Islam in Kerala

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Islam arrived in Kerala through Arab traders during the time of Prophet Muhammad (CE 570 - CE 632). Kerala has a very ancient relation with the middle east even during the Pre-Islamic period. Muslim merchants (Malik Deenar) settled in Kerala by the 7th century AD and introduced Islam. The Cheraman Juma Masjid said to be the very first mosque in India situated in Kodungallur Taluk, in state of Kerala. According to a tradition, Cheraman Perumal, the last of the Chera kings, became Muslim and traveled to visit prophet Muhammad and this event helped the spread of Islam.

Kerala Muslims are generally referred to as Mappilas in Kerala. They share a common language (Malayalam) with the rest of the population and have a culture commonly regarded as the Malayalam culture of Kerala with an Arabian blend.[1] Islam is the second largest practised religion in Kerala next to Hinduism. Muslim population form 26.56% of the population of Kerala. Islam is also the fastest growing religion in Kerala due to the birth rates.[2]


Inside of a mosque

Prior to the independence of India, the present-day state of Kerala comprised the three areas known as Malabar District, Travancore and Cochin.[3] There had been considerable trade relations between Arabia and Kerala even before the time of Islamic prophet Muhammad. Islam might have been introduced in the region by the Arab traders in the 7th or 8th century AD. Like the Jews and Christians, the Arabs also settled down at Cranganore and established a separate colony of their part of the town. According to a tradition, Cheraman Perumal, the last of the Chera kings, became a convert to Islam and traveled to Mecca and this event helped the spread of Islam.[4][page needed]

The patronage of the Zamorins of Kozhikode was also an important factor in the spread of Islam in north Kerala.[4] The Muslims were a major power to be reckoned with in the kingdom and had great influence in the court. The arrival of the Portuguese in 1498 checked the then well-established community's progress. However, in the later Colonial period Muslims increased by conversion chiefly among the "outcaste" Hindu groups of southern interior Malabar as Muslim traders turned inland in search of alternative occupations to commerce. By the mid-18th century the majority of the Muslims of Kerala were landless laborers, poor fishermen and petty traders, and they were in a psychological retreat. This trend was reversed during the Mysore invasions of the late 18th century. For a little over a quarter of a century after 1766 the Muslims were a dominant community. The victory of the British and princely Hindu confederacy in 1792 placed the Muslims once again in economical and cultural subjection.[5] Tipu Sultan: villain or hero? : an anthology(Page 38)by Sita Ram Goel</ref>

European era[edit]

Mosque in Wayanad

The monopoly of overseas trade in Malabar was safe with the Arab-Mappila alliance until the arrival of Portuguese in Kerala.[6] At the time, a good number of Mappilas were enlisted in the naval force of Zamorin, the ruler of Calicut. The naval chiefs of the Zamorin were usually from the Mappila community; they were given the title of Marakkar. Initially, Portuguese traders were successful in reaching in an agreement with the Zamorin and hence got support from Mappilas. However, fearful of losing their monopoly in the trade-routes to Europe via the Indian Ocean, the Mappila merchants persuaded the Zamorin to attack the Portuguese, killing the traders left behind by Vasco da Gama. This led to war between Calicut and the returning Portuguese fleets, who allied with their Hindu rival in Cochin.[7] During this period, Portuguese forces tried to establish monopoly in spice trade using violent methods against the Arabs and other Muslim merchants from the Middle East.[8] The possibility that a few Muslim traders from Basra, Damascus, Tunis and Egypt joined the Mappila community during this period can not be ruled out.[citation needed]

Portuguese-Zamorin relation deteriorated and the military of Zamorin, including Mappilas, engaged the Portuguese colonial forces in 1524 CE.[8] The Portuguese attacked and looted the town of Calicut. They set the town to fire and, in the arson, many buildings including the Jami' Mosque of Mappilas were destroyed.[9][10] Ships containing trading goods were drowned, along with thousands of merchants and their families; anyone who was an Arab was killed. All this resulted in the Mappila losing control of the spice trade they had dominated for more than a thousand years as well as losing more than half of their population at the hands of their enemy.

