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Sir Syed College, Taliparamba

A Mappila, also known as a Muslim Mappila or Jonaka Mappila, is a member of the largest Muslim group in the Indian state of Kerala. The community arose primarily as a result of the pre- and post-Islamic Arab contacts.[1] Mappilas chiefly reside in the Malabar region.

Muslims of Kerala, of which Mappilas constitute a majority, make up the largest community in Kerala state: 24.70% of the populations. As a religious group they are the second largest after Hindus (56%).[2] Mappilas share the common language of Malayalam with the other inhabitants of Kerala. Islam reached Malabar Coast as early as the 7th century AD and was assimilated with the culture and traditions of the local people. Over the centuries, the strong relations of the Mappilas with the traders from Arabia have created a profound impact on their life and culture. This has resulted in the formation of a unique tradition in literature, art, music, and history of the Mappilas. They form an integral part of the unique blend of the culture of the Malayalam language speaking population.[3][4] Most of the Mappilas follow Shafi'i School, while a large minority follow movements that arose within Sunni Islam.

A small number of Mappilas have settled in the southern districts of Karnataka and western parts of Tamil Nadu, while the scattered presence of these people in major cities of India is comparable with other major communities in Kerala. The diaspora groups of Mappilas in Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Malaysia are comparatively large and, among the natives, they are also known as "Malabaris" or "Malwaris."


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Early history 2.1
    • Modern history 2.2
  • Modern theological Mappila sects of Kerala 3
  • Demographics 4
    • Diaspora 4.1
  • Culture 5
    • Oppana 5.1
    • Mappila Paattukal 5.2
    • Kolkali 5.3
    • Duff Muttu 5.4
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • External links 9


There's a difference of opinion on the exact origin of the word "Mappila" ("Moplah" in Colonial sources). By and large it is considered to be derived from a combination of ancient Tamil or Malayalam language words maham ("great") or mam ("mother")[5] and pillai ("son").[6][7] Some people believe that Mappila means "Son-in-Law" as the Muslim visitors often married local women and thus became son-in-laws. (Tamil Mappilai = Son in law).

Mappila was a term originally used to denote visitors and immigrants to Malabar including the Muslims, Christians and the Jews, who became the trading communities of ancient Kerala. The Saint Thomas Christian community of southern Kerala are also called "Nasrani Mappilas".[8] The Muslims of ancient Kerala were referred to as Jōnaka or Cōnaka Mappila (Yavanaka Mappilas), to distinguish them from the Nasrani Mappila (Saint Thomas Christians) and the Juda Mappila (Cochin Jews).[9]


The long-standing Arab, Greek, Persian, and later Portuguese contact with the coastal areas of India left its permanent mark in the form of several communities. Malabar and Kochi were two important princely states on the western coast of India where the Arabs and Persians found fertile soil for their trade activities. The Mappila community of Kerala came into existence through the immigration of Arab traders to these regions.[10]

Early history

Contrary to popular belief, Islam came to South Asia before Muslim invasions of Indian subcontinent. Arab traders used to visit the Malabar region, which was a link between them and ports of South East Asia, to trade even before Islam had been established in Arabia. This relation started as early as the 4th century CE.[11] They intermarried with local people in Malabar and with this admixture the large Mappila community of Kerala evolved.[12] The trade of Arabs in the Malabar coast prospered due to the rich availability of pepper and other spices from its land. With many other factors, the support they got from local Hindu rulers helped them to establish a monopoly in the commercial activities in the Indian Ocean.[13]

According to tradition, the first Indian mosque was built in 621 CE[14] by the last ruler of the Chera dynasty, who converted to Islam during the lifetime of Muhammad (c. 571–632) in Kodungallur and facilitated the proliferation of Islam in Malabar.[15] But this tradition hasn't found any historical evidence.[16] There are a few more legends of the Mappilas which relate them with early Hindu culture in Kerala; first one is regarding one Uppukutan Mappila who appears in the legend of Parayi petta panthirukulam (The twelve tribes born of a Pariah Woman) and another one is the story of Ouwayi, a Jonaka Mappila, who through extreme devotion made the goddess of Kozhikode appear before him.[17]

Islam may have been brought to the coasts of Kerala by the Arabs within a few years of Muhammad's proclamation of his mission in the 7th century CE, and Mappilas who were Islamized by the Arabs may be considered as the first native Islamic community in South Asia.[16]

The 14th century Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta was surprised when he discovered that the Mappila communities near Calicut were the followers of Imam Shafi'i while the rest of the Indian Muslims were not.

