Muslim institutes bring empowerment to a coastal village in Kerala

Photo Courtesy: Muhammed Shahabas

Muslims of Edavanakad in Vypin island of Kerala have set a vibrant example of empowerment by building community institutions that provide education, and interest-free loans to local farmers. 

Basil Islam | 

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KERALA — Edavanakad is a village in Vypin Island of Ernakulam district in Kerala. Surrounded by the Arabian sea and Vembanadu lake, the main livelihoods of the people here is fishing and agriculture. Muslims, Ezhavas, Arayas, and Latin Christians constitute the major communities of the place. Traditionally engaged in fish trade and agriculture, Muslims have set examples of community empowerment through various institutions.

Empowerment through education
Hidayathul Islam primary school was run by one Vadakkeveettil Muhammed Haji, where children are taught modern education and Islamic principles. 

Currently, a school and a madrasa are being run from the village. “After their primary education, teenagers had to go to the outskirts of the town to obtain higher education. It was far for them. This became a big concern for the elders in the town, and they decided to do something about it,” said Mahin PM, a local activist. 

Irshadul Muslimeen Sabha [IMS] was established in 1850 to administer the madrasa. Later in 1922, Hidayathul Islam Primary School also came under IMS. Thus, the school and madrasa system came under one body and devised a comprehensive syllabus to provide religious and secular education. In 1979 the school got the status of a high school, and by 2000, it became Hidayathul Islam Higher Secondary School [HIHSS].

Mahin, the editor of the school’s jubilee souvenir, believes HIHSS sets the best example in the state for an effective model of success in public education. “Students from different backward communities study here. The school has continuously maintained a 100% success rate in the examinations.” Mahin said. 

He said that IMS was active during relief activities after the 2004 tsunami that hit the coastal community. “Muslim traders came forward to open the gates of institutions and competed to help the affected as much as possible. Those were days that reflected the place’s fraternity,” he recalled.

Effective redistribution of wealth
Zakat, a form of almsgiving in Islam, is considered obligatory for Muslims. Muslims in Edavanakad used to give the zakat in a dispersed manner. Many didn’t participate in it because of a lack of awareness of its importance. “It was Ali Kunju Mash who changed this situation by establishing an institution to distribute the zakat,” said Mahin. 

Kunju, who came to Hidayathul Islam school as its headmaster, wanted to structurize the zakat distribution system. With the help of two other people KM Abdulla and PA Muhammed, he founded Al-lajnathul Islamiyathu Li-baithulmaal [AIL] in 1983.

AIL is the state’s first centralized community wealth redistribution system. “After Ramadan, we open applications to provide support for self-employment using the remaining zakat share. We also offer monthly scholarships to students and a weekly ration for widows,” said a committee member.

Towards a moral economy
The people of Edavakannad, primarily farmers and fishers, depended on loans with heavy interest rates from moneylenders. The fluctuations in produce resulted in them falling into a debt trap. Understanding the pressing need to provide an alternative, five youths Abdussamad MK, Mahin PM, Aboobacker, Illyas, Rasheed, and Umar Khayyoom decided to form an interest-free credit society. In 1999, they invited people from the community to a general body meeting and presented their Islamic microfinance scheme. 

Abdussamad, one of the founders, narrated how they convinced people to pool one rupee daily. “In this way, Islamic Welfare Fund got formed, and we approved its first loan of 3000 rupees to buy a boat and fishing net,” he said.

“We don’t work like ordinary credit societies. We form our working capital by pooling small amounts from every member. There will be a collective responsibility, and it becomes everyone’s duty to ensure the repayment of loans,” Abdussamad said. 

The financing schemes provided by IWF do not promote consumerism in any way. They approve loans to the needy only after conducting a detailed investigation into the case, and one of the members will have to stand as a guarantee.

IWF’s activities have grown into many areas now. “Our headquarters facilitates an entrance coaching centre for applicants from minority communities to public services (PSC), and the nodal centre of the PM Foundation provides necessary information regarding educational scholarships,” one of the board members said.


Basil Islam is an independent journalist and researcher based in South India. He tweets at @baasiie