In the Mysorean invasion of Kerala, Mappilas gave support to the invading military of Hyder Ali in 1765.[11] In the following Mysorean rule of Malabar, Mappilas were favoured against the Hindu landlords of the region and the most notable advantage for the community during this time is the grant of customary rights for the Mappila tenants over their land. However, such measures of the Muslim rulers widened the communal imbalance of Malabar and the British colonial forces taking advantage of the situation allied with the Hindu upper-caste communities to fight against the Mysore regime. The British won the Anglo-Mysore War against Tippu Sultan and, consequently, Malabar was organised as a district under Madras Presidency. The British repaid landlord communities with a slew of measures: The first one being the abolishing of tenant rights over land.[12]

The partisan rule of British authorities brought the Mappila peasants of Malabar into a condition of destitution which led to a series of uprisings against the landlords and British. There was a recurrent form of violent protest known as the Moplah Outrages (1836-1919) and the Moplah Rising (1921–22).[5] The Malabar rebellion was an armed uprising in 1921 against British authority and Hindu landlords[13] in the Malabar region by Mappila Muslims and the culmination of a series of Mappila revolts that recurred throughout the 19th- and early 20th centuries.[1] The 1921 rebellion began as a reaction against a heavy-handed crackdown on the Khilafat Movement[14] by the British authorities in the Eranad and Valluvanad taluks of Malabar. In the initial stages, a number of minor clashes took place between Khilafat volunteers and the police, but the violence soon spread across the region.[15] The Mappilas attacked and took control of police stations, British government offices, courts and government treasuries. The largely kudiyaan (tenant) Mappilas also attacked and killed jenmi (landlords). The Muslim community of Kerala was also influenced by "the wind of change" in the 20th century. Social and religious leaders worked hard for social uplift and moral regeneration in society, exhorting Muslims to give up all un-Islamic practices and to take to Islamic education.[16]


Tirurangadi Muslim Orphanage

Communities and denominations[edit]

In terms of denomination, absolute majority adheres to Sunni Islam. The modern theological orientations amongst Muslims of Kerala are primarily divided into four; Sunnis, Mujahids (Salafis) and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.[17] The Sunnis referred here are identified by their conventional beliefs and practices and adherence to the Shafi'i madh'hab, while the other two theological orientations, the Mujahids and the Jama'ats, are seen as movements against the conventional belief system. A minor group of followers may be found with Tablighi Jama'at.

However Indian law regards Ahmadis as Muslims but all other Muslim sects consider them as Non Muslims. A landmark ruling by the Kerala High Court on 8 December 1970 in the case of Shihabuddin Imbichi Koya Thangal vs K.P. Ahammed Koya, citation A.I.R. 1971 Ker 206 upheld their legal status as Muslims.[18][19] Ahmadis were not allowed to sit on the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which is regarded in India as representative of Muslims in the country.[20][21]



It is a popular form of social entertainment among the Mappila community of Kerala, south India, prevalent all over Kerala. It is generally presented by females numbering about fifteen including musicians, as a part of wedding ceremonies a day before the wedding day. The bride, dressed in all finery, covered with gold ornaments, is the chief spectator; she sits on a peetam, around which the singing and dancing take place. While they sing, they clap their hands rhythmically and move around the bride using simple steps. Two or three girls begin the songs and the rest join the chorus.

Mappila Paattukal[edit]

Mappila Paattu or Mappila Song is a folklore Muslim devotional song genre rendered to lyrics in Arabic-laced Malayalam, by Muslims or Mappilas of the Malabar belt of Kerala in south India.[22] Mappila songs have a distinct cultural identity, as they sound a mix of the ethos and culture of Kerala as well as West Asia. They deal with themes such as religion, love, satire and heroism. Most of the mapillapatu are mixed with Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil etc. it keeps many 'ishals' (tunes), prasams (rhyming parts) and things like that. Moyinkutty Vaidyar is one of the oldest poets in mapilapattu.[citation needed]


Kolkkali is a popular dance form among the Mappila Muslims in Malabar. It is played in group of 12 people with two sticks, similar to the Dandiya dance of Gujarat.

Duff Muttu[edit]

Duff Muttu[23] (also called Dubh Muttu) is an art form prevalent among Mappilas, using the traditional duff, or daf, also called Thappitta. Participants dance to the rhythm as they beat the duff.

Arabana Muttu[edit]

Arabana muttu or arabana muttu is an art form prevalent among Muslims in Kerala state of south India, named after the aravana, a hand-held, one-sided flat tambourine or drumlike musical instrument, derived from Arabia. It is made of wood and animal skin, similar to the duff but a little thinner and bigger. In the opinion of Becker Edakkazhiyur, a noted arabana musician, "the ritualistic performance of `Arabana Refa' Ee Raathib Muttu' has been mistaken for `Arabana Kali Muttu,' which is purely for entertainment. While the former is almost extinct, the latter, known for its aesthetic appeal, is the one presented nowadays."

Muttum Viliyum[edit]

Muttum Viliyum is a traditional orchestral musical performance popular among Muslim community of Kerala, India. It is basically the confluence of three musical instruments—Kuzhal, Chenda and Cheriya Chenda . Muttum Viliyum is also known by the name "Cheenimuttu".


