Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review: Mappilas of Malabar: studies in social and cultural history by S.M Muhammed Koya

This book also is one of the earlier writings on Mappilas. SM Muhammed Koya focuses on how Mappilas succeeded in making marriage links with Arab traders. He argues that the circumstances both in Arab and early Malabar were almost same. The Muta' marriage and Beena marriages were everyday facts in both places, and both share common characteristics.  This book is a good reference to those who want to know more about the earlier Mappila lives and the indigenous Mappila marriage relations with Arabs. Mappilas are the Muslim community of south west coast of India. In medieval time, 1/5th of total population of Malabar were Mappilas. They are basically a trading class. In interior place they involved in agriculture also. Ali raja of Cannanore was the only Muslim royal dynasty in Kerala. Mappila followed matrimonial way of inheritance of property and lived in joint family. The Mappilas were generated by Arab trades and mariners through their unions with local Hindu women. They involved in mut’a or temporary marriage. Spread of Islam on the Malabar Coast happened very different from how Islam spread in other regions of India. In Malabar and Gujarat, Arabs were warm welcomed. 

The major argument of Sufi influence is not applicable in Malabar region and also spreading of Islam did not use any kind of political means. It is a counter argument against the claims that Islam first reached in India by the inversion of Muhammad bim Qasim in 711. The conversion in Malabar Coast was rather a calm movement which used marriage and trade relations with the locals. There is another story of prosylitisation in Indian which shows how the religious tenets were deeply diluted. Earlier conversion happened by Sufis who basically followed Sunni school of thought. In 833 Shia tradition with Ismayileets sects was introduced. Their approach to the conversion was different. They converted both Sunnis and Hindus with permitting myths and practices of the precious beliefs. And to preserve ancestral deities. Theirs was not a pure monotheism but later by 1363 this ismayilates were converted to Sunnism by Sunni Sufis.
In Malabar region conversion to Islam was not a serious thread to Hindu rajas. Only the Bramhinical Hinduism feared it. The lower caste converted to escape degradation and to occupy new social position and also they expected civil employment with Muslim. The first mosque in India was built up in Cranganore. Instead of adopting a new architectural style Arabs followed the existing temple architecture. There are different opinions for why Arab traders constructed mosque in earlier times, some say the mosques were constructed for converting Malayalees and to some others, these were for establishing mosques for the traders.

Rulers were instrumental in promoting conversion. Zamorin encouraged fishermen to change their belief to Islam because he needed more mariners and sailors for protecting his land from enemies. The existing social order prevented Hindus to cross the sea. In his order to the people he decreed that in every fishermen family in the country.  One or more of the mail members should be brought up as Muslims. The population of Muslims among the fishermen communities of Calicut coast is an evident for this claim. So the lower class, for a high social position, Nayar and Thiyya women for marrying Arabs and, fishermen communities by the order of Zamorin converted heavily in Malabar cost. The main reasons for conversion in Malabar region were immigration, inter marriage, missionary activities, the support of the zamorin and personal advantages. Sufi influence in the increased conversion was less evident in Malabar region.
Arab trades in Malabar Coast existed before the advents of Islam in Arabia. The pre Islamic Arabs had settled in Chaavil, kalyan, and Suppara. It was primarily commercial in natural than cultural. Arabs had colonies in south India. The sea trade was left to foreigners as the Brahmanical Hindus were temperament allergic to the sea and left such ‘vulgar’ business. Arabs monopolized the trade until they were ousted by Portuguese in 15th century. Balhara dynasty in the north and the Zamorin of Malabar were most partial to Arabs they allowed Muslims for building up most, practicing religion and intermarriage. The Mappilas or indigenous Muslims of Malabar coast originated as part of and on going process of peaceful communication and economic relationship between Arabia and Kerala. 

