Kerala Muslims, who constitute 24.7% of the total population of the state, have their own characteristics and peculiarities that distinguish them from other Muslim communities in India. Islam entered South India much early compared to the Northern parts of the country. Arab traders and missionaries propagated their faith by their own ideal manners, persuasion and example. The direct relation of Kerala Muslims with Arabian Islam alienates them from what is called Indo-Persian Islam. In contrast to the rest of Muslims in India, Kerala Muslims observe the Shafi’i school of law. They never enjoyed ruling power unlike in South India, but remained as self-reliant merchants, fishermen or peasants throughout the centuries. There were no linguistic barriers to alienate Muslims from their non-Muslim counterparts, as the entire Keralites speak the Dravidian language of Malayalam, and Muslims never used Urdu as their mother tongue.
Kerala Muslims were gifted with a harmonious combination of multi-layered religious leadership. Eminent figures of Sayyid families, great religious scholars and exemplary personalities of Sufi missionaries jointly collectively rendered effective leadership to Kerala Muslims through centuries, despite the miseries and hardship they were undergoing. Ideological divisions seldom occurred among them prior to 20th century, though Muslims around the world witnessed emergence of various interpretation to Islam, thanks to the religious leadership who successfully checked all onslaughts to the religious faith and practices. It is remarkable that this spiritual leadership had developed a variety of educational systems to impart Islamic knowledge to each and every sections of the society in a way best suited to and compatible with their period. There were Othupallies for primary education, Darses in the mosques for higher education, and Wa'az programmes for universal education, though not without demerits.
With the onset of 20th century and the introduction of modernist as well as western trends in all walks of life, Kerala Muslims also saw waves of changes sweeping them along with other communities. The tragic incidents of 1921, which was a culmination of almost four-century-long repression and anti-Muslim cruelties by the colonial powers and which had made Muslims’ condition worse and pathetic in all fields, expedited the modernization trends. However, the responses to the present situation took three different forms. The first group of some elites and so-called intellectuals braved to embrace the modernity and western culture in its full form and to discard religion seeing it as the major cause of their backwardness. The second response was from some modern-educated personalities and some religious-educated fellows, who were influenced by the modernist and reformist movements within Islam like Wahabism and Salafism. They called for a reformed Islam by rejecting the entire traditional heritage, accusing the centuries-old religious leadership and their majority followers of deviation from Islamic tenets, and by reinterpreting the religion overshadowing all the intellectual traditions. They also rejected any form of esoteric interpretation (tawil) and criticised most of the transmitted knowledge, practices, customs and rituals.
The third response came from the traditional spiritual leadership of Sayyids, Ulama and Sheikhs of Thareeqas (leading esoteric figures). They had to protect the Muslim community from the infiltrations and influences of western un-Islamic culture on one hand, and to defend the traditional Islam from being absorbed by the modernist, fundamentalist, and puritanical as well as reformist versions of religion on the other hand. To face both the challenges simultaneously, the spiritual leadership thought of reinvigorating the Islamic education, of spreading the grand heritage of knowledge, of organising to protect the traditional rites and rituals, and of making the public more religious and more sensitive towards new interpretations. Samastha Kerala Jam’eyyat ul-Ulama was the result of this traditional response.
Samastha Kerala Jam’eyyat ul-Ulama (All Kerala Ulama Organisation), known as Samastha, is an association of eminent Sunni scholars who enjoy the highest support base among Kerala Muslims. The formation of Samastha was the response of these traditional Ulama to the conditions of post-1921 period in which Kerala Muslim community generally witnessed a radical shift from the folds of individual leadership to the folds of organisations. When they became equally disturbed by the ongoing modernisation trends in western style, and in the first public circulation among Kerala Muslims of the fundamentalist and puritanical views of Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab (1702-1793), Salafism of Rashid Rida (1865-1935), Islamic modernism of Muhammad Abduh (1819-1905), pan-Islamism of Jamaluddin Afghani (1939-1897), and the Tahreek e-Mujahideen in North India.
The new ideologists first came out through the Kerala Muslim Aikya Sangham ( group for unity among Kerala Muslims), which was founded at Kodungallur of Cochin state in 1922 by leaders like KM Seethi Sahib, KM moulavi and EK Moulavi. It tried to bring the scattered and unorganised reformist activists together. Later, they formed a Ulama organisation, Kerala Jam'eyyat ul-Ulama, at a two-day conference of Aikya Sangham held at Alwaye in 1924 where a large number of scholars were invited. It is a fact that the outstanding members of the traditional Ulama did not openly reject the Kerala Jam'eyyat ul-Ulama at first. However, gradually, the platform of the organisation started to be utilised to attack the traditional Islam that was followed unopposed for centuries and which was nurtured under the guidance of eminent scholars headed by Makhdums of Ponnani. They declared a host of Islamic cultural traditions as Shirk and Bidaa, and alleged the centuries-old scholarly and intellectual tradition of Kerala Muslims with deviations and alterations.
