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The Fathul Mubiyn, Qadi Mohammad and the Zamorin

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A study of the Fathul Mubyin, a war poem – Calicut 1550-1590

In a clamor to analyze and study the Tuhfat Al Mujahideen by Sheikh Zainuddin, most historians forgot a very interesting companion text which was perhaps a contemporary to the Tuhfat or even a forerunner. It is an urjuza short titled Fatḥul-mubyin and scripted by a Qadi Muḥammad al-Kālikūtī. To get to the details, we have to go to the Malabar of the 16th century, a place where many communities resided and traded amicably, until the Portuguese sailed in and demanded a monopoly. The resulting resistance, intrigues, skirmishes, wars and confusion left the entire region in a state of turmoil, what with neighboring Cochin and Kolathunad working with or even siding with the Portuguese. The bordering principalities of Tanur and Vettom sat on the fringes swaying either way depending on the situation. Those mainly affected were the trading communities comprising the Pardesi Muslims and some local Moplahs. The Pardesi community was a complex mix of Yemenis, Hanafi Arabs, Egyptians, Turks and so on. The biggest were the Yemenis who centered on Ponnani & Mambram and some Yemenis and Hanafis who settled in Calicut. Their leaders generally led the Muslim populace.

As I get into this discussion, you will realize how important this work was and it is my contention that one potential reason why Islamic scholars talked less about it was simply because it extolled Hindu Muslim amity, a subject which usually rests on the fence, these days. I for one believe that the two communities have to, need to and should coexist peacefully and that it is, was and should always be possible in a place such as Calicut. Anyway let’s get to the topic.

We discussed the Zainuddin Makdum’s of Malabar some years ago. The Zainuddin Makdums were the religious leaders in Ponnani and differed at times on approach compared to the Calicut Qazis (or Qadis), but worked together. I had introduced to you an obscure work named the Vencatakota Ola, which has more recently been reintroduced to the public by Stephen Prange. If you recall, Lt Rowlandsen had concluded that both Tuhfat and the Vencatikota Ola were derived from an earlier work. My assumption is that the Fathul Mubiyn is that work.

As we know, Vasco Da Gama came, created a good amount of furor and departed, to come again and eventually die in Cochin. Others like Cabral and Alfonzo Albuquerque followed, to continue with despotic acts in Malabar, warring often with the Zamorin and trying to wrest away the spice trade from the Paradesi Muslims (Arab traders) who had thus far been firmly entrenched. Four or five Zamorin’s from the first dynasty ruled during the 1500-1600 period (two or three were named Manavikraman’s and there was one Virarayan). We also note from various records that while some of the early Zamorin’s were accommodative of the Portuguese, others were distinctly against, after having understood their deceitful behavior. We do not know which Zamorin is the individual described, but one of the Zamorin’s of the middle years (of the 16th century) was perhaps the person mentioned in the Futhul Mubyin, by Qadi Muhammad.

What did the Qadi Muhammad have to say and who incidentally, was Qadi Muhammad? He was a Muhammad ibn Abd al-Aziz hailing from Calicut and it is concluded thus far that he was a judge and a poet writing in Arabic or Arabi-Malayalam (Malayalam written in Arabic script), the one who authored poetry such as the Fathul Mubiyn and the well-known Mubiyn Mala (the earliest and in Arabi-Malayalam). He belonged to the Qadiriyyah order of Sufis. But there is some confusion in his identity and the period of his life. Muid Khan in his preamble to the translation had wrongly opined that Zainuddin Makhdum was perhaps Qadi Abdul Aziz Muhammad’s younger brother and that the Fathul Mubyin could very well have been written before the Tuhfat. The Fathul was actually written by a Qadi Muhammad of Calicut and the time setting of the poem seems to be prior to that of the Tuhfat, as it mentions a living Adil Shah.

