Contents Page




Dissertation Preliminary Research Objectives

Supervisor: Dr.Lance Brennan            Student: Ravi Shankar

Date:              June 10, 1994               Flinders University, Adelaide 5001



Tamil-Muslims in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia and Singapore: Historical Identity, Problems of Adjustment and Change in the Twentieth Century.





1.         Who are they?

                        - distribution;

                        - numbers;

                        - ethnic characteristics.


2.         Religious Identity

                        - which branch of Islam in Tamil Nadu and Malaysia?

                        - how derived?

                        - historical connections between trade and the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia;

                          - nexus between orthodox Islam and local cultural beliefs, eg. pirs.


3.         Institutions

                        - types of religious institutions; eg. mosques, dargahs;

                        - number and distribution in Tamil Nadu and Malaysia;

                        - earliest known [historical evolution];

                        - patronage [past and present];

                        - endowments;

                        - maintenance and continuity.


4.         Clergy

                        - theological foundations;

                        - lingua franca (liturgical): idiom of expression;

                        - hierarchy;

                        - religious practice;

                        - divergent ‘schools’;

                        - dominant ‘ethic’;

                        - role of women;

                                   - who is the “spiritual head” [Islam is egalitarian in concept, but local variations could also be present].


5.         Political

                        - major “turning points” in the history of the immigrant communities;

                                   - how pressure of local politics in Tamil Nadu affected (or otherwise) the position of Islam [eg. Ramasamy Naicker’s anti-Brahmanism and, therefore anti-religion movement] among Tamil-Muslims;

                        - what were the repercussions, if any, in Malaya at the time;

                        - problems of co-existence with Hindu religious bodies;

                        - recognition and assertion of religious “rights”;

                                   - how were these “rights” secured and maintained [court cases; parliamentary speeches, etc.];

                                   - are Islamic religious institutions in Tamil Nadu governed by statutes?

                        - if they are, then, what are the similarities/dissimilarities between them and the management of temples in Tamil Nadu under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Acts;

            - in the Malaysian case, do the Tamil-Muslims maintain a separate identity in religious worship?

                        - how do Tamil-Muslims view the challenge posed by the Hindutva movement in India?

                        - how did the Tamil-Muslims respond to the demolition of the Babri Mosque?


6.         Religious Administration

                        - are Tamil-Muslims in Malaysia and Singapore subject to the common administrative controls exercised by the Religious Affairs Department?

            - what, if any, are the exclusively Tamil-Muslim religious organisations in Malaysia and Singapore?

            - how are these supported?

            - does the government provide assistance for the maintenance of Tamil-Muslim centres of worship?

            - if there is no separate Tamil-Muslim “identity” in religious worship and discourse, how and why did these pre-colonial entities lose their importance?

            - what legislative mechanisms were brought into play to divest Tamil-Muslims of their ‘religious identity’?

            - how relevant is sharia law in Tamil Nadu and Malaysia?


7.         Modern Phase

                        - what is unique about Tamil-Muslims?

                                   - how have ‘westernisation’ and ‘modernisation’ in general affected traditional worship and social norms among Tamil-Muslims in Tamil Nadu and Malaysia?

                        - is there a lessening of interest in Islam among Tamil-Muslims?

                        - how is this being countered by the clergy?

                        - how do Tamil-Muslims regard ‘fundamentalist’ notions in respect of female seclusion?

                        - what ‘influence’, if any, do the Malaysian Tamil-Muslims have on the perceptions of Tamil-Muslims in Tamil Nadu with regard to

                                               * education

                                               * occupations

                                               * family attitudes

                                               * caste/class distinctions?

                        [This is based on the premise that Malaysian Tamil-Muslims are more economically privileged than the Tamil-Muslims in Tamil Nadu.]



8.         Economic Connections

                                   - what economic links with the ‘home’ country in Tamil Nadu are still being maintained by Tamil-Muslims from Malaysia and Singapore?

                        - any connections between the respective chambers of commerce?

                        - money-changers associations;

                        - why do Tamil-Muslims seem to monopolise certain economic activities, eg. money-changing, chendol-selling, nasi kandar, bread-selling, and small-goods retailing?



9.         Cultural Connections

            - how extensive are these? e.g. visits to pilgrimage centres in Tamil Nadu;

            - are marriages still contracted across the Bay of Bengal?

