordination of Muslims under great leaders and to the expansion of Mahals in all parts of Kerala. But the invasion utterly destroyed most of the historic documents and manuscripts of ancient period. In sake of that, so many confusions and speculations took born in the history.

Organizations’ Age (Colonial period and after)
According to freedom movement, many organizations and parties emerged and community fragmented away by the movement. Some of them are; Kerala Jamiyathul Ulama(1924), Samastha Kerala Jamiyatul Ulama(1926), Jama’te Islami (1941) Dakshina Kerala Jamiyathul Ulama(1955) these parties led the community from various corner and ultimately concentrated in the expansion of education.
Most of them tried to preach their ideologies in various Mahals then concentrated in the educational field by reformation activities through making education institutions and systematizing Dars. Even though these movements helped the community to get up from the nod off of ignorance but the result was the fragmentation into various organizations.
After the formation of the prominent Sunni Muslim organization Samastha Kerala Jamiathul Ulama (1925-26) it also stepped down to an ordinary group level. It is said that, as a major group its activities in the raising up of Muslim community in the moral level and religious education is precious and agreeable.  The most important reason to take initiation by all organizations in the educational field is that, the colonial approach of Muslim community has pushed it away from the mainstream. So they have the duty to rise up them to the mainstream of the society. The formation of Samastha Kerala Jamiyathul Ulama and its offshoots helped to bring the majority Muslims under that one and to reveal the strength as party to protest anti-Sunni parties.
 After the freedom the organizations have become more active in religious activities but they hadn’t tried to coordinate the Mahals. But an outstanding work to be said that, the first documentation about the Mahals Jama’a in Kerala has done by Marhoom Ziad Muhammed Sahib in 1961-1962 himself with the history of Kerala Muslim.   After a long period   in 1976, Sunni scholars like C.H. Hydrose Musliyar, Basheer Musliyar, Kunheen Musliyar, Shaikhali Musliyar and Dr. U Baputty Haji discussed about the moral education issues in Mahals in a meeting under Chapanghadi Bappu Musliyar at Chemmad, its output was to initiate the Mahal coordination. In 1976 April 26, SMF (Sunni Mahal Federation) was formed as a coordination of Mahals of seven Panchayath by including committees of Mahals and scholars making Thirurangadi as its centre. It was the first organization took form for Mahals.
In 1977, the district committee of SMF was formed under Kottumala Aboobakkar Musliyar as president, Kunhappu Haji as secretary and Dr.U Baputty Haji as treasurer. It united approximately one thousand and five hundred Mahals under the committee. In 1987, the state committee took form in the meeting at Kutippuram E.K Aboobakkar Musliyar as President, Sayyid Hyder Ali Shihab as Secretary and Dr. U. Baputty Haji as Treasurer. After motionless for few years it rearranged in 2000s and returned to its declared aim but the condition among the other organization were worse. The community compelled to wait a long period for a sweeping of reformation after Vakkam Abdul Kadar Moulavi.
 When the community leaders recognized about the historical backwardness of the Muslim community they decided to take a statistics of Mahals in Kerala. And the duty of the documentation has assigned on Dr. CK Kareem. After the ten years long hard work and data collection the fist authentic statistics of Kerala Muslim community recoded and published second and third volumes as named ‘Kerala Muslim Charithram, Sthidhi Vivara kanakku Directory (History of Kerala Muslim and statistics Directory). But the publishing of first volume prolonged for five years after (in 1997 march), due to make the clearance and dependability from the colored historically written texts.   
The role of Mahals through Centuries
Mahal system made many social onuses from its emergence. They are; the treatment of Masjid as its construction and reconstruction and the running of Othupally and pallydars. Afterwards, Othupally was reformed as Madrasa. And the law and order was under Qazis of each Mahals and they played the power to carry out the marriage under their Mahals. 

