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Vaikom Maulavi was a Muslim scholar and social reformist from the Princely State of Travancore in Medieval Kerala. His original name was Vakkom Muhammad Abdul Khadir Maulavi. He is considered as one of the tallest leaders of Kerala Renaissance that began in the second half of the 19th century and continued up to the first half of the 20th century. Being a prolific writer, he channeled his words of wisdom and coherent thoughts for the social causes through his newspaper Swadeshabhimani. Vakkom Maulavi also took part in freedom movement that was sweeping the state, as part of the national struggle for freedom against the oppressive rule of the Diwan of Travancore under the patronage of the British government. During the time of the freedom movement, he used his newspaper to criticize the policies of P. Rajagopalachari, then Diwan of the Travancore state. As a result of the publishing of the views that criticized the policies of the government, his newspaper was confiscated and he was arrested in the year 1910. Through his social works, he was able to awaken the minds of the general public against the age-old superstitions connected with various religious beliefs, and generate new ideas of freedom and progress in their minds.
Early Life, Education and Family
Maulavi was born in 1873 in a place called Vakkom, near Chirayankeel in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala. He was born into a family that had ancestral roots in Madurai and Hyderabad. In fact, many of his family members had worked for the military establishment of the state government. At the time of this birth, his father was a prominent merchant in the region. So, he took special care for the education of his child. Thus, the young Maulavi was tutored under able scholars from different parts of the country, including an itinerant Arab savant. Being a bright student, he rapidly progressed learning all the important lessons these teachers had to offer. Soon, they found their stack of knowledge inadequate to teach this bright young boy. Later on, he learned other skills on his own. After a while, he became proficient in languages such as Arabic, Tamil, Hindustani, Sanskrit, Persian, and English.
Almost at the same time, Vakkom Maulavi married Aamina Ummal. In their marriage, they had two sons. They were Vakkom Abdul Kadar (Junior) and Mohammed Eeza. The elder son Vakkom Abdul Kadar was a writer, a journalist and a literary critic. His younger son was a scholar and a writer of Islamic Studies. One of his nephews Vakkom Majeed was a freedom fighter and a former member of Travancore-Cochin State Assembly. Yet another nephew P. Habeeb Mohammed was the first Muslim Judge of Travancore High Court in Kerala.
As a Social Reformer
Vakkom Maulavi was considered as one of the tallest social reformer ever lived in the state of Kerala. The role played by him in bringing social reforms in various spheres of social activity has been recognized as epoch-making. His formidable, healing and revolutionary ideas transcended in the areas such as journalism, education, and religious and social reforms. Hence, Vakkom Maulavi is considered by many in the community as the Father of Muslim Renaissance. As a learned scholar of Muslim religion, he emphasized the need for bringing changes in the outlook on the religious and the socioeconomic aspects to take the community forward in the modern era. Thinking on these lines, he campaigned for improving the quality of education, providing education for uplifting the women in the community, and eliminating the potentially bad customs that exist in the community. For example, he used his journals to hit out at the extravagant weddings, dowry system and other celebrations that have bizarre unIslamic features bordering on idolatrous rituals. In this instance, he drew the flak from the Mullahs of the community and he was dubbed as Kafir or Wahhabi by some of them.
In order to facilitate the change envisaged by him in the society, Vakkom Maulavi started journals that were modeled Al Manar that featured the writings and reform movements of Muhammad Abduh of Egypt. The Al Manar model journals launched by him include Al-Islam (1918), Muslim (1906) and Deepika (1931). Through these journals, he tried to teach the members of his community the basic tenets of Islam. For instance, through his journal Al-Islam, he tried to hit hard at the conduction of Uroos and Nerchas festivals amongst the Muslim community by citing the relevant provisions from the holy book of Koran. This initiative from his side attracted the ire of the orthodox members of the community. They went to the extent of issuing fatwa against the publication, barring the members of the community from reading the journal. Because of the fatwa, the readership plummeted and the journal fell into the financial trouble within five issues. Hence, the journal was forced to close down.
End Result of the Struggle against the Societal Issues
As a result of Maulavi's relentless and continued campaigning for the societal changes, Maharajah of Travancore introduced the teaching of Arabic in all schools in the state where the Muslim children studied. In those schools, the Travancore government gave fee concessions and scholarships to the deserving students. In order to hasten the positive change brought out by the government, Maulavi wrote text books for the children in Arabic. He also put in place a training manual for training the Arabic Instructors at the primary school level. In recognition of the service rendered by the Vakkom Maulavi, then state government soon instituted qualifying examinations for Arabic teachers in the state. For this purpose, an examination board was set up to look after the conduction of the examination and Maulavi was made its Chief Examiner. In order to further bring the societal change and unify the community for the common good, he started the organizations by the name All Travancore Muslim Mahajanasabha and Chirayankeel Taluk Muslim Samagam. As the Chairman of the Muslim Board of the Government of Travancore, he introduced a number of measures that focused on bringing more clarity on the welfare measures introduced and the projects undertaken by it. This enabled the smooth execution of projects that were aimed at improving the life conditions of the members of the Muslim community.
Journalistic and Literary Works
Maulavi's first stint as a Journalist started with the establishment of journal Swadeshahimani. This journal was founded in the year 1905 with the mission of exposing the injustices meted out by the government authorities on the subjects of the state. This journal also spoke loudly on topics relating to the issues relating to feudalism that existed in the state. The paper lived up to its mission statement until it was banned and confiscated by the British Government for raising the voice against some of the controversial policy decisions taken by it. At that point in time, Ramakrishna Pillai was working in this journal as its editor. Ramakrishna Pillai was arrested and banished from Travancore state to Thirunelveli.
After the confiscation of the press established by him in 1910, he continued his work by writing several books. The books written by him include Daussabah and Islam Matha Sidantha Samgraham. In the same period, he had also translated works such as Imam Ghazali's Keemiya-e-Saadat, Ahlu Sunnathuwal Jammath, Islamic Sandesham and Surat-ul Fathiha from Arabic language to Malayalam language. In 1931, Vakkom Maulavi established Islamia Publishing House with the help of his eldest son. With his son's help, Maulavi could translate the Allama Shibli's biography of Omar Farooq. This translated work was published in two volumes under the title Al Farooq. Towards the fag end of his life, he started to give a serialized translation of the Koran in Deepika, a journal established by him. In this translation series, Maulavi gave a brief commentary about the topic being handled and the original text extracted from the holy book to enable the readers to easily understand the concept and its relevance to the society.
Vakkom Maulavi was a social reformer, a journalist, a teacher, a prolific writer, a Muslim scholar, a Newspaper proprietor and a freedom fighter. He hailed from a small place called Vakkom in Chirayankeel Taluk of Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala. During his lifetime, the place was under the administration of the Princely state of Travancore in Pre-independent India. As a prolific thinker and writer, he wrote on various topics that afflict the society. Through his relentless efforts, Vakkom Maulavi tried to educate the society about the fruitless and idiotic rituals that were being conducted in the community. He also tried to uplift the status of women in the Muslim community. Due to his relentless efforts both through the organizations established and the journals started by him, the state government decided to start some community-friendly measures that aim to improve the conditions of the community members.