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A Mappila (Malayalam: മാപ്പിള), also known as a Muslim Mappila, Moplahs or Jonaka Mappila, is a member of the largest Muslim group in the Indian state of Kerala. The community arose primarily as a result of the pre- and post-Islamic Arab contact with Kerala, mainly based upon trade.


Muslims of Kerala, of which Mappilas constitute a majority, make up a large community in Kerala state: 26.56% of the population. As a religious group they are the second largest after Hindus (54.75%). Mappilas share the common language of Malayalam with the other inhabitants of Kerala. Islam reached Malabar Coast as early as the 7th century AD and was assimilated with the culture and traditions of the local people. Over the centuries, the strong relations of the Mappilas with the traders from Arabia have created a profound impact on their life and culture. This has resulted in the formation of the unique tradition in literature, art, music, and history of the Mappilas Most of the Mappilas follow Shafi'i School, while a large minority follow movements that arose within Sunni Islam.


There's a difference of opinion on the exact origin of the word "Mappila" ("Moplah" in Colonial sources). By and large it is considered to be derived from a combination of the Malayalam language words maham ("great") or mam ("mother") and pillai ("son"). Some people believe that Mappila means "Son-in-Law" as the Muslim visitors often married local women and thus became sons-in-law. (Tamil Mappilai = Son in law). Another opinion that the many of Hindu Nairs were become islam, they were sometimes termed as the "Muslim Pillai", from this the term "Mappila" may be came. "Pillai" is another called to Hindu Nair community

Mappila was a term originally used to denote visitors and immigrants to Malabar including the Muslims, Christians and the Jews, who became the trading communities of ancient Kerala. The Saint Thomas Christian community of southern Kerala are also called "Nasrani Mappilas". The Muslims of ancient Kerala were referred to as Jōnaka or Cōnaka Mappila (Yavanaka Mappilas), to distinguish them from the Nasrani Mappila (Saint Thomas Christians) and the Juda Mappila (Cochin Jews).


According to the 2001 census, about one-quarter of Kerala's population (or 7,863,842 people) were Muslims. Some have settled in other states within India. There are substantial numbers of Mappilas in nearby districts of Kodagu, Mangalore, Bangalore, Coimbatore, etc. Furthermore, a substantial proportion of Mappilas numbering between 3 million and 4 million people have left Kerala to seek employment in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Remittances from these expatriate communities makes Kerala one of the main contributors of foreign exchange to the Indian economy. former Minister of State for Railways E. Ahamed, is a notable politician from this community.

A small number of Mappilas have settled in the southern districts of Karnataka and western parts of Tamil Nadu, while the scattered presence of these people in major cities of India is comparable with other major communities in Kerala. The diaspora groups of Mappilas in Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Malaysia are comparatively large and, among the natives, they are also known as "Malabaris" or "Malwaris."


The long-standing Arab and later Portuguese contact (e.g. Goa) with the coastal areas of India left its permanent mark in the form of several communities. The Mappila community of Kerala came into existence through the immigration of Arab traders to these regions.

Early history

Contrary to popular belief, Islam came to South Asia before Muslim invasions of Indian subcontinent. Arab traders used to visit the Malabar region, which was a link between them and ports of South East Asia, to trade even before Islam had been established in Arabia. This relation started as early as the 4th century CE. The Mappilas are the descendants of communities of Arab traders who had come to Kerala. These Arabs were primarily from the Hadramawt valley of Yemen. The Mappilas are believed to be the first community of Muslims in India, and Islam may have been brought to the coasts of Kerala by the Arabs within a few years of Muhammad's proclamation of his mission in the 7th century CE, and Mappilas who were Islamized by the Arabs may be considered as the first native Islamic community in South Asia.

The trade of Arabs in the Malabar coast prospered due to the rich availability of pepper and other spices from its land. With many other factors, the support they got from local Hindu rulers helped them to establish a monopoly in the commercial activities in the Indian Ocean.

According to tradition, the first Indian mosque was built in 621 CE by the last ruler of the Chera dynasty, who converted to Islam during the lifetime of Muhammad (c. 571–632) in Kodungallur and facilitated the proliferation of Islam in Malabar. But this tradition hasn't found any historical evidence. There are a few more legends of the Mappilas which relate them with early Hindu culture in Kerala; first one is regarding one Uppukutan Mappila who appears in the legend of Parayi petta panthirukulam (The twelve tribes born of a Pariah Woman) and another one is the story of Ouwayi, a Jonaka Mappila, who through extreme devotion made the goddess of Kozhikode appear before him.

The 14th century Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta was surprised when he discovered that the Mappila communities near Calicut were the followers of Imam Shafi'i while the rest of the Indian Muslims were not.

