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Book Review

An Indispensable Source of Malabar History
Reviewed by Yoginder Sikand

Tuhfat al-Mujahidin (translated from Arabic by S. Muhammad Husayn Nainar)
By Shaykh Zainuddin Makhdum
Pages: 139
Published by: Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur ( & Other Books, Calicut (otherbooks@
Price not mentioned

The Tuhfat al-Mujahidin or ‘The Tribute to the Strugglers’ is one of the earliest extant historical treatises about the southern state of Kerala. Its author, the 16th century Shaikh Zainuddin Makhdum, who hailed from the renowned Makhdum family from the town of Ponnani and traced its descent to migrants from Yemen, who played a leading role in the spread of Islam in southern India. Zainduddin rose to become a leading Islamic scholar. He spent ten years studying in Makkah, where he also joined the Qadri order. On his return to his native Malabar, he spent almost four decades teaching at the central mosque in Ponnani, then a major centre for Islamic studies in southern India. He also served as the envoy of the Zamorins, the Hindu rulers of Calicut, to Egypt and Turkey.

The Tuhfat is one of Zainuddin’s several and best know works. A chronicle of the stiff resistance put up by the Muslims of Malabar against the Portuguese colonialists from 1498, when Vasco Da Gama arrived in Calicut, to 1583, it describes in considerable detail events, many of which that the author had himself witnessed and lived through. It was intended, as he says, as a means to exhort the Malabar Muslims to launch a struggle or jihad against the Portuguese invaders. The book thus extols the virtues of jihad against oppressors, and, at the same time, also provides fascinating details about the Hindu-Muslims ties and their customs and practices.

Islam’s first contact with India took place in Malabar, and Zainuddin offers a popularly-held account of this. He writes of how the Hindu ruler of Malabar, impressed with a group of Muslim pilgrims on their way to Ceylon, converted to Islam and accompanied them back to Arabia. There, shortly before he died, he instructed them to return to Malabar. They did as they were told, and the king’s governors welcomed them, allowing them to settle along the coast and establish mosques. Gradually, the Muslim community began expanding through the missionary efforts of Sufis and traders.

Muslims and the Hindus of Malabar traditionally shared camaraderie. The Hindu rulers treated the Muslims with respect, principally due to the fact that they played a vital role in the region’s economy because of their control of the maritime trading routes. Rulers even paid salaries of the muezzins and qazis and allowed the Muslims to be governed in personal matters by their own laws. Hindu converts to Islam were not harassed. Muslims warmly welcomed converts from the so-called ‘low’castes, thereby offering a potential for spread of Islam.

Zainuddin’s observations are remarkable for their sense of balance and sympathy. He says, ‘There are some rulers who are powerful and some comparatively weak. But the strong, as a matter of fact, will not attack or occupy the territory of the weak’. (This, Zainuddin suggests, might be a result of the conversion of one of their kings, referred to earlier, to Islam ‘and of his supplications to this effect to God’). He also adds, ‘The people of Malabar are never treacherous in their wars’. At the same time, he notes with disapproval the deeply-rooted caste prejudices among the Malabari Hindus with frequent excommunication of people from the fold of Hinduism. Those who were expelled would then join the fold of Christianity or Islam or renounce the world. Even such minor a matter as a ‘high’ caste Hindu woman being hit by a stone thrown by a ‘low’ caste man led to her losing her caste. ‘How many such detestable customs!”, Zainuddin remarks after recounting some of them. ‘Due to their ignorance, they strictly follow these customs, believing that it is their moral responsibility to uphold them’, he adds. ‘It was while they were living in these social conditions that the religion of Islam reached them by the grace of Allah’, he says.

Of all the Hindu rulers of Malabar, the most powerful, and also the most friendly towards the Muslims, were the Zamorins of Calicut, who claimed descent from the king who is said to have converted to Islam and died in Arabia. The Tuhfat describes how the Zamorins turned down bribes offered by the Portuguese to expel the Muslims, and of how they, along with Nair Hindu and Muslim forces, engaged in numerous battles with the Portuguese, who are said to have singled out the Muslims for attack and persecution. He is at pains to note the contrast between the response of the Hindu Zamorins to the plight of the Malabar Muslims with that of several Muslim Sultans in other parts of India, who were approached for help in expelling the Portuguese. ‘The Muslim-friendly Zamorin’, he writes, ‘has been spending his wealth from the beginning’ for the protection of the Malabari Muslims from the depredations of the Portuguese. On the other hand, he rues, ‘The Muslim Sultans did not take any interest in the Muslims of Malabar’.

