Sunday, July 18, 2010

Story of Islam in Kerala - Part 4

First Accounts - The Perumal legend
(Contd. from last post)

So far we've learnt about the trade relations between Malabar and the Arab World and also about the rise of Islam** in the Arabian Peninsula. Today lets see the first accounts of Islam in the Malabar.

A model of the older structure of the Cheraman mosque. 
As common legend has it, the first account of Islam in Malabar is normally traced to a King Cheraman Perumal who went to Makkah and accepted Islam and on his return passed away in Arabia. Some of his companions led by Malik Ibn Dinar returned to Kerala and built the first mosques across the state beginning with the Cheraman Malik Juma Masjid at Kodungalloor . The British Gazetteer C.A. Innes calls the king the "eponymous hero of nearly every Malabar tradition" (1). Historians widely differ on the authenticity of the story, and each part of it could independently be true or fiction. Lets analyse that here. First the Perumal legend in a little detail.

The first reference to this story is found in the work of Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa - the "Book of Duarte Barbosa" (Livro de Duarte Barbosa) written in 1518 A.D. But the more popular and respected version of the story was recorded a few decades after him and is considered the oldest authentic source of this story - the Tuhfat-ul-Mujahideen. The Tuhfat is a book authored in 1580 A.D by Zainuddin Makhdoom II, the famed scholar and grandson of Zainuddin Makdhum I, the founder of the Ponnani dars, which for centuries was the main centre of learning for muslims in the Malabar. The Tuhfat is the first book of history by a Keralite, and is written in Arabic. The original manuscript in arabic can be found here . The incident is described in the book as follows :

There arrived in Kodungallur a party of poor Muslims led by a shaykh on their way to visit the footprint of our father Adam in Ceylon. When the king heard about their arrival, he sent for them, entertained them, and treated them hospitably. The leader of the group, the shaykh, informed the king about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the religion of Islam. They also talked about the miraculous incident of the splitting of the moon. Allah, glory be to Him and exalted be He, caused to enter in his mind the truth of the Prophet's mission. He heartily acknowledged him and his love for the Prophet took possession of his heart. He asked the shaykh and his companions to call on him on their return journey and commanded the shaykh to keep this very confidential and not to let anyone in Malabar know about his secret intention.
"Origins of Islam in Malabar"
from an Arabic manuscript of the
 Tuhfat-ul-Mujahideen published by
The Historic society of Hyderabad
Thus , on their return journey from Ceylon, they called on the king who asked the shaykh to arrange, without anyone's knowledge , the ship and other things necessary for his journey with them...He then set himself dividing his kingdom into several provinces and set clear boundaries for each of them; then appointing governors for each province and wrote out detailed instructions defining the limits of territories of each ..He was the sovereign monarch of the whole territory from Kumhuri (Kanyakumari) to Kanjarakut (Kasargod) in the north........Then they set sail till they reached Shuhr (Shahar al Muqalla), where the king stayed for several days with the shaykh and his people. There another party of travelers joined them. It was a group bound for Malabar with the mission of preaching Islam and constructing mosques and establishing regular prayers there. The King fell ill while staying in Shahar al Muqalla...and told Sharaf ibn Malik and Malik bin Dinar : 'Do not give up the idea of travelling to India even if I die of this illness.'
Upon their reply that they knew nothing about the King's country, the dying King wrote a letter in Malayalam with details of his kingdom and the royal family members. He also instructed them not to disclose his illness to anybody in Malabar. Before long he passed away.

A few years later, the party consisting of Sharaf bin Malik, Malik bin Dinar and Malik bin Habib , his wife Qamariyyah and their children and friends set out on their voyage to Malabar. They reached the coast of Kodungallur after several days of voyage. They handed the letter to the then ruler of ther place, who gave them lands and estates for their use. Following this, they settled down and built a mosque there. Some of them moved to Kollam, Ezhimala , Barkur, Mangalore , Kasargode, Sreekandapuram, Dharmadam, Pantalayani, and Chaliyam and built mosques in these places. Later Malik bin Dinar and a few others set sail to Shahr al Muqalla and the rest settled in Kollam. In Shahr al Muqalla, he visited the tomb of the deceased king, and then travelled to Khurasan, where he eventually died. Malik bin Habib breathed his last at Kodungallur. "

Keralolpathi - or
The Origin of Malabar
Other versions of the legend are mainly sourced from the semi-historic work Keralolpathi, which has been rejected by modern historians for lack of accuracy though some parts of it are possibly true. According to this narrative, the King is identified as Cheraman Perumal and at Jeddah the Prophet PBUH himself gives him a new name Tajuddin and the king later marries the sister of the king of Arabia and stays at the port city for five years and on his way back passes away in Yemen. ( The Raja Valiyathampuran of Kodungalloor repeats a similar version of the story to a reporter in an interview and again this has been repeated in many internet forums and elsewhere. )

Another source that this story is referenced to is a manuscript named Tarik Zuhar al Islam fil Malibar by Muhammad Ibn Malik, a third generation descendant of Habib Ibn Malik, one amongst the first group of Muslims to have landed in the Malabar as mentioned in the Tuhfat. A handwritten manuscript copy of the original was found in the Madayi mosque (pictured below) built by Malik Ibn Dinar and is held in the possession of the descendants of Muhammad Ibn Malik.  If authentic, then going by its dates, this chronicle would be dated sometime during the 8th century AD. 