                                   - if so, by which groups of Tamil-Muslims? eg. the rich or the less economically well-off?


10.       Theoretical

                        - what are the forces shaping the religious practice and the imperatives of daily life of the Tamil-Muslims in Tamil Nadu and Malaysia?

                        - what gives ‘stability’ to Tamil-Muslims in their beliefs and practices?

                        - can it be shown that a ‘culture of conservatism’ is instrumental in preserving Tamil-Muslim identity from being swamped by the religious environments in Tamil Nadu and Malaysia?

                        - how pervasive is the ‘culture of conservatism’ among Tamil-Muslims?

                        - what are the views of the younger generation?

                        - is the ‘culture of conservatism’ related to the educational and economic achievements of Tamil-Muslims?

The Problem Stated


Questions: T(amil) M(uslim) Research


1.         Did the census categories effected in British India have any influence in determining the distribution of Tamil-Muslims in the Madras Presidency? That is, did the allocation of seats to the Madras Legislative Assembly, etc. on the basis of communal and religious representations have any bearing on the eventual consolidation of Tamil Muslim populations in distinct areas of the state? Kenneth Jones in "Religious Identity and the Indian Census" [see The Census of British India, 1981 edited by N. Gerald Barrier, Manohar, New Delhi, p.96-97; FU 301.32954 C396] uses the case of the Census of the Punjab and the North-western Provinces to trace the evolution of "social and cultural divisions" becoming "fixed permanently in the constitutional structure of India".


{Follow this line of enquiry to test the case of the TMs in Tamil Nadu and the Malaysian region} 9.12.94 Adelaide.





Research Objectives

            It is estimated that there are approximately 8.7 million South Asians [based on 1987 figures[1]] living in many parts of the world, principally in the former British colonies in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Caribbean Islands, Fiji, and in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America, the Gulf States, Australia and New Zealand. Of all the component countries of the South Asian region, namely Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, by far the largest number living abroad are from India. The Indian diaspora in Southeast Asia is concentrated in Malaysia and Singapore with smaller numbers residing in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The Indians in Malaysia numbered 1.39 millions in 1991[7.8%] and in Singapore there were 190,900 in 1990 [~7%].{Note: in both sets of figures Sri Lankans are included since 1970}.


            It would be useful here to mention some of the research trends pertaining to the study of overseas South Asians.  Recent international, interdisciplinary research results in the field aired at the Conference on South Asian Communities Overseas held at Oxford University in 1988[2]  appear to fall within four categories: (1) the migration process and factors of settlement (2) cultural composition (3) social structure and political power, and (4) community development.[3] Shigematsu Shinji, a Japanese scholar, in reviewing research trends on South Asian migrant communities, avers that empirical works based on regional case studies of overseas South Asians since the nineteenth century has not resulted in meaningful attempts at systematically and analytically describing either the social structure of emigrant groups or their group character.


            Nevertheless the historiography on the Indian diaspora in Southeast Asia is quite copious but lacks depth. It may be noted that academic writing about Indians in Southeast Asia has tended to be concentrated in three particular areas: (1) the macro-level studies aimed at situating Indian migrant labour in the global economic configuration (2) middle-level studies with their emphasis on recording the ‘adaptability or assimilation of the immigrant community to the host society, and (3) micro-level case studies focussing on the individual.[4] Yet another theoretical concern points to the need for research to study what has been termed “reciprocity between South Asians and their host countries”[5]. This refers to a need to study the continuing relationships between expatriate members of a diasporic community and their ‘home’ countries. In this case, the problem of “carrying out synchronic fieldwork in both receiving and sending countries” is compounded by the absence of readily available source materials “that could lead up to a historiography of reciprocity.”[6]


            This paper is a part of a dissertation, which attempts to incorporate the theoretical features envisaged in the problematic, posed by [Helweg’s] the “reciprocity” construct. The dissertation at its broadest level addresses the question of communal identity among the Tamil Muslims located in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia and Singapore with particular reference to their position in the period from the beginning of the Second World War to the present. The study of identity touches multiple lines of inquiry in support of the main analysis.