The complete title of the text we are going to analyze is ‘Al Fathul-mubiyn lis Samerial ladhi Yuhibbul Muslimiyn’. It is usually translated as ‘The victory of the Zamorin of Calicut, lover of Muslims’. Woven around the victory of the Calicut forces fighting the Portuguese to wrest control of the fort in Chaliyum in 1571, the epic poem traverses a long period roughly 1497 - 1578. In all the poem has 534 (actually 537) lines and is written in Arabic. There are a couple of Malayalam translations and 2 or 3 in English but they are not available in wide circulation or much discussed. Even a Malayalam book I referred skims over the subject, not including a translation of the poem as such.

The urjuza was first discovered embedded between chapters 3 & 4 the original manuscript of Tuhfatul Mujahidiyn in the India office library at London. Both were written in the same hand and formed one folio, but a closer scrutiny divulged that the Fathul was a poem while the Tuhfat was prose and had different authors. The Fathul author’s name is stated at its end as Muhammad-ibn Quazi Abdul Aziz (i.e. Muhammad son of Qadi Abdul Aziz), so its authorship was a Muhammad, both were Qadi’s of Calicut and my contention is that either the father was the original author or that the son was a contemporary of Zainuddin and Abdul Aziz Makhdum of Ponnani (Quadi Muhammad is elder to Zainuddin Junior (the Fathul mentions a Calicut conference which was attended by the Calicut Qadi Abdul Aziz Kalikoti and Zainuddin’s uncle Abd-al Aziz of Ponnani).

Another reason exists to prove that the poem was set in the late 1570’s (As present day Muslim historians believe this was written in 1607). Qadi Muhammad states in the poem that he composed it in the hope that kings the world over, especially in Syria and Iraq, would learn of the bravery of the Zamorin’s and be inspired to join the fight against the Portuguese. He explains that the modus of retelling of the glorious victory of the Zamorin will be carried out by rendering prose (nas̤ir) into verse (naz̤im), a process that he compares to changing silver (fiẓa) into gold (naẓir). By the end of the 16th century the Egyptians and Syrians were long gone and were not present at the Malabar scene, so Qadi’s writing this to exhort friends in Egypt & Syria would make no sense, and thus it does date to a previous period, closer to the death of Adil Shah. Also a document dated to 1607 would not miss the death of the Kunjali Marakkar (Kunju Ali is mentioned in line 400 as a living Muslim leader). It would also not miss the support given to the Portuguese by the Zamorin in capturing Kunjali. Such a Zamorin would not be extolled by a person of eminence, i.e. a Qadi who delivers judgements.
Now let us try and jot out a precis of the entire poem, working mainly with Muid Khan’s translations. As you will read on, you will notice a bit of exaggeration and some incorrect assertions. Also we can conclude that the accounts of Zainuddin and the Qadi are conflicting with respect to overt support for the glorious deeds of the Zamorin.

The Fathul Mubyin of Qadi Muhammad ( a rough summary)

Verses 1-6 Supplications to the Prophet Muhammad.

Versus 6-22 The Quadi states that he is going to narrate a wondrous tale, which happened in Malabar with the hope that those who hear it, especially in Syria and Iraq, will take heed and consider a war against the accursed Portuguese. The tale he will go on to narrate is about a war which took place between the soldiers of the Zamorin of Calicut and the infidels, the Portuguese.  The Zamorin, he states, is a brave and well known ruler of Calicut who loves his Muslim subjects, who does not hinder their religion or beliefs and fights for their cause even, if so required. He is a ruler who allows a Muslim to stand on his right side during important festivals (Mamankham). In fact the al-Shah Bandar and other Muslims stand to his right (as right hand strong men). He is the lord of the mountains and lord of the seas of Malabar.

Vesus 23-48 The Zamorin was given the sword of Malabar by his predecessor and asked to reign over the land with the sword, the unsheathing of which ensures his next victory. He has four heirs who have their own troops and territory (Eralpad, Moonalpad, Ittattornad nambiyathiri, Naturalpad) and an agreed method of accession when one dies, with the younger after the older. His (nair) soldiers can fight horsemen and wolves, and fight unto death. He has the power to get wind on the sails of a ship at sea to get them going like Persian horses over land, he can turn the seas waters red with the blood of his enemies and get sea fish to eat their flesh. He never seizes another’s property (unless it is a criminal issue) nor is he unjust. He does not invade lesser countries without reason and forgives them after. But if any other king disobeys, big or small, he fights them and takes over their land. And so continues their time honored and age-old traditions. His Nair soldiers are feared, and are totally faithful to the Zamorin, never changing sides. He wages wars honorably, always providing due notice, taking nobody by surprise or deceit and is respected by his many suzerain lords and petty kings. All taxes and penalties are spent on the poor, he is a statesman, is patient, tolerant and a forgiver for those who seek his support. Like the Sameri who existed during the time of Moses, the Zamorin was the one who instituted the worship of the cow and carries charms to help him during battles.