Handwritten copy of the Tareekh Zuhur Al Islam Fil Malibar
by Muhammad Ibn Malik available at the Madayi mosque.
According to this work, the Shaykh who first met the King while on his way to Ceylon is named as Zahiruddin Ibn Taqiyuddin. This version also narrates that the king witnessed the event, and that the king's meeting with the Prophet PBUH happened at Jeddah on Thursday 27th Shawwal, six yeas before Hijrah (617 A.D). Again this version also suggests the name Tajuddin ( the crown of the faith) and the place of death of the King is mentioned as Shahar Muqalla in Yemen and dated Monday Ist Muharram in the 1 A.H. (622 A.D.) The book also gives a detailed account of  the activities of Malik Ibn Dinar and his group, but some of the dates in this version are not historically acceptable as we'll later see. Its surprising that a book written by a third generation descendant about his forefathers contains such discrepancies.

A book referenced by historians like Andre Wink and Annemarie Schimmel and also cited by numerous websites is a manuscript named "Qissat Shakarwati Farmad" or "Qissat Shakruti Firmad" by an unknown author. It was translated in the Israel Oriental Studies journal by Dr Yohannan Friedmann in 1975 but has not been historically dated ( almost certainly not earlier than any of the other available sources) and some historians opine that this cannot be considered authentic. But this was quoted by M Hamidullah in his book “Muhammad Rasulullah: A concise survey of the life and work of the founder of Islam” published in 1979 with the shelf details of the manuscript. This narrative has also been rapidly spread from one website onto the other on the internet.The manuscript, found in the British Library in London names the king as Chakrawati Farmas (maybe a wild transformation of Chakrawarti Perumal), and mentions that he observed the splitting of the moon and himself took the initiative to go to Mecca, embraced Islam at the hand of the Prophet and on returning home, died at Zafar in Yemen.

Yet another source that is cited is the poem by Umar Qadi, the famous scholar from Veliyankode. Again , this is an 18th century scholar and the poem would be based on the traditional narrative of the time and can't be considered as a proof for historic accuracy. We'll learn more about Umar Qadi and his greatness and importance in the history of Islam in Kerala later on in this series.

Another incident commonly cited along with the story of the King's conversion is a hadith from Imam Al Hakim's work Al-Mustadrak 'ala al-Sahîhayn which says: Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (R) said:
Al Mustadrak Ala Sahihayn,
by Imam Hakim Al Nishaburi
“Then the King of India gave Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) a gift, a bottle of pickle that had ginger in it. The Holy Prophet distributed it among his Companions. I also received a piece of it to eat.” (4)
The authenticity of many of the narrations in this book was questioned by a number of prominent later Sunni scholars like Al Dhahabi . This particular narration itself has a questionable chain of isnad (chain of narrators) and another version of the incident puts the native land of the King as Rome. Islamic scholars completely reject both these narrations.(5)
Even if it is true, the narrator of the incident Abu Said al-Khudri (r) is an Ansar, or a companion of the Prophet from Medina, who was not part of the community during his years at Makkah. So this incident, if at all true, occured during the years at Medina and cannot be clubbed with our story of the Perumal conversion. Again, as Logan notes, had such an incident occurred during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH), the early historians of Islam would certainly have made note of it with much more posterity. (6)