            An obvious question is what is significant about the Tamil Muslims that marks them apart from other diasporic communities in Malaysia. Here a number of factors may be cited in favour of such a study. Firstly, as already implied in their name, the Tamil Muslims are ethnically Tamil-speakers and are Muslims by religious belief. The fact that these two facets of their identity have to find a coalescence in the communally organised Malaysian polity comprising other Indians, Chinese and Malays is an invitation to social analysts to measure and test the reasons for their continued viability as a separate entity, or otherwise, under the powerful influence of economic and political changes that are taking place in the region. It may be pointed out here that a generally held belief among liberalists is that modernization would tend to blur ethnic distinctions; that wide ranging communication and education would ‘homogenize populations’.[7] The radicalists, on the other hand, believe that differences in religion, language and culture would be overshadowed by emerging ‘class consciousness’.[8] Valid as these postulates are, the observed reality, however, shows that religion and ethnicity continue to dominate almost all levels of society particularly in Malaysia.


            Secondly, some of the Tamil Muslim groups have distinguished themselves as one of the oldest trading communities with a long tradition of commerce between South and Southeast Asia spanning many centuries. Despite their small numbers their business acumen has successfully seen them through three European colonial eras. There are indications that they are adapting to changing needs in contemporary times, that is they are expanding their business practices by engaging in entrepreneurial activities in countries like China and India from their base in Malaysia. Given this background, we will now consider the Malaysian case.


Dissertation Preliminary Chapter-Headings


December 10, 1994                                         Flinders University, Adelaide 5001



Tamil-Muslims in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia and Singapore: Historical Identity, Problems of Adjustment and Change in the Twentieth Century.



1.        Literature review.

           a. Bayly;

           b. McPherson;

           c. Kozlowski;

           d. Nagata;

           e. Price;

           f. Fujimoto;

           g. Mines

           h. et al.


2.                 Discussion: Theories of religious, social, and political, identity:


           a. minority communities confronting change in other parts of the world;

           b. relevance of this study.


3.        Problem stated: A crisis of identity?


4.        Ethnographic survey of Tamil-Muslims:


           a. distribution;

           b. migrations;

           c. caste distinctions - real or imaginary;

           d. census statistics and its impact on the evolution of social categories.



5.        Islam of the Tamil-Muslims:


           a. historical development;

           b. measured against other Muslim orthodoxies;

           c. pirs: Nagore dargha

           d. tariqas


6.        Religious institutions in identity maintenance:


           a. Hindu-Muslim and Christian-Muslim social interactions;

           b. Hindu-Muslim religious rivalry;

           c. Indo-Malayan connections;

           d. religious endowments for the maintenance of mosques and dargahs;

           d. the Haj as an institution of identity;

           e. music in theological expression - paralleling Hindu religious music and poetry.


7.        Language and Identity: Urdu-speakers and Tamil-speakers.


           a. early media development;

           b. influence of newspapers;

           c. vernacular literature in identity enhancement: past and present;

           d. elitism.


8.        Promoting education:


           a. support for universal education: mediums and methods;

           b. position on female education;

           c. higher education.


9.        Political participation:


           a. problems;

           b. accommodations;

           c. initiatives;

           d. youth movements;

           e. social, cultural and trade-related organisations;

           f. connections with counterparts in northern India; Malaysia?


10.      Youth and change: impact of modern media and communications:


           a. cross-cultural impacts;

           b. use of modern media for identity maintenance;

           c. the generation gap - its existence;

           d. parochial or progressive?


11.      Intersection: religious and social values, economic imperatives, and political limitations - a twentieth-century reality.






1.         Early history.


            Raju, S., 1994. Nenjai Allum Thanjai [in Tamil], Kongu Research Centre, Thanjavur. {Gift from the author on 21.10.95}.


            Kamal, S.M., 1990?. Sethupathy Seppedugal, Ramanathapuram. [Copy to be obtained from Mr.M.Muthuswamy, Librarian, Oriental Research Institute, Madras University].


2.         Islamic Tamil Literatures.


            Ajamalkhan, P.M. & Uwise, M.M., 1986. Islamiya Thamizh Ilakkiya Varalaaru, Volume I, Madurai-Kamaraj University, Palkalai Nagar, Madurai. [Bought at the University on 13.11.95]. Parts II & III to be bought.


3.         Emigration to Southeast Asia.


            Mathew, K.S.[ed.], 1990. Studies in Maritime History, Department of History, Pondicherry University, Pondicherry. [Complimentary copy from Prof.Mathew.]


