Working paper / Reformist Writing in Islam in 19th-Century Kerala

Ashraf, Muhammed Niyas. ‘Islamic Reformism and Malayali Ummah in Nineteenth-Century Colonial Kerala, South West Indian Ocean’. SASNET Publications. Lund: SASNET – Swedish South Asian Studies Network, 2020.

Abstract (edited): This paper offers a social history of the relationship between Islamic reform and Malayali Muslims in the context of colonial Kerala. Kerala Muslims are one of the largest Muslim communities in India, and a majority are the descendants of Arab traders and local women, or of local converts known as Mappilas.

This article relates the reformist agenda in the writings of Sayyid Sana’ullah Makti Tannal (1847-1912), who argued for a reinterpretation of Islamic principle based on scriptural purity and return to pristine Islam. Makti Tannal believed direct access to, and proper understanding of, the Quran and the Hadith would distance Muslims from accretions to Islam that he thought of as impure. Invoking the distinction of ‘haramand halal’ as the cornerstone of Islamic law, he argued against the legitimacy of un-Islamic elements of popular Islam.

These efforts took place in late nineteenth-century Kerala, and had a huge impact on the socio-religious landscape, particularly on the inevitability and imminence of Islamic reform in the colonial era. Furthermore, this paper highlights how Makti advocated textually defined Islamic codes of practice to safeguard ‘Muslimness’ and shape a new vision of a moral community for Malayali Muslims.

Reposted from Kerala Scholars eGroup

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