Kerala is one of the Indian states located in the southwest of the Indian subcontinent, a coastal area overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is distinguished by its geographical location and has a wonderful tradition involving all the population without regard to their religions and belief systems. Unlike other states this made Kerala a quiet and reassuring place where people live in peace and harmony. While the rest of the states in India have been plagued by sectarian riots and religious violence for centuries, recently, after the rise of fascist power, the danger has surrounded Kerala as well from all sides.
There are many researches and studies that have examined the subject of minority jurisprudence, but the issues faced by Muslim minorities differ from place to place. The contemporary issues faced by Muslim minority in Kerala are rarely seen in other parts of the world, such as the rule on inauguration of the institutions and conferences by lighting a lamp as it has to do with the worship of fire which is known to Hindus, the slaughtering of cows by Muslims in front of people who worship them, the consumption of food offered to the Hindu gods, the participation in the temple dances, entering into marriage with Hindus considering them as the people of the book, and many other issues that may face the Muslim, requiring rulings by the jurists. Muslims in Kerala have been and still remain as a vital community since the advent of Islam in Kerala, and they had a history of peaceful coexistence with others, and they were not isolated by the followers of other religions as mentioned in the previous section.
The crucial role played by Muslims throughout the history of Kerala continued till the first quarter of the twentieth century until the Islamic Caliphate weakened. Muslims were the ones who led the revolutions and wars to resist colonialism and occupation for centuries, as the “jihad” ordered by the Holy Quran is what fueled them in their battle against colonialism. In particular, the colonists when they came to India brought with them their cultures and habits, which were not in line with the Islamic law. So the defense of their sanctity became a religious duty that couldn’t be left out. In addition, the colonists who came from Europe did not enter India alone, but they had missionary groups to evangelize the people of India. The European occupation had economic, political, religious and other goals as well. For these reasons, Muslim scholars have made their followers aware of the danger behind colonialism and declared war on them. The scholars knew and believed that the resistance of the colonists was achieved only by reviving the religious values and carrying out the Islamic education. They took this task on their shoulders and showed the intensity of their hostility and resistance to the colonialists of the Portuguese, Dutch, British and others.
In addition, the political developments that India has attained were also inherited from Muslims, as the Muslims ruled these areas for more than eight centuries in succession. These Muslim rulers were not just Sultans who enjoyed being rulers, but were reformers who led the cultural and social renaissance, and this is what the natives of Malabar had missed. Rulers who ascended the throne after them were interested in the affairs of a certain sect, unlike the Muslim rulers who were carrying out a comprehensive reform reaching all groups of society from different sects and affiliations.
After the independence of India, the problems of Muslims increased, especially after the division of India into three countries, as the Muslims of India did not have a leader who could lead and bring them together in many matters. Even the division of India and the emergence of Pakistan was a prominent cause of the migration of qualified Muslims to Pakistan leaving in India those, who do not have the ability of leadership and political wisdom. This danger increased when the government offered to address issues related to Muslims and to find appropriate solutions. This situation continued until the emergence of Islamic groups and movements in the twentieth century, which appeared due to the weakness or fall of the Ottoman caliphate. People gathered under these groups, which had different interests and different focuses. Among them were those who focused on purging Muslims of the heresies and superstitions. Few others were interested in the political aspect of Islam, as a prelude to the restoration of the complete Islamic approach that the secularists spent on claiming the separation of the religion and the state. Another group considered propagation/preaching and education/upbringing as the priority for their work. They went out to spread Islam throughout the country. These groups and movements – although they have negative effects, especially in their interaction with each other – have played a significant role in raising the educational level of Muslims in Kerala, and in carrying out religious awareness among them. The healthy competition among these Islamic groups was a blessing for the Islamic community in Kerala that resulted in the birth of many religious schools, Arabic colleges, Islamic centers, Islamic preaching and others.
