Mappila, also known as a Mappila Muslim, formerly romanized as Moplah and historically known as Jonaka Mappila, in general, is a member of the Muslim community of the same name found predominantly in Kerala, southern India. Muslims of Kerala, of which Mappila community make up a large majority, constitute 26.56% of the population of the state (2011), and as a religious group they are the second largest group after Hindus (54.73%). Mappilas share the common language of Malayalam (Malayali) with the other religious communities of Kerala.
According to some scholars, the Mappilas are the oldest settled Muslim community in South Asia. In general, a Mappila is either a descendant of any native convert to Islam or a mixed descendant of any West Asian - Arab or non Arab - individual. Mappilas are but one among the many communities that forms the Muslim population of Kerala.
The Mappila community originated primarily as a result of the pre and post-Islamic Middle Eastern contacts with Kerala, which was fundamentally based upon commerce. As per local tradition, Islam reached Malabar Coast, of which the state is a part of, as early as the 7th century AD. The continuous interaction of the Mappilas with the merchants from the Middle East have created a profound impact on their life, customs and culture. This has resulted in the formation of an unique Middle Eastern-Islamic tradition - although within the large spectrum of Malayali culture - in literature, art, food, language, and music.
According to the 2011 census, about one-quarter of Kerala's population (26.56%) are Muslims. The number of Muslims is particularly high in the northern Kerala (former Malabar District). Mappilas are also found in the Laccadive Islands in the Arabian Sea. A small number of Malayali Muslims have settled in the southern districts of Karnataka and western parts of Tamil Nadu, while the scattered presence of the community in major cities of India can also be seen. Furthermore, a substantial proportion of Muslims have left Kerala to seek employment in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The calculated Muslim population (2011) in Kerala state is 88,73,472. The number of Muslims in rural areas is only 42,51,787, against an urban population of 46,21,685. When the British supremacy on Malabar District was established, many Mappilas were recruited for employment in plantations in Burma, Assam and for manual labor in South East Asian concerns of the British Empire. Diaspora groups of Mappilas are also found in Pakistan and Malaysia.
Up to 16th century, as noticed by the contemporary observers, Muslims settled mainly along the coastal tracts of Kerala (especially in major Kerala ports, Calicut, Cannanore and Quilon). They were traditionally rich merchants who were all part of the brisk foreign trade, which they lost to Europeans. Between 16th and 19th centuries, the Muslim distribution had gradually shifted to the interior Malabar District. Some acquired land and became land-owners and agricultural laborers. The collective Mappila numbers increased by conversion, this was chiefly among the 'outcaste' Hindu groups of the South Malabar interior as Muslim merchants turned inland in search of alternative occupations to commerce. William Logan, comparing the Census Reports of 1871 and 1881, famously concluded that within 10 years some 50,000 people from the Cheruma community have converted to Islam. From 1,70,113 in 1807, the strength of the Mappila community in Malabar District rose to 10,04,321 in 1921. Muslim growth in the 20th century has considerably outpaced that of the general Kerala population.
During the British period the so-called Mappila attacks led the officials to make and maintain a distinction between the southern (South Malabar) interior Mappilas and the 'respectable' Mappila traders of the coastal cities, such as Kozhikode (North Malabar). The two other regional groupings are the high-status Muslim families of Kannur in North Malabar - arguably converts from high caste Hindus - and the Muslims of Travancore and Cochin. The Colonial administrates also kept a distinction between coastal and inland Mappilas of the South Malabar.
Although the Muslims are far freer of caste-like distinctions than either Hindus or Christians in Kerala, some kind of - however vague it may be in the modern world - classes do exist. At the top are the Tangals, who claim descent from Prophet Muhammed (West Asian descent) Below them are Arabis, the people tracing their origin from the West Asian intermarriage with Malayali women. They are followed by the landed aristocracy, centered on Kannur, North Malabar. Lastly, there are the converts from the Backward and Scheduled Hindu castes (such as Pusalars and Ossans).
Mappilas are but one among the many communities that forms the Muslim population of Kerala. Sometimes the whole Muslim community in former Malabar District, or even in Kerala, is known by the term "Mapplla". Portuguese writer Barbosa (1515) uses the term 'Moors Mopulars' for the Muslims of Kerala. In southern Kerala Malayali Muslims are not called "Mappilas" today, with their proper names they are called with family names like Rawther, Methar, and Labbai while in northern Kerala no such family names are suffixed.
"Mappila" ("the great child", a synonym for son-in-law/bridegroom) was a respectful, and honorific title given to foreign visitors, merchants and immigrants to Malabar Coast by the native Hindus. The Muslims were referred to as Jonaka or Chonaka Mappila ("Yavanaka Mappila"), to distinguish them from the Nasrani Mappila (Saint Thomas Christians) and the Juda Mappila (Cochin Jews). These three were the dominant the trading communities of historical Kerala.
