Time for a Second Renaissance among Muslims


Muslim women in North Kerala are highly educated today with their prominent presence in professional colleges including medicine and engineering. In fact, the socio-economic status of Muslims in many other districts in Kerala and India trails behind that of North Kerala in most statistical index. This would not have been possible at this pace without the renaissance that took place in Kerala led by the Mujahid movement, writes ZUBAIR ABDUL JABBAR.


There have been so much of clamor about extremism among Muslims and the discussions ensued in the Hadiya and Athira cases. Of late, the unwarranted controversy over Muslims from Malabar loathing vaccinations which is totally contrary to the facts add to the haste to label how backward and uncivilized the Muslims are, particularly the practicing Muslims.

Muslims are ascribed to be barbarians and uncivilized, at least by some. There are some abetting factors from the Muslim society as well. There are growing trends of intolerance, reclusiveness, acceptance of tribal culture living in the city focusing on rituals and chants beyond the ‘culture’ Islam disseminates.

I thought it imperative for the people to know who are Mujahids in Kerala and what they stood for before jumping to mix other Mujahids around the world with that of Kerala amidst much of chest-thumping by those masquerading as saviors of Islam and Muslims. A much ignored piece of chronicle, very pertinent today.

Quoting from ‘Islamic Reform and Colonial Discourse on Modernity in India – Socio-Political and Religious Thought of Vakkom Moulavi,’ by Jose Abraham:

 “Aikya Sangham was formed in 1922 with the scholars like Vakkom Moulavi, K M Moulavi, E K Moulavi, Hamadani Thangal and Manappad Haji etc., in the front. The first annual conference of Aikya Sangam was held in 1923 at Eriyad. Vakkom moulavi delivered a rousing opening speech in which he sharply contrasted the belief and practices of early Muslims with those of contemporary Muslims.

“He believed that the inevitable decline of the Muslim community was due to their distorted understanding of Islamic principles. Therefore, it had become critical to initiate religious reforms for the social and educational developement of ‘Mappilas’ (Muslims in Malabar). However, this opening remark provoked angry responses from the conservative ‘Ulama,’ who nicknamed (labelled) him ‘Wahabi’ and opposed the work of Aikya Sangam through lectures and writings.

“The Kerala Muslims’ Aikya Sangam occupies a significant place in the history of the Islahi movement in Kerala. It contributed tremendously to the promotion of modern education and initiated socio-religious reforms among Muslims throughout Kerala. It was instrumental in establishing several primary and high schools and colleges.”

It’s was ludicrously ironic that the first ever vernacular translation and interpretation of Qur’an by Mohammed Amani Moulavi, my maternal grandfather, was targeted and smeared at as it posed a threat to the ‘Fuedal Mullahs’ who earned their bread from the ‘deen.’ Nonetheless, it was not too late when the mainstream Muslims realized it was a remarkable step of understanding truth of Islam much of which was kept hidden by these wicked Mullahs.

Quote from ‘Vakkom Maulavi – The Man who Led Islamic Renaissance in Kerala’ by M. A. Shakoor:

“Vakkom (Abdul Qadir) Maulavi had intelligently analyzed the problems and correctly diagnosed the malady afflicting his community. Although the Muslim masses of Kerala were intensely religious, their idea of Islam was distorted and corrupted over the years by the obscurantist Mullahs who seemed to be still living in the medieval times unaware that the world had entered the twentieth century. A form of hagiolatry, the very antithesis of monotheistic Islam, was promoted and patronized by the Mullahs among the ignorant masses. Many superstitions and empty rituals associated with grave worship were sedulously fostered by the Mullahs mainly for their own gains.

“These were, however, no special features of the Muslim society of Kerala, but were, perhaps, even more rampant in other parts of India. The Mullahs performed exorcisms and sometimes even usurped the functions of doctors on the ground that Muslim females could not be seen by male doctors, particularly if they happened to be ‘infidels’! Their worst crime was that they made Islam appear to be an enemy of progress by preaching to the ignorant masses that it was a ‘sin’ to send children, particularly girls, to school, whereas Islam had made education (acquisition of Knowledge) ‘obligatory on every Muslim man and woman.’

“The Mullahs even declared that learning English was ‘haram’ or forbidden There were many other evil practices in the Muslim community of the time, such as the dowry system, extravagant expenditure on weddings, celebration of annual ‘Urs’ and Moharrum with bizarre un-Islamic features bordering on idolatrous rituals, visiting shrines in fulfillment of religious’ vows and making votive ‘offerings.’ Maulavi Abdul Qadir launched his campaign against all these evils and un-Islamic practices with the help of his devoted disciples and with the cooperation of other learned men who shared his views and ideals. A frail thin man in a plain muslin ‘kurta’ and turban, he traveled up and down the country addressing meetings and exhorting people to seek education and to discard un-Islamic practices.

