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Mappila, also known as a Mappila Muslim, formerly romanized as Moplah and historically known as Jonaka Mappila, in general, is a member of the Muslim community of the same name found predominantly in Kerala, southern India. Muslims of Kerala, of which Mappila community make up a large majority, constitute 26.56% of the population of the state (2011), and as a religious group they are the second largest group after Hindus (54.73%). Mappilas share the common language of Malayalam (Malayali) with the other religious communities of Kerala.
According to some scholars, the Mappilas are the oldest settled native Muslim community in South Asia. In general, a Mappila is either a descendant of any native convert to Islam or a mixed descendant of any West Asian - Arab or non Arab - individual.  Mappilas are but one among the many communities that forms the Muslim population of Kerala. No Census Report where the Muslim communities were mentioned separately was also available.
The Mappila community originated primarily as a result of the Middle Eastern contacts with Kerala, which was fundamentally based upon commerce. As per local tradition, Islam reached Malabar Coast, of which the Kerala state is a part of, as early as the 7th century AD. The continuous interaction of the Mappilas with the merchants from the Middle East have created a profound impact on their life, customs and culture. This has resulted in the formation of a unique Middle Eastern-Islamic tradition - although within the large spectrum of Malayali culture - in literature, art, food, language, and music.
Demographics and distribution
According to the 2011 census, about one-quarter of Kerala's population (26.56%) are Muslims. The calculated Muslim population (2011) in Kerala state is 88,73,472. The number of Muslims in rural areas is only 42,51,787, against an urban population of 46,21,685.
The number of Muslims is particularly high in the northern Kerala (former Malabar District). Mappilas are also found in the Laccadive Islands in the Arabian Sea. A small number of Malayali Muslims have settled in the southern districts of Karnataka and western parts of Tamil Nadu, while the scattered presence of the community in major cities of India can also be seen. When the British supremacy on Malabar District was established, many Mappilas were recruited for employment in plantations in Burma, Assam and for manual labor in South East Asian concerns of the British Empire. Diaspora groups of Mappilas are also found in Pakistan and Malaysia. Furthermore, a substantial proportion of Muslims have left Kerala to seek employment in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
Up to 16th century, as noticed by the contemporary observers, Muslims settled mainly along the coastal tracts of Kerala (especially in major Kerala ports such as Calicut, Cannanore, Cochin and Quilon). They were traditionally wealthy merchants who were all part of the brisk foreign trade  After and during the Portuguese period, some of the Muslim merchants were forced to turn inland in search of alternative occupations to commerce. Some acquired land and became land-owners and some became agricultural labourers. Between 16th and 19th centuries, the collective Mappila numbers increased rapidly in Malabar District, chiefly by the conversion among the and lower and 'outcaste' Hindu groups of the South Malabar interior. The peak of the Muslim distribution in Kerala had gradually shifted to the interior Malabar District. William Logan, comparing the Census Reports of 1871 and 1881, famously concluded that within 10 years some 50,000 people from the Cheruma community (former untouchables) have converted to Islam. From 1,70,113 in 1807, the strength of the Mappila community in Malabar District rose to 10,04,321 in 1921. Muslim growth in the 20th century has considerably outpaced that of the general Kerala population.
During the British period the so-called Mappila Outbreaks, c. 1836-1921 led the officials to make and maintain a distinction between the southern (South Malabar) interior Mappilas and the 'respectable' Mappila traders of the coastal cities, such as Kozhikode (North Malabar). The two other regional groupings are the high-status Muslim families of Kannur in North Malabar - arguably converts from high caste Hindus - and the Muslims of Travancore and Cochin. In South Kerala Malayali Muslims are not called Mappilas. The Colonial administrates also kept a distinction between coastal and inland Mappilas of the South Malabar.
Although the Muslims are far freer of caste-like distinctions than either Hindus or Christians in Kerala, some kind of - however vague it may be in the modern world - classes do exist. At the top are the Tangals (the Sayyids), who claim descent from the family of Prophet Muhammed (West Asian descent). Below them are Arabis, the people tracing their origin from the West Asian intermarriage with Malayali women. They are followed by the landed aristocracy, centred on Kannur, North Malabar. Lastly, there are the converts from the Backward and Scheduled Hindu castes (such as the South Malabar interior Mappilas, Pusalars and the Ossans).