The letter sent by the Prophet (S) to
King Muqawqis of Egypt
PA Syed Mohammed in his pioneering work "Kerala Muslim Charitram" quotes Kesari Balakrishna Pillai that the Chera King received the Prophet's letter and met the Prophet in his 57th year . These are based more on generalized assumptions (Arabs had trade relations with the Malabar for centuries etc.. and that the Prophet had sent letters to various kings in many lands and hence one of them might have reached Malabar ) than any archaeological evidence or an authentic narration proving the same. 
PA Syed Mohammed also narrates an account as seen in the book "Rihlat-ul-Muluk" by Umar Suhrawardi. This narration, if true it would suit the timeline of the eighth century AD and the observations of Logan rather than what I conclude later on towards the end. The descriptive account of the Perumal's journey provided here avoids many contradictions found in the other accounts. The king and his minister are influenced by the King Muhli of Lakshwadeep, who was a friend of Malik Ibn Deenar of Basra and the three together decide to accept Islam. But in the succeeding days, an incident involving the minister and the queen create a division between them and the king decides to punish his minister, though (as the story goes) the real culprit was the queen. The minister then utters the famous words "പെണ്‍ ചൊല്ല്   കേട്ട  പെരുമാളെ , ഇനി  രക്ഷ  കിട്ടണമെങ്കില്‍  ഇസ്ലാം  മതം  വിശ്വസിച്ചു  മക്ക പട്ടണത്തിലേക്ക്  പോകുക " (Oh Perumal who listened [and believed] a woman's [false] story, if you want to escape [God's wrath] accept the religion of Islam and go to Makkah) against the king who later on comes to know of the truth and proceeds to Makkah for penitance with a group of Arabs returning from Ceylon. But I've been unable to find more about the author of the book and its authenticity and hence its not discussed in detail here. (7)
A third account cited in the "Kerala Muslim Charithram" quotes the Tareekh-e-Ferishta , written in 1606 A.D by Muhammad Qasim Ferishta for the King of Bejapur, Ali Adil Shah where the author opines that the conversion of the King occured during the Prophet's lifetime itself.(20) But the Ferishta's account actually narrates two versions, in one of which he says that the King was discussing about Islam with the scholar who landed in Kodungallur and during the conversation which covered many areas, the King argued that if the moon split, it must have been recorded in the palace history books. He then asked his men to check if the palace records had any mention of such an event and they confirm to him that the event was recorded by the scribes during the lifetime of the Prophet. This convinces the King and he decides to accept Islam. Secretly he plans the trip to Mecca and meets his death on the way at Shahr Muqalla in Oman. Feristha then also narrates the version which puts the timeline as during the Prophet's lifetime and then adds his opinion that the latter is the more authentic one. (26)

Now we look into some issues in most of the narrations above.

The Arabs who lived in the central Arab peninsula in the vicinity of Makkah and Madinah were generally reluctant mariners even in the initial years of the Caliphate(8). During the Prophet's time in Makkah, the small group of his disciples were people from the vicinity itself who were part of this group of reluctant mariners. It's very unlikely that the Shaykh (scholar/elderly/wise man) who had come to Kodungallur and explained about Islam and the Prophet to the King, could have been one amongst them. And as we've seen in the earlier posts, Islam had not yet reached the seafaring communities of Arabs in the other parts of the peninsula.

The port of Jeddah, probably in the 1800s
Click here for Aramco Word's story on the port of Jeddah
Next, the rise of Jeddah as a major port for entering the city of Makkah began only in 647 A.D., after being chosen for the purpose by the third Caliph Othman bin Affan (r). Till then it was a minor settlement where some Arab families had probably inhabited for centuries before the Christ era, but never a port of its own until almost 15 years after the Prophet's death. The small port of Shuayba was  the nearest for Meccans in those days. Again, it was many centuries later when the Fatimids rose in Cairo that it became a port where ships from long distances came to dock. (9) ( Its history and survival of the Portuguese onslaught has an important connection with Malabar and the Portuguese invasion. We'll learn that later on in the series.) So the whole narrative of the King landing in Jeddah and meeting the Prophet, and later marrying the sister of the "King of Jeddah" is almost certainly false. Some other versions name it as the King of Arabia. There was no centralized kingdom of Arabia in those days, and before Hijra, no king had accepted Islam in any of the smaller principalities near the main ports.
The fact that Jeddah appears in many of the stories might even point to the fact that this angle to the story began doing the rounds when Jeddah became more familiar with the people of Malabar after the trade route shifted from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea through the rise of Cairo as a centre of oceanic trade***.

Most of the sources, except the Tuhfat seem to narrate a common traditional version that existed at least from the 16th century, predating the Keralolpathi. So more or less, all subsequent works have a similar version of incidents.
Looking at the manner of the Keralolpathi narrations, there might have been a tendency to "fit the pieces" into the picture from the available contemporary accounts of history to get a broader picture of the whole history of the land and that might have led to the chronological disasters that led historians like Sreedhara Menon to reject the theory completely. He also adds that "None of the early or medieval travelers who visited Kerala has referred to it in their records. Thus Sulaiman, Al Biruni, Benjamin of Tuleda, Al Kazwini, Marco Polo, Friar Odoric, Friar Jordanus, Ibn Battuta, Abdur Razzak, Nicolo-Conti – none of these travelers speaks of the story. "(10)

But of these none were in fact people who were native to the land, while the first native writer, Shaikh Zainuddeen Makhdoum has mentioned it in his book. Though not completely corroborating this story, there is a mention by the great medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328) that a traveller reportedly saw an old building in India that was built the day the moon was split. This is narrated by his student Al-Mizzi in one of his works.

This is probably the earliest record possibly of this incident and it could be that some travellers did mention it earlier, but unfortunately we don't have those accounts with us anymore. When the Tigris river ran black from the ink of the books the Mongols destroyed during their destruction of Baghdad, one of the greatest treasure troves of knowledge had disappeared for all future generations. Quite possibly, many of them would have spoken at length about the land of pepper - Malabar which maintained a very close relation with Iraq.