4.         Muslim League in Tamil Nadu.


            Rifai, A.K., 1983. Kaumin Kaavalar [Tamil], Second Edition, Published by the author, Kottaram, via Tenkasi, Tirunelveli.[Complimentary copy from Mr.A.K.A.Abdul Samad, President, Tamil Nadu Indian Union Muslim League, Madras, on 6.10.95]


5.         Muslim Leagues in Malaysia; KIMMA political involvement.

6.         Social Organisations in Malaysia.

7.         Social Organisations in Singapore.

8.         Social Organisations in Tamil Nadu.


            Maraicar, M.I.Mohamed Hassan, 1991. Maraikayar Samoogam Oru Ayvu [A Study on Maraikayar Community], Gangai Book Store, Madras. {Gift from author on 4.11.95 via his uncle Prof. Sahib Maraikayar in Karaikal}.


9.         Education in Tamil Nadu.


            Muhammadans: Selections from the Records of the Home Department, 

            GOI,    No. CCV, Home Department Serial No.2. Correspondence on the subject of Education of the Muhammadan  Community in British India & their employment in  the public services generally, 1886, Volume 244, Almirah 34. [Madras Record Office - Catalogue of Books in the Library, 1936.]


            Press Act 19th Century - Instrumental in discouraging Tamil Islamic Education.           [Look for details; information from Dr. Kamal]


10.       Religious Education in Malaysia.

11.       Religious Education in Singapore.

12.       Hindu-Muslim Relations in Tamil Nadu: Now and Before.

13.       Hindu-Muslim Relations in Malaysia: Now and Before.

14.       Hindu-Muslim Relations in Singapore: Now and Before.

15.       Business Activities in Tamil Nadu.

16.       Business Activities in Malaysia.

17.       Business Activities in Singapore.

18.       Government restrictions to continued presence in Malaysia & Singapore.

19.       Newspapers & journals in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia & Singapore.

20.       New directions for employment and business investments in Tamil        Nadu.

21.       New measures to counter educational backwardness in Tamil Nadu.

22.       New measures to counter educational backwardness in Malaysia & Singapore.

23.       Population distributions in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia & Singapore.

24.              Preservation of Islamic values in a secular environment: Common Civil Procedure           Code in India and Tamil-Muslims’ response.

25.       Islamic Banking methods in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia & Singapore.

26.       Role of Muslim women in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia & Singapore.

27.       Muslim allegiances during the Second World War.

28.       Review of literature




1.         The sharia [The Law of Islam] and the tariqa [the Path]: How do these ‘poles’ [the exoteric and the esoteric] of Islam affect the Tamil Muslims? To what extent do these show up as differences in the practice of Islam by the Malays and the Tamil Muslims? [see Victor Danner, 1973. Ibn Ataillah’s  Sufi Aphorisms [Kitab al-Hikam], E.J.Brill, Leiden, particularly the preface, for a clear explanation of the origin and meaning of Sufism]

Sufiy, according to the Collins Dictionary, is derived from Ar.suf [=wool], probably from the ascetic’s woollen garments.


2.         Sufi thought and ideas have permeated TM literature



Tamil Muslims in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia and Singapore: a study of their historical identity, problems of adjustment, and change in the twentieth century.



Chapter 1


Theoretical considerations


1. Notions of Ethnicity:

            Ethnicity takes many forms, meets a variety of needs, and has a wide range of uses. No single case can provide material for an exhaustive analysis of the full complexity of the phenomenon, but all contribute pieces to the mosaic, illuminating that complexity. Analyses have been couched in terms of cultural definitions, of perceptual and cognitive categories, of social distance and solidarity groups, of boundary definition and maintenance, of conflict and competition, of emergent versus conservative qualities of the phenomenon, and so forth - and all hold some validity, for ethnicity is multi-faceted. As A. L. Epstein points out, to define ethnicity exclusively in terms of only one of these many facets - whether its potential as a focus for political mobilisation, its contribution to an individual's psychic comfort as a member of a group, or its cultural or linguistic attributes - "is to confuse an aspect of the phenomenon with the phenomenon itself: [Epstein, A. L., 1978. Ethos and Identity: three studies in ethnicity. London: Tavistock, p.96]




