Historically it is believed that Islam arrived in Malabar territory in the days of Prophet Muhammad. Since then there was a peaceful relationship with the native rulers as they extended all facilities and protection to the Muslim traders, because their activities contributed to the economic prosperity of the territory. In the course of time the ‘ulama became active in the region, but their main concern then was some theological issues and the everyday life of Muslim individuals and society.
The situation changed after the Portuguese arrived in 1498 with an anti-Muslim ideology, and the aim of monopolizing certain trades, especially those in spices. The Portuguese targeted Muslims, like arresting them without reason, the burning of the Quran, attacking Muslim scholars, enslaving Muslims, molesting their women, murdering Hajj pilgrims at sea, forcibly converting Muslims to Christianity etc. As Muslim political authority was absent in the region, the responsibility of the ‘ulama increased manifold, and the community found its only hope in them.
Then scholars like Zainuddin al-Makhdum I (d.1521) and Zainuddin al-Makhdum II (d.1581) assumed the leadership of the community and started issuing fatawa for jihad against the foreign power. These verdicts had a tremendous effect on the Mappilas, and they fought against the Portuguese for around a hundred years. Many religious leaders like Qazi ‘Abdul Aziz, Shaikh ‘Abdul Wafa, Alia Mamukkoya and Shaykh ‘Abdul Aziz al-Makhdum participated in the battles. Later, as the trade monopoly passed out of the hands of Muslims who were settled in the coastal areas, they had to move to the rural areas. There they suffered the exploitation by local landlords coupled with the European onslaught. Then the ‘ulama, like Shaikh Hasan Jifri (d.1807/08), Veliyancode ‘Umar Qazi (d.1852), Sayyid ‘Alawi (d.1844/45), Sayyid Fazl (d.1901) etc. started issuing fatawa for jihad against both the foreign power and local landlords. The fatawa were a call to the religiously conscientious Muslims to mobilize the community, and the religious element dominated in these struggles. The Muslims of Malabar now gathered under the leadership of the ‘ulama.
This paper seeks to analyse the role of the ‘ulama in such Mappila struggles, which were carried out to protect their existence against both external and internal attacks.
The interpretation of the Islamic basic principles evolved with the changing time and context. The political leadership of the Kerala Muslim ‘ulama was given attention in the beginning of the 16th century by Makhdum family’s assuming the socio-political and religious leadership. Their fatwa was to come out for jihad against the common enemy under the existed ruler, Zamorin, who was a non-Muslim.
Later, as the trade monopoly passed out of the hands of Muslims who were settled in the coastal areas, they turned inland in the search for a new livelihood. There they suffered the exploitation by local landlords coupled with the European onslaught. Then the ‘ulama, started issuing fatawa for jihad against both the foreign power and local landlords.
At the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, the ‘ulama realized that the major cause of the backwardness of Mappilas was the Muslim attitude, hates everything which is colonial. So they asked to every Muslim men and women to learn Malayalam and English languages, besides gaining the religious and modern knowledge.
These fatawa were a call to the religiously conscientious Muslims to mobilize the community, and the religious element dominated in these struggles.
Arrival of Islam in Kerala
As the history of commercial intercourse between India and the Western countries, Arabia, Palestine and Egypt, goes back to very ancient times, Mappilas of Malabar originated with the rise of Islam in Arabia and spread through a process of peaceful communication and economic relationship between the Arabs and people of Malabar. With the missionary zeal of the Arab traders and the religious tolerance of native rulers and their subjects, Islam found a fertile region in the existing social and economic conditions of the region. These factors transformed Malabar into a region largely populated by Muslim Mappilas.
The word mappila is a combination of two Dravidian words, Maha (great) and pilla (child). “The offspring born to Arab fathers are given this honorific title as a mark of respect. The community has spread on the southern part of the western coast, in the contiguous tract from Cape Camorin in the south to about Manglore in the north. But it is in Malabar these people are called as Mappilas and for practical purpose the name is applied for the entire community. They are also found in the Laccadive Islands, where the population consists of Mappilas alone”. Thus the Mappilas, consisted of both the descendants of the Arabs through local women and the converts from among the local people.