The native women were married to the Arab trades through contractual marriage which is temporary in nature. The nature of settlement, distance and trade encouraged this contractual marriage not only did Muslim from outside settle down in this area but even the natives inhabitants began to embraces Islam. Usually Arab boats were coming to Malabar Coast in July/ august and they would lived in December/ January. They would stay in a place for 30 to 49 days. They involved a short term marriage relation with the native Hindus for 4 months. There is no evidence to say that Arabs brought their wives with them. Social organizations of both the early Arabs as in Malabar the marital system in pre Islamic Arab was almost same. Mother right in Arabia was very prevalent and by tribal rule the women was not allowed to leave her kin but could entertain a stranger as her husband, at her own place. The man either settled down permanently with his wives’ tribe, or visited his wife occasionally. In Malabar, Nayar community kept the system of polyandry, matrimonial, matrilocal and the children born of such union belonged to the mother’s tharavaadu and inherited from the mother. The husband was a visitor to his wife’s place and children had no tie with him. The marriage is temporary nature in which the contracting parties agreed to lead together in the house of the women for a stipulated period of time and for which the man has to pay an amount mutually agreed upon bride prize this is a marriage for pleasure. In Nayar, Thiyya and Mukkuva societies the property was inherited in the female. The marriage was matri local. Inter marriage was not restricted to the members of the caste or sub caste alone. So Arabs could easily marry the local women. Even after the system was prohibited it was practised in Malabar region.
Mappilas of south Malabar followed the matrilineal way of inheritance which is visibly just opposite of what Islam asks them to follow. There are two theories for how Mappilas stated to follow these ways. In Kolathnadu (North Malabar) Mappilas were obliged to conform to the general practice of the country. Secondly it is argued that this way Mappila got with their relation with the Nayars.  From the Nayar society the Mappila life was influenced the customs of family life, dress habits, marriage practises like tying the tali, paying dowry to the bride groom and purifactory ablution after birth. Within matrilineal Muslim community, there are theoretically two endogamous castes. The Brahmin /Nayar converts’ class could be divided as Kirigans (aristocratic class). The other Muslim matrilineal caste group is Islams who were the converts from Thiyya. Mappilas are followers of Marumakkathayam before Islam came here. Converts should retain the rule of inheritance to which they were previously subjects and the heads of new religion should encourage conversion by making the changes as carry and agreeable as possible to the new converts.
Marumakkathayam is an important aspect and the best example cultural assimilation among Mappilas. Here the property is handed over in female line and a Karanaver is given to look after the common property. The traditional Islamic belief and matrilineal is a paradox and it is only practiced in Malabar. Social institutions like matrilineal system were unhampered by excessive interference from outside and this particular circumstances did not contradict their faith. The prevalence of polyandry, marumakkathayam and other similar customs made it possible to have a distinct identity which is different from the traditional belief.
If we study the system in Arackkal dynasty, it can be easily understood the close relationship with the existing circumstances and cultural assimilation. The terms like ‘Arakkal swaroopam’ is very much similar to the denotations which were common to all other kingdoms ruled in Kerala that time. The power rested in the hands of the oldest female member of the family and she would be renamed as ‘Arakkal Beebi’ Ali Raja wanted to preserve the marumakkathayam practice in tact and independently of outside interference. He made a friendship with Ottoman Empire and set this traditional system of matrilineal succession recognised and ratified by the ottoman who adhered to the tenets of Islamic Shari‘at. Matrilineal and the joint family system have now broken. The decline of matrilineal, joint family and polyandry ended and epoch. The Mappila succession Muslim personal law of 1937, shareeath act, the Mappila Marumakkathayam Act1939 were some of the administrative interventions which resulted Mappilas to go a more homogenised Muslim platform.