Mappilas are but one among the many communities that forms the Muslim population of Kerala. Sometimes the whole Muslim community in former Malabar District, or even in Kerala, is known by the term "Mapplla". Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa (1515) uses the term 'Moors Mopulars' for the Muslims of Kerala.
"Mappila" ("the great child", a synonym for son-in-law/bridegroom) was a respectful, and honorific title given to foreign visitors, merchants and immigrants to Malabar Coast by the native Hindus. The Muslims were referred to as Jonaka or Chonaka Mappila ("Yavanaka Mappila"), to distinguish them from the Nasrani Mappila (Saint Thomas Christians) and the Juda Mappila (Cochin Jews). These three were the dominant the trading communities of historical Kerala.
Origin and growth of Islam in Kerala
It is generally agreed among scholars that Middle Eastern merchants frequented the Malabar Coast, which was the link between the West and ports of East Asia, even before Islam had been established in Arabia. The western coast of India was the chief centre of Middle Eastern trading activities right from atleast 4th century AD and by about 7th century AD, and several West Asian merchants had taken permanent residence in some port cites of Malabar Coast. A number of foreign accounts have mentioned about the presence of considerable Muslim population in the coastal towns. Arab writers such as Masudi of Baghdad (934-955 AD), Idrisi (1154 AD), Abul-Fida (1213 AD) and Dimishqi (1325 AD) mentions the Muslim communities in Kerala. Some historians assume that the Mappilas can be considered as the first native, settled Islamic community in South Asia.
The West Coast of India was known as "Malabar" (a mixture of Tamil word Malai and Arabic word Barr, most probably) to the West Asians. Persian scholar Al-Biruni (973-1052 AD) appears to have been the first to call the region by this name. Masudi of Baghdad (896-965 AD) speaks about the contacts between Malabar and Arabia. Authors such as Ibn Khurdad Beh (869 - 885 AD), Ahmad al Baladhuri (892 AD), and Abu Zayd of Ziraf (916 AD) mentions Malabar ports in their works.
Scholar C. N. Ahammad Moulavi has mentioned that he has seen at Irikkalur near Valapattanam a tombstone bearing the date 670 AD/Hijra 50 (it seems that the tombstone is now lost). Inscriptions found on a tombstone on the beach outside the Juma'h Mosque in Panthalayani Kollam record the death of one Abu ibn Udthorman in Hijra 166. The mosque itself contains two medieval royal charters, one on a block of granite built into the steps of the mosque tank and another one a lose stone lying outside, of the Kodungallur Chera king Bhaskara Ravi Manukuladitya (962-1021 AD). The position of the royal Chera charter (in Old Malayalam) inside the mosque suggests that the city belonged to the Muslims or included them or came into their possession at a later stage. A few Umayyad (661–750 AD) coins were discovered from Kothamangalam in the eastern part of Ernakulam district. The earliest major epigraphic evidence of Muslim merchants in Kerala is a royal charter by Ayyan Atikal, the powerful governor of Venatu under the Chera king of Kodungallur. The Quilon Syrian Copper Plate (c. 883 AD) is written in Old Malayalam, and concludes with a number of signatures in Kufic, Pahlavi and Hebrew. The charter shows governor of Venatu Ayyan Atikal, in presence of the royal representative from Kodungallur (prince Kota Ravi Vijayaraga) and regional civil and military officials, granting land and serfs to the church (?) of Tarisa, built by Mar Sapir Iso, and conferring privileges on Anchuvannam and Manigramam corporations. The attestation to the copper plates in the Kufic script reads: "And witness to this Maimun ibn Ibrahim, Muhammad ibn Mani, Sulh ibn Ali, Uthaman ibn al-Marziban, Muhammad ibn Yahya, Amr ibn Ibrahim, Ibrahim ibn al-Tay, Bakr ibn Mansur, al-Kasim ibn Hamid, Mansur ibn Isa and, Ismail ibn Ya Kub". The presence of non-Christian signatures and the names found in the charter prove that the associates of Mar Sapir Iso included Jews and Muslim Arabs too. The charter gives proof of the status and privileges of trading corporations in Kerala.