The Ulama felt the need to organise to defend and protect Kerala’s Islamic tradition and to wage a revivalist movement against the new interpretations. Moulana Pangil Ahmed Kutty Musliyar, who had already started counter campaigns against the ‘Wahhabi ideology’, along with some other scholars met Marhum Varakkal Sayyed Abdurahman Ba Alawi Mullakkoya Tangal, who was a Sufi Sheikh, renowned religious scholar and a prominent figure of Sayyed family, to discuss the need of an organisational movement to defend the true spirit of the religion. Tangal suggested convening a meeting of the eminent scholars to discuss the suitable solution.
In 1925, some major ulama and other society leaders gathered at Calicut Valiya Juma Masjid and formed an Ulama organisation after prolonged and serious discussions. KP Muhammad Meeran Musliyar and Parol Hussain Moulawi was named the President and Secretary of the organisation respectively. The newly formed Ulama organisation convened within a year many popular conferences, mainly at places where the new ideologists had received big attraction, and directed the masses to be aware of the leaders and followers of the ‘Bida’i sects’. They also travelled throughout the state to convey the message of the ulama organisation to maximum religious scholars who were living in the mosques or religious centres serving the Islamic knowledge.
A year later on June 26, 1926, a bigger convention was called at Calicut Town Hall, where eminent scholars from across the state participated, under the chairmanship of Sayyid Shihabuddhin Cherukunchikkoya Tangal. The convention reorganised the previously formed temporary organisation and adopted a full-fledged organisational set-up in the name of Samastha Kerala Jam’eyyat ul-Ulama. The convention nominated Varkkal Mullakkoya Tangal as Samastha’s first president, while Pangil Ahmed Kutty Musliyar, Muhammed Abdul Bari Musliyar, KM Abdul Qadir Musliyar and KP Muhammad Meeran Musliyar became vice presidents, and PV Muhammad Musliyar and PK Muhammad Musliyar became secretaries in the first committee.
Samastha’s supreme body, including the working committee, is called Mushawara, and it is consisted of 40 eminent scholars of the time who are drawn purely on the basis of their scholarship in Islam, religious piety, faithfulness and devoutness. The word Mushawara, consultation, is drawn from the Quranic order to seek scholarly advices in matters. From its inception Samastha often convenes the Mushawara meeting to discuss various issues concerning the religion and community, and almost all the meeting deal with a host of questions received from across the state and from outside where Malayali Muslims reside seeking Fatwas on a variety of issues. Later Samastha formed a Fatwa Committee from within the Mushawara to specially look in to the increasing queries on religious issues.
Presently the office bearers are:
Kalambadi Muhammad Musliar. (President)
Sayyid Umarali Shihab (Vice President)
C. Koyakkutty Musliyar (Vice President)
Cherussery Zainudheen Musliar. (General Secretary)
Kotta Abdul Qadir Musliar. (Secretary)
K.T. Manu Musliar. (Secretary)
Parannur Ibraheem Musliar. (Treasurer)
Samastha was officially registered on November 14, 1934, as the government approved its bylaw, which was agreed upon after deep and wide scholarly discussions held in various Mushawara meets and in consultation with law experts. It promulgated the propagation of true Islam, impart of religious education and activities against superstitions and un-Islamic traditions as its primary and supreme objectives. Its bylaw also included encouragement for secular education compatible with religious beliefs, and calls for religious tolerance, interfaith friendship, peaceful existence and national progress.
Aims And Objectives :
According to the bylaw, the main aims and objectives of the organisation are,
(a) To propagate and spread the rites and beliefs of Islam according to the real view of Ahlu Sunnah Wal-Jama’a,
(b) To legally prevent the organisations and campaigns which are against the rites and beliefs of Ahlu Sunnah Wal-Jama’a,
(c) To look after all rights and powers of Muslim community,
(d) To promote and encourage religious education and do the needful for the secular education that will be compatible with religious beliefs and culture,
(e) To work for the welfare and progress of the Muslim society in general by eliminating superstitions, anarchy, immorality and disunity.