May 5, 2014 By Shameer Ks

Praveen Swami and Tuhfat al Mujahidin

b1On the day of fools this year, I woke up in expectation of pranks. But none seemed to be aware of the relevance of the day. I took hold of the paper. It’s election gala. Politicians are out on the streets, with all the pranks up in their sleeve to make us all fools or, in rare cases, enlightened. On the edit page, Praveen Swami carried his latest article, updating us on the weather forecast of Indian Jihad.

The focus is upon the recent arrest of some youths, who are accused to have links with the terror organization called Indian Mujahiddin. As Swami is not someone authorized by the Honorable Supreme Court of India, it does not amount to the breach of justice or truth not to be fooled by his argument. “Why are all Muslims being skeptic of Praveen Swami,” a friend of mine asked adding, ‘He analyses a crucial issue of this time. None knows but it may be your family which will be blown in a nasty terror strike next time.” Fear may cause us to dispel our skepticism and we believe that the smoke rising from behind the wall must definitely be caused by the fire lit by an April fool prankster.  But it is not just Muslims who are prone to skepticism. Read the comment of Mr. Janardanan on the article carried online.


“I used to read Praveen Swami’s articles earlier and believe it too. After I came to know that the entire Ishrat Jahan “encounter” killing as reported by Swami was verbatim reproduction of the police and security agencies, after I read in news that it was a fake encounter and the culprits are facing serious charges of murder, now I do not even bother to read them.

First principle a reporter should follow is to be circumspect towards police as well as those who oppose it. If objectivity is sacrificed for ease or bias, a reporter stops being one and becomes a transcriber.”

I respect the skepticism of my friend who brooks no skepticism about Praveen Swami that Janardanan might be a fake ID of a Muslim skeptic. But his skepticism holds much water, doesn’t it? That is enough about the main thrust of Praveen Swami’s article. We live in an age of make-beliefs and professional fooling. Let skepticism flourish to keep certainties in check.

A few words about Tuhfat al Mujahidin to which Swami traces the genealogy of terror

Swami writes: ‘Historian Stephen Dale has observed that these ideas stretched to the south of India, noting the work of the Sixteenth Century author, Zayn al-Din al-Ma’bari, who chronicled the jihad against Portugal’s intrusions into the Indian Ocean, hoping to “inspire the Faithful to undertake a jihad against the worshippers of the cross”.

Tuhfat al Mujahidin, to which Swami alludes by the word ‘work’, is, of course, a work on jihad. The book is considered by most historians in Kerala as the first written history in Kerala. As Dale observes, it deals with the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries with the express aim of colonialism (monopoly over the trade of spices) and with the responses it elicited among various communities in erstwhile Kozhikode (Calicut, Kerala). It narrates the pre-colonial pluralistic social space in Calicut as a background in which Muslims and Hindus prospered under the rule of Zamorin.  The work also narrates in contrast social hierarchies, especially the caste system. But the society was closely knit by what can be later termed as a pluralistic understanding between the two communities. The Portuguese arrival under the leadership of Gama heralded disruption and discord. That was the context which motivated Zainuddin al Ma’bari to write the book which, if translated, is a gift for warriors.

Like his grandfather’s (Zainuddin I) Tahrid ahlul Imani al Jihadi abdatil Sulban (Motivating Believers for Struggle Against Cross Worshippers), Tuhfat, alongside being a historical account, is motivational book for resistance against colonial aggression. It is important to note that Tuhfat, Tahrid, and a poetic narrative titled Fathhul Mubeen (Clear Victory) by Qadi Muhammad, want Muslims to get organized under Zamorin, their guardian, a Hindu ruler and to fight alongside Zamorin’s Nair Suicide force (Chaver Pada). All these authors are aware of the threat of the Portuguese colonialism against Islam, but they are equally concerned about the consequences of Gama’s arrival on the symbiosis of Muslims and Hindus in Kerala. Qadi Muhammad extols the praise of Zamorin to the extent that the latter can only be trusted much more than the Muslim rulers who cold shouldered the plight of Muslims.

It is travesty of truth to consider these works as a precedent of Muslim fanaticism. Those who are interested to read these books can buy them from Other Books, Calicut, which has already published the English translation of Tuhfat and Tahrid and is on its way to bring out the translation of Fathhul Mubeen.

One of the pitfalls of Swami’s reading, as well as Dale’s reading, is its anachronism. All the three works above mentioned predate the formation of nation states. Also, Jihad as enunciated and narrated in the Quran was waged prior to the time we started to go through the chequered history of nation states. So Muslim jurisprudence, which developed later on under the aegis of ‘states’ based on the Quranic narratives and Prophetic tradition, stressed on importance of a central authority which authorizes jihad. This authority goes beyond religious authorities, which are diverse and not unified or centralized, to the state. That is why the books cited above wanted Muslims to be organized under Zamorin. Terrorism, which we identify with an umbrella organization named al-Qaeda, is, according to scholars like Arjun Appadurai and Faisal Devji, is an invertebrate structure which defies boundaries like nation state. It is true that terrorists trace their genealogies to the Quranic exhortation on Jihad and medieval literature on Jihad.

Posted in: Articles