The egalitarian ideals of Islam, the existence of Arab colonies, the social and economic systems in the region and the positive attitude of the native rulers were the main factors which made Malabar a receptive soil for Islam. Besides that, the majority of people of the region had become fed up with religious exploitation and landlordism of feudal jenmis and they found refuge in a system which provided them relief and emancipation. With the decline of Buddhism and later its gradual absorption by Brahmanism, a vacuum was developed and Islam filled the vacuum where suffered people offered an alternative. Thus the statement that “Islam spread more rapidly in those areas where Buddhism had lingered on until the time of its arrival” was true in the case of Malabar.
Socio-religious Status of the Muslim Community in the Early Period
As the presence of Mappilas needed for the economic prosperity of the territory, the native rulers extended all facilities and protection to the Mappilas and the Malabar was the most important state on the western coast of India where the Arabs found a fertile soil for their trade activities. Practically, there was no Muslim rule in Malabar except the reign of Arakkal Ali Rajas of the north and a short interlude of the Mysorean lordship. However, this doesn’t mean that Muslims got no official support in propagating their religion. We have the accounts of a number of historians and travellers, of the native Rajas protecting the Muslims and assisting directly or indirectly, the propagating of their faith.
Among the native rulers of Malabar, the Zamorins of Calicut showed special regard towards the welfare of Muslims who had settled in large numbers in his dominions, and not only materially increased his power and wealth by their trade but directly supported him in his campaigns of aggrandizement. The alliance between the Zamorins and Muslims was economically beneficial for both the parties. On the one hand, the Arabs could control the Arabian Sea trade and exercise strong influence to the east and on the other, with the help of Muslim, the Zamorins who’s the chief source of income was custom duty, could enrich them. The brisk trade carried on with the east and the west increased the prosperity of the kingdom. Militarily, the Zamorins gained additional loyal forces of Mappilas to supplement his unstable Nair fighters in his war of aggression. The Arabs made Calicut the greatest port on the west coast of India and spread the name and fame of the Zamorins to Europe.
The policy of equity and justice, characteristic of the Zamorin’s rule and the complete security of person and property that the Zamorins vouchsafed to all those who frequented their dominions had attracted many trading communities to Calicut among whom the Arabs predominated. This accelerated the growth of Muslims in Malabar and it was through the aid rendered by Muslims that the Zamorins were enabled to conquer the surrounding countries and obtained a paramount position in Malabar.
Most of the travellers had praised the scrupulous honesty showed by the Zamorins. Abd al-Razaq (1442) a Persian ambassador found that such security and justice reigning in the city that large bundles of goods off loaded from the ships could be left on the streets for any length of time without guard and without threat of theft. Above all these friendly engagements, to satisfy his own economic benefits, the Zamorin and his officers, like Muslim monarchs, encouraged conversion.
Since then there was a peaceful relationship with the native rulers as they extended all facilities and protection to the Muslim traders, because their activities contributed to the economic prosperity of the territory. In the course of time the ulama became active in the region, but their main concern then was some theological issues and the everyday life of Muslim individuals and society.
The rulers had respected and regard for the Muslims, because the increase number of cities was due to them. Hence the rulers enable the Muslims in the observation if their Friday prayers and celebrations of Id. They fix the allowances of qazis and muaddins and entrust them with the duty of carrying the laws of the shari‘a. The deep doctrinal differences between Hinduism and Islam in no way affected the mutual co-existence and cultural assimilations. While manifestations of folk religion often contradicts official Muslim monotheism, the Mappilas remained unaware of such contradictions and the religious authorities in most cases were inclined to tolerate the regional customs and traditions.
