The Moplah Genocide of the Malabar Hindus: Setting the Record Straight
History Vignettes

The Moplah Genocide of the Malabar Hindus: Setting the Record Straight

The first part of a series documenting the genocide of Malabar Hindus by the Moplahs

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

Preface

Of all the media houses hailing from the Palaeolithic era of Nehruvian secularism, the Indian Express still holds the distinction of being among its few surviving coroners. It has undertaken repeated rejigs to attune itself to the changing media landscape but as we noted elsewhere, legacy media will soon become extinct for a simple reason: it has replaced journalism with a nihilistic ideology. The latest rejig at the Indian Express akin to most such papers is the introduction of a curious beast known as "fact check," the latest Armani suit that clothes the same ideological dinosaur of anti-Hindu, anti-BJP, and anti-RSS rhetoric.

And so, when the Indian Express delivered a "fact check" pompously headlined Fact checking BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan: Was the Malabar rebellion a case of Jihad?, I was amused. And when I forced myself to read it in full, my intuitive surmise was confirmed: the Indian Express piece is a shoddy cut and paste job, an example of the familiar journalistic dark art where the concluding paragraph is written first and facts are tortured to fit it.

I had decided to ignore writing a rebuttal but bowing to public demand, here it is, just to set the record straight. Full list of references will be provided in the final part of this series.

Politics, not History

Right off the bat, the headline of the Indian Express is the clearest proof of its ideological nudity. One fails to understand why the paper finds it so hard to write a standalone history piece without dragging the BJP into it. One distinctly remembers a 2006 article in a Kannada newspaper written by the late Girish Karnad against a BJP minister who correctly claimed that Tipu Sultan destroyed the Kannada language and carried out appalling genocides of Hindus. It took exactly one solid rebuttal by the legendary Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa to pound Karnad and his ilk into silence.

Needless, the operative principle in all such cases is the selfsame standard Far Left template: that one should actively politicise every sphere of human life. And as we've seen elsewhere, history has been politicised to such an extent that the line separating it from politics was erased long ago.

Terminology is the Key

I won't tire of repeating what I had said in my lecture last year on this topic: the first step is to correctly call it by its real name. It is not the Moplah Rebellion, as distory books tell us. The correct name is this: The Moplah Genocide of Malabar Hindus.

Who are the Moplahs?

A few historical accounts exist regarding the origin of the term Moplah, a corruption of the Malayalam term, Mapilla. The etymology of this term can be traced to two broad strands.

According to the first, the word Mapilla is a contraction of Maha (great) and Pilla (child). The latter term, PIlla was also widely used as an honorary title typically for Nairs in the Travancore region.

According to the second, Mapilla simply means "son-in-law."

Needless, in both cases, the term eventually came to be applied almost exclusively for Muslims in the Malabar region. The origins of Muslims in Malabar are pretty hazy but they can be traced quite accurately to the eighth or ninth centuries. Two primary sources help us in this regard. The first are the indigenous manuscripts (in Malayalam) and the second, the chronicles written by the early migrant Arab families who settled there. Both accounts are largely identical except for two or three minor differences.

The differences hinge almost on just one point: the time when the first native Malayali Hindu was converted to Islam. Given what we know about the psyche of a typical Muslim historian, these accounts feverishly twist dates and geographies to submission in order to somehow "prove" that the first Hindu convert to Islam had the honour of a personal interview with Prophet Muhammad himself. Of course, this essentially meant that this poor gentleman had to travel back in time for more than a century. But then Islam has always trumped history and real dates are merely a matter of adjustment in the service of the Only True Faith.

A stunning revelation (pun unintended) that emerges from these accounts is this: not only did this Hindu convert, allegedly, a powerful chieftain, travel to Arabia and was blessed with a personal interview, the "Prophet Muhammad himself instructed him in the principles of the Fourth Vedam." As recent as the late 19th century, Islam was known as the Fourth Vedam in the Malabar region, as recorded by Muslim accounts. The other three Vedams:

  1. Heathenism or Hinduism

  2. Jewish

  3. Christian

So back to this first Hindu convert to Islam. After Prophet Muhammad instructed him in Islam, he changed his name to Thiaj-ud-din or Taj-ud-din (Crown of the Faith).

