|Muslims of the Konkan and Malabar coasts represent the oldest Islamic settlements in India. The most obvious characteristic of these Muslims is the common origin as maritime mercantile communities. In addition to their status as the vanguards of Islam in India, they are especially interesting to students of Islam in South Asia, because they evolved in areas of continuing upper caste Hindu political and social dominance. Muslims first arrived in the Konkan in 699, according to Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, less than 70 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad in circa 632. In other words some Muslims were already present in India a decade before the invasion of Sindh by Muhammad ibn Qasim in 711. Thus Konkani Muslims, along with the Moplahs are the oldest Muslim communities in India. In the 1300 years of their existence, they have been acutely conscious of being Muslim as well as being perceived as such by others. Throughout their long history, the Konkani Muslims have overcome the triple challenges of surviving the assimilative power of syncretistic Hinduism, the crusading zeal of the Portuguese Backed by their armed invasions in the sixteenth century, and the subsequent challenge posed by westernization as represented by the British colonial power. Surviving as a distinct Muslim community is no small achievement particularly when seen in the light of the fact there were no Muslim political powers to protect them when they first landed, nor when the power of Muslim sultanates waned in the eighteenth century. The story of the Konkani Muslims despite its antiquity and success is a mystery to most outsiders. Among the Konkani Muslims, the community’s history is not known in a clear, systematic manner either. |
A Review of Literature on the Konkani Muslims Beyond the scattered and occasional references to the Konkani Muslims in the writings of travelers and geographers, there is no detailed account of the Konkanis in sociological or anthropological literature. Indian sociologist Victor S. d’Souza, author of The Navayats of Kanara informs us that he had "made a detailed field study of the cultural traits of the Navayats of the Deccan and the Konkani Muslims too," , though it appears to have remained unpublished. The late Professor A.R. Saiyed (1931-89) conducted research entitled "Muslims of Konkan: An Explorative [sic] Study," but it never materialized beyond an investigation of purdah among the Konkani women. Some years (1989-94) later Muhi al-Din Mumin received a grant from the Indian Council of Historical Research to study the Konkani Muslim communities in the medieval period. However, I have not been able to see it as a published work. A.R. Momin did a comparative study of the social mobility among Muslims in Bhiwandi comparing the Konkanis and the weavers called Momins. So far as I have been able to locate, no other studies of the Konkani Muslims are available. What follows then is my own research based on published materials dispersed in various writings and also on personal interviews conducted with community activists, field observations in Mumbai, and informed journalists in the Konkan.