Ibn Taymiyyah's student Ibn Kathir (1301–1373) mentions in his historic work Al Bidayah Wa Nihayah, that people in India witnessed this event of the moon being split. (11) This might hint that some story related to the splitting of the moon might have been doing rounds in the 13th century itself , assuming the traveler saw this building in the Malabar. In another of his books, Mu'jizaath Nabawi (The Miracles of the Prophet), he mentions that "several travelers" reported seeing a temple in India built on the day the moon was split (12). Ibn Kathir though does not mention this in his commentary of the Qur'an, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, one of the most respected commentaries on the Qur'an unto this day. Also, none of the early commentators of the Qur'an mention such an incident. If there were a King from India who witnessed the event and bore testimony to this in the Prophet's presence, the early commentators of the Qur'an, who were historians too like Tabari would have added it in their works. Logan notes that the view of the Arab muslims in Malabar echoed this line of reasoning.

 Sri Pada in Serendib or
Adam's peak, Sri Lanka
Another aspect of the story which actually fails the timeline check is the fact that the Shaikh and team were on their way to Adam's peak in Ceylon or Sri Pada in Sarandib as Arabs used to call it. This was something that was not a practice during the Prophet's lifetime. The identification of the peak in Sri Lanka as the landing place of Prophet Adam (a) was referenced by Al Tabari (d 923 AD) (13) and Masudi(d. 956 AD) in their works Tarikh Al Tabari and Muruj Al Dhahab (Meadows of Gold). Their descriptions are most likely sourced from accounts of travellers like Sulaiman the Merchant, who visited Serendib in around AD 851 and climbed the Sri Pada. (13) Ibn Battuta talks about the grave in Shiraz of a Sufi Saint Shaikh Abu Abdullah Ibn Khafif who supposedly discovered the path to the Sri Pada in A.D. 929, thus becoming the first person to do so.(14) In any case, the journey to Sri Pada as a place of pilgrimage (not as a merchant traveler) by Muslims began in the ninth century at its earliest and gained momentum in the following centuries and hence this whole story would have had happened centuries after the Prophet(S)'s life.

So is this whole story a figment of imagination?
Most likely NO.

Shaikh Zainuddin suggests that the whole incident itself might have occurred two hundred years after the Prophet's lifetime. Logan to some extent agrees to this timeline citing the evidence of a grave of a king from Malabar in Zafar in Yemen dated 216 A.H (6) though Sreedhara Menon questions the authenticity of the identification of the grave (10). What's notable here is that these contradicting details about the name of the Shaykh, the port of Jeddah, the king's witnessing of the incident and the Prophet's meeting with the King, his Chera lineage, his new name etc are avoided or rejected by Shaykh Zainuddin. The respected scholar was being careful in writing down only the parts of the narrative he was sure of, though he certainly knew of the versions commonly believed by the people of Malabar. Given his education at Makkah under renowned Islamic Scholars like Ibn Hajar Al Haithami, his version of things might have been based on a consensus of scholars in Arabia too about this incident and a timeline analysis of the related events. He writes:
"We do not have any clear evidence to say for sure which year this happened. The majority opinion is that it happened in 200 A.H. However the general impression with the Muslims in Malabar is that the aforesaid king's conversion to Islam took place during the time of Prophet (PBUH). They believe that the king one night saw in person the splitting of the moon, following which he set out to meet the Prophet(PBUH), he died at Shahar al Muqalla on his way back to Malabar with a group of Muslims. There is but little truth in this." - (19)
The account of the King's particulars though, like the stretch of his empire and the manner of its division might have been based on the common legend in his days since he uses phrases like "It is well known amongst the Hindus" etc. for that part of the story.

Historians like M.G.S. Narayanan, opine, the story might be true, but the timeline might be different since
"“ there is no reason to reject the tradition that the last Chera king embraced Islam and went to Makkah, since it finds a place, not only in Muslim chronicles, but also in Hindu brahmanical chronicles like the Keralolpathi which need not be expected to concoct such a tale which is no way enhances the prestige or the interests of the Brahmins or Hindu population.” (15) He suggests that the conversion of the Chera king might have taken place not during the Propher’s time but in 1122 AD corresponding to the end of the second Chera dynasty in Kerala, adding that though Muslims had been in Malabar much before that period, that incident might have accelerated the growth of Islam in Kerala. (16) Logan, too opines that Malik Ibn Dinar and party would not have been able to establish so many mosques in so short a time unless the ground had been prepared for them beforehand to some extent at least. (3)

The respected historian Tara Chand also comments on the incident that if the name of the Sheikh who converted the king were actually Zaki-u-din , it would have to be a 5th century A.H. (A.D. 1110 - A.D 1210) name, since the appellation "Al-Din" in muslim names began around that time. Annemarie Schimmel, in her study on Islamic names notes that this appellation to muslim names initially began as valued titles bestowed by the Abbasid Caliphs on military and political leaders, especially in Persian areas, but later became a common naming convention across the muslim world by the 12th century. The Maghribi (Moroccan) scholar Ibn Maymun in A.D. 1511 even complained that the use of such names was a bid'aa (deviation from the Prophet's teachings) (17)  Some of the immediate descendants of Muhammad Ibn Malik are also named with this appellation in Tareekh Zuhur Al Islam fil Malibar like the Qazi of the Sreekanthapuram mosque (Jarfattan) who was named Zainuddin Umar ibn Muhammad ibn Malik. The Keralolpathi also names the first Qazis as Zayduddin, Shihabuddin and Zainuddin. All this point to a timeline of 12th century for these events to have happened.

