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Muslim Leadership with Sectarian Obsessions: Can Keralite Islam Go Beyond Its Century-long Fences?

By Mahmood Kooria

What was happening in Keralite Muslim public sphere while the Assam riots and Mumbai violence occurred in July – August 2012? The answer is very simple: it was continuing its unyielding sectarian debates with new turns and causes. The only exception, rather coincidence, was that the accused prisoners of second Marad communal riots of 2003 were sentenced by the High Court of Kerala for life-time imprisonment of sixty-two and life-term for twenty-four years. They had all been acquitted by the trail court in 2009.[i] The riots at Marad were a series of clashes between Muslims and Hindus causing the death of around ten lives on both sides. It started in January 2002 by way of scuffles between two groups over drinking-water at a public tap. It led to the death of three Hindus and two Muslims. Consequently, in May 2003, eight Hindus and one Muslim were massacred through planned violence. The coastal region of Marad was gradually turned into a communally-tense area, leading to massive police-arrests of Muslims and compelling Muslims to leave the region to secure their lives. After decade-long judicial procedures, in August 2012, the High Court of Kerala came up with judgements – just five days after the Mumbai violence of Muslims in response to the Assam riots.

Leaving this accidental case aside, the religious public sphere of Kerala was continuing its aggressive sectarian debates dividing Muslims into sects and groups. This time it centred on a lock of hair that a cleric, Kanthapuram AP Abubakr Musliyar, claimed to belong to Prophet Muhammad and he proposed building the largest mosque in India to preserve this ‘holy relic’. But, soon after his declaration, another religious leader Dr. Bahauddhin Muhammad Nadwi came up with a strong opposition indicating that Musliyar was cheating the Muslim public with fake-relics, and that the hair-lock didn’t actually belong to Prophet Muhammad.[ii] Nadwi was supported by the Jama’at-i-Islami Kerala and Kerala Nadwathul Mujahidin – the Wahhabi Movement, against Musliyar.[iii] Subsequently, the followers of each leader attached to certain organizations, organized massive public meetings, speeches, talks, and ‘abusive’ challenges substantiating their claims and opposing the counter-arguments.[iv] Later on, Abubakar Musliyar organized a journey from one end of Kerala to another in order to strengthen his organizational structure, which was followed by a counter-journey by Dr. Nadwi’s group expounding against Musliyar. Almost all newspapers, television channels, and social network sites were filled with sectarian comments, statements, supportive and opposing arguments along with satirical articulations.

While looking from the outside, it may appear as a comic drama – tangled with angry stunts and fights; something that could be read along the framework of The Great Debaters (directed by Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey), replacing its political contents with the religious one! But, that is the scenario of Keralite Islam for almost last one century. The religious clergies debate with each other very ferociously on a number of different theological, juridical, spiritualistic, materialistic, and political aspects. They debate whether or not the Friday sermons (khutba) has to be translated into local language, the loudspeaker could be used for that, the counts of non-obligatory prayers (tarawih) during the month of Ramzan, the Prophet Muhammad could be praised by reciting certain works (mawlid), the dead persons could be memorialized or not, the graveyards can be visited (qabar-ziyarat), the women can go to mosque, so on and so forth.

This ‘tradition’ of stern debates in Keralite Islam mainly emerged after the oppression of Mappila Muslims by the British colonial government during a series of Malabar Rebellions which culminated in 1921-22. The community’s involvement with wider social and political issues prior to 1920s was thence completely thwarted by the colonial repression of its leaders, movements, religious collectives, and societal consciousness. The massive killing, imprisonment or expatriation of many such leaders who addressed wider anxieties consequently forced the community to shrink inward into its internal religious and theological fences.[v] Based on various theological strands, numerous individual organizations emerged in the region which could be identified as Sunnis, Mujahids/Wahabis, Jama’ath-i-Islami, Tabligh Jamaa’th, so on and so forth. Through this, Keralite Islam started its ‘organizational factionalism’[vi] debating over many of the aforementioned issues. Around 1990s, this deep-rooted organizational factionalism took different curves and turns entangled with such political, social, and economic issues as the demolition of Babari Masjid, immense migrations to the Gulf countries, and advancement of new diminutive factions again with theological overtones. They always engaged each other, quarrelling around certain minute issues, and it still continues. As we see, this time it is about a lock of hair.

I am not underestimating such religious debates. But what is striking to me is: beyond such theological debates, the social issues or everyday problems of Muslim commons are not at all a matter of concern for these religious clerics.[vii] Even now, while the Muslim community in Kerala continues to be economically and educationally backward, they never engage with such grassroots issues. While Muslim religious organizations are some of the biggest and richest institutions in Kerala, they never spend their money for the empowerment of the sect they claim to stand for, and never address their difficulties.

Between these kinds of internal struggles, I don’t think the religious leaders ever got time to think about Muslims and Islam seems to stand external to their power-locus – mainly in northern Kerala (Malabar) where the larger population of Muslims are concentrated. Thus, such issues related to larger Indian Muslims as riots or its consequences mostly never become a matter of discourse or of concern to the Keralite Islamic public sphere led by these religious authorities, barring the intermittent journalistic notes or descriptive articles published in newspapers and magazines, including many run by them. The well-known cultural and social activist of Kerala, Civic Chandran has written about this: while many homeless refugee-weavers came to Calicut in 2002, following the Gujarat riots, seeking livelihoods by selling their products, none of the Muslim organizations or Muslim leaders paid attention to them. He says, if the mosques of Calicut would have bought their products at least to use as doormats, these refugees would have survived with their livelihoods.[viii] This is the best exemplification of Keralite Muslims’ attitude towards the issues of larger Islamic/Muslim concerns in the Indian subcontinent and beyond. At the same time, they boast of their religious awareness and advancements compared to other parts of India.