Historical features of religious coexistence in Kerala
Whoever looks at the history of the state of Kerala – whether after its establishment or before – finds that it has maintained the social harmony and intimate relationship between the followers of different religions since ages. The experience of the Muslim preachers who came to Kerala from the Arabs to spread the message of Islam and to inform its people is the best proof of this social harmony, as its rulers and kings welcomed them warmly and no one stood in between their call to the new religion. In addition, they allowed Muslims to build mosques, which still remain in various parts of Kerala so far, and married their daughters to new guests until it was said that the main reason for the emergence of Islam in Kerala and its spreading was because of the marriage between the Arab Muslims who brought them trade and propagated Islam and the daughters of Keralite families. This marriage served as a crossroads between the two cultures, as the Muslims of Kerala came into touch with the Arab culture in terms of fathers, while at the same time the traditions of the people of Kerala and their customs remained in the way of the mothers.
The people of Kerala did not distance themselves from the Muslims and did not keep Muslims away from them, but showed them utmost respect until it was said that these preachers of the Arabs were the only group that had the opportunity to climb on howdah of Kings, when the kings did not allow people of their religion – the Hindus – to sit in it. It is noteworthy that some historians pointed to the great similarity between the mosques that were built in Malabar after the arrival of Malik bin Dinar and the temples that existed at the time. They found that this similarity might be for two reasons, either that these mosques were temples initially, and then when Malik bin Dinar and his companions came, they left it and gave it to the Muslims to pray in it, or mosques were built by the same carpenters – who built the temples – after the ordinance from king to build mosques for the Muslims. In short, the settlement of Arabs throughout Kerala has helped its people to improve socially and economically to the extend where its residents began imitating the settlers in their habits and lives expanding the roads and streets and the bridge, ponds, orchards and others were built next to them. It was characterized by elegance and beauty, until Kerala became one of the most developed regions of the era. It is therefore possible to say that the most precious historical legacy inherited by the Keralites from their fathers is this social harmony and the basis of coexistence on which their system of life was based. It is this religious tolerance and social unity that has made Kerala rise and develop in various areas of life, even in the arenas like social, economic, political and others until it became famous for its features and progress in the map of the world.
It is worth mentioning here that there are some celebrations in Kerala where everyone participates regardless of their religion and culture. Among them are “Onam”, about which the historians differed concerning its historical roots. Some of them believed that it goes back to the myth of Mahabli, who defeated the king of evil, while few others opine that it goes back to the story of Cheraman Perumal’s conversion to Islam. There is no doubt that such ceremonies and rituals have played a prominent role in strengthening the link and coexistence between different religions. It was this cooperation and co-existence among the various followers of religions that kept the Kerala calm and reassuring. It was this that Keralites inherited and clung to in this era of racial violence in various parts of India.
An example to analyze the above matter is taken up here. Kerala is home to many temples and there are many rituals and customs related to them. Many of them conduct rituals in which there are offerings (food) given to their Gods. The issue rises here about the permissibility of Muslims to consume them if they are offered to them by them.
Muslims invite others for food or send them food and sweets during Eid and other celebrations. Similarly Hindus and Christians invite Muslims for food and their religious ceremonies. This exchange among followers of different faiths in Kerala has a great role in building a society characterized by coexistence, cooperation and tolerance. This collaborative participation makes most of the religious ceremonies social until they become a meeting place for all without regard to their religion and gender, renewing their love and establishing their relationship. The participation of followers of different faiths in feasts, celebrations and others has led to the emergence of many issues that need to be analyzed in the light of higher objectives of Sharia.
The scholars in Kerala have differed in the ruling on eating these foods. Some of them considered it to be haram while others considered it to be permissible. The difference is about its relationship to the Hindu belief system and their polytheism. The one who looks at the texts in this case clearly finds that the sacrifices that are offered to other than Allah, such as idols, natural force, etc., are haram to eat for what is stated in the decisive evidence as mentioned in the Holy Quran “He has forbidden to you only carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; but if one is driven by necessity – neither coveting it nor exceeding his immediate need – no sin shall be upon him: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace” (2:173). All the sacrifices that are sacrificed and presented for other than Allah may not be eaten by Muslims, since Allah has expressly forbidden them more than once.