Arrival of the Portuguese and its effect on the community
One of the least surprising but the most traumatic of events in the history of the Mappilas was the coming of Portuguese who went to India not only for commerce or philanthropy, but also to conquer the enemies of Jesus Christ. Prior to the emergence of Portuguese, control of maritime trade in the Indian Ocean was established peacefully. Over the centuries, a mutually beneficial relationship developed between Muslim traders and Hindu merchants. The situation changed after the Portuguese arrived in 1498 with an anti-Muslim ideology, and the aim of monopolizing certain trades, especially those in spices. The Portuguese could offer little in the way of goods or services to supplant the established network. Moreover, the Portuguese believed that Venetian merchants were monopolizing trade of European goods and preventing them from gaining access to the lucrative markets in the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese quickly surmised that they could only change the status quo by resorting to brute force. They targeted Muslims, like arresting them without reason, the burning of the Quran, attacking Muslim scholars, enslaving Muslims, molesting their women, murdering Hajj pilgrims at sea, forcibly converting Muslims to Christianity etc. The Tuhfat al Mujahidin says that they oppressed the Muslims, corrupted them and committed all kinds of ugly and infamous deeds, too bad to be described. The Portuguese scoffed at the Muslims, and held them up to scorn as well as preventing them from their journeys, especially their holy pilgrimage to Makkah. Besides plundering their properties and burning their cities and mosques, many sayyids, learned men and nobles were captured and tortured and put to death. Many Muslim men and women were converted to Christianity. They committed many such shameful and abominable deeds.
Rolend E.Miller says: “Blessed by ignorance and without knowledge of the language, the Portuguese were not in the mood or the position to consider the style and emotions of the society to which they came. Arrogant and cruel, they were typified by their first representative Vasco-da-Gama who in many respects was a ‘nobler savage’ than many who followed his historic path”. The Portuguese Christians, who had inherited against Islam and Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, turned against the Mappilas in Malabar to such an extent that their general Alfonso Albuguerque publicly declared his intention to destroy Makkah.
Role of the ulama in the struggle of the community for existence
In India, the colonialism had made its first appearance in Malabar. So, naturally the anti-colonial movements have made its first appearance in this region. As the first European country which came with a definite intention of colonialism was Portugal and the attitude of that country towards the natives and particularly to the Muslim community was clearly that of enmity and persecution, the leaders called upon the Mappilas to come out for jihad to get away the enemies out of the territory. However the Mappila jurists didn’t declare Malabar as Dar al-Harb (home of war) because all the conditions for such a declaration were not fulfilled and the Portuguese hadn’t yet established their authority over the region. Thus the active leadership of the ulama and the urge for martyrdom among the fighters clearly show that the anti-colonial struggle from the part of Mappilas was idealised by the Muslim doctrine of jihad while the Portuguese considered the Indian expedition as a continuation of the crusaders against Islam in the Middle East.
Sheikh Zainuddin al-Makhdum I (d.1521)
Sheikh Zainuddin al-Makhdum I was the first known Muslim scholar in India to declare war against the Europeans. His treatise called Tahriz Ahl al-Imam ‘ala Jihadi ‘Abdat al-Sulban (Incitement for Believers on Fight against the Worshippers of the Cross) deals exclusively with the atrocities of the Portuguese on Mappilas and the necessity of a holy war against them. By explaining the theory of jihad and giving the pathetic picture he made the holy war (jihad) against the Portuguese obligatory upon all the Muslims.
Zainuddin al-Makhdum II
Later, his grandson Zainuddin al-Makhdum II came with another treatise namely Tuhfat al-Mujahidin fi Ba’th Ahwal al-Burtuqaliyyin (The Gift to the Holy Warriors in Respect of Some Deeds of the Portuguese) which also was intended to incite the Muslims to the war against Portuguese. The book explains havoc which the Portuguese have wrecked upon the Islamic society of Kerala.
Like his ancestor, Zainuddin I, Zainuddin II also sheds light on the atrocities of the Portuguese and the disgrace they brought to the religion of Islam. Zainuddin II clearly states that Malabar, though it was ruled by a non-Muslim ruler, was dar al-Islam (house of Islam), since Muslims enjoyed freedom and safety under its rule. If such a territory is attacked by the enemies, jihad becomes an obligatory duty imposed upon every Muslim who is strong to undertake it, whether he is a slave or female of the city, or a dependant, without the permission of the chief, the husband or the creditor.
Regarding the position of Muslims in the territory of the Zamorins, ZainuddinII writes: “The Muslims of Malabar have no amir who possesses power and can exercise authority over them and be mindful of their welfare: On the contrary all of them are the subjects of the rulers who are unbelievers. Notwithstanding this fact, the Muslims engaged themselves in hostilities against the unbelievers (Portuguese) and spent their wealth to the extent of their means with the assistance of that friend of the Muslims, the Samuri, who also expended money on their behalf from the beginning”.