Versus 48-61 Let Allah grant him eternal guidance and let us pray for him even though the Zamorin, a non-believer is fighting for the Muslim, whereas the Muslim kings of the region are not and have even made peace with the infidel Franks. So listen to the Zamorin’s war story with an open heart. Those accursed Franks came to Malabar in the guise of traders just to take over the pepper ginger and coconut trade.

Verses 62-79 Details many misdeeds of the Portuguese since their arrivals, their deceit, dishonesty, changing of character, deeds of invasion of other lands and territories and subjugation of their peoples, enslaving of Muslims, desecration of mosques, oppression, attempt to usurp the Zamorin’s position and so on…

Verses 80-84 A war ensued for three years between the Zamorin, Muslims and the Franks after which the Franks came begging for a treaty, asking for shelter in Malabar and agreeing to abide by the Zamorin’s rules.

Verses 84-111 The Zamorin (the Eralpad who apparently poisoned his predecessor to go up and the one who appointed Da Cruz) permitted the Portuguese to build a fort in the middle of the city (by all accounts it was near the beach and is now submerged) and obtained an agreement permitting free navigation of his own subjects. Once the fort once completed, the Franks changed colors and started their oppressive tactics and demanded additional commissions from suppliers and tried to offer more commissions to the Zamorin to get the Muslim traders out. They disallowed pilgrim travel to Mecca, and this was the worst tactic. They tried to get the Zamorin into the fort in ambush, but he was saved by God’s grace and with that the Zamorin prepared for war, spending a lot of money to build a fleet of galleys (Ghurabs), to buy cannons. Digging trenches on either side of the fort, they next besieged the Portuguese. The Zamorin’s forces used mangonel (a type of catapult to throw projectiles at a castle's walls) and guns (tufek) in this attack till the fort was leveled to the ground. A thousand Franks were killed in one nights fighting and the rest of them fled. Thus they were evicted in 930AH (1523).

Calicut Fort
Verses 112- 320 The Portuguese also encouraged the Cochin king to fight the Zamorin after the Portuguese had built a fort at Cochin. Bijapur’s Adil Shah in the meantime wrote to the Zamorin asking him to hasten the war and drive away the infidel Frank who was incidentally creating problems for him from Goa. The Zamorin deputed his galleys captained by his (marakars). The explanation of the sea battle continue for many verses, what with the (a new one who was fully against the Franks) Zamorin himself leading the fight and promising not to eat himself (when the Franks starved the town by cutting off supplies). The fortunes of the war tilted either way, the Cochin, Cannanore and Tanore Kings supported the Portuguese in return for cartaz’s. The Egyptian and Turkish captains finally came to support the Zamorin, and he personally sailed to Cambay in Gujarat to meet them, but as the wars continued, the Muslims disagreed with each other and were not united.  Finally a peace treaty was effected and the Portuguese built a lofty fort at Chalium (Santa Maria do Castello), situated on an island. Many a verse describes the fortifications of this Shaleat fort.

Verses 321-368 Numerous verses detail the inhuman and tyrannical behavior of the Portuguese dealing with the Muslims of Malabar and the heroic retaliation by the Zamorin and his forces.

Verses 368-397 Yet another Zamorin had started his reign and this was the time when the Sultan Adil Shah together with Nizam Shah of Chaul contacted the Zamorin requesting him to capture the Chalium fort. He sent out two of his ministers and their armies to attack the fort. The Tanur king joined the Zamorin while the Cochin raja informed the Portuguese about the plans. A fierce fight ensured at Chalium and sometimes the Zamorin traveled there himself to supervise the affairs.