According to the Cheraman Perumal tradition, the first Indian mosque was built in 624 AD at Kodungallur with the consent of the last the ruler (the Cheraman Perumal) of Chera dynasty, who converted to Islam during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (c. 570–632). Perumal's proselytisers, led by Malik ibn Dinar, established a series of mosques in his kingdom and north of it, thus facilitating the expansion of Islam in Kerala. While there is no concrete historical evidence for this tradition, there can be little doubt of the early Muslim presence, and of the religious tolerance based on economic interests, on the Malabar Coast.
The Arabic inscription on a copper slab within the Madayi Mosque records its foundation year as Hijra 518 (1124 AD). The mosque in the heart of the old Chera capital, the Kodungallur Mosque, has a granite foundation exhibiting 11th-12th century architectural style. A 13th century granite inscription, in Old Malayalam and Arabic, at Muchundi Mosque in Kozhikode mentions a donation by the Samoothiri to the mosque. The inscription is the only surviving historical document recording royal endowment by a Hindu ruler, in the form of a grant, to the Muslim community in Kerala.
The West Asian Muslim navigators and Kerala Muslim mercantile community went through a long period of peaceful intercultural growth till the arrival of the Portuguese explorers. Traveler Ibn Batuta (14th century) has recorded the considerably huge presence of West Asian merchants and settlements of sojourning traders in most of the ports of Kerala.  Immigration, intermarriage and missionary activity - secured by the common interest in the spice trade - helped in this development. The monopoly of overseas spice trade with Malabar Coast was safe with the Middle Eastern shipping magnates. Fortunes of these merchants depended on the political patronage of the native chiefs of Calicut (Kozhikode), Cannanore (Kannur), Cochin (Kochi), and Quilon (Kollam). Some of the important civil and military administrative positions in the Kingdom of Calicut, such as that of the Calicut Port Commissioner, were held by Muslims. The king of Calicut derived a great part of his revenue from taxing the spice trade. The Muslim line of Ali Rajas of Arakkal, near Kannur, who were the vassals of the Kolathiri, ruled over the Laccadives. Shaykh Ahmad Zayn al-Din (c. 1498-1581) estimates that 10% of the population of Malabar was Muslim by the midpoint of he 16th century AD. The West Asian Muslims controlled the lucrative western arm of the overseas long-distance trade (to the ports of the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf) from the Malabar Coast. The native Muslims (Mappilas and Maraikkars) dominated the trade to Pegu, Mergui, Melaka and points east, and the Indian coastal trade (Canara, Malabar, Ceylon and Coromandel, and Bay of Bengal shores) with the Chettis from Coromandel Coast. Muslims, with Gujarati Vanias, also took part in the trade with ports of Gujarat.
The European period
Initially (c. 1500-1520), Portuguese traders were successful in reaching in agreements with the local Hindu chiefs and native Muslim (Mappila) merchants in Kerala. The major contradiction was between the Portuguese state and the Middle Eastern Muslim traders, and the Kingdom of Calicut. The big Mappila traders in Cochin supplied large quantities of Southeast Asian spices to the Portuguese.
Sooner rather than later, tensions also arose between the wealthy Mappila traders of Kannur and the Portuguese state. The ships of the Kannur Mappilas again and again fell prey to the Portuguese sailors off the coast of Maldives, an important point between Southeast Asia and the Red Sea. Interests of the Portuguese casado traders in Cochin, planning to capture the spice trade through the Gulf of Mannar, came into the conflict with Mappilas and the Tamil Maraikkayar Muslims. The narrow gulf held the key to the trade to Bengal and Chittagong. By 1520s, open confrontations between the Portuguese and the Mappilas, from Ramanathapuram, and Thoothukudi to northern Kerala, and to western Sri Lanka, became a common occurrence.  The once powerful Mappila chief was finally forced to sue for peace with the Portuguese in 1540. The peace soon broken, with the assassination of the qazi of Kannur Abu Bakr Ali, and the Portuguese again came down hard on the Mappilas. In the meantime, the Portuguese also entered into friendship with some of the leading Middle Eastern merchants residing on the Malabar Coast.