Another supporting fact for this timeline is the inscription in the Madayi mosque in Kannur district, believed to be built by Malik Ibn Dinar with the date of construction marked as 518 A.H / 1124 A.D.(18) The official website of the Cheraman mosque quotes Kunhikkuttan Thampuran who opines that a vacant Buddhist vihara might have been converted to a mosque initially and a reconstruction of the structure was undertaken sometime in 11th century AD. If so, by the 11th century, it would already have been a mosque for five centuries when being rebuilt. Why then, was it still reconstructed facing away from Makkah, unlike all other mosques in the world? The building also exhibits the style of middle Chola architecture and studies on its foundation date it to the 12th century. (25)

The legend about the king's departure has many other versions too, like for eg. this one attributed to the Travancore royal family, which claims lineage to the last Chera king who abandoned his kingdom. Others say that the King who left his kingdom went on to Mylapore and become a Christian while many others say he became a Buddhist (21). (My friend Maddy has collected some of those stories here) The variations in the narrations could have arisen due to the secret nature of the King's trip and the mysterious end to his journey. Many of the royal families of Kerala also claim lineage to this King who abandoned his Kingdom, so it might have been a respected ruler who had the love and respect of his people which the later royal families were trying to cling on to for obvious reasons. Some studies also linkup the Onam celebrations and the expected return of Mahabali as the return of this king who left for Mecca (22). Tuhfat-ul-Mujahideen also mentions rituals at a temple in Kodungalloor on a particular day each year, while the Zamorins had a symbolic ceremony followed till the 19th century related to the Perumal's sword being trusted to the new king who was to protect it "till the Perumal who went to Mecca returns" by a muslim woman during the ceremony of his ascension to the throne.(23)

The parts of the accounts relating to Malik Ibn Dinar and his companions have many surviving evidences in the form of the mosques they built all across the state that match the traditions if assumed on a different timeline. The chances of him being the famous Sufi saint of Basra who lived in the 8th century (24) is unlikely since the timeline of the surrounding events cannot fit into the picture. The Malik Ibn Dinar would most likely have been a totally different person, probably named after the great saint. I'll add some more details about the first mosques they built in the next post.

This study was an attempt to present a comprehensive picture of the Perumal legend and analyze its timeline and the possibilities of the truth in it. While all the accounts above together cannot be considered a concrete proof to fully validate this story, the fact that from Kasargod to Kottayam and Kollam there are mosques that trace a common history, and many of those mosques lasted upto the Portuguese era, considered together with the numerous royal and cultural traditions attached to this story all across the state of Kerala, might point that an actual chain of incidents did occur somewhere between all these stories. In the next post, I'll add some other early accounts of history which confirm Muslim presence in Malabar from the 8th century onwards and give an overview of the community till the time of the arrival of the Portuguese. Many of these have also been cited as proofs for the story we discussed here, due to the assumption that the arrival of Islam must have started with the Perumal. But we'll see in the next post, why Islam's arrival is most likely to have predated this incident. As a last point, I'm not from an academic background in history and though I've tried to keep my views strictly based on the references, errors might have crept in here. If anyone can point them out to me, I'd be glad to rectify them here itself. Many thanks to Ullattil Manmadhan and my colleague Salman Ahmad for helping me with some of the sources mentioned above. Many thanks also to Kashif Ul Huda and Hidayath Ansari for providing me with resources for the rest of this series.

Before concluding, for a few minutes lets forget all concerns about historic accuracies and enjoy this beautiful song about the Perumal and Malik Ibn Dinar. The mosque shown in the video is the famous Malik Deenar mosque in Kasargod believed to be built by Malik Ibn Deenar.

* This and many other ancient mosques in Kerala built in the traditional styles underwent radical alterations to their structure in the 1980-s and 1990s, especially in the post-Babri era due to the threat of demolition from Sangh Parivar groups claiming ownership of the mosques as "converted temples" due to their traditional architecture. Kunhikkuttan Thampuran and others believe that the original structure of the mosque was a defunct Buddhist Vihara. 
** There's actually an error in using this terminology because according to Islamic belief, Prophet Adam (PBUH) was the first prophet of Islam and all the messengers are seen as brothers of each other. Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) who lived in Arabia and built the Kaaba had brought Islam to Arabia much before Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But what we refer here is in the historic timeline of our study and the term is to be assumed in that context.
*** There's a beautiful story about the choice of location of the city of Cairo by a bird which built its nest on the tent of the Muslim commander Amr bin al As who felt compassionate for it and decided not to disturb the nest, thus leaving the tent in its place and building his city at that location itself. Read more on it here.

