Even I.H. Qureshi maintained the wrong impression of the complete absence of Sufism in 'South India', and the question of any attempt to study the Sufi elements did not arise as the Dhothi wearing non-Urdu-speaking Mappila did not have any separate identity other than 'Madrasi'. Even Richard Maxwel Eaton writing on Sufis of Bijapur could only quote Annemerie Schimmel's words on the mystic poem of a 'certain Zain ai-Din'. Although Athar Abbas Rizvi ain his exhaustive work on 'History of Sufism in India (1978) has given a small appendix on 'The Sufism of South Indian Coast and Islands.' Being the first ever published notes of Sufism in Kerala by a modern researcher, it is limited only to Ibn Battuta's reference of Kazeruni Sufis.
A Research Scholar who studies the social formation of Muslims of Kerala comes across many facts dormant and non-existent among Muslim, communities in other parts of the country. Even the absence of some of the factors like a Muslim dynasty to extent patronage to Ulema and keep them under surveillance is significant. That is why the Ulema, Sufis and Sayyids here did not form an aristocracy as part of nobility. They lived as pious and dedicated leaders of masses who were held in high esteem and led the people in thick and thin.
This study on Sufism in Kerala was undertaken on the advice of my respected teacher late Prof. Khaliq Ahmad Nizami. Sitting in his class on Sufism I could conceive existence of Sufi elements among Muslims of Kerala. As all the non-Urdu speaking Muslims are classified as 'Madrasi' in North India, no enquiry for a Muslim cultural identity was made. Lack of Persian sources kept off British and Indian Historians from the study of Sufism in Kerala.
Enquires in this direction seemed to be a hazard, because the first sentence I had to read was 'The extensive Sufi Missionary activities found elsewhere in Indian Islam is not evident in South India; (IH Qureshi, Muslim community... ) unfortunately repeated by R.E. Miller too after living in Malappuram the heart land of Mappilas for eighteen years. But he evinced a keen interest in the subject while I discussed with him years before.
Sufism had its characteristics, evident with regional influences and variations everywhere. Among Mappilas Sufism was only subjected to and abiding sheriah. In Hidayat UI Adhkiya (1521) the manual of Sufism in Malabar it is said:
Tariqah and Haqigah are like that Oh; My brother.
You can not attain them (both) without acts of Shariah
This subservient nature of Sufism to Shariah maybe one reason why it escaped the attention of historians. Athar Abbas Rizvi's work on Sufism too contains few pages on Sufism of Kerala, a repetition of Ibn-Battutas observation on Kazeruni sufis.
Richard Maxwell Eaton's Sufis of Bijapur' (New Jersy 1978) had not been published Schirpmel Anflemarie's studies (1973) were not available. It was against such odds that this study was undertaken -The study is mainly confined to Malabar region. But I have purposefully excluded certain very popular centres where Barakah and Karamah are commercialized.
With a strong conviction of progressive Muslim thought I had an aversion to veneration of tomb and Pirs (custodians of Jarams) belief in talisman astrology and sorcery. As studies progressed it was cleared that these were exploitation of Pirs and character of its decadent stage and not real Sufism, which was originally an aristocratic and intellectual movement.
Some friends were apprehensive that I was trying to propagate something anti-Islamic. I am not a protagonist of Sufism but as a student of history it is my duty to tell the world what really happened. My personal convictions should not cast shade on presentation of facts.
Sufism is the most important factor that helped the community to survive and cement its unity to bargain in the process of secular development. Sufi bonds have unpredictable force. No one would now deny that it was Sufi bonds that helped Islam to Survive under communist regime in Soviet Russia and in the unity of Afghans; Sufi allegiance has a great role. A student of history has to highlight the importance of diverse factors in the process of development of a nation or community.
As a student in elementary Madrasa I had occasions to see Talisman, chanted threads and water being prepared. But during the course of the present study I could understand the relevance of these articles as means of flow of Barakah in the Tafifa stage in popular Sufism. Here in this stage attachment to Sufism was not the longing for spiritual elevations but only fulfilment of some worldly desire with the Barakah of the saint. It is true that these people also practised certain Awards and Adhkars.
Sufism in Kerala had some special features. As the Sufi orders spread direct from Persia by the sea, the movement was free from strong tinges of other faiths end practices but was only acts subject to Sheriah. Hence a Mappila Muslim with a strong religious conviction, till the beginning of 20th century was bound to be connected with a Sufi order, or would be regularly reciting a Dhikr (special prayer) of an order.