Thus Zainuddin II justifies the jihad by implicitly placing the struggle within the Islamic framework of dar al Islam and dar al harb. Malabar, where Muslims were well treated and granted religious autonomy, was obvious by an extension of dar al Islam, while the Portuguese were intruders from dar al harb. Zainuddin sought to persuade the Mappilas to join the anticolonial struggle by describing the religious merit they would acquire and cited Quranic verses and Prophetic traditions to that effect.
The verdicts of Shaikh Zainuddin and his successor for jihad had tremendous effect up on Mappilas who did their best to fight away the Portuguese in the Arabian sea, while the religious taboos prevented the Hindu Nair army of Zamorins from waging a naval war. The call for jihad prompted the Kunhalis, the traditional grain merchants to lead the battles against the Portuguese. Thus Kunhalis, who later become the naval commanders of Zamorins, continued as the disciples of Makhdums and spearheaded anti Portuguese struggle in the sixteenth century. Mappilas lead a heroic fight against the Portuguese in the battles of Chaliyam (1599) in which many religious leaders like Qazi ‘Abdul Aziz of Calicut, Shaikh ‘Abdul Wafa, Alia Mamukkoya and Shaykh ‘Abdul Aziz al-Makhdum of Ponnani directly involved.
The Impact of the European Colonialism in the Mappila Society in the Post- Portuguese Era
The decline of the Portuguese power in Malabar territory, in 1673 did not mean salvation for the Mappilas. For them yielded their power not to the old coalition of Hindus and Muslims, but to another group of foreigners, Dutch, French and English, with similar aspirations and strengths as their predecessors. The overall impact of the Post-Portuguese European was less brutal than that of their predecessors, but the net effect on the Mappilas was almost same.
The combination of Portuguese political control and religious aggressiveness severely impeded the advance of Islam in Kerala. The Portuguese coastal presence had blocked the Arab influx and subsequent intermarriage and the large scale Hindu conversion to Islam. Thus, as the trade monopoly passed out of the hands of Muslims who were settled in the coastal areas, they turned inland in the search for new livelihoods. There the tenants, whether they are Hindus or Mappilas suffered equally at the hands of jenmis that prevented the Hindu tenants from making insurrections against the lords. The anger of the Mappila was primarily directed against the foreigner, whose cruel excess were disproportionate even for the times, but now they turned against both the exploitation by local landlords and the European onslaught.
Steps Taken by the Ulama against British Injustice and Exploitation by Landlords
Qutub al-Zaman Sayyid ‘Alawi (d.1844/45)
With the arrival of Shaikh Jifri (d. 1807/08) and his successors at Calicut the religious leadership has been handed over to jifri family, from makhdums. With the coming of Shaikh Hasan Jifri (d. 1764/65), the cousin of Shaikh Jifri, and Qutub al-Zaman Sayyid ‘Alawi (d.1844/45), the nephew of Shaikh Hasan Jifri, the fame and glory of the jifri family reached high that all the Mappilas regarded them as their spiritual leaders. The Saif al Battar, the fatwa, said to be issued by Sayyid ‘Alawi unequivocally declared jihad against the British who had usurped the rule of the country and exploited the people, as obligatory upon all Muslims. Quoting Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) he declared that all the Muslims, despite the old and women up on whom the participation in the fight is not compulsory, should take part in the fight against the kuffar (the British) who had entered the country.
The immediate incident which provoked Sayyid ‘Alawi was a land lord-British conspiracy and the Muttiyara incident, which was the result of the land lord-British conspirancy. The Saif al Battar, the fatwa issued by Sayyid ‘Alawi and his participation in the cherur fight, on which he was wounded by a bullet from the fun of the enemy, clearly shows that Sayyid ‘Alawi not only offered his sanctified fatwa, but also activity organised armed resistance against the land lord-British conspiracy. His involvement in the rebellions and his leadership to the fighters gave a new turn to the nature of the out breaks.
S.F. Dale says that Sayyid ‘Alawi addressed the Mappilas as an Islamic community who not only expressed economic and social grievances in religious terms but also attached more purely religious or doctrinal issues. Here the revolts were performed in the highly stylized ritual of the ‘suicidal jihad’ and the authorities were always held by Sayyid ‘Alawi who is also known as Mambaram Tangal, Taramal Tangal and Tirurangadi Tangal etc.