“He was no demagogue. He did not play on the emotions and sentiments of the people, but only appealed to reason. His gentle voice and measured words had great power of persuasion, and his learned addresses carried conviction and authority. His audiences listened to him with rapt attention. In a few years the un-Islamic festivals associated with `dargas’ and ‘saints’ ceased to exist everywhere except at two places where the vested interests were too entrenched and the financial profits too massive to be easily swept away. Similarly the Moharrum ‘festival’ with its un-Islamic rituals was stopped throughout Kerala except in one city where one solitary committed family kept it going, but there the whole thing degenerated into a bizarre carnival-like event in which the Hindu scavenger class joined for the petty financial gain it brought.”

Thirty years ago, as a child who attended the first standard in a typical public school in a rural Malappuram village, I could see most of the classmates were terribly poor and came from a totally uneducated/ illiterate background. Most of them wore designer lungi to the school, uncombed and shabby shirt with more than one button fallen off. They enjoyed the mid-day meal – boiled rice and green gram, some of them took it home too. I didn’t know then that I was living in one of the most backward districts in Kerala and India where Muslims constituted the majority. I can’t recollect even a single instance of having any difference at all with any non-Muslim (minority) fellow students or discriminating those came from the nearby Harijan (I hate to use this name, but just to identify) colony off their caste.

Ironically, I, perhaps was the only boy in the class, a Mujahid, faced a lot of ire from the fellow students from Orthodox factions in Kerala. They picked up verbal abuses or even fight because of the mere reason that I was a (labelled) ‘Wahabbi.’ Mujahids were, antithetical to the corrupt practices prevailing among Muslims that exploited the poor for money by the Musliyars (Mullahs), promoting education for both girls and boys, promoting inter-religious harmony, etc. When the Madrasas (religious education center) were introduced, the orthodox Muslims opposed it as the wicked evangelists realized that it would destabilize their revenue from the corrupt practices prevailing then. The ideological debates were very common among us.

In 1921, the present-day Malappuram district was part of the Moplah rebellions, followed by decades of stagnant economic, social and political development. In the early years of Communist rule in Kerala, Malappuram experienced land reform under the Land Reform Ordinance. During the 1970s, Persian Gulf oil reserves were opened to commercial extraction, and thousands of unskilled workers migrated to the Gulf. They sent money home, supporting the rural economy, and by the late 20th century the region had First World health standards and near-universal literacy.

Thirty years down the lane, the ‘most backward’ district, terrorist-breeding-ground of Kerala as Subramanian Swamy labels passionately to suit his bigoted narrative, has emerged as one of the most powerful districts in Kerala that’s in the forefront of education, healthcare and economy. The education drive among the Muslims happened in Malappuram is just a snippet of the reflection in the entire Malabar (northern) districts of Kerala.

This wouldn’t have been possible at this pace without the renaissance that took place in Kerala led by the Mujahids. Muslim women are highly educated today with their prominent presence in professional colleges including medicine and engineering. The socio-economic status of Muslims in many other districts in Kerala and India trails behind that of North Kerala in most statistical index. The contributions made by Muslim League when in power to empower the Muslims in education are very significant. Leaders like Seethi Saheb and C H Mohammed Koya have contributed remarkably to the empowerment of the society.

It frustrates and agonizes me – like most of the mainstream Muslims – that there are extremist elements spurring among Kerala Muslims as well as the other parts of India, as presented conveniently as a savior of Islam and Muslims from the canines of extremism from the other side of the isle. It is very crucial to understand it was Mujahids who incontrovertibly denounced and opposed PDP/ NDF (first extremist organization furiously came into existence to defend Muslims in the wake of Babri Masjid demolition) incessantly and inundated that Islam strongly denounces extremism and violence.

Although Jamaat-e-Islami was advocating theocratic state, their proponents were limited to verbal and written unlike a prominent faction from the orthodox Muslims in Kerala that took almost a militant line to hush up the descending and conflicting voices. This faction has allegedly carried out murders and bombing to a limited extend.

Shifting towards the Saudi radar in late 1980s or early 1990s wherein tribal customs and Islam are mixed together slowly evolved the liberal color and tone to the puritanical and literal form of Islam. The funds flowed from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from certain centers who had reservations of their ideology with the help of some votaries slowly trickled and injected to the Islahi Kerala and founds its place for ‘Salafi’.

With the organizational split among Mujiahids in 2002 [which was the after-effect of the extremist Muslim elements who came from some sects of Gulf, meiosis of a faction later on rendered splinter factions with more extreme and some with ritual oriented tribal form of living (they call it Islam)], a tiny minority was furrowing questions among the mainstream society to the effect that Muslims have become intolerant and extreme.

The present day scenarios frustrate and sadden me and many akin, that it would be too late if a second renaissance movement is not initiated soon among Muslims in Kerala and rest of India.


  1. Islamic Reform and Colonial Discourse on Modernity in India; by Jose Abraham; Amazon –https://goo.gl/LeCVCy or Google books at https://goo.gl/ivvdQh
  1. Vakkom Maulavi – The Man Who Led Islamic Renaissance in Keralahttp://www.vmft.org/wp-content/uplo…
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