Chale fort
Verses 398- 410 This was the time when the Zamorin’s Queen mother got involved and exhorted the Muslims to think of the issues and consequences and unite. Kunji Ali the leader of the Muslims, Ahmad’l Qamaqim, the sheikh with mysterious powers Abu’l wafa Muhammad al-Shattar, Shahabandar Umar Al Ghassani, scholar Abdul Aziz al-Malabari al Funani (Zainuddin’s brother) and Qadi Muhammad together with many Muslim chiefs met at the Calicut Mosque. The queen mother summoned the Zamorin back to Calicut to attend the conference.

An important event that is mentioned in the Fathul in these verses is the above conference organized at Calicut under the direction of the Zamorin’s queen mother where not only the Qadi but also Abdul Aziz Makhdum of Ponnani participated to exhort their brethren to participate in a jihad against the Portuguese. It shows the importance of the queen mother in those days.

Verses 410 – 500 Deal with the Zamorin leading the fight to demolish the Chalium fort in 1571, the valor and strategies of war, and its execution, the just way in which he dealt with the prisoners and any Muslim or Hindu who had been converted to Christianity, the handling of booty, the usage of the fort’s stones to rebuild the mosque from which they were originally taken. It took a year to dismantle the fort completely.

Verses 500- 516 The Qadi now concludes, stating that Adil Shah and Nizam Shah forgot their promises, as the former made peace with the Portuguese while the latter forgot his pact with the Zamorin even though he had been gifted the Chalium fort’s bell captured after the attack! He despairs that none of these Muslim kings joined the attacks against the Portuguese and the non-Muslim Zamorin was all alone in his efforts to support the Muslims in their cause.

Verses 517-534 The virtues of the Zamorin outlined in the above versus is but a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of his merits. He then gets to the Perumal story, the king who was his uncle and who witnessed the splitting of the moon and who became a follower of the prophet, who died at Zufar while returning to preach Islam, and asks for forgiveness lest his words and narrative be blamed for excessive poetic licenses taken and ends asking for blood on the swords of his followers (in the continuing fights with their enemies).

That was actually the end game for the Portuguese when it came to Malabar. They trading after that was confined to Cochin and Goa, mainly. Though forays into Malabar continued, but with less vigor and intensity.

Zainuddin incidentally mentioned as follows in Tuhfat - It is well-known that the Muslims of Malabar have no Amir who possesses power and can exercise authority over them and be mindful of their welfare. On the contrary, all of them are subjects of rulers who are unbelievers (H.Nainar)
In conclusion, Qadi Muhammad in his poem, is not keen about detailing or telling the story of the advent of Islam in Malabar mainly because he believes that the war in Malabar was a concern of both Muslims and Hindus. He also explains that the Zamorin is their overlord and having an equal status with any other powerful Muslim Sultan. On the other hand, Zainuddin’s prose is inherently Islamic in its orientation, depicting the long history of Muslims in Kerala and the central role they played in the struggle against the Portuguese (Ayal Amer)

When and why did this changed attitude creep into Zainuddin (b 1532 d 1583) junior’s thinking and why did he drift in his loyalty to the Zamorin? The Portuguese continued attacking Parappanangadi and Ponnani, and in 1577 captured many Moplah vessels. The Kunjali 1V was becoming powerful and strident in his stature and was nearing a potential fallout with the Zamorin. Adil Shah sent his envoy to felicitate the new Zamorin who incidentally was planning to allow the Portuguese to erect a factory (not a fort) at Ponnani in return for permission to sail the seas unhindered.  And so, Zainuddin perhaps chose a new patron, for the Tuhfat is not dedicated to the Zamorin but is instead dedicated to the Adil Shah of Bijapur, the very same Sultan who was belittled by the Fathul’s author. Zainuddin now goes on to call him - most glorious of sultans, and the most beneficent of monarchs, who has made war against infidels the chief act of his life, having himself glorified God, and made his name to be upheld with reverence by all; having ever devoted himself to the service and protection of the servants of God.

