Tamil Muslims (Tamil: தமிழ்
முஸ்லிம்கள், tamiḻ muslimgal ?) are
Islam as their faith. There are 3 to 4 million Tamil
India mostly in
Tamil Nadu state. A significant
Tamil-speaking Muslim population numbering 1.8 million or more live
in Sri Lanka. There are around 500,000 in
Malaysia and 20,000 in
Singapore. The cohort in
Sri Lanka are also proficient in Arwi
script of Tamil language. The community comprises largely urban
traders rather than farmers. There is a substantial diaspora,
particularly in South East Asia, which has seen their presence as
early as the 13th century. In the late 20th century, the diaspora
expanded to North America and Western Europe. They are called Cholias
in Myanmar, Mamak in
Malaysia and Rathas in South Africa.
1 Ethnic identity
4.1 Legends and rituals
5 Law and polity
5.3 21st century
6 Notable people
8 External links
A typical minaret of a mosque in
Tamil Nadu as seen here of
The term "Tamil Muslims" refers to a distinctive multi-ethnic coterie
born out of miscegenation in South and South East Asia. As such, this
term refers not only to ethnic Dravidians, but also a range of other
social groups identified by their Islamic faith and their marital ties
to the Tamil homeland. Members of these groups typically have
divergent ancestries and historical connections to a range of
geographic regions including South India, Southeast Asia, the Middle
East and East Africa. Hence, their complexions range from fair to
dark, facial bone structures range from sharp/oval to rounded.
The history and origin of these social groups relates to the mix of
races and influences resulting from centuries of trade among the
regions bordering the Indian Ocean, such as the South
India-Arabia-East Africa triangular trade route, or the commercial and
political links between the Tamil Coast and Southeast Asia, which were
bolstered by the British-administered trading activities between its
colonies in the
Malay Peninsula and the Madras Presidency. By the 20th
century, these races began to be listed as social classes in official
gazettes of different nations as Lebbai, Marakayar, Rowther, Dekkani,
Kayalar (in Maharashtra),
Jawi Peranakan in Malaysia,
Cham (in Vietnam) and Chulia (in Singapore).
Tamil Bell with its inscription and translation
Global purchasing power of the community in 2015 was estimated at
almost $23 billion viz. $8 billion in Sri Lanka, $6 billion in Tamil
Nadu, $5 billion in Malaysia, $1 billion in
Singapore and $3 billion
from rest of the world. The community has historically been money
changers (not money lenders) throughout South and South East Asia
especially in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, etc.
Businesses are also involved in various tertiary trades like retail,
mutton shops, foreign bazaars, pearl/gem trade and
leather. The coloured stone business which
Sri Lanka is famous for
is in the hands of the community. Other than Gujaratis and Marwaris,
this is the only community doing wholesale diamond business in ASEAN.
Semiprecious stones like peridot, rubilite, amethyst, or moonstone are
led by entrepreneurs from Thanjavur district. The largest exporters of
leather products are from Vellore district. Independent shops in Burma
Bazaar market of Chennai is led by entrepreneurs from Ramanathapuram.
Due to new emerging opportunities, several middle class families
resettled in the Persian Gulf and ASEAN.
There are about 6,000
HNWI entrepreneurs within the community and at
least one billionaire viz.
B.S. Abdur Rahman
B.S. Abdur Rahman (better known as the
Buhari Group) who founded the conglomerate ETA Star Group, Star Health
and Allied Insurance, Chennai Citi Centre, Crescent Engineering
College, et al.. He owned over 70 ocean-going vessels. Periya
Thambi Nainar of the 17th century is widely regarded as the first
rupee millionaire in the community as per the Chronicles of
Thondaimaan His altruist son Seethakaathi's biography was
adapted for Tamil film in 2018.
After independence, rentiers and entrepreneurs from the community
began to build schools and colleges throughout the Coromandel coast.
Jamal Mohamed College in Trichy, Waqf Board College in Madurai and the
New College in Chennai are well known colleges. In Tamil Nadu, the
school education of the community is above average. But in higher and
technical education, the community lags behind, due to entrepreneurial
commitments and vocational jobs in the Persian Gulf and South East
Asia. There are over 65
Tamil Muslim educational institutions in Tamil
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India, was a career
scientist turned statesman. At the age of 17, Rifath Shaarook designed
world's lightest satellite called Kalam SAT. Serial inventor Masha
Nazeem received National Youth Award for her contributions to science
and technology from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in
2018. Three of her inventions are in the process of getting
patented. She set up Masha Innovation Centre, a research laboratory
and workshop in her hometown to build prototypes.
Henna on a Muslim bride's hands, Tamil Nadu, India.
Legends and rituals
Aqidah of the Tamil Muslims is based on
Sunnah heavily influenced
Shadhili flavours of Sufism. While Marakkayars
adhere to Shafi school, Rowthers favour Hanafi madhab. The Shadhili
Sufism is more prevalent in Sri Lanka. Coastal families
tend to be matrilocal, matrilineal and matriarchal as male members
work overseas for long terms. The nikkah (marriage) registers mahr
(dower, not dowry), consent signature and witness.
