Centuries old cultural ties that the Arabs had maintained with Kerala should be revived, said KKN Kurup, head of Department of History, University of Calicut.

The professor is on a two-week lecture cum study tour in UAE. His paper, ‘Kerala-Arab relations until the advent of Portuguese’ presented at a seminar organized by the UAE University in Al Ain, evoked a tremendous response from Arab historians. Arabs had established links with Kerala long before the Portuguese set foot there. This had created a culture and understanding between the peoples.

The main cause of urbanization of many cities in Malabar was because of these relations with Arabs, which was based in mutual respect and tolerance, he said. Arabs also enjoyed the patronage of local kings such as Zamorins. Later when the Portuguese arrived, they colonized the place, monopolized, armed and fortified trade and created religious intolerance, Kurup stated.

Today, even though the two have maintained economic ties, cultural contacts have stopped due to western influence on both the sides, he said. He called for strengthening cultural traditions through academic exchanges.

Both sides should resist neocolonialism tooth and nail, he said. Kurup, who established the Sheikh Zainudhin Academy for Research in Social Sciences in Calicut with the help another historian, Dr. Hussein Randathani, said the trade between the two flourished even during the time of Prophet Sulayman.

He said the female costume of Kathakali, a popular folk art from which is world famous, has been borrowed from Arabs. Kurup called Sheikh Zainudhin Makhdum the – Thucydides of Kerala. Zainudhin, a Sufi saint and philosopher was a sixteenth century historian produced by the traditional scholarly Kerala society of that age. His major work in Arabic, Thuhfathul Mujahideen, was a treatise on the struggle on the Portuguese.

He had inspired the struggle against imperialists who tried to conquer Malabar and provided a philosophy for the anti-colonial struggle in India. Among his many works, Zainudhin’s, Fathul Mu’een is taught in different universities in Cairo.

Kurup, known for his anti-colonial stance, has been trying to project Zainudhin as the champion of Asian nationalism.

Summarized from an article by Ismail Meladi published in Gulf Today.