Two of the reference dpapers provide differing reasons for this. One believes that the Shah was wrongly named, it should have been Ibrahim Adil Shah who was a Sunni. Kooria explains - while ʿAli Adil Shah alternated between enmity and friendship with the Portuguese, Ibrāhīm II was initially reluctant to forge any relationship with them, which nurtured Zayn al-Dīn’s hope that the king might adopt an anti-Portuguese stance. Nevertheless, even Ibrahim changed his stance later and became pro–European. The second writer Ayal infers that Zainuddin’s choice of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah was politically motivated, and that his real ambition was to encourage Muslim rulers of the Deccan Sultanate to annex Kerala. Or perhaps Zainuddin was in Bijapur and canvassing the support of Adil Khan during the 1580’s (and had to praise him).

I think otherwise. Assuming that the Fathul was written before the Tuhfat, I would believe that the political equations in Ponnnai (where Zainuddin preached) were becoming complex what with the Kunjali IV rising in status and planning a potential challenge to the Zamorin, as some historians aver. Zainuddin’s work was perhaps to obtain support for Kunjali IV’s overtures (from Ibrahim Adil Shah) which we know was eventually snuffed out by the next Zamorin in 1600.

A huge difference between the two texts is the fact that while Zainuddin expresses despair over the lack of direct Islamic rule over the Muslim subjects of Malabar (Zainuddin also leans towards the changed attitude of the Zamorin and his doubt on the Zamorin’s ability to defend the Muslims of Malabar), the author of Fathul extolls the relationship between the religions and the leadership of the Zamorin, and his firm belief in him. This leads to my feeling that Zainuddin’s work could have been heavily influenced by the Kunhali IV epoch and thus provides an indication of the changing situations in the power games involving the native Zamorin rulers, the Marakkar chieftains and the Portuguese interlopers.

Studies in the Foreign Relations of India (from Earliest Times to 1947): Prof. H.K. Sherwani Felicitation Volume, ed. P.M. Joshi and M.A.Nayeem - Fatḥ al-mubīn of Muḥammad al-Kālikūtī: Khan, M.A. Muid. 1975. “Indo-Portuguese Struggle for Maritime Supremacy (as Gleaned from an Unpublished Arabic Urjuza: Fathul Mubiyn).” Dr M A Muid Khan was the Prof and HOD for Arabic at Osmania university, Director Da’iratu’l-Ma’arif and Secretary Islamic culture – Hyderabad.
Spiritual leadership in Anti-colonial struggle – G P Mudawi
The rise of jihadic sentiments and the writing of history in sixteenth-century Kerala - Ayal Amer
An Abode of Islam under a Hindu King: Circuitous Imagination of Kingdoms among Muslims of Sixteenth-Century Malabar - Mahmood Kooria
Samoothirkku vendi oru samarahwanam – Qadi Muhammad – Trans EM Zakir Hussain
Introducing the Vencaticota Ola Parts 1 and 2  
The story of Dom Joao-de-Tanur  

Urjuza is a genre of poetry with the clear intention to instruct and where the verse focuses more on the details of content leaving the poem "devoid of stylistic elegance and poetic beauty. For more details refer this link 
A Qadi (Cadi, Qazi, kadi or kazi) is the magistrate or judge of the Shariʿa court. The word "qadi" comes from a verb meaning to "judge" or to "decide". I contend here that Qadi and Qazi as relevant to Malabar, to mean the same.

Intervening years - time line

Initial forays vasco Da Gama, Cabral
Establishment of Portuguese at Cochin, Calicut Cochin wars
Treaty with Portuguese, erection of fort at Calicut
Eviction of Portuguese from Calicut, demolition of Calicut fort
Building of Portuguese fort at Chalium
Portuguese Calicut wars
Peace treaty
Portuguese Calicut wars
Portuguese defeat at Chalium, destruction of fort, writing of Faithul Mubiyn?
Portuguese Calicut wars
Portuguese factory at Ponnani. Writing of Tuhfat Al Mujahedeen
Portuguese settlement at Calicut
War with Kunjali IV, capture of his stronghold and fort
Siege of Cranganore, treaties with the Dutch and English writing of Faithul Mubiyn?