Ethnicity, where it appears, is ultimately based in distinctions of "we" and "they" that may generally be considered to be irreducible givens (although gradations of distinction may in fact be distributed continuously along a scale rather than dichotomously or at discrete intervals). But it is context that determines whether and to what extent those distinctions are socially or psychologically significant. Ethnicity, i.e., does not exist simply because such distnctions exist; such distinctions provide no more than the potential for ethnic differentiation. Moreover, even when ethnicity cum ethnic differentiation is manifest, it is not safe to assume that ethnic groups are a necessary concomitant, for the word "group" implies some organization function or at least consciousness of group existence and identity of purpose. [Boldtype the author’s] Careful analytical distinctions must be drawn between different conceptual orders of "ethnicity" as they apply to a wide range of self-conceptualizations and social behaviour and experience.


Explicit differentiation among three sorts of ethnic phenomena is useful: (1) ethnic identity, (2) ethnic categories, and (3) ethnic groups. Each of the first two implies the existence of the other, though identity may be seen to operate independently of overt recognition of categories once both are well established in the conceptual schemes of the individuals who make up a given social system. The third often, but not always, appears as an outgrowth of the first two: ethnic identities and categories may exist without ethnic groups, but ethnic groups, if they do come into being, must be built on categories and identities, and may then in turn serve to reinforce those categories and identities. [Boldtype the author’s]


Much of the current debate in the literature over the nature and meaning of ethnicity is bogged down unnecessarily in a failure conceptually to distinguish ethnic groups from ethnic categories. Barth, in analysing the generation, maintenance, and negotiation of ethnic boundaries, shows that ethnic categories demarcated by such boundaries may vary considerably in form and in content, as well as in the degree of relevance and the breadth of scope with which they impinge upon social action [Barth, Fredrik, "Introduction". In Ethnic groups and boundaries, the social organization of cultural difference. Fredrik Barth (ed.), p.14 [Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1969] pp. 9-38. He refers in fact to categories rather than to ethnic groups as such in much of his theoretical discussion.


J.C.Mitchell, by contrast, has been assiduous in drawing the contrast between group and category [Mitchell, J.C. "Tribe and social change in South Central Africa: a situational approach". Journal of Asian and African Studies. 1970, Vol. 5, pp. 83-101. "Perceptions of ethnicity and ethnic behaviour: an empirical exploration". In Urban ethnicity (Abner Cohen (ed.), New York: Tavistock, 1974), pp. 1-36. He sees categorization as a process that provides necessary order and predictability in social relations by reducing the complexity inherent in situations in which social interactions are transitory and superficial and at the same time multitudinous and extensive. For Mitchell, "ethnicity" is a perceptual or cognitive construct, while "ethnic groups" are behavioural phenomena, and any connections between the two must be empirically demonstrated and explained rather than assumed. Ethnic identities are derived from a labelling process that relates more to categorical expectations of public behaviour in a public context than to an individual's basic customs, beliefs, or cultural practices. [Boldtype the author’s]


 2. Brass’s thesis about emerging ‘nationalisms’: four major elements -


            a. the importance of objective differences between groups of people;

            b. the values of these groups and the social changes taking place within them;

            c. the relations between these groups and the different rates at which they mobilise socially; and

            d. the impact of government and politics.

Is this an appropriate platform from which to examine the Tamil Muslims?



* Are all ‘diasporas’ minorities? [Fiji Indians & Singapore Chinese are not];

            * What factors determine/maintain group identities of diasporic communities?



Chapter 2


Historical identity

            In Tamil Nadu: Early Arab contacts through trade; intermarriage and conversions;     local spouses and the development of settled communities; community-identity based on occupation, class, vis-à-vis Labbais, Marakkayars, Rawthers, and Kayalars, and religious sects,


            Formation of the Tamil Muslim diaspora in Southeast Asia:

            From the 13th century as traders from the Coromandel region; influential in the Malacca Sultanate in the 15th century - court intrigues leading to a brief usurpation of power [Mutahir, a Tamil Muslim Prime Minister]; ‘Munshi’ Abdullah, of Tamil parentage, born in Malacca [1796-1854] - scribe, linguist and close friend of Raffles and Farquhar; Abdul Kadir, a Tamil commoner, named Tengku Muda in 1834 and eventual ruler after Sultan Hussain’s death.


            In Malaya: Tamil Muslims establish themselves as traders, labourers, estate-workers, and religious school-teachers. Principal centres of urban settlement - Penang, Kuala Lumpur-Klang, Ipoh, Taiping, Alor Star, Malacca, and Johore Bahru.