The Portuguese conquests, resulting in their wresting the monopoly over the Malabar spice trade from the Muslims, caused a rapid decline in Muslim fortunes, reducing the community to abject poverty. The author describes the reign of terror unleashed on the Malabari Muslims, by the Portuguese, who were fired with a hatred of Islam and Muslims indiscriminate killings of Muslims, rapes of women, forcible conversions to Christianity, enslaving of hundreds, destroying mosques and building churches in their place and setting alight Muslim shops and homes.

In appealing to the Malabari Muslims to launch jihad against the Portuguese, Zainuddin makes clear that this struggle is purely a defensive one, directed at only the Portuguese interlopers and not the local Hindus or the Hindu Zamorins, for whom he expresses considerable respect. Nor is it, he suggests, a call to establish Muslim political supremacy and control. Jihad, then, for Shaikh Zaiuddin, was a morally just struggle to restore peace and expel foreign occupiers, to return to a period of Hindu-Muslims amity.

This treatise is an indispensable source of Malabari history and would be invaluable to those interested in the history of Islam in South Asia. Much that Shaikh Zainuddin says with regard to the legitimacy of struggle against foreign occupation and oppression finds powerful echoes today, in the context of present-day imperialist aggression, which, of course, surpasses in lethality over its 16th century Portuguese counterpart that Shaikh Zainuddin discusses in his book.

A Tale of Two Cities
The History of Makkah Mukarramah
Reviewed by Dr. Sameen Ahmed Khan

240 pages
Price: 15 Saudi Riyals
The History of Madinah Munawwarah
184 pages
Price: 15 Saudi Riyals
By Dr. Muhammad Ilyas Abdul Ghani
Al-Rasheed Printers

Madinah Munawwarah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The religious and historical significance of Makkah Mukarramah can be judged from the fact that Allah has selected it to be the location of His most sacred house, the Kabah. Makkah was home to Hazrat Ismael (pbuh) and his mother Hazrat Hajirah. The city houses the Masjid Haram in which the rewards of a single salaah is multiplied by a hundred thousand times. Kaabah also forms Qiblah for the Muslims all over the world, a direction towards which every person performing salat must face. It was here that the holy Prophet Muhammad was born. Well of Zamzam is also located here, whose water is more blessed than the waters elsewhere. Madinah Munawwarah is the city to which the holy Prophet emigrated and it gave him refuge, embraced his preaching and supported his mission, and its people defended him with their lives, human and material resources until Islam prevailed all over the peninsula. It is the city where the Holy Prophet made the first mosque i.e., Masjid Quba. It contains the Prophet’s Mosque the Masjid Nabwi, where the rewards of each prayer are multiplied by a thousand. It also houses the mausoleum of the Prophet and the first two caliphs.

The author has presented a concise history of the of two cities in the light of authentic sources and supplied several maps and pictures. He describes in very intricate detail the extensions of Masjid e Nabawi since the time of the Prophet to the large-scale construction activities in the recent decades.

The History of Makkah Mukarramah begins with a discussion of the sacred nature of Makkah, the boundaries of the Haram and its sanctity. Then it discusses the superiority of Makkah and its virtues, narrating the hadith. Then it mentions the names of Makkah and their significance. The various boundaries of the Haram are described. The various Miqaat and their distances from Kabah are described in detail along with the details of the mosques at the various Miqaat. As expected, the book is devoted to the Kabah and other holy places such as Maqam-e-Ibrahim, Hajar-e-Aswad, Hateem/Hijr and Al-Multazam, Zamzarn and finally the hills of Safa and Marwah.

The History of Madinah Munawwarah begins with the virtues of Madinah and the prayers which Prophet Muhammad made for this city. There is a long chapter on the the Masjid Nabwi and its virtues with intricate details. There is an entire chapter on the extensions of the Masjid Nabwi over the last few centuries. The book also describes some of the historic wells, valleys, mountains and sites of battles.

Both the books are not purely historical (as their names may suggest), but provide an excellent starting point in this direction, enabling an integrated picture of each holy city.