Kerala Islam continues to be a ‘defensive Islam’ for the last one century, each group defending themselves against their opponents. They pathetically fail to promote ‘constructive or creative Islam’. Whoever endeavours to do that has to come out of the rigid communitarian frameworks outlined by clergies. I am not putting a blanket generalization. There are certain very productive groups and organizations, but their activities are limited and constrained due to the powerful structures of the aforesaid religious organizations. The activities of a Muslim political organization, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) with its stronghold in Kerala, are worth mentioning, especially their response to the riots. They collected funds, clothes and other materials from its followers to help the refugees in Assam. But, it was reported that many of the clothes collected and sent to Assam by IUML were second-hand and torn, which appeared to be a deliberate insult to the refugees. When the media-reports came out, the IUML leaders had to apologize publicly.

Such a religious and political leadership is leading Kerala Muslims, leaders who are not at all aware of their co-religionists, despite their claim that they are much concerned about them. The question that intrigues us is whether this collective of religious and political leadership can engage with the everyday lives of a community, and whether they will ever come out of their unnecessary sectarian debates and theological mania to make the religion more creative and productive for the wellbeing of society.

While Filippo Osella and Caroline Osella, two prominent scholars who have worked on Kerala Muslims, write about the sociological aspects of Keralite Muslims, what they consciously or unconsciously fail to address is the societal consequences of this sectarian rigidity within the Muslim community and, instead, they mark it vaguely as part of the ‘reformist enthusiasm’ against ‘traditionalism’.[ix] Further, while the historical and sociological studies have to address such questions academically, the community-representatives, who engage in activism, have to think about some paradigm shifts that can generate a much more creative Islam and a productive community.

[Mahmood Kooria, doctoral candidate at Leiden University, The Netherlands, has authored various books on South Indian popular cultures. Abu, Son of Adam: Space and Time in Visual Visions (Mathrubhumi Books, Calicut) is his latest work. He can be reached at]


[2] Abdussamad Vaniyambalam, 2012. Thirukesa Vivadam: Oru Postmortem Report (Malayalam). Darul Huda Students Union Press, Chemmad.

[3] See the contributions to KT Husain, ed 2012. Thirukesam: Thettum Shariyum (Malayalam). Vachanam Books, Calicut.

[4] A journalistic report on the debates has been prepared by Joanna Sugden, 2012. ‘India mosque hit by Holy Hair row’. In The Wall Street Journal. – accessed on 20 January, 2013.

[5] Mahmood Kooria, 2011. South Indian Muslims’ attitudes towards the formation of Pakistan. Unpublished Masters’ Dissertation. Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, pp. 34-38

[6] I am indebted to Abdul Rahoof Ottatthingal for this term and concept which he will elaborate more in his working doctoral thesis at Centre for Studies in Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

[7] Rafeek Thiruvallur, 2011. ‘Iniyum thelinjittiallatha Muslim samudayam: Aathmavicinthanatthinte churukkezhuthu’ (Malayalam). In Religion in Visual Language: Recent Islamic Trends in Kerala’s Public Sphere, ed. Mahmood Kooria. Islamic Sahitya Academy, Calicut, pp. 135-137

[8] Civic Chandran, 2011. ‘Mathatthinum mathetharathwatthinumidayile Muslim: Madhyamangalil ninnulla paddhangal’. In Religion in Visual Language: Recent Islamic Trends in Kerala’s Public Sphere, ed. Mahmood Kooria. Islamic Sahitya Academy, Calicut, p. 115.

[9] Among their copious studies on Keralite Islam and Muslims, see for example: Filippo Osella and Caroline Osella, 2008. ‘Islamism and Social Reform in Kerala, South India’. Modern Asian Studies, 42, pp. 317-346

27 Comments Post a comment
  1. Talal Asad #

    Dear scholar,
    It provides an interesting read. I would like to know what you think those Mullas in Kerala should do beyond what they are doing right now.

    Do you think that if they are taking up issues like the hanging of Bombay terror attacker Kasab or Parliament attacker Afsal Guru they will come out of the defensive Islam and become progressive and offensive enough? as defensive Islam is problematic

    By the way, why are you thinking that those Musliyars should do something beyond their own understanding or better say scope.

    For example, If I am asking you to go to people in the Netherlands and preach Islam would you go for that?

    Don’t you think that you are criticizing both the Mullas in Kerala just for the sake of criticizing as it is legitimate for Aboobacker to bring in a holy relic to Kerala and build a Mosque to preserve it?
    Isn’t the Dr Mulla also performing his duty, for his doubts in the authenticity of the relic makes him questioning the same?

    What is your conviction regarding the role of religion in public issues? Do you want the peaceful Muslim community in Kerala to take up arms against all perceived injustices done against few members of the community?

    Why don’t you give up hopes in religious solutions and look at issues in a more humanistic way?

    February 16, 2013
    • Dear Talal Asad,

      Many thanks for your comments. As you ask about what I think ‘those Mullas in Kerala should do beyond what they are doing right now’, I would like to drag your attention to two sentences from my article: ‘ I am not underestimating such religious debates. But what is striking to me is: beyond such theological debates, the social issues or everyday problems of Muslim commons are not at all a matter of concern for these religious clerics.’ And, these clerics are leading some organizations which are the most richest private organizations in Kerala.

      Question: How they became so rich? Answer: From the monthly and annual obligatory payments of its supporters. Q: How do they spend their money? A: They build huge skyscrapers in different parts of Kerala. Q: Why they are building it? A: I don’t know, and I don’t think they also know!

      Now they are ‘investing’ huge amounts to run daily newspapers. Kerala already has around 20 daily newspapers . Even then, why each organization spends too much to print newspapers on daily basis? Is it only to be part of this huge ‘information exchange’? Each of this has its own rationale.

