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"Threat" to 14 centuries long Kerala ethos from pseudo-Hinduism, pan-Islamism

Samoothiri of Kozhikode
By RB Sreekumar*
Fathomless antiquity of Indian history and civilization generated amazing diversity not only in the evolution of various facets of human activity but in the nature and character of engagement with outsiders landed in India also, as traders, sanctuary seekers, immigrants and invaders.
Though Vedic Aryans in the 18th to 15th Centuries Before Christian Era (BCE) to the European colonial powers of the 16th to 19th Centuries of Christian Era (CE) could win battles against natives, and politically dominate patches of Indian geography, in the long run, all among them, who settled in India, did merge into a composite and blended Indian way of life, socio-economic and cultural ethos.
History recorded arrival of the Abrahamite religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in India, simultaneous to propagation and expansion of these faiths in their area of origin. Christians and Muslims from Middle East initially landed in Kerala with the motivation for trade and commerce and cordial evangelization of spiritual, religious, ethical and socio-cultural facets of the gospel of Jesus Christ and message of Prophet Mohammed.
Numerous reliable chronicles confirm highly laudable symbiotic and syncretic legacy in the interface of Christians and Muslims with the elite of Hindu socio-cultural and political hierarchy. This time tested bond laid durable foundations for rare communitarianism, as distinct from competitive communalism elsewhere in India, despite rigors of caste system.
Over the years, the caste-centric graded inequality had germinated among minorities also. This resulted in their forging camaraderie with respective social groups among Hindus. Notably, the Christian ecclesiastical order and Islamic scholars did not make massive pugnacious and vigorous efforts to lure the lower caste Hindus into their religious order, lest this would jeopardize their solidarity with caste Hindus.
This scenario is in total contrast to largely belligerent, intensely hostile and confrontationist phase of Hindu-Muslim relations in rest of India where the message of Islam (surrender to the will of God revealed in the Holy Quran and Hadith – monothism and brotherhood of mankind) reached along with invaders, empire-builders and wealth seekers through sword and canons.
Illustrative cases are:
  1. Arab invasion of Sindh in the 18th Century CE; 
  2. Repeated depredations by Sultan Mohammad of Ghazni in the early 11th Century; 
  3. Conquest and consolidation by Turko-Afghan warriors like Mohammad Gori, in the 13th Century, and 
  4. The Mughals led by Babar in the 16th Century.
The Islamic preachers and Sufi Saints had enjoyed liberal patronage of rulers from the inception of the Delhi Sultanate in 1206 CE to the decline of the Mughal Empire in 1707 CE, with the death of Aurangzeb.
Nevertheless, none of these Muslim rulers did accept the temporal or religious suzerainty of Khalifa or any other politico-religious authority outside India, nor did any tribute paid and recognition sought from Islamic rulers head quartered in Mecca, Medina, Baghdad, Damascus and Istanbul, thanks to the absence of pan-Islamism motivated by Western powers, in those days.
However, none can deny that a small minority of over-enthusiastic de-spiritualized fundamentalist Mullas, Maulavis and Imams operating in vast hinterland of India, had vigorously pressed down a politico-religious agenda on non-Muslims, banking on patronage of a handful of fanatic rulers. This posture of a section of Muslim Junta had alienated the bulk of Hindus, who perceived themselves to be second class subjects inferior to co-religionists of Sultans and Mughals.
Imposition of jazia tax on non-Muslims, destruction of Hindu temples by a few exclusivist autocratic rulers, viz. Tughlaq and Aurangazeb, injected a mindset of hatred against Muslims, in the victims of atrocities.
Nonetheless, such alienated Hindus and Islamic fundamentalists were cleverly exploited by the British to further their imperialist agenda of divide and rule, by facilitating the inception of Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and Muslim League, in the early years of the 20th Century.
Remarkably, the character, tone and tenor of Hindu-Muslim interface in Kerala from 7th Century CE was commendably cordial and inclusive, exhibiting vibrant mutual trust and complementarity, practically in all arenas of public life. Metaphysical and doctrinaire obstinacy in religious dogmas could hardly prevail over zeal for inclusiveness in socio-religious and cultural affairs.
Economic symbiosis of spice trade between Kerala and the Middle-East from the days of the Jewish King Solomon assumed higher dimensions with the establishment of Arab Muslim Empires in Mecca, Damascus and Baghdad. Islamic preachers accompanying traders never degraded the religious, social and cultural ethos of natives in Kerala.
Practically, all mosques, dargas, maqams and religious centers till modern times, were built in the land liberally donated by local kings, particularly King Samuthiri of Kozhikode, feudal landlords and affluent people professing Hindu religion. No wonder, so far there is no dispute about ownership of land where Muslim religious institutions are built in Kerala.
