Shaykh Zainuddin Makhdum | Other Books

Author's Profile

Shaykh Zainuddin Makhdum

The Author of Tuhafat Ul Mujahideen an authoritative history of the world in Arabic, and the grandson of Shaikh Zainudden Makhdoom I. Both were Malayali scholars and taught at the famous Ponnani Madrasa, on the southwest coast of India.

Zainuddin I’s son Muhammad al Ghazali bore Zainuddin 2 into the 16th century, in 1531 to be precise, and the boy quickly followed the footsteps of the illustrious grandfather. His father died when he was young and soon the boy found himself in the care of uncle Abdul Aziz Mukhdam at Ponnani. After primary and Islamic education at Ponnani, he traveled to Mecca where he spent some ten years mastering the religious texts. Coming back to Ponnani he became a revered teacher at the Madrassa, where he taught for another 36 years. He was a skilled orator who always despaired in the fact that the Moplahs never had an Emir to follow, though always working hard with the Zamorin as an emissary in building alliances with the rulers of Turkey, Egypt and neighboring lands such as Bijapur. It was tragic that all these allies were faced with bigger problems of their own around the time Malabar had the Portuguese as foes and could not thus forcefully support the Zamorin against them. But as a historian he was reasonably fair in documenting the times. Let us now take a look at the book. Zainuddin wrote the book sometime before 1583. The text was first translated in 1833 by Lt Rowlandson after a Portuguese translation was made by David lopes. Many other translations followed and today we have the authoritative version by SMH Nainar.

The book details some of the background of the Moplah origins in Malabar, the story of Cheraman Perumal, the arrival of the De Gama and the later fights by the people of Malabar against the Al Afrunj or the franks. (The English were termed Al Inkitar and the Spaniards Al Andaloos, whereas the French were Al Fransawee). In the middle chapters he details the Nair society and the various differences with the Moplah culture.

The Tuhfat is one of Shaikh Zainuddin’s several works, and is the best known among them. A chronicle of the resistance put up by the Muslims of Malabar against the Portuguese colonialists from 1498, when Vasco Da Gama arrived in Calicut, until 1583 when the author died, it describes in considerable detail events, many of which Zainuddin 2 had witnessed and lived through. It was intended, as Shaikh Zainduddin says, as a means to exhort the Malabar Muslims to launch a struggle or jihad against the Portuguese invaders.

Sheikh Zainuddin explains the curious customs of Hindu Malabar to the uninitiated, such as the concept of Koodipaka, where entire generations fight against what they feel is injustice, until death. He also mentions the complete absence of treachery and deceit in Malabar wars, a situation that was used by the Portuguese and the Dutch to their advantage. They brought into the fray the new moral – that nothing is unfair in war. He mentions how the Hindu customs of inheritance and other matters are followed by some Muslim families especially in North Malabar. He mentions how the rule of seniority is strictly followed in ascension to the throne, be the person be an aged person, invalid or mute (Note this is actually just a figure of speech as I am aware of such a happening only in the case of Mookarasu in nearby Karnataka & not in Malabar. But there have been many aged Zamorins).

The Tuhfat describes how the Zamorins turned down bribes offered by the Portuguese to expel the Muslims, and of how they, along with Nair Hindu and Muslim forces, engaged in numerous battles with the Portuguese, who are said to have singled out the Muslims for attack and persecution.

Shaikh Zainuddin’s observations about the Hindus of Malabar are remarkable for their sense of balance and sympathy. Of the Hindu rulers, he says, ‘There are some who are powerful and some comparatively weak. But the strong, as a matter of fact, will not attack or occupy the territory of the weak’. He continues to show amazement about how nobody usurps the throne by breaking this rule. Zainuddin confirms that the Nairs were a warrior caste and were always involved with such activity. As he writes all this, he clarifies that he is only explaining the communities & their culture and that they have no bearing whatsoever on what is to come or what he has to say, but mainly providing perspective.

Zainuddin 2 also despaired about the lack of coordinated support by the various Muslim leaders in the plight of Malabar - He says as follows on the contrast between the response of the Zamorins to the plight of the Malabar Muslims with that of several Muslim Sultans in other parts of India, who were approached for help in expelling the Portuguese. ‘The Muslim-friendly Zamorin’, he writes, ‘has been spending his wealth from the beginning’ for the protection of the Malabari Muslims from the depredations of the Portuguese. On the other hand, he rues, ‘The Muslim Sultans and Amirs—may Allah heighten the glory of the helpful among them—did not take any interest in the Muslims of Malabar’.

Interestingly Zainuddin chose Adil Ali Shah as his patron for some special reason. Whether it was due to increased monetary support is not clear and it is even more strange that Zainuddin, obviously a Sunni found support from a Shiah ruler in this cause.

As the book blurb puts it - In appealing to the Malabari Muslims to launch jihad against the Portuguese, Shaikh Zainuddin makes clear that this struggle is purely a defensive one, directed at only the Portuguese interlopers and not the local Hindus or the Hindu Zamorins, for whom he expresses considerable respect. Nor is it, he suggests, a call to establish Muslim political supremacy and control. Jihad, then, for Shaikh Zaiuddin, was a morally just struggle to restore peace in Malabar and expel foreign occupiers, to return to a period when Muslims and Hindus in the region lived together in harmony.

He died in 1583 AD and lies buried at Kunji Palli, in Chombal. Only a tree stands on his burial ground in the front of Kunji Palli, neither tomb nor epithet declares Sheikh's glorious past. A board in Malayalam language inscribed his name has been hung near his burial place. The death at a critical juncture robs historians of a perspective of the times when the Zamorin established a treaty with the Portuguese and the period of his estrangement with the Kunjali marakkar.

Even though small in size, the text provides much information of the medieval period in Malabar history, when the Zamorins grip on Malabar weakened and when the age old culture was overrun by the Portuguese, hastening the curtain drop on the 500 odd years period during which the Zamorins had nurtured Malabar. But the Portuguese were to be overrun soon by the Dutch, followed by the Mysore forces who rode down to wreak havoc and finally the English would rang the death knell to that period of Malabar’s glory.