      But, as an insider of Kerala Islam for last two decades, I see some other crucial problems. The common people are starving for their livelihood in many parts. Even now, if someone comes with a charity-hand, there are numerous Muslims struggling to get it. Why don’t these organizations spend their money to address such issues of food and shelter within their community which they claim as they stand for.

      So, while I contextualize Kerala Islam in the broader frameworks of issues related to Mumbai and Assam (or Afsal Guru or Kasab issues), what I tried to articulate is that these religious leaders are not at all concerned about their own community, despite of the riotous issues related to the ‘Indian Muslims’ or ‘world Muslims’ unless it is too harmful for their own invested interests. I won’t say that they will be progressive (and offensive?!) if they take up the issues of Afsal Guru or Kasab. But, I would say, they will be progressive enough if they take up the issues of their own community starving for their daily livelihood.

      And, the question: why do I think that ‘those Musliyars should do something beyond their own understanding or better say scope’? As I said above, those Musliyars are ‘owners’ of billions of amounts which they collected from their own people. They have a capacity and even responsibility to do such philanthropic activities, which are up to the religious guidelines of Prophet Muhammad as they always propagate. But, they never did that. On the other hand, consider the pathetic social and economic conditions of their own community. So, I think (and I must think as an insider of this community) they should go beyond what they are doing right now.

      I agree with you that both Aboobakar Musliyar and Dr. Nadwi are doing their duties. But, simply consider the fact that Musliyar declared he will build a mosque for this relic with a budget of 400 million Indian Rupees. I just daydream that at least if he would have spend a small amount of that money to two of his supporters in my locality (in Kerala) who are struggling for a home for last 10 years. My mother is always so worried about their pathetic life, as they always have to move from one rented house to another, and usually they struggle for monthly rent-payments. As 90 per cent of Muslims in my locality follow the opponent organization of Musliyar, they are not ready to help these two homeless people.

      I don’t know whether or not you understand it. Due to rigorous sectarian intoxication among the followers, the community as a whole itself has been divided and divided. They won’t marry from one group to the other. They won’t help each other. Sometimes, they won’t even say greetings (or ‘salam’ in Islamic terms) when they meet each other. At the same time, they are spending too much of their time to promote and argue for their organizations against or with the opponents. That is what I call ‘defensive Islam’. They will be very much progressive at least if they stop this and do something that helps their co-coreligionists or the society as a whole.

      Terrorism, extremism etc. as solutions to these problems are your mere imaginations. I never suggested that. I won’t do it. My question is to you then: whenever someone criticize the ‘useless peaceful’ debates within Islam and argue for being progressive, why do you take it as offensive and terrorist? Do you simply rely yourself in this old binary-opposites? Do you think that if they avoid the religious defensive debates, they will end up in terrorism?

      At least for me, it doesn’t mean that being ‘progressive’ is being terrorist. 🙂

      February 17, 2013
      • Mohammed Al Najjashi #

        Perosnal is political, right? After your reply to Talal Asad, one of my doubts became certain: this piece is a variety of what he terms as ”organizational factionalism”- may be dressed in a supposedly academic jargon.. Don’t you think so?

        February 17, 2013
  2. Shamseer #

    Naked truth, really an eye opener. I am sure you have some solutions to get out from this, could you?(!)

    February 16, 2013
    • Dear Shamseer, would you refer to my comment to Talal Asad in which I suggest some solutions? But, solutions are always relative. Isn’t it?

      February 17, 2013
  3. Fazal Mohamed KERALA #

    totally disagree with this author..
    1. .it will be a disaster for Kerala Muslims to be a part of the ‘Pan-Indian’ Muslim identity being spread by North Indian Muslims based on their sense of ”victim hood of Muslims”.
    It is utterly foolish to argue tht Kerala Muslims should respond emotionally to each and every communal riots happening in North India..bcoz, North Indian Muslims’ Historical trajectories, Culture, Politics etc have NOTHING in Common with Kerala Muslims.

    There are People like this author, (and Organisations like SDPI, Jamaat) who wants Kerala Muslims to share sum part of the ‘communalised victimhood mentality’ of North Indian Muslims though Kerala Muslims have been living so happily & safely in Kerala…

    2. And vibrant intra -community debates indicates that this Muslim community lives in a very amicable habitat with a high degree of security feeling and prosperity.

    So, Mr.Kooria, pleaz don’t try to tie Kerala muslims to you islamists’ North Indian Muslim identity based upon images of Riots and Victim hood.

    Let Us live Happily in our beautiful homeland Kerala with our beautiful Hindu brethren….
    And, Stay Away From Our Paradise, You Sick Islamists….

    February 16, 2013
    • Mahmood Kooria #

      Dear Fazal Mohamed.

      You totally misread and misunderstood the whole content of my article, and you have responded in a way that mostly the Muslims respond to issues related to their religion. 😛

      I never said that the Kerala Muslims should react to such issues with a sense of victimization. I didn’t even say that how they should deal with such issues. What I said in total is that, the dominance of religious clerical debates over the Muslims of Kerala should be ended. The religious and political leaders who represent this community should come up with much more constructive and productive methods.

      If you didn’t get that message from the article, please read it again. I will be happy to respond to you then.