The Primary Institutions
The primary institutions were named as the Othupally. The word Othupally expresses its relation with the Masjid. Muslims were used their worship places as the educational institutions. Othupally is an institute under the Qazi of Masjid nearby the Masjid. The Muslims of Kerala studied religious primary knowledge and literacy from there until the first part of the 20th century. Later it was altered as Madrasa system. And Othupally was removed in each Mahal beyond as it had played an important role in the systemization and activating of Mahal system. Here, the Muslims feel enjoy in good results in the recent times.
PalliDarskal were the other main factor which empowered the Mahal forms through advanced religious education. PalliDarskal were upper institutes for those whom completed their study in Othupally. Mahal forms were activated and enforced by the PalliDarskal, which shared and spread the religious awareness to the community forever. The religious atmosphere of the Mahal is different. The relation of students and scholars of Dars with each people of Mahal resist the society from all non-Islamic activities. After the freedom movement Dars system took an integrated form as colleges and institutes.

Law and Order under Mahals  
Even though, the Mahal system had gone forward very systematically. The usage ‘go and say in Masjid’  hints that Masjid was the place to express all problems and to ask anything want to be solved. The every deeds and doings of believer will be based on the opinion and instructions of Qazi and Imam. All Mahals were blessed with social and agreed leader known as Umara (the leaders). Their opinions and instructions had played an important role in the strengthening and unity of Mahals.
 Each of them presents their problems in front of Qazis and Imam in lieu of lodging it to police as it is today. They will study the problem meticulously and finally give acceptable answer and solution to them. And there wasn’t a condition delaying of problem due to the presence of advocate and intermediates as it happens today. It was exactly an ideal and imitated model, which the two parties eventually became hugged and said ‘al-Salam’ (Peace be upon him) mutually. It was the end of problems in front of Imams and Qazis. Through these activities the Mahal had became more united and organized. According to such conglomerations and well activities the Mahal system led the community to be systematically ordered and grow well.
For example;
In the time of Zamorine the problems of the Muslim had discussed by the rulers with the Qazis of Masjid. Muslims’ subjection to any punishment was by the accent of Qazis’ such as Qazis and the Muadin of Masjid also given salary by the Zamorine. It is a fact that the Muslim Masjids and its related forms were ordered and constructed in the ancient times until the other religious followers had respected.
But the dark shadows of invasion had made the obstacle to this speed growth. If the invasion hadn’t here, the Muslims of Kerala should stand still as a crucial power. Even though the main reason for the existence of Mahal was the confident and innocent Mappilas which made them efficient to put these systems to their breasts. In spite of that, the back support of thus ideology of existence was the candid activities of religious scholars and dignitaries who shifted their life for the growth of community.

The Running of Mahal System
In Mahals, Masjids and Madrasa were run smoothly and systematically even in the time of poverty and drought. The night speeches (pathira wa’az) were the power houses of money to bring forward the Mahals and Dars without any hindrance.  These type of speeches those organized by each Mahal which were prolonged for many days by well-known speakers who were able to play with words and heartening talks.
In other words, the economic source of Mahal and the medium to make understand the public about the Islamic ideologies and jurisprudence through the attractive style and fascinating tone were these speeches. The Mahal committee demanded these types of speeches. It is really by the sincere belief of people in the Hereafter life. Money owners contributed money, landlords offered lands and healthy men presented their hard work for these religious activities. In spite of that the women came forward to dedicate their jewels for such construction and holy works. Thus the Mahals oriented expenditure were completed and fulfilled before the flow of petro-dollars smelled Riyals, to Kerala.

On the whole, Mahals system in Kerala had played a remarkable role in the formation of good Muslim Keralites in early period. That system took cudgels for not only the propaganda of Islam but also played a prominent role in the bringing the community up which was suffering from moral and value crash. But here, the need of Mahals and its activities shall be focused in the remaking of a community that still tastes the bitter drop of loneliness and fragmentation. Muslim organizations should be united for the sake of community. It is the only way to take the community from its relegation and to bring them under an indomitable leadership.   

author image
AUTHOR: Subair Marakkara
   (Darul Huda Islamic University)