1) C.A Innes, Pg 38, Malabar and Anjengo
2) Pg 29 - 33, Tuhfat-Ul-Mujahideen Wal Akhbarul Burthuqaleen, Shaykh Zainuddin Makdhoom II, Trans. Nainar, Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur & Other Books, Calicut, 2006 Ed
3) Pg 195, Malabar Manual, William Logan - Vol 1
4) Mustadrak al-Hakim/ kitab al-‘At’imah, Vol. 4, p. 150.
5)  (Arabic : question to Scholar - "Is it true that a King from India was a companion of the Prophet?" )
6) Pg 191, Malabar Manual, William Logan - Vol 1
7) PA Syed Mohammed , Kerala Muslim Charithram, Pg 47 and Pg 51
8) Pg 45, MN Pearson, The Indian Ocean, Routledge, 2003. - This is not just a personal opinion of Amr bin A'as(r). The ruler of the land was enquiring to his army chief and the reply was so negative and reluctant in nature that it very much reflected a general opinion amongst the people in the desert inlands of Hijaz.This reluctance towards naval engagement didn't last long though 
For more about Arab seafaring during the early centuries of Islam, read chapters - "Pre-Islamic trade routes" and "Trade routes under the Caliphate" in "Arab seafaring in the Indian Ocean in ancient and early medieval times"‎ - George Fadlo Hourani, John Carswell - 1995
9) The Origin of Jedda and the Problem of al-Shuʿayba - G. R. Hawting - Arabica, T. 31, Fasc. 3 (Nov., 1984), pp. 318-326
   Pg 109, Mecca: a literary history of the Muslim Holy Land By Francis E. Peters
10) Prof. A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History, (p. 135; 1970 Ed.)
11) ‘Al-Bidaya wal-Nihayah’ by Ibn Kathir, vol 3, final sentence of chapter on the moon split incident ( A'hd Nabvi mein Shaqq-al-qamar ka waaqi'ah ) Urdu transl. by Prof. Kaukab Shadani, Nafis Academy. The full collection of 16 volumes can be downloaded here
12) Pg 24, Mu'jizath Nabvee, The Miracles of the Prophet, transl Ali Mwinyi Mziwa and Ibn Ramadhan, Dar AlGhad
13)Pg 290, (original Pg 121) The history of al-Ṭabarī: General introduction and from the creation to the flood - Ṭabarī, Franz Rosenthal - SUNY Press, 1989
Tabari sources this to Ibn Abbas and Ali Ibn Abi Talib referring to the place being "in India" but they do not include the precise location in India. The height of the mountain and its imposing freestanding structure might have prompted them to believe it to be the "closest place to heaven on earth" or the highest place on earth. Factually, though three other mountains in Sri Lanka are higher than the Samanala Kanda , as the mountain is known in Sinhalese.
See also entry for Ceylon, Page 839, E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936 By M. Th. Houtsma, A. J. Wensinck, BRILL, 1993 .
14) Page 41, The Travels of Ibn Battuta By Ibn Battuta, Samuel Lee , Cosimo, Inc., 2009
   See also, Pg 136, "Ceylon: an account of the island physical, historical and topographical, with notices of its natural history, antiquities, and productions, Volume 2" by Sir James Emerson Tennent,  Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1858  (Generally British historians of the colonial era are often criticized for their prejudiced attitudes, but I feel these remarks are notable). 
A brief history of Islam in Sri Lanka can be found here.
15) M.G.S. Narayanan, Perumals of Kerala, p. 65
16) ‘Political and Social Condition of Kerala under the Kulasekhara Empire (800 AD to 1124 AD)’ (Unpublished Ph. D thesis, University of Kerala, 1972). He has repeated this on stages elsewhere and in his article Choonduviral, a magazine published by IYA Qatar 2009.
17)  Pg 34, Influence of Islam on Indian Culture, Tara Chand 
See also Pg 59-62, Islamic names - Annemarie Schimmel, Edinburgh University Press, 1989 
18) Pg 265, THE PREACHING OF ISLAM A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith BY T. W. ARNOLD 2nd EDITION, 1913
19) Tuhfat op. cited, Pg 33
20) Tareekh-e-Ferishta , Pg 370, Vol 2 as quoted in PA Syed Mohammed , Kerala Muslim Charithram, Pg 47
21) Pg 47, R.E Miller Mappila Muslims of Kerala
22) The Perumal who went to Makkah and Thiruvonam - Prabodhanam Issue 13, Volume 58, Sep 8 2001
23) Pg 296, F F Fawcett, NAIRS - MALABAR COAST (INDIA) - SOCIAL LIFR & CUSTOMS, (Reprint 1901 ed,) 3rd esn., 2001 
24) For the biography of this saint , refer Hujwiri's (d.1077A.D.) Kashf Al-Mahjoob (کشف المحجوب)  (pg 166) and Ibn Khallikan's(d. 1282 A.D.) Biographical Dictionary, Pg 551
25) Narayanan M. G. S., Calicut: The City of Truth. p.58- 59, Calicut University Press (2006)
26) Pg 151-156, An ACCOUNT of MALABAR, and of the Rife and Progress of the MUSSULMAN RELIGION in that Country—From Ferishtah's General History of Hindustan. Translated by James Anderson. - The Asiatic annual register Volume 1 - 1800 Edition