European Era

The monopoly of overseas trade in Malabar was safe with the Arab-Mappila alliance until the arrival of Portuguese in Kerala. At the time, a good number of Mappilas were enlisted in the naval force of Zamorin, the ruler of Calicut. The naval chiefs of the Zamorin were usually from the Mappila community; they were given the title of Marakkar. Initially, Portuguese traders were successful in reaching in an agreement with the Zamorin and hence got support from Mappilas. However, fearful of losing their monopoly in the trade-routes to Europe via the Indian ocean, the Mappila merchants persuaded the Zamorin to attack the Portuguese, killing the traders left behind by Vasco da Gama. This led to war between Calicut and the returning Portuguese fleets, who allied with their Hindu rival in Cochin. During this period, Portuguese forces tried to establish monopoly in spice trade using violent methods against the Arabs and other Muslim merchants from the Middle East. The possibility that a few Muslim traders from Basra, Damascus, Tunis and Egypt joined the Mappila community during this period can not be ruled out.

Portuguese-Zamorin relation deteriorated and the military of Zamorin, including Mappilas, engaged the Portuguese colonial forces in 1524 CE. The Portuguese attacked and looted the town of Calicut. They set the town to fire and, in the arson, many buildings including the Jami' Mosque of Mappilas were destroyed. Ships containing trading goods were drowned, along with thousands of merchants and their families; anyone who was an Arab was killed. All this resulted in the Mappila losing control of the spice trade they had dominated for more than a thousand years as well as losing more than half of their population at the hands of their enemy.

In the Mysorean invasion of Kerala, Mappilas gave support to the invading military of Hyder Ali in 1765. In the following Mysorean rule of Malabar, Mappilas were favoured against the Hindu landlords of the region and the most notable advantage for the community during this time is the grant of customary rights for the Mappila tenants over their land. However, such measures of the Muslim rulers widened the communal imbalance of Malabar and the British colonial forces taking advantage of the situation allied with the Hindu upper-caste communities to fight against the Mysore regime. The British won the Anglo-Mysore War against Tippu Sultan and, consequently, Malabar was organised as a district under Madras Presidency. The British repaid landlord communities with a slew of measures: The first one being the abolishing of tenant rights over land. The partisan rule of British authorities brought the Mappila peasants of Malabar into a condition of destitution which led to a series of uprisings against the landlords and British in 1921; it took in the form of a communal war known as Mappila Rebellion that lasted for six months and cost the lives of about 10,000 people. Mohommed Haji was proclaimed the caliph of the Moplah Khilafat (Caliphate) and flags of "Islamic Caliphate" were flown. Eranad and Valluvanad were declared Khalifat kingdoms. The riot was controlled by the British military and many Mappilas lost their lives in the military action and many were taken as prisoners, mostly to Port Blair.

Modern Mappila sects of Kerala

The modern theological orientations amongst the Muslims of Kerala are primarily divided into three; Sunnis, Mujahids (Salafis) and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, though all these belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. The Sunnis referred here are identified by their conventional beliefs and practices and adherence to the Shafi'i madh'hab, while the other two theological orientations, the Mujahids and the Jama'ats, are seen as movements within the Sunni Islam. A minor group of followers may be found with Tablighi Jama'at. Both Sunnis and Salafis again have been divided to sub-groups.


It is a popular form of social entertainment among the Mappila community of Kerala, south India, prevalent all over Kerala. It is generally presented by females numbering about fifteen including musicians, as a part of wedding ceremonies a day before the wedding day. The bride, dressed in all finery, covered with gold ornaments, is the chief spectator; she sits on a peetam, around which the singing and dancing take place. While they sing, they clap their hands rhythmically and move around the bride using simple steps. Two or three girls begin the songs and the rest join the chorus.

Mappila Paattukal

Mappila Paattu or Mappila Song is a folklore Muslim devotional song genre rendered to lyrics in Arabic-laced Malayalam, by Muslims or Mappilas of the Malabar belt of Kerala in south India. Mappila songs have a distinct cultural identity, as they sound a mix of the ethos and culture of Kerala as well as West Asia. They deal with themes such as religion, love, satire and heroism. Most of the mapillapatu are mixed with Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil etc. it keeps many 'ishals' (tunes), prasams (rhyming parts) and things like that. Moyinkutty Vaidyar is one of the oldest poets in mapilapattu.


Kolkkali is a popular dance form among the Mappila Muslims in Malabar. It is played in group of 12 people with two sticks, similar to the Dandiya dance of Gujarat.

Duff Muttu

Duff Muttu (also called Dubh Muttu) is an art form prevalent among Mappilas, using the traditional duff, or daf, also called Thappitta. Participants dance to the rhythm as they beat the duff.


Mappila Wikipedia