Tuhfat al-Mujahidin (translated from Arabic by S. Muhammad Husayn Nainar)
By Shaykh Zainuddin Makhdum
Published by: Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur (www.ibtbooks.com) & Other Books, Calicut (otherbooks@ post.com)
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.