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Sanaullah Makthi Thangal- the first Muslim to write books in Malayalam

By Abdul Basith MA, TwoCircles.net,

Historical documents reveal that Syed Sanaullah Makthi Thangal born in 1847 at Veliyankodu of the Present Malappuram District was the first Muslim to write books in Malayalam. The year 2012 marks the death centenary of this Islamic reformist. If taken for printing today, the whole written works by Makthi Thangal would range up to 800 pages and is observed as capable of benefitting the Muslim community with renovating ideas and directions presented in a rather bold and poetic language.

It was a period when the Mappila Muslim of Kerala weren’t even aware of the possibilities of education, they blindly accepted each and every so called Muslim spiritual leader, for whatever they said and there was nothing like the common Muslim having a word in the religious matters. Makthi Thangal boldly involved in the spiritual and community matters through his speeches, columns in the news dailies and through his own short books on matters relevant to the Muslim community in British India.

His speeches and articles always had the nature of turning out to be either a wake-up call or a word of encouragement to the Muslim community. He was the first Muslim to start news daily, published books and set up a printing device on his own. He started Madrasas and took initiative to form knowledge groups and intellectual circles within the Muslim community. Thus he was successful in modernising and nourishing the then Muslim community to overcome the challenges and suit the needs of tomorrow through an essential renaissance.

Born at Veliyankodu near Ponnani to Syed Ahmed Thangal and Shareefa Beevi, Makthi Thangal learnt Arabic from his father and received primary education at Chavakkad Higher Elementary School. He did his higher education in Islamic topics from Darss classes adjacent to mosques at Veliyankodu, Ponnani and Maranjeri [Darss is a Madrassa system still existent in Kerala within or adjacent to the mosque for pursuing studies beyond the normal Madrassa syllabus]. He soon was an expert in languages like Malayalam, Arabic, Hindustani, Persian and Tamil.

On finishing his studies at Darss, Makthi Thangal worked as an excise inspector under the British govt for a few years. It was since then he badly felt the need to uplift the aimless Muslim community disrupted by ignorance and the British colonial oppressions. He decided to quit his job for this cause and started his mission by boldly resisting Christian missionary attempts to criticise and demoralise Islam. Along with this he took up the campaign against superstitious beliefs and non-Islamic customs within the Muslim community.

According to available historical documents it was in the year 1884 Makthi Thangal wrote his first book in Malayalam, the first of its kind in the history of Muslim Kerala. The book named ‘Kadora Kudaram’ was a resistance against the British supported Christian missionary religious conversions in the region, as Makthi Thangal strongly opposed missionary attempts to make use of the people’s ignorance and poverty.

Another work got published by the name Paropakari [the one who helps others] in the year 1885 and these initiatives resulted in putting an end to the usual practice of writing on wooden boards, which was widely prevalent until then.

As he efficiently defended Islam against moves by the Christian missionaries, they conspired to fabricate criminal charges against him and Makthi Thangal got isolated from the rest of the society, as even Muslims feared to keep in touch with him. The life thereafter for around six months was miserable for him, wandering in search of food and other necessities.

Historian M Gangadaran refers to Makthi Thangal as a reformist who fought a way out for the Muslim community using his knowledge. Gangadaran notes that Makthi Thangal was the first reformist who learnt deep in to the religious aspects of both Muslims and Hindus. Makthi Thangal was of the opinion that learning Islam with the help of the native Malayalam language is essential for the true enlightenment of the Muslim community. He didn’t want language to stay as a cultural barrier for Islam in the region. He considered language as the host and carrier of knowledge and tried to purify the orthodox Islamic language prevalent to win acceptance to Islamic teachings. He believed that patriotism essentially is a right as well as a necessity and was the first to write regarding the dreams of a unified state called ‘Keralam’.

The phrase which he quoted in one of his writings called ‘Muslim Janavum Vidyabhyasavum’ [Muslims and their education] thus demanding a Malayalam translation of the Holy Quran is like this: “we take our kids to Mullah’s to make them learn Quran; this last only for around 2-3 years and then they are asked to take up the ‘Pathu Kithab’ [‘Pathu’ means ten] , as it is written in Arabic, Mullah’s translate it by sentence to Malayalam, and this Malayalam would even make Malavasikal [people in mountain regions] laugh”. M Ganagadaran says that, “the Muslims of Malabar, now capable of handling Malayalam well should be considered the descendants of Makthi Thangal, than anybody else”.

He resisted and thus neglected all those boycotting attempts and oppositions from the British colonialists for around 30 years through his writings and speeches. As the health conditions deteriorated he decided to permanently reside at Fort Kochi. Day by day the health conditions got worse due to frequent and continuous oratory and debate sessions undertaken. He always used these communication modes as his tools to create awareness and thus resist the colonial desires. It was on September 18th, 1912 Makthi Thangal passed away.

Now we can’t even count the number of books published in Malayalam on Islamic topics and it won’t be easy to keep an account of those Islamic authors. A Kerala based trust named ‘Grace’ has decided this year to select the best ten Islamic books of the last hundred years and present them with the Makthi Thangal literary Award. Grace strongly believes that commemorating Makthi Thangal is equal to the action of creating a youth with passion towards knowledge, writing and independent thoughts.

Makthi Thangal’s attempt to uplift the educational and social status of Muslims in Kerala was no different from the glories of Sir Syed in the North but alas the Kerala Muslim community took least care to acknowledge the great visionary’s achievements.