Jaihoon’s interview for Issue 4 of Cafe Dissensus (http://cafedissensus.com/) about the experiences of ‘ordinary’ Muslim in Kerala who are not interested in the issues of ‘organizational factionalism’ that concern the clerics, and who want to go beyond the sectarian rigidities to a wider frame of creative and critical engagement with the public sphere. (Guest Editor: Mahmood Kooria, Leiden University, The Netherlands).Transcript

Where do you locate yourself in Keralite Islam?

If you are referring to the present state of Islam in Kerala, Im afaraid I wont be able to find myself anywhere there. And it is not just me, but a whole bunch of youths out there who are facing this ‘dislocation’ in Keralite Islam. They are not happy with the present branding norms based on organizational labels.

As an insider/observer, so far how was your experience and do you think it should continue/discontinue its existing forms and styles?

I think they should stop it right now. Religious organizations are pitted against each other and they openly fight like wolves on the streets and the common man becomes the the innocent lamb in this quarrel.

Isnt Keralite Islam immensely controlled by religious organizations led by clerics who usually are not concerned about the social conditions of their own followers, or the wider discussions happening about them?

A major part of focus every religious organization is towards crushing the other while the primary concerns of the larger community is at stake. These outfits are very closely networked and well funded from both home and overseas. While many of them claim to have hundreds and thousands of members, the larger community remains disconnected and does not stand to gain from their activities.

Is it possible to change this organizational factionalism and to divert energies of such a massive collective into productive and fruitful participation in the social development?

You see the present form of religious activism in Keralite Islam is reduced to the following-

Event management

Fund raising campaigns

Propagandist media releases to malign the other, including personal slander.

Flex their numeric strength during the battle of the ballots

Run educational factories with no concern for quality and evaluation of its products.

So, far from awakening the spiritual instincts of common man, these organizations are vying with each other to put to deep slumber the very same spiritual aspect.

To what extend do you feel the organizations have contributed to the overall growth of Keralite Islam? What do you think of the necessity of a leadership to represent Keralite Muslims in mainstream public sphere both in Kerala and outside? What are your experiences from the past and suggestions for the future?

I feel Keralite Islam is in a dangerous form of comfort zone, both at the intellectual and organizational levels. Despite the centuries-old tradition of Keralite Islam, with very superb legacy of its own, it has unfortunately not been able to successfully carve a distinct position for itself in the history of Islamic arts. It is unbelievable but true that Keralite Islam which claims to date back to the Prophetic era has not been able to produce notable figures who could gain global recognition in the modern world of Islam. I’m referring to those names that belonged to traditional cradles of Muslim civilizations like in Iraq, Muslim Spain or North Africa. The present scenario isn’t encouraging either. Modern Keralite Islam, despite an incredible line-up of superb learning centers, has not been able to produce a global Muslim scholar or spokesman to showcase before the international Muslim fraternity. I personally think that the infighting between religious organizations have a major part of the blame in this regard.

However, if my observations on the social media were correct, then I have to admit the modern English-educated Muslim youths in Kerala are heavily looking up to international orators and scholars like Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Tariq Ramadan for their spiritual kick. The religious organizations have miserably failed to address the contemporary challenges facing the youths. These outfits could not prescribe any panacea for the paranoia surrounding the common man in the community.

As an occasional but passionate observer of Keralite Islam I have noticed several issues which need the intervention of both political and religious leadership.

Woman scholarship

Although both boys and girls are enrolled in ‘madrassas’ and ‘Arabic colleges’ for religious learning, Keralite Islam turns a blind eye on allowing and accepting women scholarship on organizational level. Neither the conservative nor the progressive factions of patriarchal Kerala have been generous to contribute a notable lady scholar who could address issues particularly pertaining to women.

Museums

Keralite Islam may be a centuries-old intellectual heavyweight with tons of cultural and religious legacy. However a passionate student of this history would have nothing much left to explore and experience except a few renovated mosques and graves. There has been no archiving of the ancient manuscripts and artifacts which are crucial for scientific studies. In this globalized era, movement of people has become very common and museums play a crucial role in learning about a society’s past.

Biographies

While it is true that Keralite Islam has indeed produced several champions in scholarship and public life, most of such luminaries’ lives have not been documented well for public access. All that one may find are folk songs which have encrypted such biographies in a language alien to modern understanding.

Art forms

Western Islam has produced several Nasheed artists and bands which has not been the case with Keralite Islam. The latter has not succeeded in showcasing its art forms on the international Muslim stage. Artists and their patrons have to bear this in mind for future survival.

Historic Tourism

In recent times, Keralites have been increasingly traveling to other Muslim centers, both at homes and overseas, either for tourist or religious reasons or both. Several delegations have been visiting Middle East countries other than Saudi Arabia as well as Turkey and former Soviet Republics for witnessing Islamic past. However, no effort has been put for inviting the Muslim sin those countries to Kerala to share their legacy. Keralite Islam also has tremendous opportunities for historic tourism considering the numerous ancient mosques and madrassas. An organized effort between tour operators and organizations could help achieve this successfully.

Architecture

Keralite Islam also has some remarkable architectural styles which are unique in the Islamic world. However, like other legacies, this has also been largely went unnoticed when compared to Mughal or Persian models in North India. A unified attempt by Muslim architects and scholars can help fill this vacuum.

Research and Development

While Keralite Islam can indeed boast of countless learning institutions, both secular and religious, the bright products from such academies are on the crossroads after they graduate. While most of the centers of Islamic learning are patronized by community and students hardly pay any fee, the community does not benefit largely from such candidates. Due to lack of direction, the graduates, with rare exceptions, normally become busy with livelihood related concerns. A research and development wing, if implemented, should be able to selectively tap into the young scholarly potential.

Language

Lastly, while Malayalam continue to remain the mainstream tongue of Keralite Islam, it is also true that majority of Keralites in predominantly Muslim parts of Kerala send their children to English medium schools and colleges. If the Muslim clergy and the organizations who patronize them do not come into terms with this reality, the gap between common man and religious organizations will only deepen further.

I believe these fine tunes are required for the fine arts of Keralite Islam. At first they may sound poetic. But a passionate leadership can make them pragmatic as well. Poets think. Politicians implement.

What was the idea behind Jaihoon.com in relation to Mappila Islam, its history and culture? How do you see it in the context of our present discussion?

Jaihoon.com was an effort to share my intense experiences and discoveries of my roots in Keralite Islam. It is a storehouse of my interactions and discussions with leaders of Keralite Islam as well travel experiences to several historic destinations. Additionally, I had also published a book, The Cool Breeze from Hind, a mystical travelogue centered around the Arabian influence on Keralite Islam.