In 19th and 20th centuries, India had to bear many sufferings at the hands of British rule. The Indian Muslims fought with full vigor to oppose the British imperialistic designs. They had to face drastic economic consequences as a result. In the anti-imperialistic battle, great leaders who left their marks on history led them.
Umar Qazi of Veliyankode – the Sufi poet on horseback – was such a leader whose patriotism made him the trademark of anti-British sentiment of the nation.
He shone equally in political and religious life as well. He saw Hindus, Muslims and Christians as one people and the British as the common enemy. He had high esteem for the Indian rulers as such he was given great honor in the court of Samudiri. He was an ideal exponent of communal harmony.
He was a living example of the religious ideals. He attempted with his head and heart in unifying the entire nation for driving out the British plunderers out of the land. Towards the end of 19th century, he introduced the first ever Non Taxation Movement previously unheard in the history of freedom struggle. He openly defied the British orders to pay tax and had to bear a lot of persecution as a result.
Born in 1765 AD in a very righteous family, Umar Qazi was to become the pride of Muslim Kerala, the visionary poet and a just ruler. He showed unusual signs of greatness in childhood. His father, Ali Musliyar, used to take Umar to the great saints when they would pass by Veliyankode.
At the age of 7, his mother passed away. Umar Qazi grew in the company of his father. He learnt Quran recitation, aqeedah (theology)and fiqh (Jurisprudence) from his father. At 10, his father too passed away. At 11, he joined the Madrasa at Tanoor. At this stage, he used to inscribe poems on walls of mosques and houses. He also paid visits to his parent’s grave and prayed for them. At 13, he joined Ponnani Madrasa for higher studies.
After completing his studies in Ponnani Madrasa, he was made the Qazi (judge) of Veliyankode. Other neighboring areas also proclaimed Umar as the Qazi.
The need for spiritual culture
Clad in his white robe, Umar Qazi was a philosopher, a social reformer, a momentary poet, and an outstanding religious preacher and was well versed in medical issues. He emphasized on spiritual training for the growth of the individual and society. He challenged those who differed on this truth.
The Instant poet
He composed many couplets on various topics like religion, medical advices, and historical incidents on different occasions. There is no limit for the poems he inscribed on walls of mosques. But the majority of them were transmitted through word of mouth. As a result many were forgotten. Love for humanity and fear of God were his outstanding qualities.
He tried his best to familiarize Islam to the common people in a way that was easy for them to comprehend. There were few parallels to Umar Qazi in memory. It is reported that he could recollect write long ‘fatwas’ from ‘Thuhfa’ the well-known book of jurisprudence.
He lived a virtuous life and therefore was dear to all the communities. He renewed the message of communal harmony and religious tolerance brought by Malik bin Dinar.
First Non – Taxation Movement
Umar Qazi introduced the Non-Taxation Movement decades before Mahatma Gandhi, the father of nation and the unchallenged leader of Indian freedom struggle, started it. In 1805, Umar publicly announced his defiance of the British taxation system.
When the officers approached the brave hero requesting him to pay his taxes, he gave a fiery reply “You are servants of the murderers of Tipu Sultan and destroyers of Samudiri, Arakkal, Kochi and Kodungallur. Almighty is the true owner of the land. I will not pay the tax”.
When the matter was informed to the Nibu Sahib, the higher officer, he sent a police officer to summon Qazi to the station.
In Nibu sahib’s Court
When Umar reached the station, Nibu sahib asked him, “Are you the Qazi who refuses to pay the tax?”
“Everyone on this land is bound to pay tax. I will exile you if you do not pay… ”
“I will not pay the tax for God’s land. Do as you wish”
“You are forgetting who I am and the place you are standing”
“No. I am not prepared to pay tax. Maadha taqoolu ya batwaal? ( You fool, what did u say?). With a furious look, he jumped out of his seat and spit on the officer.
The daring son of India walked out untouched . . .
The first line of poetry by Umar Qazi
While the poet was in Tanoor Madrasa, the Alfiya (which elaborates Arabic Grammar through a series of 1000 couplets) was among the other books he had to study. Once when the book was taught in the classroom, a teacher named Abu Bakr Koya was absent. As the teacher recited the first verse, Umar replied in the same rhythm meaning that ‘Koya’ was not come yet. (see the left side of the couplet)
Umar Qazi meets Mampuram Syed Alavi
Once Umar Qazi went to Mampuram to hold discussion on Islamic law with Syed Alavi.
At one point of time, he doubted the spirituality of Syed Alavi. It is said that as a result, he forgot what he had learnt.
Thereafter, Umar Qazi realized that Syed Alavi was the Qutb-uz-Zaman (‘the Axle of the Era’ in Sufi terminology) and he was a divine scholar. He apologized for misunderstanding the great saint. Syed Alavi bestowed the mantle of the Qadiriyya tariqa to Umar Qazi and taught him the secrets of the spiritual domain. Umar used to visit Syed Alavi often
Umar Qazi’s letter to Syed Alavi while in prison.
When Umar Qazi was imprisoned by the British for his stance on Non-Taxation, he wrote a letter in the form of a long poem to Syed Alavi, his spiritual master.
Only the first line has been given here.