      February 17, 2013
  4. mujeeb.B #

    Very pessimistic views. You are considering only a ‘holy relic’ issue that makes more nit picking discourses among some orthodox religious groups in Malabar aria. What about you Muslims are living in southern part of Kerala ? Kollam is the second largest Muslim populated southern district in kerala after Malappuram which is in the north. Muslims are living in south are highly educated and not interested in these kinds of humble matters. what about you Jamaate-i-slami, at first very orthodox now dealing with most of the Muslim general issues and operating the third largest news paper in kerala and launched a news channel before one week. And what about Thableeg jamaa, a silent puritanical group teaching some religious practices to whom those are utterly ignorant. And Dakshina kerala jamiyathul ulama a south based cleric group comparably progressive. Apart from these, Kerala Muslims’ status and progress is widely approved of all sociologists and scholars all over the country. And they started several schools, colleges and hospitals in other states like Asam, kashmeer,U.P and so one. Aforementioned kanthapuram A.P aboobacker Musliyar is also giving food,accommodation and education to more than three thousand Kashmeeri orphans in his institutions. Your argument is true about only some vahhabi groups and they are fighting with each other on some simple matters. Muslim league is also not so well in their performance and also facing more scandals and corruption allegations. In short we can not say this is a research article. This is only an emotionally written essay.

    February 17, 2013
    • Abdul Jaleel #

      Two-thirds of Kerala Muslims are in Malabar. The percentage of religious Muslims are more in Malabar than Travancore and Kochi. Definitely some minor difficulties are there to be religious in Muslim minority places. In Kollam there are some religious places like Karunagappally; at the same time there are many Muslims in the same district in places such as Chadayamangalam and Punalur who have no connection or knowledge about Islam. Another misconception of Mr. Mujeeb is that only or all South Kerala Muslims are highly educated. Mujeeb might have written this without visiting Malabar in last 10 years.

      April 25, 2013
  5. This article has serious missings.
    I do agree with fact that debate between Muslim factions is a matter of concern in Kerala public sphere. But is only one of the features of Kerala Muslim domain. It should be dealt in comparison with the progress the Muslim community gained through decades.
    The Keralite Muslim sphere is one of the most active Muslim spheres in the world. Starting from education we can see this. Muslims in Kerala have done their markings in politics, education, media, social work and so. The primary religious education system in Kerala is unparalleled as we can see more than 10,000 primary religious schools spread across state where the Muslim parents educate their kids Islamically while they don’t miss secular schools for general studies.
    Five Muslim-managed newspapers are published daily in Kerala, sixth one expected next year. Two visual media, tens of monthly, weekly and fortnightly publications, hundreds of scholarly publications, hundreds of higher institutions of religious and secular education are also to be marked.
    Dr. Bahauddin Nadwi and Kathapuram AP Aboobacker Musliyar mentioned in the article they themselves lead their own network of religious and progressive education throughout the state and have started institutions outside Kerala as well.
    Kerailte Muslims are the most politically aware and active in the whole India. There are numerous organizations in the Muslim domain that works for humanitarian cause. Don’t depict the debate industry as the only face of Kerala Islam ignoring the all other accomplishments of the Muslim society in Kerala.
    Further, the theological activism among the Kerala Muslim factions can be viewed as scholarly eminence of those scholars as they are debating many issues of theological importance although there are some undesirable aspects, the way they are conducted.

    February 17, 2013
  6. Umesh Omanakuttan #


    I would like re-post part of one question to you by Tala Asad
    “What is your conviction regarding the role of religion in public issues?”

    Why do you think religion should play a role in the kerala Public? Why can’t all religion keep to themselves as a matter of private affair?

    What about fight among muslim groups fight as a fight among the elite among different groups and their interests( Political and economical)?

    February 17, 2013
    • Mahmood Kooria #

      Dear Umesh,

      Personally I don’t think religion should play a role in a multicultural society like Kerala. The terms I used in this article are: ‘Keralite Muslim public sphere’, ‘Islamic public sphere’, and more generally ‘religious public sphere’ — this needs special attention. The Habermasian concept of bourgeoisie public sphere has been questioned in last three-four decades. Consequent to that, I believe in multiplicity of public spheres. Layers of public spheres that interconnectedly zoom out and zoom in. Religion, culture, politics, economy, etc. formulate their own public spheres either connected or disconnected to a wider public space . I have incorporated that concept partially here. Thus, I don’t think the aspects and characteristics of one particular sphere will/should affect in the other unless there is any pressing situations. Am I clear in this point?

      February 18, 2013
  7. Filippo Osella #

    Dear Mahmood,
    I read your intervention with great interest and hope to meet you in person some time soon. You are right in pointing out the shortcomings of my own published research, and adding to that I acknowledge that what I present is very much a Kozhikode [urban & middle class] perspective on the debates and practices that animate the lives of Kerala Muslims.

    You are right, I believe, to underscore the parochialism or regionalism of various Kerala-based religious/political organizations, but perhaps one can extend your insights to political and social movements in Kerala as a whole, across different communities and castes. Likewise, one could argue that sectarian splits and acrimonious debates are the hallmark of Kerala political and religious lives [one can think here, for instance, about the factionalism and splits within the Congress Party]. However, robust as these debates might be, they seldom lead to episodes of outright violence as we have become accustomed elsewhere in South Asia.

    So, I am not that convinced by arguments that draw on some sort of ‘muslim exceptionalism’, whilst what I call ‘regionalism’ might be seen as a feature of South Indian politics at large. As an external observer I am struck by the fact that people in Kerala are at times more concerned with political and economic events in the Gulf countries of West asia, as they might be of political events taking place in Delhi. Obviously this is an over-simplification of complex socio-historical processes, and yet arguably the outcome of this regionalism has been a different response to – rather than lack of concern about- episodes of violence against Muslims that have taken place in the last 30 years elsewhere in India [see eg the destruction of the Babri Masjid]. I think it would be wrong here to posit or celebrate some sort of ‘communal harmony’ as a defining feature of Kerala as Varshney has done; Kerala everyday life is highly communalized and there is oft very little interaction [and good will] between communities. And yet, the history and demographics of the state lead to different political outcomes.