            In Singapore: as traders, businessmen, labourers, and religious school-teachers.





Chapter 3


            Important periods - ‘turning points’ - in the postwar history of Tamil Muslims


            In the diasporic region - Malaya/Singapore:

            Pre-1939/40 - relatively ‘free’ movement between the Madras Presidency and Malaya;


            1940-45 - war and dislocation/disruption of economic activity;


            1945-1949/50 - Political chaos;  ‘conflictual’ situation with Hindus regarding political representation/participation; period of emotional Hindu-Muslim concerns reflecting conditions prevailing in the subcontinent; divided opinions among Tamil Muslims themselves - some with pro-Indian Congress and others with pro-All-India Muslim League views; genesis of (Malayan) Muslim League with political overtones; ‘Malaya Nanban’ - the first ‘national’ newspaper of the Tamil Muslims started in Singapore - instrumental in creating an awareness of their religious identity;


            1950-69 - [1963-65 Singapore as part of Malaysia] - ‘Period of Indecision and Coalescence’ - questions relating to immigration and citizenship paramount;


            1969 - racial riots in Malaysia - major turning point for all communities in Malaysia - New Economic Policy adopted; being ‘Muslim’ alone was no guarantee for economic advancement; repercussions in educational achievement felt by all non-Malay communities competing for ‘quotas’; Tamil Muslim self-perceptions of their ‘identity’ comes under scrutiny in the face of government policies favouring Malays.


            In Tamil Nadu:

            1940-45: [Not clear]


            1947-72: Politics under the State Muslim League

            1973-95: Political challenges

            1973-  : OPEC oil-boom generates an exodus of workers to the Gulf countries from Tamil Nadu [and elsewhere in south India]; it was in this year also a perception that Tamil Muslims fared poorly in education in comparison to others in Tamil Nadu brought about what can be seen as a major turning point for Tamil Muslim education through various self-help schemes in Tamil Nadu.


Chapter 4


Islam of the Tamil Muslims


The theological basis of TM Islam: is there a recognisable adherence to a ‘rationalized’ Islam in law and theology:  OR a clear adherence to the “Sufi Way” [tariqa]; OR is it in a ‘zone of indistinction’ bridging many cultural adaptations?


            In Malaysia and Singapore: Religion, language and ethnic group - Malay and Tamil Muslim; what is its relationship with Malay Islam? what is Malay Islam? Is Malay Islam devoid of Sufistic elements? Is it a purely ‘legalistic’ system based only on the authority of the Quran?


            Hanafi and Shafi origins; Differences in forms of worship between sects; separate development in relation to dominant ethos of Malay Muslims:

  1. pre-war period;
  2. the rise of Malay ‘fundamentalism’ and TM adjustment/accommodation in the immediate post-war period;
  3. mainstream Malay Islamic groups and Tamil Muslims [Tabligh, Darul Arqam, ABIM - these are non-governmental ‘independent’ Malay organisations; PERKIM - government-funded proselytising organisation].



            In Tamil Nadu: Reaction to Hindu accretions into Sufistic practices; ‘new’movements [eg. Qadianis/Ahmadiyyas]; proselytisation [Isha athul Islam] among low caste Hindus;



Chapter 5


            Economic Change: From the ‘traditional’ to the ‘modern’ in the second half of the twentieth century


            In the diaspora: ‘traditional’ occupations of the Tamil Muslims undergoing change: small-scale independent sundry-goods traders continue to survive - such as ‘oddu kadais’ and ‘kaththi kadais’, and food-sellers; ship-chandlering and jewellery manufacture are in decline, succumbing to ‘external’ pressures from the Chinese business community; jewellery-manufacture is also affected by the disappearing Tamil-Hindu craftsmen, the ‘paththars’; money-changing as a traditional occupation, dating back to the late 18th century, is fast being taken over by the Chinese; agencies to European manufacturing firms [pharmaceuticals, etc.] are also in decline due to ‘encroachments’ from Chinese and Malay business competition; labouring occupations not in decline.


            Early traditional businesses were family-centred and kin-centred. Business-knowledge was a closely-guarded ‘asset’ that was unable to respond effectively to changing market conditions. Tamil Muslim enterprises were unlike Chinese enterprises which were financially supported by their respective clan organisations. Tamil Muslims did not develop any similar mechanism for their ‘community’. From the seventies official government assistance to Malays in business has also helped to ‘marginalise’ Tamil Muslim traders.


