Mappila Haal: A virtual exhibition celebrating 100 years of Malabar Rebellion

Picture by SIO Kerala.

Mappila Haal is a comprehensive creative expression of the Malabar Rebellion enabling the viewer to travel through the revolutionary days and nights. 

Amjad Ali EM |

Support TwoCircles

KERALA — This year marks the 100th anniversary of the eventful Malabar Rebellion of 1921. In this historic context, Students Islamic Organization of India (SIO) Kerala has come up with a new venture: an interactive virtual exhibition titled ‘Mappila Haal’. ‘Mappila Haal’ is a comprehensive creative expression of the Malabar Rebellion enabling the viewer to travel through the revolutionary days and nights. SIO acknowledges the memories, discussions on various factors and celebration of the Malabar Rebellion as a crucial socio-political engagement.

History is not merely a record of the past. For any community, history is a decisive factor in their present life. That is why history is said to be a never-ending dialogue between the past and the present. Historical narratives play a major role in shaping contemporary socio-political perspectives and imaginations.

Every community should have a deep understanding of their history, and they should record and promote it. Failure to do so will result in the tragedy of having to live in a history written by others. That condition will adversely affect their future. Because their history written by the mainstream-dominant ideologies will be understood as the real one. If the dominant powers decide to marginalize or annihilate any community forever, they will use history as an easy tool. For that, they will do injustice to history in two ways. One is to hide and erase the rich history of that community, and the other – to present a distorted narration of it.

How Islam and Muslims were treated in colonial historiography is an apt example of this. The colonial powers hid the prestigious and glorious history of Muslims all over the world. Later, colonialism defined Islam and Muslims in their own way, based on which the history of Muslims was written – Islam is primitive, it was spread in the world by sword, Islam is utter terror, Muslims are savage, bloodthirsty, war-loving, violent and dangerous. Based on this definition, they presented a distorted version of world Muslim history. In doing so, they sought to create a public perception that the very presence of Muslims would be dangerous to any nation and all forms of social and political expression based on Islam reflects extremism and terrorism. The aim was to make people believe that they were the ones who needed to be eliminated. Thus, this narrative became a justification for all violence, injustice and genocide against Muslims. This is how history itself becomes the greatest instrument of oppression. It is in this colonial narrative that the roots of present-day Islamophobia too lie, be it global, national or in Kerala. 

Here comes the relevance of the remembrance and celebration of the Malabar rebellion. This is a time when Hindutva politics is gaining strength and the Sangh Parivar is working on the genocide of Muslims. Hindutva forces use the history of Muslims in two ways to facilitate ethnic cleansing: One is the attempt to erase the history of Muslims in India and to uproot the glorious roots of Muslims in this country. Second, to distort the history of Muslims in India into an anti-Hindu history. Through these two forms of violence against history, Hindutva quickly finds pace for its racist propaganda. In other words, the Hindutva forces are trying to create a public conscience that the Muslims are a group that came from somewhere, that they have no roots in this country, that the history since their arrival here is one of violence, that their presence is a danger to the country and therefore they should be eradicated. The question of how one’s mind allows Muslims to be lynched to death in broad daylight turns irrelevant there. When a person believes that Muslims deserve to be killed, he will not feel any remorse for killing them. 

In this particular political context, there is a special significance for popularizing and celebrating the memories of the Malabar Rebellion. By remembering the Malabar Rebellion and the fighters involved within, we are also positioning ourselves against the Hindutva ideology. The British colonial powers portrayed the Malabar rebellion as fanatic aggression. Such a propagation was quite natural because it was a battle against them. However, the Sangh Parivar is also propagating the Malabar rebellion as a brutal anti-Hindu massacre, inciting hatred against Muslims in its name and using the history of the Malabar rebellion as fuel to accelerate the aforesaid process of genocide. In 1921 itself, the Hindutva forces propagated the Malabar Movement as a Hindu genocide and used it as a fertilizer for the formation of the RSS. 

Moreover, the historical point of the Malabar rebellion is constantly disturbing Hindutva politics in many ways. One of them is that the Malabar Rebellion reminds of the crucial role of Muslims in the anti-colonial struggles that led to the formation of the nation of India. Another is that the Malabar Rebellion was also a struggle against the upper caste hegemony which is the foundation of Hindutva politics. That is why the Sangh regime’s dictionary of martyrs cannot include the names of the Mappila fighters. Therefore, remembering and celebrating the Malabar struggle is a strong statement against Hindutva politics.