    To cut it short, debates taking place amongst and between different Muslim organizations arch back to wider – and long term – discussions and differences within Muslim communities around the world, whilst remaining embedded in the specificities of the political and social environment of Kerala. One must be careful here, though, not to reduce Kerala Muslims’ political and social lives to the unfolding of debates concerning what Islam is or should be.

    February 17, 2013
    • Mahmood Kooria #

      Dear Filippo,

      Very many thanks for your insightful comments. I agree with your idea of ‘regionalism’ and an absence of ‘Muslim exceptionalism’ to certain extents. You are right, Kerala Muslims are very much part of their contemporary social and political situations in which sectarian splits and debates are very much dominant and common. Of course, I won’t ‘reduce Kerala Muslims’ political and social lives to the unfolding of debates concerning what Islam is or should be’ — as much as I won’t take a stand in the the well-debated ideas about universalist scripturalist Islam against the folk local Islam (Francis Robinson, Veena Das, et. al. in Contributions to Indian Sociology, 1984).

      But what strikes me at this moment is the deep social divisions among the Keraa Muslims –which is really exceptional. I will tell you how exceptional it is with an example of marriage. You refer Congress factions in Kerala. But, as far as I know, they will marry each other if they don’t have any other problems. But, in present-day Malabar, usually an ardent follower of AP-Sunni would not marry from an EK-Sunni family (I have partially referred to this in my reply to Talal Asad). Both AP-Sunnis and EK-Sunnis won’t marry from Jamaat and Mujahid families, except in certain exceptional cases. So, isn’t this exceptional? The same goes with their societal feeling, communitarian concerns, etc. What I raised about your studies is these kinds of aspects; the societal consequences of sectarian rigidity dividing them as either different classes, or even as different castes. I feel like terming this social condition as ‘neo-caste system in Keralite Islam’ or as ‘Muslim organizational casteism’.

      You are absolutely right with your this statement: ‘Kerala everyday life is highly communalized’. I liked it very much.

      By the way, I do remember meeting you in my early teenages, and I had your visiting card for years! Isn’t it surprising? 😀 However, hopefully we will meet again soon.

      February 18, 2013
  8. Abdul Hakkeem. #

    For someone who’s been living around the conditions and circumstances the author has mentioned for the last couple of decades, I can’t help but to agree with what he he did put.
    Even as a lot has been described and penned about Kerala Muslims, as they’re well aware, enlightened and awakened, the escalating feuds and fracas of factionalism did them in in the recent time at least.
    As the author, my old friend rather, rightly pointed out, it’s high time that the leaders who’ve the so called grip and commanding power on their followers gave up sectarian thoughts and stayed collectively for a common cause. As for Kerala Muslim Community, barely a day does pass with out the news of break up, new formation of groups, factional feuds to name a few.

    But if the present indications are anything to go by, the situation is gonna be worse and even in the distant future, no one can hope for a paradigm shift, at least containing the make-shift speeches & revelations at ” so called crowd pullers @ Junctions” where nothing but mere derogatory remarks and Takbeers-which actually meant for saying when something pleasant happens- from an excited followers.

    Sorry to end up on a pessimistic note.But that’s something we’d to admit sooner or later.

    February 17, 2013
  9. Aneesa Ashraf #

    Kooria’s piece is written assuming that Muslim organizations in Kerala were busy (and by that they should be busy) with aggressive sectarian debates dividing Muslims into sects and groups when riots and violence against Muslims occur(ed). But, its very much clear from another piece published in this issue of Cafe Dissensus ( – an interview with Dr. Abdul Hakeem Azhari and N. Ali Abdulla, both represent the Muslim sect led by Kanthapuram Aboobacker Musliyar who according to Kooria was busy with building the largest mosque in India to preserve ‘holy relic’) that Kooria’s assumptions are not just wrong, but are misleading as well.

    Kooria starts writing this journalistic piece ( though his attempt was to write an academic study as its obvious from the form and structure he had followed in the article, though he fails to do that because of his own ‘obsessions’ and ‘fences’) by asking a very rhetorical question; ‘what was happening in Keralite Muslim public sphere while the Assam riots and Mumbai violence occurred in July – August 2012?’. His answer to that was ‘very simple, (Keralite Muslim public sphere) was continuing its unyielding sectarian debates with new turns and causes’.

    Kooria’s use of the term Keralaite Muslim public sphere itself contradicts to the argument he tries to put forward; how can one describe a community, which according to Kooria is obsessed with ‘deep-rooted organizational factionalism’ and because of that ‘take different curves and turns entangled with political, social, and economic issues’ and ‘quarrel (even) around certain minute issues’, using terms such as public sphere which does not allow diversity to flourish.

    Coming back to the answer Kooria gave for the question he himself asked give us some hints to his own intellectual ‘obsessions’ and ‘fences’. For people like Kooria, answer to such kind of questions should be very simple. Because only such kind of simplistic understanding of the community will help them to carry forward their ambitious political projects and career.

    But, its evident from that interview with Dr. Azhari and Ali Abdulla in this issue of Cafe Dissensus that what Kerala Muslims were doing was not that much simple, or at least what this particular sect of Kerala Muslims were doing was not that much simple as Kooria conveniently assumed. They were doing multiple things; bring in prophet’s holy relic to Kerala, build India’s largest mosque, build a museum and library attached to this mosque where holy relic will be showcased, building a knowledge city in Kerala, organize journeys from one end of Kerala to another in order to strengthen his organizational structures, run educational institutes through out the country, rush to Assam, meet Assam Chief Minister and other leading politicians and mobilize them against the attacks on Muslims, file petitions, network with non-governmental organizations in Europe and other parts of the world to initiate rehabilitation projects for the riot victims, collaborate with Muslim organizations in Assam and other north Indian states to establish schools and hospitals for them and at the same time actively debate over ‘minute issues’ such as ‘whether or not the Friday sermons (khutba) has to be translated into local language, the loudspeaker could be used for that, the counts of non-obligatory prayers (tarawih) during the month of Ramzan, the Prophet Muhammad could be praised by reciting certain works (mawlid), the dead persons could be memorialized or not, the graveyards can be visited (qabar-ziyarat), the women can go to mosque’.