After praising God, sending peace and blessings upon his Messenger
I am writing to my master and spiritual guide
Umar Qazi’s experience on seeing a train for first time.
“I saw a train running on a rail without any legs.
It runs with a voice like koo koo koo, shi shi producing smoke.
It is strangely full of people and goods.
Umar Qazi’s apology for breaking the earthen jug.
Once while in a friend’s house, Umar Qazi was carrying water in a earthen jug which fell from his hand by mistake. He immediately consoled his friend by saying :
O Allah ! Forgive the owner of the mankindi (earthen jug) !
Bless him with a ponkindi (golden jug) in paradise.
Note: The above poem is a blend of Arabic and Arabi Malayalam, as was common in those days. Umar Qazi was however a perfect master of Arabic language as evident from other Arabic poems.)
Umar Qazi’s as a social critic
In addition to his political activism, Umar Qazi was also a social reformer and critic who questioned the hollow practices of society.
At one occasion he said addressing the proud members of the society
‘O those who become arrogant on your lineage ! Recall your ancestors !
Who were Thiyyan, Nayar, Ashari, Mushari, Pannan, Kushawan, Chetty, Nayadia and Parayar-
You were the converts from these classes’
Note: The italicized names were social classes of Umar Qazi’s time. Caste System was prominent in those days where the profession was the major cause of the label. The children used to inherit the same profession as their forefathers. The Ashari class, for example, are concentrated on the carpentry work. Although Caste system has faded away, some traces of it are found still in the society. At times, it becomes a cause of friction at occasions like marriages and political elections.
Umar Qazi’s poem on Cheraman Perumal
Umar Qazi was well aware of the story of Cheraman Perumal – the first Indian to accept Islam. He narrates it thus in one of his poems inscribed on the walls of Ponnani Juma Masjid.
Kodungallur was a center of festivals established by the great Emperor Cheraman Perumal
The major part of all the minor kingdoms were under his rule
As such, one day he saw he saw the moon split into two (a miracle of Holy Prophet performed in Arabia) on a clear cloudless night
As a result the love for Holy Prophet grew in his heart and he became the earliest Muslim of this nation.
Umar Qazi’s poem praising the Prophet (with dot-less letters)
Umar Qazi’s mastery of Arabic is evident from the long poem he wrote in praise of Prophet. He is expressing his strong desire for the intercession of Holy Prophet. The poem is full of emotions.
Only the first two lines have been put here.
Umar Qazi’s religious reforms
Umar Qazi’s was a Sufi saint but at the same time he never approved malpractices that had crept into Islamic way of life.
At a place called Kondotty, a name-sake saint had instructed his students to prostrate in front of him. Umar Qazi, a man of visionary reforms, could not tolerate his practice. Nor could the rest of Malabar for that matter.
Many great scholars like Mampuram Syed Alavi, Syed Ahmed Makhdum, Panakkad Syed Muhammad Hussein strongly protested against the un-Islamic prostration. They issued fatwas, wrote numerous books and composed poems to strike at this evil practice.
Umar Qazi also wrote a poem against this malpractice. Only the first two lines have been put here.
A creation should not prostrate before another creation.
Doing so, he will be out of religion and become a unbeliever. It is a heinous sin
Umar Qazi’s mingling with nature
Umar Qazi was an instant poet who composed verses whenever he observed any phenomenon that stirred his thoughts. He was the true voice of Kerala Muslims.
The people found in him the poetry that they could fondle for generations to come. He was their political ideal too.
Once when he was entering the Ponnani Juma’ Masjid, he saw a goat lying on the floor in a very relaxed mood. The poet did not think for a moment. He said to the goat :
“O Goat! O Goat ! Do not sleep here. You will definitely be hit and driven out if you sleep here.”
Umar Qazi’s poetry in praise of Prophet
This is the celebrated ‘Sallil Ilahu’ poem of Umar Qazi. It is a long poem with more than 110 lines.
The peculiarity of the poem is that after every four lines he asks the reader to recite ‘Sallu Aalaihi wa sallimu Taslima’ meaning send peace and blessings upon the Holy Prophet.
Umar Qazi recited this poem while at the Rawdha Shareef (the Eternal resting place of Prophet at Madina).
His desire to enter the Rawdha grew inch by inch. In his heart was the burning love for the Beloved of Almighty, Prophet Muhammad . It was only natural for Umar Qazi to express his love via poetry.
This poem is rich in thought and originality. When compared to works of other Arab poets, Umar Qazi’s poem stands different in its style and rhythm. Many scholars have praised this poem. Besides narrating the biography of the Holy Prophet, it also sheds light into various topics on Islamic philosophy and thought.
Below are some of the prominent lines of the poem. A loose translation has also been given below.
May Allah’s blessings be on Abdullah’s son who has been described as the one with the best of manners! He was not cruel nor of a stern heart. But he was kind to the believers and Merciful also.
When Prophet reached each sky, prophets and angels stood behind him.
He was made the imam of them and he led the prayer of them.
He saw the secrets of the unseen world and the wonders of the worlds of men and jinns.
O the greatest of all men! This humble Umar awaits your glance
With tears flowing profusely from my eyes, I stand in front of your door expecting your mercy.
Loving and praising the Holy Prophet are good deeds
It is possible that Allah may fulfill your wishes due to them.