Islam in Kerala

Print edition : February 26, 2010

KERALA is a devastating refutation of Mohammed Ali Jinnahs two-nation theory and its corollary, Muslim homelands are only in Pakistan provinces. Islam came to Kerala before it reached northern India and is practised with greater devotion and with none of the sectarian bigotry witnessed in Pakistan. It strikingly resembles Kashmir and not just in the beauty of the land or the exquisiteness of its food, its Muslims have a distinct ethos and are proud of it. The architecture of the mosques in Kerala as in Kashmir is altogether different.

These five books must be appraised along with their publishers. Other Books is an independent book distribution and publishing initiative by a collective of university students, academicians and social activists to widen contemporary discourse on various subjects distributing and publishing books that seek to embrace alternative and critical perspectives.

It seeks to provide solutions for serious readers and focus on the promotion and spread of alternative knowledge and original ideas through locating, printing, publishing and distributing non-mainstream books to serious-minded readers. A wide range of topics is covered, ranging from post-modernism to Islam to organic farming. It also networks with all reputed national and international publishers to make available the books at lowest rates.

Tuhfat al-Mujahidin is the first in that series. First written in Arabic in the late 16th century, it is a pioneering historical work dealing with the struggles of the Malabar Muslims against the Portuguese colonisers encroachment in India, and the rise of Malabar as a medieval naval force under the Zamorin of Calicut. Republication of this anti-colonial manifesto comes at a time when Muslims continue to be an obstacle to Western imperialistic ambitions. The book is a study in liberation theology of Islam.

P. Govinda Pillai, a leading Marxian critic and journalist in Kerala, has called it an important event not only in the historical studies of Kerala but in the history of Kerala historiography. This is the first work based on the history of Kerala authored by a Keralite, albeit in Arabic. Moreover, like Thucydides Peleponnesian War, Tuhfath is credited with extraordinary historicity, since the author narrates events in which he took part in many ways and which he witnessed. The crux of Tuhfath is the heroic war waged by the legendary naval leader Kunjali Marakkar and his warriors alongside Calicut Zamorin from 1498 to 1583. Zainuddin was not only describing the events one by one chronologically. But he details with his analytical prowess as befitted a good historian the lifestyle, customs and family structure of the people of the time.

The author was a historian, an observer of society and culture and an outstanding scholar. Tuhfat was written by Makhdum, who was born in 1517, presumably in the later part of the 16th century. It took centuries hence, sharply until the second half of the 20th century, for Malayalis to read a comprehensive history either of the whole Kerala or a certain part of it.

As part of its venture Other Books republished the Iranian dissident Ali Shariatis famous work Religion vs Religion. The book has not been confronted with unbelief so much as it has been by religion shorn of morality and reason.

Two able studies on the vibrant Muslim community of Kerala, one on history by Dr Hussain Randhathani and the other on modern times by Prof. U. Mohammed help in understanding a people devoted to constructive pursuits. It seems incongruous but is not. Lathika Georges book on recipes from the Syrian Christians of Kerala is meant not only for those who toil in the kitchen but also for people like you and me.

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