The story of an Indian king’s conversion to Islam by the prophet Muhammad and of the subsequent foundation by Arab Muslims of communities and mosques across the sovereign’s former dominion in Kerala appears in various Arabic and Malayalam literary iterations. The most remarkable among them is the Qiṣṣat Shakarwatī Farmāḍ. This legend of community origins is here translated from the Arabic in full for the first time. Historians have dealt with such origin stories by transmitting them at face value, rejecting their historicity, or sifting them for kernels of historical truth. The comparative approach adopted here instead juxtaposes the Qiṣṣa with a Malayalam folksong and other Indian Ocean narratives of conversion as related in medieval Arabic travel literature to reveal underlying archetypes of just or enlightened kings as sponsors of community. The legend emerges as a crucial primary source for the constitution and self-definition of Islam in Kerala and for the discursive claims of this community vis-à-vis others.
See André WinkAl-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World(Leiden: Brill1990) 1:70. In a seminal English-language work on the Mappilas Stephen Dale mentions only briefly the Qiṣṣa and has this to say on the origins of the Mappilas: “At the end of the fifteenth century three Malayali dynasties exercised the prerogatives of royalty. . . . All three dynasties figure in the mythology of Kerala history which depicts the supposed last Chera emperor of Kerala Cheruman Perumal converting to Islam and partitioning his empire among a number of subordinate officials before going on pilgrimage to Mecca in 825”; see also Dale Islamic Society on the South Asian Frontier: The Mappilas of Malabar 1498-1922 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1980): 12.
Barbara D. MetcalfIslam in South Asia in Practice (Princeton: Princeton University Press2009): 1. Anas Hudawi Aripra Malik Deenar and the Old Masjid of Kasaragod (Kasaragod: Malik Deenar Islamic Academy 2011) provides a good example of how this legend is accepted as fact in this institutional history of the mosque that houses the tomb attributed to Mālik b. Dīnār one of the legend’s primary characters. Mālik b. Dīnār was a Companion of the prophet Muhammad associated with Ḥasan al-Baṣrī and is remembered as an early Ṣūfī; see his early biography in Paul Losensky (trans.) Farid ad-Din ʿAttār’s Memorial of God’s Friends: Lives and Sayings of Sufis (Mahwah nj: Paulist Press 2009): 82-90.
A. Sreedhara MenonA Survey of Kerala History (Kottayam: National Book Stall1967): 120-1. Menon suggests that the legend of the conversion of Cheraman Perumal to Islam might refer to the earlier Chera dynasty during which a king left in exile after converting to Jainism or Buddhism. In this theory Jainism and Buddhism were the main rivals to Brahmanical Hinduism in the early period and might easily have been conflated with Islam a non-Brahmanical religion in a later period.
Mohammad Ishaq KhanKashmir’s Transition to Islam: The Role of the Muslim Rishis (Delhi: Manohar1997) emphasizes the role of the Ṣūfīs Sayyid ʿAlī Hamadānī (d. 1384 of the Kubrawi Ṣūfī order from Persia) and Shaykh Nūr al-Dīn Nund Rishī (d. 1440 of the Rishī order indigenous to Kashmir) in spreading Islam throughout the region; the story of a king of Kashmir who secretly converts to Islam does not seem to have played a significant role.
Timothy InsollThe Archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2003): 177-9. Pointing to the material legacy of the first Muslim communities in sub-Saharan Africa Insoll speaks of the “indigenisation of Islam and its full absorption into the local context.”
Melanie A. MurrayIsland Paradise: The Myth: An Examination of Contemporary Caribbean and Sri Lankan Writing (Amsterdam: Rodopi2009): 13-20; see also Markus Aksland The Sacred Footprint: A Cultural History of Adam’s Peak (Hong Kong: Orchid Press 2001).
Hussain RantattaniMappila Muslims: A Study on Society and Anti-Colonial Struggles (Calicut: Other Books2007): 37 lists some important Ṣūfīs mentioned by Ibn Baṭṭuṭa but asserts incorrectly that Zayn al-Dīn and his family belonged to the Qādirī order and came from Yemen. Zayn al-Din’s family actually belonged to the Chishtī order beginning with his grandfather Zayn al-Dīn Makhdūm the Elder who was a famous Ṣūfī in Ponnani; his family came to northern Kerala from Maʿbar or the Coromandel Coast. Rantattani seems to associate famous Ṣūfīs retrospectively with the Qādirī order and its sub-branch of the Bā ʿAlawī family which became very influential in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. See also V. Kunhali Sufism in Kerala (Calicut: University of Calicut Publication Division 2004): 64.