This is in sharp contrast to the raging conflicts over the property rights of Babri Masjid to Taj Mahal, and to Krishna Jamnabhumi in Mathura. Even today, in annual day celebrations of many mosques and churches, the holy offerings are religiously presented to the families of the original land donors.
Well-reputed books like "Tuhafatul Mujahidin" by Shaikh Sainuddin-II and numerous documents quoted in scholarly books, viz.; “Malabar Paithrukavum Prathapavum” (Malabar – Legacy and Glory), edited by Dr PB Salim, IAS, and “Kozhikodinde Charithram” (History of Kozhikode) by Dr MGS Narayanan (both published by Mathrubhumi) highlighted plethora of traditions of rare non-pareil and un-paralleled facets of benign inter-community amiability, ignoring insular socio-cultural practices in the rest of the Islamic World.
Both Hindus and Muslims consciously or as part of local socio-religious conventions had literally adhered to the golden laws of spiritual secularism, viz.; equal respect to all religious faiths and beliefs and practiced Sarva Dharma Viswasa/Shraddha Samabhavana. This well-articulated collective symmetry of majority and minority communities is at variance with the post-renaissance European secularism of total separation of religion, its bodies and the state.
Creditably in Kerala, class, caste, social, ethnic, political, gender and regional distinctions and diversity could not debilitate, counter and damage inter-community synergy, despite many political vicissitude over the years. Numerous are historical exemplifying occasions.
  • Islamic religious gentry of Maulanas, Tangals, Musaliars, Koyas and Keis jointly declared holy war (Jehad) against invading Portuguese for protecting a non-believer (Kafir) King Samuthiri. It is the only instance in the history of Islam. Historians unanimously opined that minus such a valiant defence by Hindus and Muslims, Malabar would have become a Portuguese colony like Goa.
  • King Samuthiri ordered Hindu fishermen families to get one male converted to Islam for facilitating his recruitment to Kunjali Marakkar led Navy, because Brahmanical Hindus excommunicated those Hindus who crossed high seas.
  • In the major festivals of Mamankam, official ceremonies like Kings’ Coronation, Kozhikode Harbour In-charge, Shah Bander Koya, was always seated next to King Samuthiri for partaking in conventional rites and formalities. 
  • Mappila Muslims did participate in Hindu socio-cultural activities and even offered prayers during Deeparadhana (propitiation with camphor flame) with folded hands. 
  • Etymology of the word “Mappila” meaning great gentleman (Maha – great, Pillai – Noble Man) is indicative of status accorded to Arab Muslims. Even today, the word is used as a honorific to the bride-groom and son-in-law in Tamil and Malayalam languages. 
  • The Muslims who martyred for protecting common people by fighting criminal depredators, brigands and cruel caste Hindus, were elevated as Hindu demi Gods and worshipped even today, annually as Theyyams. Hassan, Ali, Bivi and Mappila Theyyams are famous and they are taken out in procession in temple premises annually and devotees got blessings from them to get their mundane problems solved. 
  • Islamic scholars like Kozhikode Kazi and others in the days before the advent of pan Islamism, praised King Samuthiri and prominent Hindu leaders, whenever they visited Sultans of Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Turky. 
  • Many locations of Sufi Saints like Darghas, Maquams, Mazar etc. have been centers of shared sacred place of healing and devotional practices, betraying heterodoxy and multi-culturalism. People worshipped in these places for accomplishing their personal wishes. Maquams did not prescribe any strict form of rituals, but allowed diversity of ceremonies in its premises. Religious legalists and champions of dogma hardly questioned these popular religio-spiritual conventions. Many Chandana- kudam festivals throughout Kerala, Kondotty Nercha, Trivandrum Kaduvapalli Annual Day celebrations are quite popular. 
Unfortunately, since commencement of Ram Janma Bhumi movement, people are increasingly influenced by toxic indoctrination by sectarian radical elements among Hindus and Muslims. Raising the bogey of threat to religious identity, these pseudo-religious radicals are advancing their power politics through spirituality-deficient aggravated competitive communalism.
Reversal of the Shah Banu judgement through Central Legislation, permission to worship of Rama Idol inside Babri Masjid, the Rajiv Gandhi government-sponsored Ram Temple Stone Laying Ceremony and so on, accelerated de-politicization and communalization of gullible people in both communities. Retrogression to medieval obscurantism by a minority in both the communities, is a major challenge to the letter, spirit and ethos of the Constitution of India.
Sangh Parivar and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) are toiling relentlessly for erasing out the long standing communal harmony from the memory of people through grass root level Goebbelsian tactics.
On the ill-founded grounds of “decontamination and purification of faith” Hindu and Islamic radicals are stopping many rituals, conventions and practices of geniality in religious and cultural centers.