It is generally agreed among scholars that Middle Eastern merchants frequented the Malabar Coast, which was the link between the West and ports of East Asia, even before Islam had been established in Arabia. The western coast of India was the chief center of Middle Eastern trading activities right from 4th century AD and by about 7th century AD, and several West Asian merchants had taken permanent residence in some port cites of Malabar Coast. A number of foreign accounts have mentioned about the presence of considerable Muslim population in the Kerala coastal towns.
The West Coast of India was known as "Malabar" (a mixture of Tamil word Malai and Arabic word Barr, most probably) to the West Asians. Persian scholar Al-Biruni (973-1052 AD) appears to have been the first to call the region by this name. Authors such as Ibn Khurdadbeh (869 - 885 AD), and Abu Zayd of Zirag (916 AD), and Ahmad al Baladhuri (892 AD) mentions Malabar ports in their works. The earliest major epigraphic evidence of Muslim merchants in Kerala is the Tarisappalli Copper Plates (c. 849 AD). The attestation to the copper plates in the Kufic script reads: "And witness to this Maimun ibn Ibrahim and witness Muhammad ibn Main and witness Salih ibn Ali and witness 'Uthman ibn Ali Marziban and witness Muhammad ibn Yahya and witness Amr ibn Ibrahim and witness Ibrahim ibn al-Tayyi and witness Bakr ibn Mansur and witness al-Qasim ibn Hamid and witness Mansur ibn Isa and witness Ismail ibn Yaqub". Muslim tombstones with ancient dates, short inscriptions in medieval mosques, and rare Arab coin collections are the remaining sources of early Muslim presence on the Malabar Coast.
According to the Cheraman Perumal tradition, the first Indian mosque was built in 624 AD at Kodungallur with written consent of the last the ruler (the Cheraman Perumal) of Chera dynasty, who converted to Islam during the lifetime of Muhammad (c. 570-632). Perumal's proselytisers, led by Malik b. Dinar, established a series of mosques in his kingdom, thus facilitating the expansion of Islam in Kerala. Mosques were constructed at Kodungallur (Cranganore), Kollam (Quilon), Pandalayini Kollam, Chaliam, Dharmadom, Sreekandapuram, Ezhimala, Kasaragode, Mangalore and Pakanur. While there is no concrete historical evidence for this tradition, there can be little doubt of the early Muslim presence, and of the religious tolerance based on economic interests, on the Malabar Coast. Some historians assume that the Mappilas can be considered as the first native, and settled Islamic community in South Asia.
Traveler Ibn Batuta (14th century) has recorded the considerably huge presence of West Asian merchants and settlements of sojourning traders in most of the ports of Kerala. The West Asian Muslim navigators and Kerala Muslim mercantile community went through a long period of peaceful intercultural growth till the arrival of the Portuguese explorers. Immigration, intermarriage and missionary activity - secured by the common interest in the spice trade - helped in this development. The monopoly of overseas spice trade with Malabar Coast was safe with the Middle Eastern merchants. Fortunes of these merchants depended on the political patronage of the chiefs (Zamorin, Malayalam "Samoothiri") of Calicut, the most powerful monarch in Kerala, and Cannanore (Kannur, Malayalam "Kolathiri"). The West Asian Muslims controlled the western arm of the overseas long-distance trade (to the ports of the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf) from the Malabar Coast. The native Muslims dominated the trade to Pegu, Mergui, Melaka and points east, and the Indian coastal trade (Canara, Malabar, Ceylon and Coromandel, and Bay of Bengal shores) with the Chettis from Coromandel. Muslims, and Banias from Gujarat took part in the trade with ports in Gujarat.
Initially, Portuguese traders were successful in reaching in agreements with the local chiefs and Muslim magnates in Kerala, but soon, open confrontations between them and the Muslim-lead navy of the Zamorin of Calicut became a common occurrence. Portuguese Armada tried to establish monopoly in spice trade, often using violent warfare. Whenever a formal war was broke out between the Portuguese and the Calicut rulers, the Portuguese attacked and plundered, as the opportunity offered, the Muslim ports in Kerala. The relentless battles lead to the eventual decline of the community, as they lost control of the lucrative spice trade. This was accompanied by the gradual exit of Middle Eastern merchants from Kerala. The Kerala Muslims - who had been prevented from becoming landowners by the Kerala system of land tenure and depended solely on commerce - were reduced into severe economic perplexity. Some Muslim traders turned inland (South Malabar) in search of alternate occupations to commerce. The Muslims of Kerala gradually became a society of small traders, landless laborers and poor fishermen. The once affluent Muslim population became predominantly rural in Kerala.
Kingdom of Mysore, ruled by Muslim sultan Hyder Ali, invaded and occupied northern Kerala in the late-18th century. In the following Mysore rule of Malabar, Muslims were favored against the high caste Hindu landlords of the region. Most notable advantage for the community during this time is the grant of customary rights for the Muslim tenants over their land. The Mappilas were also able to obtain some administrative positions. However, such measures of the Muslim rulers widened the communal imbalance of Malabar and the British colonial forces - taking advantage of the situation - allied with the Hindu high caste communities to fight against the Mysore regime. The British subsequently won the Anglo-Mysore War against Tipu Sultan and, consequently, Malabar was organised as a district under Madras Presidency. The British repaid landlord communities with a slew of measures: the first one being the abolishing of tenant rights over land.
