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Mappila Muslims and the Cultural Content of Trading Arab Diaspora on the Malabar Coast

M.H. Ilias
Asian Journal of Social Science
Vol. 35, No. 4/5, SPECIAL FOCUS: Arabs in Asia (2007), pp. 434-456
Published by: Brill
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23654640
Page Count: 23
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Abstract

Malabar holds a significant position in ancient and medieval Indian Ocean trade. Moreover, this place was a spot for interaction for four major civilizations of that period; the Perso-Arabic, the South East Asian, Indian and Chinese. Cultures that often seem so widely divergent were in fact in constant contact and exchange with each other. Malabar's contact with the seafaring people of the Arab world stretches long back to the first centaury AD. By then, a system of interlinked trading networks had been established, with Malabar Coast possessing an all-important role. Another salience of the development of trade in Malabar was the migration of substantial merchant communities from widely dispersed lands. The long distance trade necessitated a situation in which the trading communities had to settle for long period of time at Malabar Coast. The trading diasporic population of Malabar consisted mostly of Arabs from Hadramawt, Hormuz, Cairo, Abyssinia and even Tunis. Among them, Hadramis were more influential foreign Muslim settlers all over the Malabar Coast, the most important being at Calicut, which was the centre of Moorish trade. With the inalienable diasporas, the seaborne trade of ancient and medieval Malabar had contributed to the embedding of all local cultures in a given structural framework of interaction. Mappila Muslims who lived principally in Malabar area were the major recipients of this cultural blend. The Mappila Muslims of Malabar represent a notable difference to the general Indian Muslim situation. There is of course a creative interplay of varied cross-cultural basics in the formation of Mappila culture and their customs and rituals. Thanks to the globality that the Kerala society possessed for many centuries, Mappilas might have more in common with the Muslims of far-flung Hadramawt or Sumatra. This element of globality has affected the pattern of religious consumption and culture of Mappilas than those of any other Muslim communities. The trading Arab diaspora (especially the Hadrami) has obviously contributed to the transformation of Mappila community. With its many cultural consequences, this diaspora facilitated the movement of an indigenous community from classical paradigms of 'revealed religion' to the patterns of experience of 'living religion'. It also assisted a journey 'from structure to community'; from the established tenants of theology to the cultural expressions of popular religion. This article seeks to analyse the contributions of Hadrami trading diaspora in shaping the culture of Mappila Muslims

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