Monogamy and male
circumcision are rigorously enforced. Like the thali of Hindu
Tamil Muslim brides wear a neck chain strung with black
beads called karumani tied by the groom's elder female relative at the
time of nikkah. Whilst travelling, women typically wear white
thuppatti, as a mark of modesty, (not black burqa) draped over their
whole body, on top of the saree, but revealing face. Pilgrimage to
dargahs (called ziyarat) on major life milestones like child births
and on the anniversary gathering days (urus) is generally
Keelakarai Jumma Masjid, built in 7th century, with prominent Tamil
architectural characteristics, is one of the oldest mosques in Asia
Letters unique to
Arwi The erstwhile Tamil-
Arabic tongue of Muslims in
Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.
A mosque in Batticaloa, Eastern Province, Sri Lanka
Tamil Muslim literature spans seven centuries ranging from mystical to
medical, fictional to political, philosophical to legal. Though Sri
Lankan Moors penned Tamil literature in
Nastaliq script, known as
Arwi, the practice did not find favour elsewhere. The earliest
Tamil Muslim literary works could be traced to the 14th century in the
form of Palsanthmalai, a small work of eight stanzas. In 1572, Seyku
Issaku, better known as Vanna Parimala Pulavar, published Aayira
Masala Venru Vazhankum Adisaya Puranam detailing the Islamic
principles and beliefs in a
FAQ format. In 1592, Aali Pulavar wrote
the Mikurasu Malai. The epic Seerapuranam (prophet Mohamed's
Umaru Pulavar is dated to the 17th century and still
considered as the crowning achievement of
Tamil Muslim literature.
Other significant works of 17th century include Thiruneri Neetham by
Sufi master Pir Mohammed, Kanakabhisheka Malai by Seyku Nainar Khan
(alias Kanakavirayar), Tirumana Katchi by Sekathi Nainan and the Iraqi
war ballad Sackoon Pataippor. Notable publications of 18th century
include Yakobu Sithat Patal, a medical primer on Siddha Vaithyam
Nevertheless, an independent and vigorous
Tamil Muslim identity
evolved only in the last quarter of the 20th century triggered by the
rise of Dravidian nationalism and mass communications and lithographic
technologies. The world's first Tamil Islamic Literature
Conference was held in
Trichy in 1973. In early 2000. the Department
of Tamil Islamic Literature was set up in the University of
Literati such as Kavikko Abdul Rahman, Mu Metha, Kavi Ka. Mu. Sheriff,
Jainulabudeen, Makkal Pavalar Inqulab,
Manushyaputhiran and Rajathi
Salma helped push the frontiers of enlightenment into the 21st
century. The pioneering vernacular fortnightly magazine Samarasam
was established in 1981 to highlight the community's causes.
Established in 1979, Islamic Foundation Trust has published 129 books
in Tamil, 14 in English and 16 in
Arabic languages. It has also
brought out audio cassettes and CDs of the Quran.
Vocabulary of the community includes several peculiar Malay
loanwords like thuppatti (purdah), nabi (messenger of god), nonbu
(fasting), kayili (lungi), chicha (younger paternal uncle), peribaapu
(elder paternal uncle), peribuvva (wife of elder paternal uncle),
chichani (wife of younger paternal uncle), pallivaasal (mosque), aanam
(curry), et al. The vocabulary varies across sects and regions.
Western and Northern districts of
Tamil Nadu use different words
Malayalam and Arabic. The word Marakkayar comes from
Arabic markab meaning a boat.
Cuisine of the community is a syncretic mixture of Tamil Hindu and
Urdu Muslim recipes and flavours. Its distinguishing feature is
the total absence of hot kebab and pungent colorful spices that tend
to permeate most Indian non-vegetarian food. The spice used is
basically the same as those used by other South Indian communities,
though the mixtures might vary. One special dish is 'kuruma' which is
very low on chilly where the hotness is substituted by increasing the
amount of white pepper, and with a heavy dose of poppy seed paste.
This dish is further made richer by adding ground almonds and cashew
nuts. Pandan leaves are used where it's available, especially in Sri
Lanka and the Malay archipelago. This leaf gives out a distinct
flavour only when cooked. In deltaic towns like Karaikal and
Ambagarathur, sahan saappadu is the main style of food presentation in
banquets (where two or more guests eat from one large round plate
seated on the floor). In 1960s, the Buhari Hotel group in Chennai
introduced a quick snack called
Chicken 65 in the menu to critical
acclaim nationwide. Malay influence is visible in food like murtabak
which is typically taken as supper.
