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For a cultural synthesis

A view of Jamia Masjid at Tiruchi on June 20, 2017. Photo: M. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: M_Moorthy

Dr. K.M.A. Ahamed Zubair (Editor-in-Chief, Nova Journal of Arabic Studies, Canada), who is also an academician, has done enormous research on Tamil Muslims — their societies, cultures and development. He has authored 16 books and his works have been published from Germany, Iraq, Canada and India. He was awarded Ph.D for his thesis on Arabic poets of Tamil Nadu in 2004.

Zubair translated Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s poems into Arabic and got them published from Canada. The Acquisition Editor of the Lambert Inc. (Germany) referred to his research publication report from the New College website, and invited him to publish through his company.

Thus his latest book, Muslim Tamils: The historical, Socio-cultural and Linguistic perspective was released. It helps one to understand Tamil Muslims from various perspectives. Relying on old fragments, he has made a new study with philological research and dialectological data.

“Tamil Muslims are divided into various divisions. Even though class hierarchy exists among Tamil Muslims, caste-based hierarchical division is not there,” writes Zubair.

He further says, “Tamil Muslims are those whose mother tongue is Tamil and have been living in the Tamil territories of India and Sri Lanka. They are identified by a common language and religion, namely Tamil and Islam. They are urban traders called Moors in Sri Lanka, Cholias in Bangladesh and Myanmar and Mamaks in Malaysia.”

Labbais, Maraikkars, Rowthers, Kayalars, Dekkanis and Pathans are not caste identities but the profession each group carried out. Maraikkars (sea traders), Labbais betel leaf growers, mat weavers and petty shop owners, Rowthers (cavalry men or dealing with horse trade) are all monolinguals. Tamil is their mother tongue. But in spoken dialect and kinship terms we find an admixture of Arabic words.

Tamil culture

Tamil Muslims contributed their best to the local culture. The Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers patronised Islam and donated lands for places of worship. The 734 AD mosque in Tiruchi (near railway station) is proof that Muslims lived in this area since eighth century . Though they identify closely with Tamil culture in many respects, their manners, customs, dress, food and festivities have been influenced by Islam. In other words Tamil and Islam have been synthesised in such a manner. Arab Muslim traders and the native Tamil converts to Islam in Tamil Nadu came into closer contact as a result of their commercial activities.

Islam was the common religion but there were two different languages — Tamil (Dravidian language) and Arabic (semitic language). A link language — Arabu-Tamil — emerged when they started to write Tamil in an adapted Arabic script.

Arabic settlers in Tamil Nadu learnt Tamil through Arabic script and wrote Tamil in Arabic script. Arwi or Arabu-Tamil is an Arabic influenced dialect of Tamil written with an extension of the Arabic alphabet with extensive lexical and phonetic influences from Arabic.

The Arwi language and literature provided a kind of platform to learn Islamic teachings.

Works of noted Islamic scholars such as Al-Ghazzali were translated into Arwi by Sayyid Muhammed Alim Pulavar apart from a number of translations of Friday sermons in Arwi.

In the words of Edgard Thurston, Arabu-Tamil is a literature developed for educating Labbai and Maraikkar children.

Certain words, mostly of religious connections, and those that are used regularly, have been introduced. The origin of this literature may be traced to Kayalpatnam, Melapalayam and other important towns of Tirunelveli district.

The earliest Muslim Tamil literary works could be traced to the 14th century in the form of Palsanthmalai. In 1572, Shaik Ishaq, known as Vanna Pariala Pulavar, published Aayiram Masala detailing Islamic principles and beliefs. In 1592, Aali Pulavar wrote Mikurasu Malai. The epic, Seerapuranam, by Umar Pulavar in the 17th century, is still considered a crowning achievement. Classic Tamil literature bears evidence of the Arab contact in the literary works such as Paththu Pattu and Ettuthogai.

Ghazals, which originated in Persia, were introduced in Tamil by Kavikko Abdur Rahman.

Even Qawwali singers of the State used Tamil words profusely , it is learnt.

The origin of Arabic Tamil goes beyond the eighth century and it fills the vacuum found in the literary history of Tamil speaking Muslims.

“Tamil culture is naturalistic, secular and humanistic. It professes universal brotherhood,” concludes Zubair, quoting a classical Tamil poet.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 4:16:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/research-on-tamil-muslims/article19125378.ece

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