Engagement with Tamil-Muslim roots


By Arul Gnanapragasam, SJ

Muslims loyalty to India is often questioned by a section of political class and media. It’s also said Muslims are not rooted in this subcontinent. What’s the truth value of such comments?

An intellectual engagement with Kombai S Anwar, a documentary maker on Tamil Muslims and their roots, clarified the deep rootedness of Tamil Muslims into Tamil Culture, language and their deep connections with different sections of Tamils who belong to different religious traditions. This engagement was an important component of the Course on Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations offered at Arul Kadal, the Regional Theology Centre (RTC),Chennai.

One must watch ‘Yaadhum’ the well-researched documentary film by Anwar. ‘Yaadhum’ impressively depicts a stupendous tradition and the oneness of Tamil and Islam.

Anwar is a Tamil Muslim whose journey across Tamil Nadu in search of tracing the rich heritage and culture of Tamil Muslim is the film Yaadhum. Yaadhum means all. The name derives from the very first line of Purananooru, a Tamil classical poem by Kaniyan Poonkundranar.

It portrays the Islamic architecture that local in every sense of the word. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the mosques are in the Dravidian architectural style. Similarly, in Kerala mosques were built with timber in the traditional architectural style of Kerala. The documentary demolishes one of the prejudices that many people hold that a mosque must be built with domes and minarets. In reality wherever Islam spread, it adopted not only the local culture but also the local architecture.

So Islamic architecture is not something from outside but rather it is part and parcel of the Tamil culture.

It is an eye opener when the well-known Tamil Poet Janab Abdul Rahman narrates the huge contributions of many Tamil Muslim scholars and poets to Tamil language, Music and literature.

The documentary presents many heart-warming portrayals of deep cultural relationship between Muslims, Hindus and Christians. This needs to be recognized, affirmed and appreciated as they are real, rooted in deep respect for one another, often sadly lost in the present polarizing narratives.

Tamil Muslims live harmoniously with Hindus, Christians and people of many subaltern religions. Just to mention an example, in a South Tamil Nadu Temple town, in a Hindu festival, a Muslim traditionally builds a protective wall for the deity, and at the end of the festival the Hindus honor him. If this is not a real experience of religious harmony and solidarity, then what else!

For a Christian student of Theology, while reflecting upon the Church’s teaching on Islam and Muslims and following the Holy Father Pope Francis’s approach of actualizing the teaching of the Church, I felt energized to carefully looking into my own attitudes Muslims, and begin to appreciate the Cultural, linguistic, religious contributions the Tamil Muslims make that enrich the lives of Tamils.

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