Modern history

Rebels, arrested during Mappila Rebellion in 1921

The monopoly of overseas trade in Malabar was safe with the Arab-Mappila alliance until the arrival of Portuguese in Kerala.[18] At the time, a good number of Mappilas were enlisted in the naval force of Zamorin, the ruler of Calicut. The naval chiefs of Zamorin were usually from the Mappila community; they were given the title of Marakkar. Initially, Portuguese traders were successful in reaching in an agreement with the Zamorin and hence got support from Mappilas. However, fearful of losing their monopoly in the trade-routes to Europe via the Indian ocean, the Mappila merchants persuaded the Zamorin to attack the Portuguese, killing the traders left behind by Vasco da Gama. This led to war between Calicut and the returning Portuguese fleets, who allied with their Hindu rival in Cochin.[19] During this period, Portuguese forces tried to establish monopoly in spice trade using violent methods against the Arabs and other Muslim merchants from the Middle East.[20] The possibility that a few Muslim traders from Basra, Damascus, Tunis and Egypt joined the Mappila community during this period can not be ruled out.

Portuguese-Zamorin relation deteriorated and the military of Zamorin, including Mappilas, engaged the Portuguese colonial forces in 1524 CE.[20] The Portuguese attacked and looted the town of Calicut. They set the town to fire and, in the arson, many buildings including the Jami' Mosque of Mappilas were destroyed.[18][21] Ships containing trading goods were drowned, along with thousands of merchants and their families; anyone who was an Arab was killed. All this resulted in the Mappila losing control of the spice trade they had dominated for more than a thousand years as well as losing more than half of their population at the hands of their enemy.

In the Madras Presidency. The British repaid landlord communities with a slew of measures: The first one being the abolishing of tenant rights over land.[23] The partisan rule of British authorities brought the Mappila peasants of Malabar into a condition of destitution which led to a series of uprisings against the landlords and British in 1921; it took in the form of a communal war known as Mappila Rebellion that lasted for six months and cost the lives of about 10,000 people.[23][24] Mohommed Haji was proclaimed the caliph of the Moplah Khilafat (Caliphate) and flags of "Islamic Caliphate" were flown. Eranad and Valluvanad were declared Khalifat kingdoms. The riot was controlled by the British military and many Mappilas lost their lives in the military action and many were taken as prisoners, mostly to Port Blair.

In the late 1960s, the Muslim League, a partner in the Communist-led United Front coalition government, successfully pressed for the creation of a new Malappuram district with a majority of Muslims,[25] provoking an agitation by Hindu opponents led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.[26][27] Anxieties about Muslim militancy in Kerala revived in the 1990s with the emergence of a populist Muslim demagogue, Abdul Nazar Madani.[28]

Modern theological Mappila sects of Kerala

The modern theological orientations amongst the Muslims of Kerala are primarily divided into three; Sunnis, Mujahids (Salafis) and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, though all these belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. The Sunnis referred here are identified by their conventional beliefs and practices and adherence to the Shafi'i madh'hab, while the other two theological orientations, the Mujahids and the Jama'ats, are seen as movements within the Sunni Islam. A minor group of followers may be found with Tablighi Jama'at. Both Sunnis and Salafis again have been divided to sub-groups. These all sects engage in a very fierce sectarian debates totally based in minor and major theological viewpoints. Mahmood Kooria has described about this: "beyond such theological debates, the social issues or everyday problems of Muslim commons are not at all a matter of concern for these religious clerics."[29]


According to the 2001 census, about one-quarter of Kerala's population (or 7,863,842 people) were Muslims. Some have settled in other states within India. There are substantial numbers of Mappilas in nearby districts of Kodagu, Mangalore, Bangalore, Coimbatore, etc. Furthermore, a substantial proportion of Mappilas numbering between 3 million and 4 million people have left Kerala to seek employment in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Remittances from these expatriate communities makes Kerala one of the main contributors of foreign exchange to the Indian economy.[30] Minister of State for Railways E. Ahamed, industry minister of Kerala P.K. Kunhalikutty are two notable politicians from this community.