But the Arab migrants who had settled in Malabar didn't take kindly to this kind of "history" even if it showed a glowing picture of Islam. For a simple reason. They were the real deal, the pure-blooded stock. Moreover, they had incontrovertible historical proof: the aṣ-ṣaḥābah or Companions of the Prophet, that is, people who saw or were close to Muhammad. This is the definitive work in Islamic annals and this work did not mention the name of the aforementioned Taj-ud-din.

These Arab migrants had a different story. They relied on the Islamic historian and Sharia expert, Sheikh Zainuddin who gave the date of the introduction of Islam in Malabar as two hundred years after the Hijra. Which puts it roughly at 822-23 C.E. But perhaps a more reliable date is given by the Arab merchant and trader, Suleiman who actually visited Malabar around 851-52 C.E. and wrote:

I know not that there is any one of either nation (Chinese or Indian) that has embraced Muhammadanism or speaks Arabic.

The implication is clear: the Malabar region had no traces of Islam till the early or mid of the ninth century.

The other interesting fact that surfaces when we read these primary sources is this: for the longest time all the way up to the late 19th century, even Christian immigrants were called Mapillas in some regions of Kerala. William Logan, an authority on the Malabar region notes how the term Mapilla was an umbrella category that encompassed the following:

  • Muslims were known as Jonaka or Chonaka Mapillas: The etymology of Jonaka is supposedly derived from Yavanaka or Greek.

  • Christians were known as Nasrani Mapilla: The term Nasrani is derived from Nazarene, denoting people from the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. The descendants of Nasrani Mapillas are today known as Syrian Christians or Syrio-Roman Christians.

Mosque of Malik Dinar
Mosque of Malik Dinar

Then there is the famous legend of Cheranan Perumal who was suckered into converting to Islam by a bunch of Arab Muslims. However, much confusion and loose ends exist in this whole account, and his death or disappearance at a place called Shahr on the Arabian coast. Unfortunately, we have to rely only on Arabian Muslim histories in this regard. These chronicles tell us that four prominent Muslim pilgrims met Perumal and convinced him to convert to Islam. Of these, Malik-ibn-Dinar played the most important role. Apparently, Perumal's converted name was Abdul Rahman Samiri (or Samuri, the original name of Zamorin).

Sowing the Seeds

Before dying, Cheranan Perumal wrote an order which granted land for these Arab Muslims to build mosques in his territories. The first mosque was built in Perumal's capital, Kodungallur or Cranganore and Malik Dinar became its first Qazi. Malik Dinar then sent out preachers, and soon enough, the Hindu chieftain of southern Kollam (Quilon) allowed the preacher Malik-ibn-Habib to establish a mosque there. Next, it was the turn of the Chirakkal Raja who endowed land for constructing a mosque at the Chirakkal Taluk close to the palace of a Kollatiri (chieftain). Kottayam and Ernad were next.

By the end of the ninth century, a whopping nine mosques had been erected in all key trading and political centres in Malabar and the seeds for Islamic proselytisation in the Malabar region were thus sown. William Logan notes how

Malik-ibn-Dinar and his party, even with the exceptional advantages they possessed, would hardly have been able in so short a time to found and establish mosques at these places, unless the ground had been prepared beforehand for them

The same modus operandi, the same story would repeat in Malabar as had occurred in Gujarat where Hindu kings had foolishly allowed Islamic preachers and sufis to freely propagate their faith in their domains. As Sita Ram Goel and other historians note, these pious religious men acted as reconnoissance agents who were in regular touch with their royal patrons outside India.

Once settled in Malabar in this fashion, the Arabs slowly entered into matrimonial alliances with local Hindu women, and "the beginnings of a mixed race, the Mapillas, had been laid." This is also the origin of the other meaning of the term, Mapilla or son-in-law.

To be continued

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