Use of masi or cured or dried tuna, which is powdered with many
different items like ada urugai (whole lime pickled in salt without
chillies), is prevalent in the coastal districts. The combination
gives a sour taste and a peculiar flavor. Thought the diet is
non-vegetarian, it seldom includes beef. Coconut oil is used for
dressing while elder generation chew betel to finish off a heavy
Law and polity
In the early 19th century, Munshi Abdullah's essays on good governance
and education reforms began to shape the modern Malaysian political
P. Kalifulla served as the minister for public works in the Cabinet of
Kurma Venkata Reddy Naidu in 1937. He was sympathetic to the cause of
Periyar E. V. Ramasamy
Periyar E. V. Ramasamy and his Self-Respect Movement. He spoke against
the introduction of compulsory Hindi classes in the Madras legislature
and participated in the anti-Hindi agitations. He was a lawyer by
profession and was known by the honorifics Khan Bahadur. He became the
Dewan of Pudukottai after withdrawal from political work.
Sir Mohammad Usman was the most prominent among the early political
leaders of the community. In 1930, Jamal Mohammad became the president
Madras Presidency Muslim League. Until then, the party was
Yakub Hasan Sait
Yakub Hasan Sait served as a minister in
the Rajaji administration. Allama Karim Gani, veteran freedom fighter
and a close associate of Subash Chandra Bose, who hailed from
Ilayangudi, served as Information Minister in Netaji ministry during
Since the late 20th century, politicians like Quaid-e-Millat (first
President of Indian Union Muslim League) and
Dawood Shah advocated
Tamil to be made an official language of
India due to its antiquity in
The community was united in a single political party under
Quaid-e-Millath presidency for 27 years keeping rabble-rousers away
until his death in 1972. Their support was invaluable for ruling
parties in the state, as well as in the Centre. He was instrumental in
framing and obtaining the minority status and privileges for
India thus safeguarding the Constitution of India. His
newspaper Urimaikkural was a very popular daily.
S. M. Muhammed Sheriff, a.k.a. 'Madurai Sheriff Sahib' was a
charismatic and prominent leader groomed by Quaid-e-Millath. He was
the first elected IUML MP from Tamil Nadu. He produced clear
documentary evidence that
Kachchatheevu belonged to India. During the
Emergency, he was the advisor to the Governor.
M. M. Ismail became Chief Justice in 1979 and was sworn in as Acting
Tamil Nadu in 1980. As Kamban Kazhagam president, he
organised literary festivals, that focussed on classical Tamil
literature. Justice S. A. Kader who was the Judge of Madras High Court
during 1983-89 became the President of
Tamil Nadu State Government
Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission on retirement.
In the early 1990s, the
Indian National League
Indian National League split from the
IUML. The non-denominational social reform movements (called Ghair
Muqallid) began to take the front stage (supposedly
to fight superstition creep) spearheaded by
P. Jainulabdeen further
weakening the IUML and causing unrest among community elders who
preferred status quo and conservatism. Nevertheless, the Tamil Nadu
Muslim Munnetra Kazagham was constituted in 1995. This non-profit
organisation quickly became popular and assertive among the working
class youth. Later, the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, the political arm
of TMMK was formed. But TMMK itself split to form the break-away
Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath soon. MMK contested in three
seats and won two Assembly seats viz. Ambur (A. Aslam Basha) and
Ramanathapuram (M. H. Jawahirullah).
Broadly speaking, Tamil Muslims tend to support laissez faire and free
trade; and have been unimpressed by
Communism as a public policy
though fringe working class factions often called for affirmative
action in the last quarter of the 20th century.
Former Prime Minister of
Malaysia Dr.Mahathir as well as Kadir Sheikh
Fadzir, Zainuddin Maidin, Anwar Ibrahim, Khairy Jamaluddin, Nor
Mohamed Yakcop and
Zambry Abdul Kadir
Zambry Abdul Kadir too are of Tamil origins.
In Sri Lanka, politicians such as
Tuan Burhanudeen Jayah
Tuan Burhanudeen Jayah and Rauff
Hakeem played a major role in asserting the rights of the Sri Lankan
Moor community affairs.
M. H. M. Ashraff launched the SLMC in 1981 at
New generation of leaders like Daud Sharifa Khanum have been active in
pioneering social reforms like independent mosques for
MLAs and MPs such as A. Anwar Raja, J. M. Aaroon Rashid, Abdul Rahman,
Jinna, Sheik Umar (Tut), Khaleelur Rahman, S. N. M. Ubayadullah,
Hassan Ali and
T. P. M. Mohideen Khan are found across all major
Dravidian political parties like DMK, DMDK and AIADMK, as well as
national parties like the INC.
At the age of 30, the award-winning documentarian Aloor Shanavas
became the Deputy General Secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal
Further information: List of Tamil Muslims
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Singapore Aspects of identity and change among Tamil Muslims in
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Indian Muslim communities
Malik of Bihar
Shaikh of Bihar
Jats of Kutch
Malik of Gujarat
Shaikhs of Gujarat
Sayyid of Gujarat
Muslim Raj Gond
Shaikhs of Rajasthan
Bhale Sultan Khanzada
Sayyid of Uttar Pradesh
Shaikh of Uttar Pradesh