A few Mappilas left India after the Mappila revolt in 1921 to settle in Pakistan. Today, the vast majority of Malabari Mappilas in Pakistan are Muhajirs from Karachi.

There is a Muslim Malabari colony in Karachi. Their numbers are predicted to be anywhere around 6,000; however, the vast majority have lost their cultural identity and assimilated with locals as constituents of the Muhajir community. Malabari cuisine is known for its masala dosa, banana-sag, coconut-kari, hot spices, small-fish fry, daal chawal and a delicious variety of vegetable dishes, which have added to Karachi's culinary scene.

Many of the present-day Tirulnelveli Muslims claim to be descended from the Kerala Mappilas and follow Malabari religious teachers and social culture. Indian Muslims who followed Shafi'i from the coastal state of Kerala – which borders Tamil Nadu – were forced by Portuguese attacks on their villages in the 16th century to flee into the rural interior.

Mappilas are also living in and around Port Blair, mostly in the areas of Tushnabad, Ograbranj, Wimberlygunj, Stewartgunj, Bambooflat. This areas are sub-urban in nature and it comes under the Jurisdiction of Central Government of India, their incomes are said to be below normal, and most people live without Internet.



Oppana, a dance form among the Mappila community

It is a popular form of social entertainment among the Mappila community of Kerala, south India, prevalent all over Kerala. It is generally presented by females numbering about fifteen including musicians, as a part of wedding ceremonies a day before the wedding day. The bride, dressed in all finery, covered with gold ornaments, is the chief spectator; she sits on a peetam, around which the singing and dancing take place. While they sing, they clap their hands rhythmically and move around the bride using simple steps. Two or three girls begin the songs and the rest join the chorus.

Mappila Paattukal

A typical Mappila sword

Mappila Paattu or Mappila Song is a folklore Muslim devotional song genre rendered to lyrics in Arabic-laced Malayalam, by Muslims or Mappilas of the Malabar belt of Kerala in south India.[31] Mappila songs have a distinct cultural identity, as they sound a mix of the ethos and culture of Kerala as well as West Asia. They deal with themes such as religion, love, satire and heroism. Most of the mapillapatu are mixed with Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil etc. it keeps many 'ishals' (tunes), prasams (rhyming parts) and things like that. Moyinkutty Vaidyar is one of the oldest poets in mapilapattu.


Kolkkali is a popular dance form among the Mappila Muslims in Malabar. It is played in group of 12 people with two sticks, similar to the Dandiya dance of Gujarat.

Duff Muttu

Duff Muttu[32] (also called Dubh Muttu) is an art form prevalent among Mappilas, using the traditional duff, or daf, also called Thappitta. Participants dance to the rhythm as they beat the duff.