            Rapid economic growth and modernisation in the diaspora have brought about changes to Tamil Muslim enterprise in some sectors: container-shipping in Singapore in the mid-seventies - taken advantage of by Sharafdeen who now ranks as one of the top ten shipping enterprises in Singapore; Mawaria Trading in Klang has maintained a leading role in the shipping sector in Malaysia. Timber-export is a successful venture for Razik Fareed International, a solely-owned family company in Kuala Lumpur with branches overseas.


            In manufacturing, Barkath Ali Sdn. Bhd. of Penang, another solely-owned family company, exports food products worldwide; it is also establishing plants in China. There are many other solely-owned family businesses which have benefited from the modern business management skills acquired at foreign business colleges.


            The Tamil Muslim ‘community’ shows remarkable achievements/resilience in some areas of business activity as well as stagnation and decline in others.



Chapter 6


            Relations between Hindus and Muslims in Tamil Nadu and in the diaspora


            In Tamil Nadu: The nature of Hindu-Muslim relations has from colonial times been one of tension between worshippers living in close proximity to each other in both urban and rural situations. Local outbursts resulting from perceived ‘insults’ to religious sentiments originating from both sides have tended to maintain tensions within some ‘classes’ of inhabitants in Tamil Nadu. It is not possible to generalise these ‘tensions’ across the whole spectrum of Hindus and Muslims. The Chakkarappalli riots in Tanjore district in 1913, for example, led to a number of deaths and a long court case. More recently in 1993 and 1995, Nagore, the mausoleum-town of the Sufi-Saint Shahul Hameed, has been hit by riots purportedly of a political nature inspired by neo-fundamentalists.


            On the other hand, a generalisation can be made regarding the class-based, ‘Hindu’-followers who frequent Muslim shrines as a matter of faith - a ‘one-way’ street not shared by Tamil Muslims in the opposite direction for theological reasons.


            In Tamil Nadu, Hindu-fundamentalism has been active since the mid-eighties and targets Muslims during vociferous campaigns/celebrations of the Vinayaga Chathurthi - an imported phenomenon originating from Maharashtra. Whether this is a response to the quiet Muslim-proselytisation that is taking place among the poorer Hindu communities in rural areas in particular, it is hard to speculate on. The political repercussions of this new phenomenon for the Tamil Muslims as a whole are difficult to imagine.


            In the diaspora: Problems associated with ‘tabooth’ processions have been reported even during the mid-nineteenth century penal colonies in the Straits Settlements. However, no clashes of any significance were reported between Hindus and Muslims of a religious nature in Malaysia until very recent times.


            A serious case of Hindu-Muslim [Malay] clash occurred over the desecration of a Hindu temple in Malaysia in 1978 in which five Malays were killed. This incident was reportedly influenced by disaffected Tamil Muslims from the KIMMA political organisation.


            Tensions between Hindus and Muslim Tamils in Malaysia have taken on varying degrees of importance and severity often related to questions of poor and inadequate representation of Tamil Muslim needs at the level of the Malaysian Indian Congress. Factional infighting among Tamil Muslims has further reduced their ability to find adequate representation within the MIC. A rival political organisation called the Kongress India Muslim Malaysia [KIMMA] was formed by some sectional interests in the seventies to represent Tamil Muslim interests but it has not yet gained official recognition from the governing coalition parties.


            In the seventies and eighties, a number of insensitive speeches and newspaper articles by leading members of both Hindu and Muslim groups in Malaysia have contributed to a further deterioration of mutual respect between the two communities. In one incident in December 1980, a Tamil newspaper was closed down for reprinting a series of articles by a Sri Lankan writer which were construed to be denigrating the Prophet Muhammad.


            In Singapore, however, Hindu-Muslim relations have been relatively peaceful in recent times. During the period of the Japanese occupation the Hindu-dominated Indian National Army had reportedly acted severely towards the Tamil Muslims.