Sayyid Fazl (d.1901)
Sayyid ‘Alawi was succeeded by his son Sayyid Fazl after his death. Followed the foot-steps of his father in his antagonism towards the British, Sayyid Fazl has written books and issued fatawa to make the people conscious of the consequences of the British rule or the rule of kuffar as he often referred. He collected and compiled all the Quranic verses and traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the name Al-Qawl al-Mukhtar fil Man’an Takhyir al-Kuffar (The Selected Statements to Prevent the Preference to the Infidels). He also propagated the Saif al Battar, the so called fatwa of his father, through the mosques and his disciples who were sent to different parts of Malabar for spreading the doctrine of jihad.
Mr. T.L. Strange, a judge of Sadar Adalat was appointed by the British government on February1852 to submit a report on the outrages found fanaticism to be the root cause of all the unrest and put the responsibility up on “the notorious sayyid Fazl of Arab extraction” for all disturbances. T.L. Strange in his report endorsed the repressive measures recommended by conolly, the collector who was arguing for long with Madras government that Sayyid Fazl should be banished from the state to prevent the revolt. According to the report the government ordered his banishment and on 19th March 1852 Sayyid Fazl set sail for Arabia with fifty seven persons in all, which consisted of his family, companions and servants.
Veliyancode ‘Umar Qazi (d.1852)
Veliyancode ‘Umar Qazi, a close associate and spiritual disciple of Sayyid ‘Alawi Tangal and the qazi of Veliyancode and surrounding areas was a reputed religious leader who led an individual movement against the British. When the British authority imposed heavy taxes upon the lands of the qazi, he refused to pay them and rebuked that as lands belong to God only, the British who are the enemies had no right to impose taxes upon it and it is forbidden to accept employment under the ‘white Christians’. He was imprisoned on 18th December 1819 and there he consoled himself by saying that God has created the human beings to die, and to die in the way of God is a virtuous deed for rightly guided people.
Sayyid Husain Tangal of Panakkad (d. 1884-85)
Sayyid Husain Tangal of Panakkad, a contemporary of Sayyid Fazl and the qazi of Tirurangadi and Malappuram, was another prominent leader who encouraged rebellion against the British imperialism. He joined with Sayyid Fazl in his anti-British campaigns and issued fatawa for jihad. The deportation of Sayyid Fazl and the repressive measures of the authorities couldn’t scare him and he encouraged the rebels with his blessings. The authorities got direct evidence for his involvement in the outbreak of 1882 under Kalangadan Kutty Hasan and he was arrested as well as confiscating the copies of fatwa issued by him. Sayyid Husain Tangal of Panakkad was sentenced for life imprisonment and remained in the central jail of Vellore till his death.
The British authorities tried their best to reduce the influence of religious leaders, through arrest and imprisonment. Pudiyakath Ahmad Musliyar, the Makhdum of Ponnani was arrested as an exemplary punishment, to create awareness among the people that even the highest religious dignitary was not above the law and such people shouldn’t be carried away by the irresponsible statements and investigations of the religious heads.
The ulama’s, like Sana-u-llah Makti Thangal (1847-1912) and Vakkom ‘Abdul Qadir Maulavi (1873-1932) etc. approach was different from their ancestors. They tried to prevent the Christian missionary activities as well as realizing the socio-economic backwardness of Mappilas. They said that the Muslim attitude, hates everything which is colonial, is the major cause of their backwardness. So it is obligatory on every Muslim men and women to learn Malayalam and English languages, besides gaining the religious and modern knowledge.
Various forms of indigenous literature and war songs bring out the heroic deeds and verdicts of Mappila leaders against the foreign invaders particularly the Portuguese and the British. Religious persecutions along with the attack on trade monopoly were the prime factors that kindled the spirit of jihad among the Mappilas. With the spirit of jihad and naval experience they played the prominent role in the anti-colonial struggles of Malabar. Besides the religious leadership of the Ulama and the political conditions of the time, the popular form of Sufism has deep rooted in the community and it brought among them solidarity and social unity as well as facilitating their mass mobilization against the common enemy. The community which had been suffering through the exploitation by local landlords coupled with the illegal eviction and the exorbitant rents due to the injustice of European’s now found asylum in the religious leadership.
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