The Portuguese tried to establish a monopoly in the lucrative spice trade in India, often using violent warfare.  Whenever a formal war was broke out between the Portuguese and the Calicut rulers, the Portuguese attacked and plundered, as the opportunity offered, the Muslim ports in Kerala. Small, lightly armed, and highly mobile vessels of the Mappilas remained a major threat to Portuguese shipping all along the west coast of India. By the end of the 16th century, the Portuguese were able to deal with the "Mappila challenge". Kunjali Marakkar was defeated and killed, with the help of the Calicut ruler, in the 1590s. The Ali Rajas of Kannur was given permission to send ships to even to the Red Sea, as a way of ensuring their cooperation. The relentless battles lead to the eventual decline of the Muslim community in Kerala, as they lost control of the spice trade. This was accompanied by the exit of Middle Eastern merchants from Kerala. The Muslims - who had been depended solely on commerce - were reduced into severe economic perplexity. Some traders turned inland (South Malabar) in search of alternate occupations to commerce. The Muslims of Kerala gradually became a society of small traders, landless labourers and poor fishermen. The once affluent Muslim population became predominantly rural in Kerala.
Kingdom of Mysore, ruled by Muslim sultan Hyder Ali, invaded and occupied northern Kerala in the late-18th century. In the following Mysore rule of Malabar, Muslims were favoured against the high caste Hindu landlords. Some were able to obtain some land rights and administrative positions. There a sharp increase in community's growth, especially through conversions from the "outcaste" society. However, such measures of the Mysore rulers only widened the communal imbalance of Malabar and the East India Company forces - taking advantage of the situation - allied with the Hindu high caste communities to fight against the Mysore regime. The British subsequently won the Anglo-Mysore War against Tipu Sultan and, consequently, Malabar was organised as a district under Madras Presidency.
The discriminatory land tenure system - tracing its origins to pre modern Kerala - gave Muslims of Kerala (and other tenants and labourers) no access to land ownership. The partisan rule of British authorities brought the Mappila peasants of Malabar District into a condition of destitution. This led to a series of violent attacks against the high caste landlords and British administration (the Mappila Outbreaks, c. 1836-1921) and in 1921-22; it took in the form of an explosion known as Mappila Uprising (Malabar Rebellion). The uprising - which started as a nationalistic movement and then absorbed most of the negative elements in the society - was brutally suppressed by the colonial government, leaving the Muslim community in further despair, poverty and illiteracy.
Islam in Kerala today
The Muslim material strength - along with the extent of modern education, theological reform, and active participation in democratic process - recovered slowly after the 1921-22 Uprising. The Muslim numbers in state and central government posts remained staggeringly low. The Mappila literacy rate was only 5% in 1931. Even by 1947, only 3 % of the taluk officers in Malabar region were Muslim.
The community was able to produce a number of high-regarded leaders in the following years. This included Muhammed Abdurrahiman Sahib, and E. Moidu Moulavi of the Congress Party, and most crucially, the inspirational K. M. Seethi Sahib (1898-1960). Although the Muslim League faded into memory in the rest of India, it remained a serious political force in the state of Kerala with leaders such as Syed Abdurrahiman Bafaki Tangal, P. M. S. A. Pukkoya Tangal, and C. H. Muhammed Koya. K. O. Ayesha Bai, a member of Muslim community, the first Muslim women to rise to public fame in modern Kerala, became the Deputy Speaker of the Communist Kerala Assembly in 1957. The Communist-lead Kerala government granted the wish of the Muslim League for the formation of a Muslim majority district in 1969. Active participation in the state elections gave rise to a psychology of accommodation that took the Muslims into cooperate relationships with Hindus and Christians.
Ever since in the Independence from the British in 1947, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in former Malabar District have supported the Muslim League. In south Kerala, the community generally supported Indian National Congress and in the north Kerala a small proportion vote Communist Left. Politically, the Muslims in Kerala have exhibited more unanimity than any other major communities in modern Kerala.