            Generalisations about the Hindu-Muslim tensions in the diasporic regions should need to consider the political framework of each region. Are tensions less between religious groups merely because of some yet to be understood operative mechanism in a secular democracy such as Singapore? Are they heightened as a result of being components of a pluralist constitutional monarchy with a proclaimed state religion? Do relatively better economic circumstances for competing groups have any influence in mediating religious sentiments of the extreme kind? At the other end of the scale, are the ‘watch-dog’ policies of governments instrumental in ‘creating’ orderliness in pluralist situations.


Chapter 7


            Tamil Muslim Education: Traditional Madrasa-style Education in Tamil Nadu


            There are about seven major centres in various parts of Tamil Nadu conferring degrees in religious education. These have continued to be independently managed colleges drawing their financial strength from local adherents of the sects, in general; they have also been the sources of ulema for teaching positions in the diaspora. The scheme for Financial Assistance for Modernisation of Madrasa Education [1993] is being implemented with a view to encouraging traditional institutions like madrasas and maktabs to introduce science, mathematics, social studies, Hindi and English in their curriculum. Under the scheme, assistance is given to such institutions for the appointment of qualified teachers for teaching new subjects to be introduced.


            In the diaspora: Madrasa-style education maintained by Tamil Muslims in Malaysia is in the process of being co-opted in 1995 into the larger religious-education structure of the Malaysian government. Of the 150 or so madrasas run by Tamil Muslims in Malaysia, there does not appear to be an enthusiastic response to change from their present system. This may be viewed as the resistance of the ‘little tradition’ of Islam of the Tamil Muslims to the overtures of the ‘great tradition’ of the Islam of Malay Muslims. Although there is no overt coercion involved, non-conformity can be interpreted to reflect majority Malay opinions about Tamil Muslims in many different ways. This question will be treated separately under Islam of the Tamil Muslims to underline the differences between the two systems of religious practice.


            Reinforcing Tamil Muslim [Secular] Education: Self-help as a solution to ‘marginalisation’ in the 1970s


            In Tamil Nadu: More than twenty years after the Tamil Nadu Muslim Educational Conference findings there is evidence to show that Tamil Muslims have come a long way in addressing the limitations that surrounded their younger generation of students. A number of private funds are operating educational institutions, including engineering colleges, for both sexes.


            In the diaspora: Paralleling secular educational developments in the ‘home’ country, in Malaysia and Singapore, however, Tamil Muslim education is in a state of flux. In Malaysia, most of the Indian communities are known to have performed below the other communities in some general categories of secondary school education. This has been attributed to the persistence of ill-equipped Tamil Schools for the teaching of the modern sciences. With the assistance of the Malaysian Indian Congress, self-help schemes by community-minded Hindu Indians have been set up to coach students in selected centres. These centres bear the name of a deity revered by Hindus and are therefore anathema to Tamil Muslim students.


            In Singapore, performance of Indian students in general is similarly below those of the other communities. The Singapore Indian Association [SINDA] has organised similar coaching facilities for all Indian students. It is not clear how many Tamil Muslim students participate in this scheme. [This is one of the details to be ascertained during the forthcoming field study]. The Malays have also organised a self-help group called MENDAKI which is open to all Muslims whose parents have to contribute a small sum. To what extent this is being taken advantage of by Tamil Muslims is again not clear.


            Tamil Muslim education in the diaspora invites critical and careful appraisal because it impinges upon other questions affecting Tamil Muslim identity.


Chapter 8


            Tamil Muslim Language and Literature as markers of identity: A ‘core-periphery’ illustration


            In the use of the Tamil language, the Tamil Muslims show their greatest claim to a special ‘identity’. Slogans such as “Islam is our Way and Tamil is our Language” occupy a pride of place among Tamil Muslims in the ‘core’ region of Tamil Nadu. It is also echoed in the diaspora.


            The awakening of interest in Tamil Muslim literature commenced in the 1960s after the conferences on Tamil Studies were initiated by the International Association of Tamil Research. Since then parallel conferences have been held by Tamil Muslims concentrating on Islamic Tamil literature.





[1] Shigematsu,S., p.83

[2] ibid., p.85

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid., p.89

[5] A.W.Helweg, 1986. Indians in England: A study of the interactional relationships of sending, receiving, and migrant societies. In Studies in Migration: Internal and International Migration in India, M.S.A.Rao (ed.), 1986, pp.363-394.

[6] ibid.

[7] Ahmad Ibrahim et al., 1985. Readings in Islam in Southeast Asia, ISEAS, Singapore.

[8] ibid.,