Pangal Musalman: Manipuri Muslims

Book: Manipuri Muslims Author: Farooque Ahmad Publisher: Pharos Media Year: 2011 Pages: 192  PB Price: Rs. 200 ISBN - 10:81-7221 - 049 - 3 ISBN - 13:978 - 81 - 7221 - 049 - 6   Dr AG Khan

We know little about Manipur and specially the fact that it has a substantial population of Muslims, though Islam had reached this far flung place while the Prophet was still alive. His uncle Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas arrived in Manipur before departing for China. This book covers the history of Islam in Manipur from 615CE till date when Muslims constitute 8.32% of its population.

The Aribam tribe traces its ancestry to Hamza and Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas. Muhammad al-Hanafiya, a son of Caliph Ali is said to have arrived in Manipur in 680 C.E. A section of Nagara Brahmins in Sylhet embraced Islam in 646 C.E. Similarly, a section of kayastha (kshatriya) reverted to Islam in 743-1199.

The remaining tribes of Manipur were result of two mega Muslim migrations in 1606 and 1724. Manipur provided shelter to Shah Shuja, the Mughal prince who fled (and was pursued) to save himself from the wrath of his brother Aurangzeb.

Lakhayarful alias Baisanghar was the grand-son of the great Mughal Emperor, Akbar, from his third wife Daulat Shah. Thus Sunarphul (Shah Shuja) and Lakhiyarphul enriched the local population with Mughal traditions after finding a safe refuge here. To a great extent the Muslim population in the region grew because of the preachings of saints who enjoyed royal consent. That accounts for several mystic orders – Alwaniyah Adhmiyah and Qadirigah. While Bastamiyah, the Naqshbandiyah and Bakhtashiyah have descended from the first Caliph, Abu Bakr; the remaining can trace roots their to the fourth Caliph, Ali.

According to Henry Rule Kathe, Musalmans (i.e. early Manipuri Muslims) are the result of intermixing (melting pot) of Muslims coming in different eras from different directions – Arakans, Cachar and Manipur itself. Silk-spinning was a trade widely practised by them.

Arab geographer Ibn Khurdadhbih (851 CE) wrote that he had personally seen samples of the cotton textile produced in the Pala domains, which he praised for their unparalleled beauty and fineness. A century later, another Arab geographer, Masludi (d. 956) recorded the earliest – known mention of Muslims residing in Bengal. Manipuri Muslims are all Sunni Hanafis. Ibn Battuta during his visit to Kamrup hill met Shaikh Shah Jalal, the renowned saint in 1345 CE.

Two sections of Manipur Muslims are Aribah (pure Arabs) and khalazi (mixed blood - local mother). Earlier Muslim abodes were called "Pangal Mar" or "Pangal Mar Khullen". Al-Beruni, historian sent by Mahmud of Ghazni described the land and people as Udaygiri. What is interesting to note is the fact: "There is not even a single evidence showing conversion from the Muslim to the Meitei" (local Hindus)

Muslims used to have their own personal laws. Hindu personal law does not apply even to a Meitei convert to Islam. The Manipur kings trusted Muslims very much. However, marriage practice is akin to that of Meiteis. In other social customs too, Muslims conform to Meitei ways as long as it does not contradict Qur'anic injunctions. There is an interesting practice of elopement (in which parents of the would be bride pretend to be unaware though they do not object to elopement). After the "elopement" the parents of the bride express their anger and protest and ultimately agree to the "love marriage". In fact, arranged marriage is considered the job of a coward who cannot fall in love with a lady of his choice.

Manipuris retain their clan identities (shaqzi). There are 74 such clans. These are further divided into 4 groups - Sheikh, Sayyid, Pathan and Mughals.

Farooque Ahmad, a scholar of eminence, currently engaged in research in Delhi at ICHR, has produced a remarkable work with a very long bibliography and 595 citations from English and Manipuri sources. It is an extremely well documented treatise which serves as a standard text on History, History of Islam in India as well as a thoroughly researched sociological study. This gives the reader a peep not only in the past of the region but also of the present predicaments of the people. There are some good photographs and a map of Manipur.

It is immaculately printed thanks to painstaking vigilance of the publishers who can proudly claim this work as a valuable addition to Islamic studies and history.