Shahid (Martyr) was an integral part of Mappila society from the days of their fight against "worshippers of cross" (Europeans) as theologians preached. Martyrs were revered in other Muslim communities too. The intentional martyrdom in 19th century Mappila agrarian revolts gave rise to veneration of Martyr saints. Miracles were attributed to their Jaran and as in the Taifa stage of Sufism, their tombs came to be regarded as the physical structures on which their Karama were manifest and the custodians of the Jaram is gained the same position of a pir (descendant of a Sufi and custodian of his Dargha) in Taifa stage of Sufism.
Geographically separated and culturally isolated the 'Mappila' Muslims of Kerala are a little known community in the country, though 'Malabari' is more familiar elsewhere in the Islamic World. Authors writing on Muslims of the country generalised all the communities discarding their separate identities. Even I.H. Qureshi maintained the wrong impression of the complete absence of Sufism in 'South India', and the question of any attempt to study the Sufi elements did not arise as the Dhothi wearing non-Urdu-speaking Mappila did not have any separate identity other than 'Madrasi'. Even Richard Maxwel Eaton writing on Sufis of Bijapur could only quote Annemerie Schimmel's words on the mystic poem of a 'certain Zain al-Din'. Although Athar Abbas Rizvi in his exhaustive work on 'History of Sufism in India (1978) has given a small appendix on 'The Sufism of South Indian Coast and Islands.' Being the first ever published notes of Sufism in Kerala by a modern researcher, it is limited only to Ibn Battuta's reference of Kazeruni Sufis.
One wonders how such a gross negligence by historians could be accounted. The reason may be explained in three ways. Firstly Mappilas did not have a tradition of Persian historical works, which could catch the attention of my researcher in medieval history. Secondly whatever material is available is in Arabic and 'Arabi-Malayalam; they could not be used except by one who knows Arabic and Malayalam both. Thirdly the materials are not only unpublished but many of them are scattered in private collections or in Mosque-libraries. There was neither any political authority nor any generous patron who could have attempted a collection of these materials. This being the first attempt in this field my difficulties in completing this work were many. An extensive field study had to be undertaken, almost all the shrines had to be visited, the custodians of 'Jarams' or living Shaykhs of active Tariqahs had to be interviewed, and Manaquib literature, Moulids and Malappattukal had to be collected. To sort out granules of historical facts from the exaggerated eulogies of local enthusiasts on their beloved saints was a strenuous task. So was the problem of analysis of local histories too.
Islam was introduced in the wake of the advent of Arabs with Kerala. With the foundation of Baghdad, for the first time the capital of Islamic Empire came to be connected by water with trade centres of the East. But Basra had the envied position of commercial centre. With its immense wealth of Eastern spices trade there flourished great colleges of learning, Madrasas and Khanqahs. The contribution of Basra in the development of Sufism need not be discussed at length. Hence it is quite natural that Malik Ibn Dinar (d.130A.H/748A.D) at Khurasan, a close disciple of Hasan al Basari came to be regarded as the hero of the introduction of Islam into Kerala. A large number of pious and learned men with the zeal of proselytisation in the very first wave of Islamic expansion might have travelled to far off lands for it is said that "Mariners and trade encouraged adventurous preachers and mystics to accompany them due to a number of reasons. Firstly as experts in religious law and the practical side of theology, they acted as Imams in congregational prayers, and as peace- makers and judges in solving disputes involving the Sheria. Secondly they offered spiritual comfort to boat passengers undertaking voyages who were useful as intermediaries between merchants and local authorities whenever the former were involved in political or economic crisis. Another important factor that helped the growth of Sufism in Kerala was the migration of Sayyids from South Arabia. Though this migration started as early as 12th century, it was from the 18th century onwards that the Ba- Alavis, Ba-Faqihs, Jifris and Aydarus Sayyids having Sufi allegiance began migrating to Malabar. The largescale migration of Sayyids in the 14th century resulted in the formation of the community of 'Muwalladun' from which it appears that the name Mappila originated. The different Sayyid houses migrated to Kerala formed into one Tariqah, viz., Tariqah Qadiri al-Aydarusiyya wal-Alawiyya. The migration of the Bukhara tangals of Hamadan in the 16th century gave a stimulus to the Suhrwardi Tariqah and the Makhdums of Ponnani (from 1521 onwards) were Chishsti Sufis. The Naqshabandis had a great following in Kerala once, while the Shadili Tariqah had a small following and Nurishah Tariqah is the latest entry, with little followers.
Disputes between Tariqahs had been going on even in the beginning of the 17th century. In 1921 the Naqshabandis were excommunicated and were ban d from mosques. The Kondotty-Ponnani kaitharkam (disputes), the Qibla disputes and Wahhabi-Sunni disputes gave rise to vast 'Arabi-Malayalam' literature. These with the hagiographic literature formed one important source material for this study.
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