Funds flowing from Hindutva addicted NRIs and those electrified by pan Islamic concepts of Wahabism, Qutabism and Mehudoodism are pushing Hindu-Muslim communities in water-tight compartments and curtailing observance of inter-community camaraderie.
 Illustratively, a marked reduction in Muslim students joining in institutions like Kerala Kala Mandalam for learning Kerala cultural and performing arts like Kathakali and classical dances, reportedly due to objection from Hind chauvinist groups are unfortunate (let us not forget the great doyan of Kathakali Music – the late Haiderali).
Fundamentalist Hindus are objecting the location of the Mazar of Vavar – the associate of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala. In the golden panels affixed on the outer wall of Sabarimala temple sanctum sanctorum, no panel depicting the fraternity of Vavar and Ayyappa is fixed, reportedly, due to objection from Hindutva supporters.
PaniIslamic organizations are endeavouring for Arabization of socio-cultural life of Kerala Muslims, bypassing the fact that Islam reached Kerala before its spread in many parts of West Asia. Delocalization of life style of Kerala Muslims in the domain of dress, cultural conventions (objection to Nila Vilakku) social interactions, artistic articulation, style of mosque architecture is rampant. Though multifarious interests of Kerala Muslim community is well looked after by Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and other parties, a sense of artificial alienation is created among a section of Muslim youth by radicals.
Resultantly, nearly two dozens of youngsters had joined ranks of Taliban and ISIS. SDPI is trying to emerge as Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindanrwale of Khalistani frame among the Muslims by denigrating the mature and sensible leadership role of IUML and Muslim leaders in United Democratic Front (UDF) and Left Democratic Front (LDF) (Binderwala’s politics was for belittling Akali Dal, who traditionally well protected the interests of Sikh community).
SDPI is toiling for creating disaffection against government authorities and Hindu community through motivated poisonous propaganda in their publications like ‘Tejas’. Paradoxically, Islamic radicalization is begetting a congenial ambiance for Sangh Parivar to wean away more Hindus to its fold.
In this context, real believers among Hindus and Muslims, who are agile to the core spiritual values of their religion, should design projects to counter radical communal activists, who are trying to claim and monopolize the custody of both religions. The mission of law-abiding spiritual secularists should be to launch micro and macro level programmes to enliven the vibrancy of Hindu-Muslim solidarity persisting in Kerala from 8th Century CE.
Firstly, awareness creation programmes about the 14 centuries long golden heritage of amity be set in motion to educate people. In the long run, the ambit of these projects be extended to sensitive areas outside Kerala. No effort should be made to suppress short-lived trends of communal conflict during invasion of Tipu Sultan in the 18th Century and Mappila rebellion in 1921, but emphasis should be on re-assertion of friendship between Hindus and Muslims, after those short-lived deviations.
Secondly, at ground-level joint socio-cultural programmes be activized. Traditions of participation of all communities in the religious festivals of an area be re-enacted. Imaginative moves are necessary to counter resistance from self-appointed sectarian and exclusivist religious leaders from both communities, who are for political capitalization of religious concepts. Disciplining of satanic elements is imperative to make any progress towards decommunalization of Kerala society.
Radicalized Islamic preachers, ICS Abdul Nazar Madani and SDPI could establish roots in Kerala in the fertile grounds of post-Babri Masjid demolition scenario. Guardians of radicalization of both communities do not have any concrete agenda to upgrade quality of integrity and service delivery of their supporters in government service and reduce social vices of alcohol, drug addiction, atrocities on women and so on.
Thirdly, well-meaning spiritually oriented scholars and intellectuals should educate people about inherent unity in spiritual ideals of all religions. Both God-centric religions of Vedic Hinduism, Sikhism, Zorastianism, Shintoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and rational sects of Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and Confucianism, unanimously confirm their objective as (1) manifold self-empowerment and enlightenment of the individual, and (2) similar ennoblement of outside world, viz.; fellow human beings and environment in tune with divine order of nature.
The dictum of reciprocity – "atmana pratikulani paresan na samacharat" (Mahabharata) – is accepted by all scriptures. Actualization of these ideals will nullify the strife among misguided people fighting on peripheral socio-cultural and political issues related to materialistic aspirations of religious establishments.
Will people of Kerala take up this historic mission at the national level by getting motivated and energized from centuries-long heritage of synergic harmony and counter decent of Indian society to retrogressive belligerent midievalism, fastly enveloping Bimaru States of our motherland?
Will genuine believers of all communities in Kerala wake up from their lethargic slumber and neutralize activists of pan-Islamism and hierarchically sectarian pseudo-Hinduism of Sangh Parivar?
---
*Former director general of police, Gujarat

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