    I am so sure, that there might be other Muslim organizations in Kerala who also do the same kind of activities in divergent ways. But as my understanding of Kerala Muslim community is limited, I don’t want to generalize it, but will restrict myself to the activities of the above mentioned organization. For that I will take clues from both Kooria’s description of this organization’s activities which form one side of their story and from the interview with Dr. Azhari and Ali Abdulla where they tell us the rest of the story.

    I am really interested to know how Koori’a will respond to the question Talal Asad asked in his comment taking into account the activities of the said organization and the cleric which transcends the boundaries between devotional and political, private and public, state and religion, faith and science; what is your conviction regarding the role of religion in public issues. One of the easiest ways to ignore this question is to conveniently say that what Dr. Azhari and team were telling are just claims. But Kooria’s is also just a claim. Hope Kooria will not opt for that easiest way. But let us for the time being take both the claims into account and address some larger questions; what does every day life of a Muslim mean?, what does everyday life of a Muslim organization mean?.

    February 18, 2013
    • As an editorial interjection, we would like to say that we published both Mr. Kooria’s and Mr. Swalih’s pieces as we are committed to multiplicity of voices.

      February 18, 2013
    • Tahir Mahmood #

      Aneesa Ashraf’s attempt to bring two half stories of Kerala Muslim community published in Cafe Dissensus’s same volume together and to understand what the full story is clearly tell the story of how Mahmood kooria’s ‘creative and constructive Islam’ which he stands for through his article become a ‘defensive Islam’ the one he wants to oppose in the article, while the ‘defensive Islam’ , which Dr. Abdul Hakeem Azhari stands for and the one Mahmood Kooria sees as a threat to Kerala Muslim community turns into ‘creative and constructive Islam’. Interesting!

      If thats being the case where ‘defensive religion’ itself is humanistic in its approach to human sufferings, but not the other way around, do we still need to give up our hopes in religious solutions and look at issues in a more humanistic way, Talal Asad?!.

      February 19, 2013
  10. Muhammed Madappalli #

    How wonderfully Talal has understood the Muslim reality and critiqued the
    writer from the small partial journalistic and prejudical writing… All my adjactives can be understood, if the reader is connecting the critical
    comments of Talal and Faisal Niyaz.

    Every society is special in its own way of understanding and interpreting things. Kerala Muslim society has its own way of understanding things.
    Defining the issues to be discussed or the culture to be developed in a
    society is not the matter of academics, rather it is the continuation of
    the history, and history will always proceed in its own abstract and unpredictable way. Otherwise, the requirement would be as old as we
    experienced. that is, ‘west’ defines how should be the mind/thought of a
    person of other parts.

    Why all these I am telling is that there is many functional and positive reflections we see in Kerala which cannot be undermined in its century long sectarian but harmless (Physically) debates. (Obviously, in the history of Muslims, harmful debates were there at the formative periods, for example, Khawarijs and at the time of technological accommodation for example print media). But, its harmfulness can be confined to a one or two months, if it
    is there at all…

    February 18, 2013
  11. Suairudeen Noorani #


    I am scripting these lines from Assam Relief Cell’s office, located in Hathi Bazar, in Guwahati, the capital of Assam where I have been working in the last six months. What I do here?; I am one of the Coordinators at Assam Relief Cell, an organization set up under the ptronage of Kanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musliyar and supported by Jamia Markaz, Muslim Students Organization- the national wing of Sunni Students Federation and Sunni Yuvajana Sangham and Northeast Sunni Welfare Council. All these organizations, except the last one, are based in Kerala. We started this particular initiative during the violence to give support for the riot victims. Though this particular initiative has started in 2012, we have been working closely with many of the Muslim communities here. One of the important works that we have done in this last ten years is that we took about 100 talented students from various villages in Assam, who were not able to continue their studies due to financial problems, to Kerala and admitted them various colleges and schools in Kerala run by Kanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musliyar.
    Why do I need to tell all these?; Mahmood Kooria’s article was really a shockfor me and my Assame colleagues the office. It was a shock, not because he didn’t support us, but because of the strategic blindness he maintained throughout his article to the kind of hard work we have been doing, just to build up an argument that suits his purpose. We have been working so hard in the last few months even to get some basic things done for people who still live in refugee camps; take a pregnant woman to hospital for delivery to get a pair of cloths to a new born baby.

    Another thing that Mahmood Kooria’s article have done to me is that it once again reiterated some of my perception about the academic world. I am a graduate in Islamic studies from a religious seminari in Kerala run by Kanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musliyar. After my graduation Jamia Markaz gave me two options. One, go to a north Indian village, set up an institute that will serve needs of the local community there. Two, join any universities in India and continue my ‘secular education’. But I opted for the latter thinking that academic world has nothing to do with the everyday realities of the world. So, I along with five of my classmates came to Calcutta first and then to Assam.

    I know that people in academic will have different priorities and objectives. But that shouldn’t stop anyone to be blind to the facts and realities in the world outside academic. Sadly, thats what Kooria has done through his article. You can always interpret facts differently, but misrepresenting facts is just a crime. A crime that will help one to achieve short term goals only. And I like many of you believe that a true academic should never be parochial, both in his approach and method.

    I also want to say that, it was not just us from Kerala who came to Assam and supported Muslim community here. There were other organizations and individuals as well.

