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A Socio-Historical Outlook

Muhammed Haneefa

By L.R.S. Lakshmi
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp.200, Rs. 530.00


Mappila Muslims constitute more than ninety percent of the Muslim population in Kerala. The majority of these Muslims live in the northern part of Kerala, called Malabar region. Historians and sociologists like Roland E. Miller, Stephen F. Dale, K.N. Panikkar, Hussain Randathani and many others have written about the socio-political and cultural world of Malabar Muslims from various perspectives. L.R.S. Lakshmi examines the social, poli-tical, educational and cultural life of Malabar Muslims under the colonial administration from 1870. At first glance, there is no detail left unexamined. The seventh and last chapter discusses the educational progress, women’s empowerment, religious development and the political life of Mappila Muslims in the twenty-first century. By discussing a wide range of issues on the Mappila community, she has made a sincere effort to satisfy both sociologists and historians alike. Lakshmi argues that Arab trading and the intermarriage between Arabs and the local women, economically motivated religious con-versions by ‘low castes’; this and the egalitarian nature of Islam are cited as the main reasons behind the Islamization of the Malabar region. However, many will have a problem in using the politically loaded word ‘Islamization’ to describe the peaceful expansion and conversion of locals to Islam in the region. The hier-archical social order of the Mappilas is a notable one. The hierarchy is formed not only due to the conversion from the Hindu religion, but also due to the Hadrami influence in the region and the hierarchical social order that prevailed among the Hadramis. The hierarchical order was also strengthened by the economic domination and control of the port by the Keyis, Koyas and Baramis. As a critique to the egalitarian nature of Islam in Malabar, she sees that ‘the Thangals were spiritually superior whereas the Keyis, the Koyas and the Baramis were economically superior. The Pusalar(n)s and Ossans were occupationally inferior’ (p. 28). When analysing the familial, educational and other aspects of Malabar Muslims, her work is completely silent about these so-called socially, occupationally and economically ‘inferior’ communities. This is a lucidly written book without jargon. But, a native reader like me, cannot read the book without making comments on some serious errors due to the author’s lack of familiarity with the local language, names of persons and places. To begin with, the community ‘Mappila’ is wrongly spelt throughout the book as ‘Mappilla’ which in Malayalam means ‘unpardonableness’, and the ...

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