Mappila theological and social reform, initially influenced by the Egyptian reform of Muhammed Abduh and Rashid Rida, and to some degree by the ideas of Djamal al-Din al -Afghani and Muhammed b. Abd al-Wahhab - was initiated in South Kerala by Wakkom Maulavi (1873 - 1932). Notable reformers such as K. M. Seethi Sahib, Khatib Muhammad Maulavi (1886-1964), E. K. Maulavi and M. K. Haji carried his work forward to the modern age. C. O. T. Kunyipakki Sahib, Maulavi Abussabah Ahmedali (died 1971), K. A. Jaleel and, K. O. Ayesha Bai were other prominent social reformers of the 20th century. An organisation known as the Muslim Educational Society (MES), founded in 1964 by P. K. Abdul Ghafoor and friends, also played a role in the development of the community. Aikya Sankham (founded in 1922) and Farook College (founded 1948) also promoted the higher education among the Muslims.
A large number of Muslims of Kerala found extensive employment in the Persian Gulf countries in the following years. This widespread participation in the Gulf Rush produced huge economic and social benefits for the community. Great influx funds from the earnings of Mappilas employed followed. Issues such as widespread poverty, unemployment and educational backwardness began to change. The Mappila community is now considered as section of Indian Muslims marked by recovery, change and positive involvement in the modern world. Mappila women are now not reluctant to join professional vocations and assuming leadership roles. As per the latest government data, female literacy rate in Malappuram District, center of Mappila distribution, stood at 91.55 % (2011 Census). Lulu Group chairman M. A. Yusuf Ali, 19th richest man in India, is the richest Malayali, according to the Forbes magazine (2018). Azad Moopen, chairman of the Dubai-headquartered Aster DM Healthcare, is another major Muslim entrepreneur from Kerala.
Most of the Muslims of Kerala follow the traditional Shāfiʿī school of religious law (known in Kerala as the traditionalist Sunnis) while a large minority follow modern movements that developed within Sunni Islam. The latter section consists of majority Salafists (the Mudjahids) and the minority Islamists (the Jama'at-e-Islam).
The Sunnis referred here are identified by their conventional beliefs and practices and adherence to the Shāfiʿī madhhab, while the other theological orientations, of which the Salafist Mudjahids constitute a large majority, are seen as modern "reform" movements within the Sunni Islam. Both the Sunnis and Mudjahids again have been divided to a number of sub-identities.
Mappila Songs/Poems is a famous folklore tradition emerged in c. 16th century. The ballads are compiled in complex blend of Malayalam/Tamil and Arabic, Persian/Urdu in a modified Arabic script. Mappila songs have a distinct cultural identity, as they sound a mix of the ethos and culture of Dravidian South India as well as West Asia. They deal with themes such as romance, satire, religion, and politics. Moyinkutty Vaidyar (1875-91) is generally considered as the poet laureate of Mappila Songs.
As the modern Mappila literature developed after the 1921-22 Uprising, religious publications dominated the field.
Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (1910 - 1994) , followed by, U. A. Khader, K. T. Muhammed, N. P. Muhammed and Moidu Padiyath are leading Mappila authors of the modern age. Mappila periodical literature and newspaper dailies - all in Malayalam - are also extensive and critically read among the Muslims. The newspaper known as "Chandrika", founded in 1934, played as significant role in the development of the Mappila community.
Mappila folk arts
- Oppana was a popular form of social entertainment among the Muslims of Kerala. It is generally presented by women 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 peetham, around which the singing and dancing take place. While women sing, they clap their hands rhythmically and move around the bride in steps. Two or three girls begin the songs and the rest join the chorus.
- Kolkkali was a popular dance form among the Muslims of Kerala. It is played in group of 12 people with two sticks, similar to the Dandiya dance of Gujarat.
- Duff Muttu (also called Dubh Muttu) was an art form prevalent among Muslims of Kerala, using the traditional duff, or daf, also known as tappitta. Participants dance to the rhythm as they beat the duff.
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