The memory of the Malabar Struggle is also a memory of our own glorious tradition. It also gives us an idea of ​​how strong and deep our roots are in this land. It shows the pivotal role played by our ancestors in the freedom struggle of this country, social renaissance and civilizational development. For the Muslim community in India, this memory and realization will provide the energy to move forward with self-respect in the face of several crises.

The Malabar rebellion had two main stages. One was the struggle against the colonial British forces. Second, the struggle against the feudal and caste lords who oppressed and exploited the peasants and lower castes like slaves. The extraordinary struggle led by Ali Musliyar and Variamkunnath Kunhahammad Haji shook the foundations of the colonial powers and the caste leaders. It instilled a new dream of liberation in the oppressed masses. It was these two brave leaders who gave direction to the Malabar Rebellion in which thousands of agricultural workers and labourers rallied. Many non-Muslims too took part in the Malabar Rebellion along with the Mappilas.

We also need to think about the theological factor that motivated the Mappilas to fight. The Islamic faith was the basic factor that inspired the Mappila warriors to take their own lives and go to battlefields. It is a part of the Islamic faith to stand for justice and to fight against injustice, discrimination, slavery and exploitation. The Qur’an and the Sunnah teach us to fight for the victims of injustice. It is part of Tawheed (monotheism) that slavery and obedience are permissible only to Allah. Believers do not accept slavery or obedience before another. And they believe that the struggle for truth and justice is Jihad in the way of Allah. The scholars of Malabar passed on these divine lessons of justice and liberation taught by Islam to the common Mappilas. That is how the struggles against the occupying forces and caste lords took place in Malabar from the sixteenth century onwards.

Indeed, a cosmopolitan component was involved in the Malabar rebellion. After a short gap, the anti-colonial struggle in Malabar gained momentum again in 1921, with the advent of the Khilafat Movement. Even the national movement became popular as a result of the influence of the Khilafat movement. The Khilafat movement and the political ideology of the Khilafat acted as a new force in the anti-colonial anti-caste struggle. Globally, western modernity strengthened its political power by overthrowing the Ottoman caliphate. It was on the basis of these political convictions that the Mappila community, having global perceptions, embraced the Khilafat movement.

The historical narratives formed by the dominant ideologies can be defended and overcome only when studies are carried out in the light of such different elements involved in the Malabar Rebellion. In particular, it is imperative in modern times to enable a critical reading focusing on the agency of the warriors, theological thought, social position, and decolonization. The SIO came up with the idea of ​​a virtual exhibition based on the conviction that such alternative narratives and analyzes focused on these considerations should be brought to the fore.

Virtual exhibition of Mapilla Hall has an app, which can be downloaded from PlayStore and iPhone AppStore.

In the context of the 100th anniversary of the Malabar rebellion, SIO’s main objective through this virtual exhibition is to look at the history of Kerala’s Muslim intellectual and struggle history through an alternative perspective, to enable the production of knowledge about it, and to celebrate it politically and culturally. This can only be comprehensive when the various narratives that have been formed post rebellion are critiqued and analyzed from a realistic perspective. This is a continuation of the knowledge politics that SIO has been raising from time to time. We mark this interactive virtual exhibition as a continuation of the knowledge politics that SIO promotes through its rejection of hegemonic ideas and its critical reading of knowledge such as history, politics, theology and aesthetics.

The virtual exhibition will be available on a mobile application with a feast of video contents, paintings, calligraphy, digital art, rare archives, exclusive photos, a timeline of the uprisings of Kerala Muslims, different narratives on the Malabar Rebellion, articles, profiles, events and graphical maps of the places of rebellion. ‘Mappila Haal’ will also be marked as a critical alternative to the colonial and Savarna narratives which portrayed the long intellectual and revolutionary tradition of Malabar against the colonial and caste powers as fanatic and barbaric.

Virtual exhibition of Mapilla Hall has an app, which can be downloaded from PlayStore and iPhone AppStore.

The article was translated from Malayalam by Rameesudheen VM.

Amjad Ali EM is the President of the SIO Kerala. The original article was published in Prabodhanam weekly published on Dec 24, 2021 (Volume 78). He tweets at @AmjadAliEM.