See also


  1. ^ Panikkar, K. N., Against Lord and State: Religion and Peasant Uprisings in Malabar 1836–1921
  2. ^ Census of India 2001
  3. ^ Pg 458–466, Roland Miller, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol VI, Brill 1988. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  4. ^ "OH! CALICUT! Outlook Traveller, December 2009". Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  5. ^ Page 302, Journal of Indian history, Volumes 26–27, University of Allahabad, 1949
  6. ^ Miller Roland, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume 6 1988, page 458
  7. ^ Muslims, Dalits, and the fabrications of history. Shail Mayaram, M.S.S. Pandian, Ajay Skaria
  8. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume 6, 1988, page 458
  9. ^ "The Mappila fisherfolk of Kerala: a study in inter-relationship between habitat, technology, economy, society, and culture" (1977), P.R.G. Mathur, Anthropological Survey of India, Kerala Historical Society, p. 1
  10. ^ "MILITARY OCCUPY RIOT AREA IN INDIA; Malabar District Put Under Martial Law After Lootings and Burnings by Mobs. QUIET REPORTED RESTORED Government Plans to Take Action Against Prominent Agitators Held Responsible for Troubles". The New York Times. 28 August 1921. 
  11. ^ Shail Mayaram; M. S. S. Pandian; Ajay Skaria (2005). Muslims, Dalits, and the Fabrications of History. Permanent Black and Ravi Dayal Publisher. pp. 39–.  
  12. ^ Rolland E. Miller (1993). Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. p. 50.  
  13. ^ A. Rā Kulakarṇī (1996). Mediaeval Deccan History: Commemoration Volume in Honour of Purshottam Mahadeo Joshi. Popular Prakashan. pp. 54–55.  
  14. ^ Jonathan Goldstein (1999). The Jews of China. M.E. Sharpe. p. 123.  
  15. ^ Edward Simpson; Kai Kresse (2008). Struggling with History: Islam and Cosmopolitanism in the Western Indian Ocean. Columbia University Press. p. 333.  
  16. ^ a b Uri M. Kupferschmidt (1987). The Supreme Muslim Council: Islam Under the British Mandate for Palestine. BRILL. pp. 458–459.  
  17. ^ Husain Raṇṭattāṇi (2007). Mappila Muslims: A Study on Society and Anti Colonial Struggles. Other Books. pp. 179–.  
  18. ^ a b Mehrdad Shokoohy (29 July 2003). Muslim Architecture of South India: The Sultanate of Ma'bar and the Traditions of the Maritime Settlers on the Malabar and Coromandel Coasts (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa). Psychology Press. p. 144.  
  19. ^ Henry Morse Stephens (1897). "Chapter 1". Albuquerque.  
  20. ^ a b Sanjay Subrahmanyam (29 October 1998). The Career and Legend of Vasco Da Gama. Cambridge University Press. pp. 293–294.  
  21. ^ The Edinburgh review: or critical journal – Sydney Smith, Lord Francis Jeffrey Jeffrey, Macvey Napier, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, William Empson, Harold Cox, Henry Reeve, Arthur Ralph Douglas Elliot (Hon.). Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  22. ^ Robert Elgood (15 November 1995). Firearms of the Islamic World: in the Tared Rajab Museum, Kuwait. I.B.Tauris. pp. 164–.  
  23. ^ a b Prema A. Kurien (7 August 2002). Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity: International Migration and the Reconstruction of Community Identities in India. Rutgers University Press. pp. 51–.  
  24. ^ "MOPLAHS A MENACE FOR SEVERAL YEARS; Malabar Fanatics Said to Have Been Emboldened by Shifting of British Troops". The New York Times. 4 September 1921. 
  25. ^ Thomas Johnson Nossiter, Communism in Kerala: A Study in Political Adaptation, Royal Institute of International Affairs, ISBN 978-0-520-04667-2, pp. 251–252.
  26. ^ James Chiriyankandath, Hindu nationalism and regional political culture in India: A study of Kerala, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1996 , DOI 10.1080/13537119608428458, p. 54.
  27. ^ Protest Against Potential 'Mini-Pakistan'
  28. ^ James Chiriyankandath, Changing Muslim Politics in Kerala: Identity, Interests and Political Strategies, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 2, July 1996, pp. 257–271
  29. ^ , vol. 1Café DissensusMahmood Kooria, 2013, Muslim Leadership with Sectarian Obsessions: Can Keralite Islam Go Beyond Its Century-long Fences?
  30. ^ Remittances and its Impact on the Kerala Economy and Society – International migration, multi-local livelihoods and human security: Perspectives from Europe, Asia and Africa, Institute of Social Studies, The Netherlands, 30–31 August 2007
  31. ^ "Preserve identity of Mappila songs". Chennai, India:  
  32. ^ "MADIKERI, COORG, "GADDIGE MOHIYADEEN RATIB" islamic relegious "dikr" is held once in a year.". YouTube. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 


  • The Cochin State Manual by Mr. C. Achutha Menon, Government of Kerala, 1995

External links

  • The Mappilla Rebellion, 1921: Peasant Revolt in MalabarRobert L. Hardgrave Jr.,
  • Muslim Identities: Shifting Boundaries and Dialogues
  • Madhani Factor: Curse of Kerala Politics
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