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Islamic Society on the South Asian Frontier : The Mappilas of Malabar

The author explores the development of a tradition of holy war and martyrdom among Muslims in Kerala. In the 8th century CE Muslims from trading communities began to settle there and intermarry with the local population. They specialised in the spice-trade, and for centuries enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the majority Hindu population. The Portuguese arrived in 1498 and attempted to monopolise the trade. The Mappilas reacted with a campaign of naval guerrilla war; they regarded this as a jihad and saw those who died in it as martyrs (shahids). This also affected the position of the Hindu landowners but the establishment of British supremacy at the end of the 18th century enabled them to reassert their dominance. In response the Mappilas conducted a series of what were called ‘outrages’ by the British. These were attacks, mainly on Hindus, carried out by individuals or small groups of men, in which the attackers almost invariably lost their lives. In doing so they believed they would automatically gain admission to paradise. Dale shows how these attacks followed a ceremonial pattern which involved a series of preparatory rituals, and festivals came to be celebrated and ballads written in honour of the attackers. It is also worth consulting the review of Dale’s book by Professor Francis Robinson (Modern Asian Studies, XVIII, 1 February 1984, pp.157-161).

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