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Story of Islam in Kerala - Part 3

Rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula

In the last two posts, we had a fairly detailed look at the trade relations between Malabar and the Middle East throughout the ages of history. I'd thought of putting up the Perumal story today but felt a brief background of the timeline of events in the history of the Prophet is required for a better analysis of the Perumal story.So today we look at a brief background on the rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula and the historic timeline of the incidents in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and the spread of Islam in Arabian Peninsula as relevant to this study.As Francis Peters notes in his work, Mecca: a literary history of the Muslim Holy Land, the history of Hijaz, the area that includes in Mecca and Medina during the era of Ignorance or Jahiliyyah is primarily derived from Muslim sources including the Holy Qur'an. These lands were inhabited by nomads and oasis dwellers whose culture was oral and few archaeological evidences remain to say the story of this inhospitable desert land. Hardly any reference is found in contemporary Greek and Roman sources of the era about Hijaz specifically, though to the south of Najran and north of Madain Salih, there are more descriptive accounts from Procopius and others.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born in AD 570* to the merchant family of Banu Hashim of the tribe of Quraysh, in the town of Makkah, a commercial centre of the era in Arabia. The Banu Hashim family were pioneers of trade amongst the Quraysh and had built up a trade network with business relations extended to Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Abyssinia. In Sirat Rasulullah, the first biography of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Arab historian Ibn Ishaq (d. 767 AD) reports that Hashim ibn Abd Manaf died in Gaza while travelling with his merchandise (5). 

Makkah was also the site of an important house of worship called the Ka’bah, built by the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) and his son Ishmael (Ismail). 
The annual pilgrimage to the Ka’bah, a tradition reaching back centuries among the Arab tribes also brought wealth and prestige to the Makkans. This short chapter in the Holy Qur'an provides an interesting window on the life of the Arabian Peninsula at the beginning of the Prophet's (PBUH) mission.

In the name of God, Most Gracious , Most Merciful,
For the taming of Quraysh (1) For their taming, we cause the caravans to set forth in winter and summer. (2) So let them worship the Lord of this House, (3) Who provides them with food against hunger and with security against fear(4) (Qur’an, 106 (Chapter Quraysh) :1-4)

The winter and summer journeys referred here were timed to the monsoon winds on the Indian Ocean, which brought ships laden with goods from India, East Africa and China to the ports of Yemen in the winter, and allowed the caravans to regularly buy goods which they transported to Syria and its Mediterranean ports during the summer.  The incident mentioned in the last post about the failed attempt by the Yemeni king Abraha Al Asram also increased the prestige of the Quraysh amongst the Arabs as the custodians of the Kaaba, which was protected by divine forces and this lent safety to their trade caravans(6). 

The Prophet himself as a young boy was involved in the caravan trade, and made trips to Syria as part of the trade caravans from Makkah and in time he came to be respected for both his business success and his wisdom. Yet He loved to go off by himself into the surrounding hills of Makkah to think about the meaning of life. In AD 610 the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) revealed the first verses of the Holy Qur'an to the Prophet while in meditation in the cave of Mt. Hira. The first 13 years of propagation were very difficult for him and his followers. In this period, the Muslim community was largely limited to the town of Makkah and even in here, they were a minority.

It was during this period that the incident of the splitting of the moon occurred. The Qur'an in Chapter 54, Al Qamar or the Moon refers to the incident :
The Hour of Resurrection has drawn near and the Moon has split asunder - 54:1
This incident is believed to have occurred around AD 615. The incident has been narrated by commentators of the Qur'an as follows: "It was the 14th night of the lunar month; the Moon had just risen when it suddenly split and its two parts were seen on either side of the hill in front. Then after a moment or so they rejoined. The Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) at that time was at Mina. He told the people to mark it and be witnesses to it."

After thirteen years of struggle for survival in Makkah, the Muslims migrated to Madinah in an event called the Hijrah, which marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, in 622 CE (Common Era). Even in Madinah, the growth of the community in the initial years was slow.