    Last, but not least, we would like to invite readers of cafe Dissensus, who did a substantially good job by putting up together the write ups by people in different fields on Assam violence and post-Assam Muslim question in India. Its important because mainstream media in India now is almost like forgotten this violent incident. One of the ways in which we can fight these kind of atrocities is to remember it constantly. We thank the editorial board members of Cafe Dissensus for that. I, on behalf of Assam Reliefell and Kanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musliyar’s office in Kerala extend our invitation to the readers to visit Assam, see our activities and extend your support for the riot victims. We will not be able to provide you travel allowance for the time being. But we will ofcource provide you local accommodation and food. You can call anyone of us in the office (Suhairudheen Noorani, Moulana Noor Muhammad or Mubashir Misbahior at 0091 9614311341) send an email to to inform us of your visit.

    February 19, 2013
    • Hello, thank you for your comments. As editors, we are happy to hear your different take on the issue. As a magazine, we are committed to multiplicity of opinions, so that people have a better idea of events around us. Keep reading!

      February 19, 2013
  12. S.A.Rahim #

    Mahamood Kooria,Your article was a good viscera about the Muslims of Kerala and how they waste their internal energy for unwanted things.Though Kerala is having more learned and analytical Muslim clergies and leaders,they lack in proper Islamic evolution,ending up their time and energy for the relics of Prophet’s hair or speaking against the relics posing as they are more revolutionary and they are fighting against misuse of Quran.They along with the Political leadership has made the “Boat of Kerala Muslims”to create more holes in its journey and sink it even before reaching the middle of the ocean.They have forgotten their Islamic duty,since compared to other states and the link of Malabaris with Arab world and their luck to have some good earnings(but they don’t use it for the real needs-just as you said their failure to purchase the nets of affected Gujarati Muslims).They are now putting all the energy to spoil whatever the internal Islamic spirit people are having by diverting their energy to create as many divisions as possible and look each other as enemies and they are preparing the ground for Gujarati Modi to capture power as Prime Minister and put Muslims into permanent subjugation and torture .
    You have some soft corner for Muslim League of Kerala and your comments about their sorry telling after supplying the teared clothes was interesting and you are trying to protect them.Anyway one year back I too had some soft corner for IUML and I have some good heart for the Thangal who is the President because he keeps some open heart.However my experience created a big loss of goodwill for them and I came to the conclusion they are spoiling the Muslim Community for the enjoyment of certain Ministers and business people and their henchmen.They kill any Muslims having self prestige and worth for the benefit of their political protectors.I wish to mention two incidence about their behavior 1.I had to been to Calicut and got an opportunity to meet some youths in one MSF office and their standard.These boys were addicts to alcohol and also they involve in criminal activities.What ever theological enthusiasts are there,they are for few people and these poor people are kept away from knowledge of Islam and good behavior but being developed or protected to use for the purpose of Party and in that way IUML has given leadership in many places who can neither helpful for Islamic knowledge nor to be good cultured citizens except “YES” singers of their Political leader.Even the Minister Dr.Muneer and his advisers were using the chances to spent the money of the Ministry with such programs that hampers Islamic understanding and they are trying to mix the Muslims with other community systems in the same manner and show as politically advanced forgetting the cost Islamic system will suffer.The modern out look is used to corrupt the basis of Islam.
    Another incident was my meeting with party General Secretary Mr.E.T.Mohammed Basheer and the Minister Dr.Muneer.I also met Manjalikulam Ali.They are expert in using the present power to help their henchmen and business people as much as they can and they are subservient to the typical Chief Minister Ommenchandy,who is just a Manger for power.Ommenchandy to clinch in power he divided Kerala into three portions.Malbar area for Muslim League and Muslims,Cochin-Kottayam area for Kerala Congress and Christian lobby and Travancore for Hindu lobby and with all the whole state administration by Christian Lobby including the Central Government by Soina Ghandhi.Though Muneer was the son of an illustrious father C.H.Mohammed Koya ,this man is trying to suppress Muslim souls from other areas and suppressing their genuine grievance for the sake of Ommenchandy.
    All these people have made the Kerala Muslims as a Defensive Group of people,wasting their energy and facilitating a most dangerous situation for the Muslims of the whole Nation and it is very unfortunate.Showing Muslim League any soft corner is a disservice to the Muslims because they wanted pathetic scenarios in various parts of the country and whip up passion in Muslim concentrated areas ,in the name of those victims and turn it into vote banks and bargain with parties like Congress for their own benefits.They are more equal to BJP and they are never helpful for Islam.They and MIM in Hyderabad are trying to make Muslims introvert and closing their out look within a small sphere so that the Muslim energy whatever is there they can use it and become leaders for their enjoyment.The Kerala Muslims are really spoiled by IUML,of course the left both CPI and CPM is equally responsible for it.
    I wish the author to have a more deep study of Kerala Muslims and their reasons for their behavior,however your article was very fine piece.

    February 19, 2013
  13. Mahmood Kooria #

    Dear all,

    These days I am terribly occuppied with loads of assignments and struggling with deadlines. I thought I will respond to these all comments later. But, reading the comments of Suairudeen Noorani, I cannot wait until I finish my other works.

    Dear Mr. Noorani, many thanks for your words from the fields of Assam. I agree with you that Kanthapuram Aboobakar Musliyar does many philanthropic activities. Even I had a personal experience with him. Six years back while I met him in his office at Markaz for a journalistic interview, I saw many people sufferring from Marad Riots came to meet him. I came to know that Mr. Musliyar was doing many necessary legal helps and rehabilitation works for them. Even I saw him handing over big amounts of money for each of them. That is what I partially mentioned in my essay: “I am not putting a blanket generalization. There are certain very productive groups and organizations, but their activities are limited and constrained due to the powerful structures of the aforesaid religious organizations.”

