Muslims of Manipur

Recently launched book “Manipuri Muslims: Historical Perspectives 615-2000 CE” authored by Farooque Ahmed, claims that Islam came to Manipur as early as 615 CE. If this is true, then this will place this region at par with Malabar, Sindh, and Gujarat as first places to receive the message of Islam in Indian sub-continent.

According to the report of the book release, Historian Farooque Ahmed writes in the book that a Muslim clan “sagei” traces its ancestory to Amir Hamza and Saad ibn abi Waqqas, both happen to be Companions and uncles of Prophet Mohammad (sallallaho alaihe wasallam). I have not read the book so I am not sure what evidence author has produced to support his claim. But if the story of Amir Hamza’s coming to India is correct then the premise of the story of Tilism-e-Hoshruba appear to be not that far-fetched.

Where is Manipur?

Muslims, who are also known as Pangals or Pangans in Manipur, are 7% of the population of the state. According to a report by the All-Manipur Muslim United Coordinating Committee (AMMUCOC), the literacy rate among Muslims is 58.6 percent (male 75 percent and female 41.6 percent) much below the state’s average of 70.5 percent (male 80.3 percent and female 60.5 percent). Muslims socio-economic condition is worse than rest of the state. There have been few clashes between Muslims and the youths of the Meitei community. And since 1993 a few armed Muslim groups have sprung up to take up the cudgels on behalf of the Muslims. This has given an excuse to armed forces to arrest and kill Muslim youth with impunity.

Here is an interview with Sitara Begum, an activist who is working on the ground among the Muslims.
Last year, North-East reporter Anjuman Ara Begum went on a trip to Manipur. I told her to bring pictures of some of the local mosques.

Sadar Bazar Jama masjid, Imphal

Hatta Masjid, Imphal

Ukhrul town masjid

The last picture was most beautiful and I especially marked it for later use. I was surprised to see the same picture on the cover of the book that prompted this blog post. It is a shame that publisher of the book has used this picture without asking our permission to use it.

Anyway, here is the same masjid from a less glamorous angle:

Exploring Mappila culture

When we talk about culture in the context of Indian Muslims, like many other things, it gets confined to culture of Muslims of the Urdu belt. The talk will begin with urdu poetry, mention huge influence of ghazals, dedicated fans of qawwalis, and end up at Urdu’s influence on Bollywood movies. But beyond the Urdu belt there is a huge treasure of unique Muslim culture of India that has remained accessible for many. In these pages, in days to come, we will try to find those gems and explore this uncharted territory.

Let’s begin with the first Muslims of India, the Mappillas and their rich culture. The genius of Mappila culture was taking both their Arabic heritage and Indian heritage and producing a culture that has the ability to stand on its own feet.

Arabi-Malyalam: Arabi-Malayalam is a good example of the ingenuity of the Mappilas. Learning Arabic was a religious necessity for Malabar Muslims as the Holy Quran is written in Arabic. To give voice to their creativity however, they had to use Malayalam. There are 28 letters in Arabic alphabets but 13 of these do not have phonetic equivalents in Malayalam. Even words like “Allah” and “Muhammad” cannot be phonetically written in Malayalam. Similarly, Arabic’s 28 letters were not enough to represent all 53 letters of the Malayalam language.

The solution that Muslims came up with was a language called Arabi-Malayalam. It is Malayalam written in a modified Arabic script that can account for all Malayalam sounds and still represents Arabic words in the original script in order to preserve correct pronunciation. Different scholars have dated the origin of the script differently; estimates vary from 1500 years ago to 1000 years to about 500 years ago.

A sign in Arabi-Malyalam.

Songs: The oldest poetry in Arabi-Malayalam is probably Muhiyuddin Mala that tells the miraculous tales of Muhiyuddin Shaikh of Jilan. The long struggle that Mappilas led against the invading Portuguese explains why a number of their poetry is actually martial songs. In style, Mappila songs or ‘Mappilappattu’ start with a slow beat then picks up pace gradually and ends in a climax.

Dances: Mappilas dances are group dances that involve complex movements and coordination. Kokkkali is performed by men with sticks. Aravanamuttu involves a duff like instrument which is performed by a group of men. It is as much a feast for the eyes as for the ears

Oppana is a wedding dance performed by group of females. In this dance, performed a day before her wedding, the bride sits in the middle while dancers perform by clapping and moving around her in patterns.

Closer Look: Osama Bin Laden

By Kashif-ul-Huda,,

Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. [Surah Al Maeda : 32]

If killing one innocent person is like killing the entire humanity then Osama Bin Laden has killed the humanity many times over. Since his 1998 fatwa against the United States till his death in 2011, the organization that he established or people that he inspired have killed thousands all around the world. Majority of his victims have been Muslims, people that he was supposed to be helping.

Thanks to Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan and Iraq lay in ruins and Pakistanis are not safe in their own country. Hundreds of thousands of innocents were killed and continue to be killed by either Osama followers or armies in pursuit of his followers. He wanted to do armed jihad to get rid of foreign armies from Muslim countries but ended up causing “fasad” and helping Western media create the impression that followers of Islam are a violent people.

In the post-9/11 world, Muslims became a target of suspicion and victims of harassment. And this was not just inconvenience of airport security or denial of visa. Al-Qaida- inspired terrorism claimed innocent lives from Indonesia to London. Suicide bombing was introduced in Pakistan and Afghanistan by Bin Laden followers and now it has become a weapon of choice of the terrorists causing much mayhem.

In India, what post-Babri Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 could not do was achieved easily after the 9/11 attacks. SIMI was banned in the wake of 9/11 without any evidence of their involvement in any terrorist activities. Western media’s lead on stereotyping Muslims as terrorists was followed enthusiastically by Indian media in cooperation with law-enforcement agencies. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of Muslim youths continue to be arrested and harassed in the name of terrorism and some unfortunate ones killed in cold-blood by what we know as “fake encounters.” Yes, we do fault Indian agencies in killing Indian citizens but the sins will also go in Osama’s amaal-nama (book of deeds) as unintended consequences of his actions and rhetoric.

Osama’s mindset just like his rhetoric was medieval. He did not understand that in this modern world you can win a war but still lose politically. He did understand the power of media but failed to appreciate how the economy can play a bigger role than the fire power. Wall Street investment bankers and speculative traders have done more damage to the United States than what Osama could ever imagine.

A section of Muslims do have soft spot for Osama Bin Laden for what they think was his tough stand against the United States. They think that like Saddam Hussain, he stood up to the American injustice and hence consider him a hero forgetting that in Islam the end does not justify the means. His track record of killing mostly Muslims proves that an enemy’s enemy is not necessarily a friend.

It will be better if Muslim leaders instead of subscribing to conspiracy theories or saying that Osama was CIA creation, which serves no purpose; start dialogue within the community on dangers of extremism and the threat that path of violence poses to the world in general and Muslims in particular.

Closer Look is a monthly column by editor Kashif-ul-Huda. For publication permissions please contact