Islam was instrumental in initiating social changes Mappila with a distinct personality of its own customs and culture seemed a more medieval society. Nercha lost its old glory. The existing practises of customs like ear boring ceremony circumcision and various cultural practices which are associated with these special occasions are fast disappearing. Mappila culture is a mixture of Indian and Arabian tradition and their origin reached to the pre Islamic Arabia. Their historic specification made them special language culture, religion, and social life. Cultural assimilation was one of the noted things in Mappila’s history. Caste system, some elements influenced by Hinduism. Peaceful co existence of heterogeneous religious group in it is term, called for and brought in a climate of religious tolerance. Which against facilitated the harmonious growth of Islam. The Marriage of Hindu women to the Arabs, large number of converts religious formed the cultural specificity of Mappila and instead of a universal Islam view they cultivated a locally rooted tradition.
The cultural impact of Mappila to the Kerala culture is very influential. Several trade names came to Malayalam from Arabic language. The Arabic words when introduced into Malayalam have undergone some considerable changes phonetically and semantically depending on phonetical habits of Malayalam language. In Mappila songs Arabic Malayalam was evolved and came into prominence. The impact of the new language -Arabic-Malayalam-was very reachable to the society. It was taught in primary religious education and Mappila songs were written in this language. The first Quran translation was written in Arabi-Malayalam by Arakkal Mayin Kutty.
Mappila songs are the specific genre of Mappilas. The themes are Religious topics or history of Islam, anecdotes of prophet’s life, love/ romance, satire and heroism. Many of the earlier mappilappaatu were written by anonymous authors. It could further be categorized into Kissapattu, Uhudhupattu, Malapattu, Padapattu. Muhyuddhin mala by Kazi Muhammad in 1687 is one of the oldest form mappilapaattu. Kunjayeen Musliyar (Nool Mala) and Moyin Kutti Vaidhyar are other earlier important song composers. In 1907 Cheekkeri adopted pure Malayalam for his songs. Mailanchipattu, opppanapaattu, ammayipattu are associated with the marriage functions. Among the art tradition, Aravana is more associated with gulf/Persian art, Duffmuttu is an Arab tradition and Kolkkali has a close relation to the kalarippayattu and each player in Kolkkali is asked to be trained in kalaripayattu. It is a martial play.
The style of architecture and construction of mosques are highly influenced by temple/local architecture. Unique styles of mosque architecture are different from that of Mughal architecture. These were built in perishable wooden building and without any visible minarets. In those days, mosques were constructed in/ near temple sites and the masons and carpenters were mainly the lower caste Hindus. Their available model of architecture was the temple architecture. Mappila houses were built in ‘naalukettu’ style. They adopted a locally comfortable dress and food manner.
The lives of mappilas are mixed with some social and cultural patterns. Saints are venerated and jarram nerchas are celebrated. The annual offerings on the occasion of the saints’ death anniversaries are celebrated with great zeal. Festivals resemble the rites of Hindu temples. Different annual offerings in different places are done with a procession of caphrisoned elephants, Nagaswaram, Panchavaadhyam, sword play, dance, drum beat and Kathaprasangam. The nercha culture is a best example for folk culture and cult worship.
The arrival of Portuguese dismantled the trade monopoly of Arabs. The coming of the first Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama was read as the extension of crest Vs cross war in the Middle East. And it augmented the Portuguese Muslim revelry. He had religious and commercial motives and to break the monopoly of Arab trade from the coast. Gama’s missions were aimed at Christianity and spices. Conquest, commerce and conversion were his objectives. The king of Malabar welcomed European because the sea trade was very important to him. The Arabs made ceaseless attempts to prejudice the mind of the king against the Portuguese. Their strange mercantile behaviour of accepting goods more than double the value and giving excess weight on all the salt alarmed the foreign Muslim all the more. Zamorin in the beginning helped the Portuguese as he did for any foreign traders, but when Pedro Alvarez Cabral impolitical bombardments of Calicut reverberated for over a hundred year along the cost and on the Indian Ocean. In these years Portuguese moved to Cochin and Kannur. The Portuguese was hostels only to the Muslims and their faiths and not to the Nayars and unbelievers to the Malabar. Kunjali Marakkars were the hereditary admirals of the Zamorin. After a while the Portuguese sailors succeeded in making alliance with Zamorin when they captured Chaliyam in 1571 and Zamorin allowed a space for a factory to be open to Portuguese despite the strong protest of Mappilas. So In 1595, Muhammad Kunjaali Marakkar of Kottakal challenged Zamorin by declaring himself as the ‘king of moors’, and he was described as the reformer of Islam, lord of Indian seas. With a joint operation by Zamorin and Portuguese defeated Kunjali in 1600 and he was killed.

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