The scholars who prohibit eating the foods offered to the gods, based their opinion on the same evidence stating that these offerings, even if not sacrifices, fall within the limits of “that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked.” However, when we look at these texts, we see that they do not decisively indicate all foods without looking if they are sacrificed or others. The use of “ما أهل به لغير الله” or “ما أهل لغير الله به” has been mentioned in the Qur’an four times, all in the context of talking about eating the meat of different animals. It is clear here that all the exegetes mentioned the sacrifices when they dealt with the ayat “That over which any name other than God’s has been invoked” and not one of them included all the foods offered to the gods. In addition, the word “أُهِلَّ” has a linguistic connotation related to the sacrifices.
The verb “أَهَلَّ” was used in pre-Islamic period to express the habit of raising the voice by Arabs invoking the names of their gods while slaughtering what they offered to their gods. As a result it cannot be used for the ones that cannot be slaughtered, because the effective cause (العلة) cannot be same for what is slaughtered and what is not.
As a conclusion, the foods offered to the Hindu gods, or made to them if given to one of the Muslims, may be consumed out of necessity or need and to guard against harmful consequences. Necessity is measured in accordance with its true proportions as long as there are no decisive proofs establishing its prohibition. In addition, a Muslim can consider it to be God’s blessing, and can consume it with god consciousness without paying attention to the belief of the one who cooked it and offered it to his god. This is a wisdom collected by mankind, the application of this is that the Prophet accepted to pay Jiziya to the infidels one third of the fruits of Medina in the Battle of Ahzab and even if he did not apply it later. This was when the Arabs gathered from several tribes, including the Banu Asad, Banu Murra, Banu Selim, and Ghatafan to fight Muslims, the Prophet wanted to hold a treaty with them to break this ring.
A Muslim who considers himself part of the religious minority must not close the doors that are open to him to communicate with others, and should not sever the intimate ties that exist between them in the situations characterized by extremism and lack of cooperation, because the Muslim’s refusal to accept such gifts creates unsatisfactory consequences. It leads one to not inviting others to occasions that are particular him. Therefore we believe that the Muslim should not take a position that does not serve the Islamic preaching in such issues, as long as there is no text that indicates its prohibition. If a Muslim does not want to eat these foods, he must at least accept them with respect and out of respect for those who have brought them to him, and to maintain the close relationship he has with him. Then he can get rid of them secretly without eating them. In short, the Fiqh held by the Muslim minority must serve the supreme goals that the Shari’ wanted to achieve through its legislation. It is improper for one to come with rulings that does not carry the spirit of Sharia and does not go along with the characteristics and peculiarities of Sharia.
The Kerala State, although there have been persistent attempts by extremists to destroy the harmony and coexistence of religions, has not met the wishes of their enemies. Keralites prioritize unity and tolerance over anything else, because they regard it as a legacy received from their forefathers. Whoever sees the ceremonies and functions held in Kerala at various events, finds convincing evidence of what we have pointed out here. Most of these ceremonies are held at public platforms where followers of different faiths participate and trust their relationship with one another. Foods offered to the Hindu gods, or made to them if given to one of the Muslims may be eaten as long as there is no decisive evidence proving its prohibition, especially during necessities and needs. We have already pointed out that the harmony and cooperation found among the citizens of Kerala without looking at their religion has incited them and urged them to exchange love and respect by giving food and participating in each other’s joyous occasions in order to prevent harmful consequence. A Muslim who considers himself part of the religious minority must not close the doors that are open to him to communicate with others, and should not sever the intimate ties that exist between them in situations characterized by extremism and lack of cooperation, because the Muslim’s refusal to accept such gifts creates unsatisfactory consequences.