The discriminatory land tenure system - tracing its origins to pre modern Kerala - gave Muslims of Kerala and other tenants and laborers no access to land ownership. The partisan rule of British authorities brought the Mappila peasants of Malabar into a condition of destitution which led to a series of uprisings against the high caste landlords and British (the Mappila Outbreaks, c. 1836-1921) and in 1921-22; it took in the form of an violent explosion known as Mappila Uprising (Malabar Rebellion). The uprising - which began as a nationalistic movement - was brutally suppressed by the colonial government, leaving the Muslim community in further despair, poverty and illiteracy.
The Muslim material strength - along with modern education, theological reform, and active participation in democratic process - recovered slowly after the 1921-22 Uprising. The Mappila literacy rate was only 5% in 1931. The Mappila numbers in state and central government posts remained staggeringly low.
The community was able to produce a number of high-regarded advocates such as Muhammed Abdurrahiman Sahib and E. Moidu Moulavi, and most crucially, the inspirational K. M. Seethi Sahib (1898-1960). Although the Muslim League faded into memory in the rest of India, it remained a serious political force in the state of Kerala with leaders such as Syed Abdurrahiman Bafaki Tangal, P. M. S. A. Pukkoya Tangal, and C. H. Muhammed Koya. K. O. Ayesha Bai, a member of Muslim community, the first Muslim women to rise to public fame in modern Kerala, became the Deputy Speaker of the Communist Kerala Assembly in 1957. Ever since in the Independence from the British in 1947, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Malabar District have supported the Muslim League. In south Kerala, the community generally supported Indian National Congress and in the north a small proportion vote Communist. Politically, the Muslims in Kerala have exhibited more unanimity than any other major communities in modern Kerala.
Mappila theological and social reform, initially influenced by the Egyptian reform of Muhammed Abduh and Rashid Rida, and to some degree by the ideas of Djamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammed b. Abd al-Wahhab - was initiated in South Kerala by Wakkom Maulavi (1873-1932). Notable reformers such as K. M. Seethi Sahib, Khatib Muhammad Maulavi (1886-1964), E. K. Maulavi and M. K. Haji carried his work forward to the modern age. C. O. T. Kunyipakki Sahib, Maulavi Abussabah Ahmedali (died 1971), K. A. Jaleel and, K. O. Ayesha Bai were other prominent social reformers of the 20th century. An organization known as the Muslim Educational Society (MES), founded in 1964 by P. K. Abdul Ghafoor and friends, also played a role in the development of the community. Aikya Sankham (founded in 1922) and Farook College (founded 1948) also promoted the higher education among the Muslims.
A large number of Muslims of Kerala found extensive employment in the Persian Gulf countries in the following years. This widespread participation in the Gulf Rush produced huge economic and social benefits for the community. Great influx funds from the earnings of Mappilas employed followed. Issues such as widespread poverty, unemployment and educational backwardness began to change. The Mappila community is now considered as section of Indian Muslims marked by recovery, change and positive involvement in the modern world. Mappila women are now not reluctant to join professional vocations and assuming leadership roles. As per the latest government data, female literacy rate in Malappuram District, center of Mappila distribution, stood at 91.55 % (2011 Census).Lulu Group chairman M. A. Yusuf Ali, 19th richest man in India, is the richest Malayali, according to the Forbes magazine (2018).Azad Moopen, chairman of the Dubai-headquartered Aster DM Healthcare, is another major Muslim entrepreneur from Kerala.
Most of the Muslims of Kerala follow the traditional Sh?fi school of religious law (known in Kerala as the traditionalist Sunnis) while a large minority follow movements that developed within Sunni Islam. The latter section consists of majority Salafists (the Mudjahids) and the minority Islamists (the Jama'at-i-Islam). The Sunnis referred here are identified by their conventional beliefs and practices and adherence to the Sh?fi madhhab, while the other theological orientations, of which the Salafist Mudjahids constitute a large majority, are seen as reform movements within the Sunni Islam. Both the Sunnis and Mudjahids again have been divided to complex sub-identities.
As the modern Mappila literature developed after the 1921-22 Uprising, religious publications dominated the field.
Mappila Songs/Poems is a famous folklore tradition emerged in c. 16th century. The ballads are compiled in complex blend of Dravidian Malayalam/Tamil and Arabic, Persian/Urdu in a modified Arabic script. Mappila songs have a distinct cultural identity, as they sound a mix of the ethos and culture of Dravidian South India as well as West Asia. They deal with themes such as religion, romance, politics, satire and heroism. Moyinkutty Vaidyar (1875-91) is generally considered as the poet laureate of Mappila Songs.
Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (1910 - 1994) , followed by, U. A. Khader, K. T. Muhammed, N. P. Muhammed and Moidu Padiyath are leading Mappila authors of the modern age. Mappila periodical literature and newspaper dailies - all in Malayalam - are also extensive and critically read among the Muslims. The newspaper known as "Chandrika", founded in 1934, played as significant role in the development of the Mappila community.