Vattappattu is an art form once performed in the Malabar region on the eve of the wedding day. The Muslim art form is traditionally performed by a group of male members from the groom’s side with the Puthiyappila (the groom) sitting in the middle. Its songs will usually be commemorating the wedding ceremony of the Prophet in a blend of different languages including Arabic, Malayalam and Urdu. A lead singer will sing the first line which will be repeated by the rest. Besides the lines praising the groom the song will also comprise description of the wedding scene including the special spread prepared by the mother-in-law for the groom. In traditional costumes, mostly whitedothi, kurtha and a turban, the participants sing and clap together either sitting or in a standing position.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pg 461, Roland Miller, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol VI , Brill 1988
  2. ^ Panikkar, K. N., Against Lord and State: Religion and Peasant Uprisings in Malabar 1836–1921
  3. ^ Fuller, C. J. (March 1976). "Kerala Christians and the Caste System". Man. New Series. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 11 (1): 53–70. doi:10.2307/2800388. JSTOR 2800388. (Subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ a b Menon, A. Sreedhara (1982). The Legacy of Kerala (Reprinted ed.). Department of Public Relations, Government of Kerala. ISBN 978-8-12643-798-6. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  5. ^ a b Nossiter, Thomas Johnson. Communism in Kerala: A Study in Political Adaptation. Retrieved 2012-11-15. 
  6. ^ Mehrdad Shokoohy (29 July 2003). Muslim Architecture of South India: The Sultanate of Ma'bar and the Traditions of the Maritime Settlers on the Malabar and Coromandel Coasts (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa). Psychology Press. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-415-30207-4. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  7. ^ Henry Morse Stephens (1897). "Chapter 1". Albuquerque. Rulers of India series. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 978-81-206-1524-3. 
  8. ^ a b Sanjay Subrahmanyam (29 October 1998). The Career and Legend of Vasco Da Gama. Cambridge University Press. pp. 293–294. ISBN 978-0-521-64629-1. Retrieved 26 July 2012. 
  9. ^ Mehrdad Shokoohy (29 July 2003). Muslim Architecture of South India: The Sultanate of Ma'bar and the Traditions of the Maritime Settlers on the Malabar and Coromandel Coasts (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa). Psychology Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-415-30207-4. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  10. ^ The Edinburgh review: or critical journal – Sydney Smith, Lord Francis Jeffrey Jeffrey, Macvey Napier, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, William Empson, Harold Cox, Henry Reeve, Arthur Ralph Douglas Elliot (Hon.). Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  11. ^ Robert Elgood (15 November 1995). Firearms of the Islamic World: in the Tared Rajab Museum, Kuwait. I.B.Tauris. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-1-85043-963-9. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  12. ^ Prema A. Kurien (7 August 2002). Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity: International Migration and the Reconstruction of Community Identities in India. Rutgers University Press. pp. 51–. ISBN 978-0-8135-3089-5. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  13. ^ Pg 179–183, Kerala district gazetteers: Volume 4 Kerala (India), A. Sreedhara Menon, Superintendent of Govt. Presses
  14. ^ The Khilafat movement (1919–1924) was a pan-Islamic, political campaign launched by Muslims in British India to influence the British government and to protect the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I. The position of Caliph after the Armistice of Mudros in October 1918 with the military occupation of Istanbul and Treaty of Versailles (1919) fell into hiatus along with the Ottoman Empire's existence. The movement gained force after the Treaty of Sèvres (August 1920) which solidified the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. In India, although mainly a Muslim religious phenonena, the movement became a part of the wider Indian independence movement and a discussion topic at the Conference of London in February 1920.
  15. ^ Pg 447, Pan-Islam in British Indian politics: a study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918–1924 M. Naeem Qureshi BRILL, 1999
  16. ^ a b Cultural heritage of Kerala - A Sreedhara Menon - Google Books. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Hoque, Ridwanul (21 March 2004). "On right to freedom of religion and the plight of Ahmadiyas". The Daily Star. 
  19. ^ "Shihabuddin Imbichi Koya Thangal vs K.P. Ahammed Koya on 8 December, 1970 Kerala High Court". 
  20. ^ Naqvi, Jawed (1 September 2008). "Religious violence hastens India's leap into deeper obscurantism". Dawn. Retrieved 2014-12-29. 
  21. ^ "Is The Ahmadi Community Just As Persecuted in Other Muslim-Majority Countries?". Herald.Dawn. October 13, 2013. Archived from the original on December 29, 2014. Retrieved 2014-12-29. 
  22. ^ "Preserve identity of Mappila songs". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 7 May 2006. Retrieved 15 August 2009. 
  23. ^ "Madikeri, Coorg, "Gaddige Mohiyadeen Ratib" Islamic religious "dikr" is held once in a year". YouTube. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 

Further reading[edit]