Ancient trade routes in the Arabian Peninsula

It was in AD 628, that an important historical event called the Treaty of Hudaybiah changed the pattern of growth of Islam. It was then that Islam began to spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Later that year, the Prophet (PBUH) sent messengers with letters to the kings and chiefs of neighboring lands including Byzantine, Persia, Ethiopia and Egypt inviting them to Islam. The messenger to Persia was rebuked by Khusrau II and he ordered his governor in Yemen**, Badhan to summon the Prophet to his court in Persia. When Badhan's messengers arrived in Medina seeking the surrender of the Prophet, he replied to them that the Emperor Khusrau was dead, murdered by his own son. The messengers took the message to Badhan, he sought to verify this prediction*** and when he came to know that this was true, he accepted Islam along with the Persians in Yemen. This first account of Islam in Yemen was in AD 628, six years after the splitting of the moon incident. Two years later in AD 630 after the Muslim conquest of Makkah, the Prophet sent Ali Ibn Abi Talib and later Muadh Ibn Jabal to teach Islam to the people of Yemen. By the time of the death of the Prophet in AD 632, almost the whole of the Arabian Peninsula including Yemen had come under Islam.

At the other end of the peninsula, Persia which included Basra (Ubullah) and other port cities in the Persian Gulf that traded with the Malabar and China came into the fold of Islam after the Prophet passed away in AD 632. The conquest of Persia began in AD 633 with The Battle of Sallasil (Chains) led by the legendary Khalid Ibn Walid and continued for the next few years. 

Basrah, in particular came under Islam in the 14th year of Hijrah - AD 635-636 after the second Caliph Umar Bin Al Khattab sent an army led by Utbah Ibn Ghazwan to conquer Ubullah. The famous Arab historian Tabari (d. 923 AD)  repeatedly refers to Ubullah as "Farj Al Hind" and at one place quotes the message from the Caliph to the Commander as follows:****
 ' O Utbah, I have appointed you to rule the "land of India" ....'. (Ard al Hind) 

The ninth century Persian historian Al Baladhuri (d 892) also quotes Utbah describing the port of Ubullah to Caliph Umar in his work Futuh-ul-Buldan:****
وكتب إلى عمر يعلمه ذلك ويخبره أن الأبله فرضة البحرين وعمان والهندوالصين‏.‏
"And (Utbah) wrote to Umar informing him that Al Ubullah was an opening (port) to Bahrain and Oman and India and China."

Tabari also describes how strongly the town was fortified, pointing to the importance of trade with India and China and its significance to Persian economy.

The battles for Persia continued for a few more years. The veteran Persian general Rustam was killed and his army defeated at the  Battle of Al-Qadisiyyah in November, AD 636. A further crushing blow was inflicted in the Battle of Nahawand which marked the last attempt by the Persians to put up a fight. The Sassanid empire lasted a few more years till AD 651 when the last Sassanid ruler was killed. 
The local population did not convert to Islam and remained in the Muslim state paying a jizya,which was much lesser than the poll taxes imposed by the Sassanids. The Caliph Umar is said to have occasionally setup a commission to survey the taxes, that if they are not more than the land could bear. Conversion of the Persian population to Islam took place very gradually, mostly under the rule of the later Abbasid Caliphate, when the capital of the Caliphate was moved from Syria (Damascus) to Persia/Iraq (Baghdad).

What has all this to do with the story of Islam in Kerala? 
Well, the first accounts of Islam are related to an incident in the Prophet's life that is believed to have occurred during his stay in Makkah. Given the above context, in the next post we analyze the story of the Perumal and examine how possible it is for such an incident to have happened.
* AD 570 is the tradition followed in Islamic narrative and is called the Year of the Elephant when Abraha from Yemen attacked the Ka'aba. Western scholars disagree with this narrative, but do not have verifiable sources to explain the defeat of the mighty Aksumites at Mecca, and except a few inscriptions that remotely narrte a similar incident dated a few decades prior, no sources have been discovered archaeologically to date the incident with accuracy. What's sure is that the event was not after AD 570 since by then the Sassanians had conquered Yemen by defeating the Aksumites.

** See my previous post for more about the Persian conquest of Yemen
*** This was of a predictive nature in this context since it was a matter of instant reporting of something that happened hundreds of miles away, at a time when the speed of communication depended on the speed of the horse.
**** Click on the links to download the original Arabic texts of Tareekh Al-Tabari and 

and Futuh Ul Buldan.

Part four of the study can be found here.
1) Commentary for Chapters Al Fil (No:106) and Al Qamar (No:54),  Thafheem-ul-Qur'an by Syed Abul A'la Maudoodi ( (English) , For Malayalam, For the other languages, see )
2) Wikipedia articles on the Islamic Conquest of Persia
3) Encyclopaedia of Islam By Mufti M. Mukarram Ahmed

4)Pg 168 Volume 12 of The History of Al-Tabari, Tarikh Al Rusul Wal Muluk by Tabari, translated by Yohannan Friedmann
5) cited in Pg 27, Mecca: a literary history of the Muslim Holy Land By Francis E. Peters
6) ibid , Pg 42