    If you are supporting the group of Mr. Musliyar, please see a message that I recieved in Facebook: “Happened to read your article over the fights of Muslim sects in Kerala over baseless issues. I would like to say your perspective over Jamaate Islami is totally baseless and biased. They never took part in such silly fights over sectarian debates in the open society, rather than building constructive Islamic debates over socio-critical issues in Kerala. Solidarity, is in fact just for the cause! Expect you to be more centered in your next reviews!”

    So, all groups have their own claims on the positive aspects in different ways. But, what I try to criticize is the general mentality and attitudes of Muslim clerics in Keralite Islam. I strongly feel that it has to be changed…

    Regarding other comments, I would respond to those all as soon as my time allows me. However, I have to say that I am very very much grateful to all of your responses. I appreciate much your taking the time out to engage with the views I expressed.

    February 20, 2013
  14. Having repeatedly gone through the article, I felt that the article was very much partial in its analysis. It some how aims to belittle the mainstream organization led by ‘religious leadership’. Writer is not precise, rather is confused in defining what should be role of ‘religious’ leadership. This confusion has lead him to pose as an ‘authority’ figure, defining what he thinks should be the roles of religious leaders. This is not to undermine his intention, nor to defy the truth claim of certain assumptions.

    He writes that ‘the religious clergies debate with each other very ferociously on a number of different theological, juridical, spiritualistic, materialistic, and political aspects’. In fact, this is partly be their roles. But those should not be done in an egoistic manner, with intention of ridiculing others, their pride and honor, getting leadership mileage, appeasing followers and making oneself as ‘godly’ or godfather figure. ‘Purification of the people’ is one role among the three roles that they were ascribed to. Thus, if they were to follow the pious intentions of strengthening the spiritual, psychic and intellectual links of people with religion that would been much appreciated. Instead they tend to divide the Muslims and rule over the minds. It is just as the writer is saying, “the social issues or everyday problems of Muslim commons could bare not at all a matter of concern for these religious clerics’. They do care! but at times a lot of wrong priorities.

    Thus, it is also true that some ‘comments, statements, supportive and opposing arguments along with satirical articulations types’ goes over the religious boundaries of sanctity of honor and other Islamic principles. Honor is also among the objectives of Shari’ah, the other being faith, life, intellect, progeny and property. In a ‘constructive or creative Islam’, the social issues are also of priority. In fact, any analysis of the Prophetic models were much focused on constructive social engineering, however, based on strong spiritual foundation and for Godly purposes! It was faith-centric, evolving around the faith. Faith was like a natural spring sprouting forcefully from middle of big lake, falling into the lake, making the water vibrant, full with life and dynamic. But that cease to be so, among many of the religious leaders, lest among the ‘Muslim’ leaders!

    February 20, 2013
  15. Mahmood Kooria #

    Dear all,

    These days I am terribly occuppied with loads of assingments and deadly struggling with many deadlines. Therefore, I thought I will respond to many comments later. But, seeing Suairudeen Noorani’s comment, I cannot wait until I am done with all other works.

    Dear Mr. Noorani, many thanks for your anecdote from the riot areas of Assam. It is really great to know. I completely agree/sympathize with your views on and leanings to Kanthapuram Abubakar Musliyaar. I know he is doing many philanthropic works, as has been widely ‘known’ in Kerala. Personally even I had a chance to witness it. Six years back, while visited him at his office in Markaz for a journalistic interview, there were many people from the riot-affected area of Marad (which I refferred to in the beginning of my article). I came to know Mr. Musliyar was doing lots of legal helps and rehabilitation works for Marad people. I saw him giving huge amounts of money for each of them. To that kind of aspects, I partially refrerred in my essay: “I am not putting a blanket generalization. There are certain very productive groups and organizations, but their activities are limited and constrained due to the powerful structures of the aforesaid religious organizations.”

    While you support the group and activities of Mr. Musliyar, please see another message that I recieved in Facebook: “Happened to read your article over the fights of Muslim sects in Kerala over baseless issues. I would like to say your perspective over Jamaate Islami is totally baseless and biased. They never took part in such silly fights over sectarian debates in the open society, rather than building constructive Islamic debates over socio-critical issues in Kerala. Solidarity, is in fact just for the cause! Expect you to be more centered in your next reviews!”

    So, I know all organizations and groups have their own causes to support and continue with their traditions. What I criticized in this anecdotical article is the general mentality and attitudes of Keralite Muslim clergies. As an insider of Keralite Islam, I strongly believe that those should change.

    Regarding other comments, I will respond to those all as soon as time allows me. I really enjoyed reading many of those harsh criticisms. However, I am really grateful to you all and much appreciate your taking the time out to engage with the views I expressed.

    February 20, 2013
  16. Abdul Jaleel #

    Mr. Mahmood has invited the attention to some undesirable engagements of many religious Muslims in Kerala and their over-emphasis on difference of opinion about some mas’alaas. In Kerala wherever Muslims are densely populated such arguments are more fierce. Even though Samastha (AP), Mujahid (Zakariya), Mujahid (KNM), Samastha (EK), PFI, Akhila (Najeeb Moulavi) and Jamaat-e-Islami are more responsible for this situation Mujahid (Madavoor), Tabligh Jamaat, Dasooqi Tariqat, Quran Sunnath Society, Jamaat Council and Dhakshina have also their part in this undesirable and unhealthy activities. I am not forgetting their many selfish-less attempts and sincerity for the satisfaction of Allah.

    April 24, 2013
  17. Zahir Ramadan #

    If anyone has a problem in accepting the issues Mr.Mahmood pointed out, they must be living in the North Pole.

    Times change. People has to be realistic. Understanding that we have a problem is the first step towards solving it. When some people point it out, we must have the courtesy to acknowledge it, at the least.

    September 14, 2014

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