Narrating Community: the Qiṣṣat Shakarwatī Farmāḍ and Accounts of Origin in Kerala and around the Indian Ocean

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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  • 1 Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Emory
  • | 2 Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Emory
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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.

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