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Analysis

Not only Hindus, in 1921 Moplahs massacred Christians, too

Dr BS Harishankar

Dr BS HarishankarSep 23, 2021, 03:17 PM IST

Not only Hindus, in 1921 Moplahs massacred Christians, too
The Hagia Sophia issue was the reason for the anti-Christian stand by Khilafatis in India

1921 Malabar riots were directed against kafirs. Mappilas were angry with the 'Christian' British because they reconverted Hagia Sophia into a church on October 2, 1921 Mappilas attacked christian labourers and  slaughtered three men and five children

 

Six years back in 2015, in the summer of February, in Kerala, the Ecumenical Association took out a silent rally in the district of Pathanamthitta in protest against the killing and harassment of Christians in Libya and other parts of the world. Priests and believers attached to different parishes in and around the same district took part in the rally, which began from St. Stephen's Orthodox Cathedral. A prayer by the Pathanamthitta Bishop of the Malankara Catholic Church, Youhanon Mar Chrysostom, was held ahead of the rally (In memory of those killed in Libya in The Hindu, February 25, 2015). ). Father Paul Thelekkatt, the former spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala, expressed in 2016 that the militant Islamic State outfit “is trying to purge Christianity from their ancient lands”. 

In January 2021, Synod of Syro-Malabar Church raised concern over the worldwide terrorist attacks against Christians. This comes given the recent terrorist attacks on Churches in various parts of the world, including France, Burkina, Egypt, and Indonesia.

The protest carried out by the ecumenical association was not an isolated event in Libya and other countries. It brings fearful memories for the Christian community of what happened to their forefathers a hundred years back in Malabar. Today when the Left and secular groups are in the forefront to celebrate the century of the Khilafat and the blood it spilt in Malabar in 1921, they are answerable to the question  why  Christian labourers were slaughtered, which led to their mass exodus from Malabar to the then princely states of Kochi and Travancore which were Hindu majority regions.

Constantinople, which bestrides Asia and Europe, and was the capital of the Byzantine empire, is hailed by Thomas Madden, author of Istanbul, as the greatest Christian city. It was renamed Istanbul after the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453. When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, virtually all of the city's surviving cathedrals and churches were, after being desecrated and thoroughly plundered, converted into mosques. Its renowned Hagia Sophia Byzantine cathedral was changed into a mosque. 

When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, virtually all of the city's surviving cathedrals and churches were, after being desecrated and thoroughly plundered, converted into mosques. Its renowned Hagia Sophia Byzantine cathedral was changed into a mosque

The eastern Orthodox Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for 900 years was an imperial mosque for 482 years and then a museum from 1935. The Hagia Sophia issue was the reason for the anti-Christian stand by Khilafat in India. There was strong discontent among the Indian Sunni Muslims as a direct result of the agitation in Britain for the expulsion of the Turks from Constantinople and the 'redemption of the ‘Church’ of St. Sophia back to Christianity (The Times, February 17, 1920). Nothing could symbolise a change of control at Constantinople than the reconversion of Aya Sophia Mosque back into a St Sophia Cathedral. In Britain, the focus of such views was the St Sophia Redemption Committee, which sought to restore the building to its original function. Across England, ardent philhellenes formed the St. Sophia Redemption Committee, and its manifesto was published in 1919. According to Rev. John Douglas, the idea of the return of Hagia Sophia to Christianity symbolised European aspirations for the ancient city of Constantinople, which was invaded and renamed by Turks as Istanbul. Rev. Douglas said, “Never probably has there existed in Great Britain, a sentiment more forceful and more wholly disinterested than that,  which though at present hardly articulate is ready to insist on the restoration of Saint Sophia to Christian worship”. 

Robert G Ousterhout of Byzantine Studies at the University of Pennsylvania has highlighted at the beginning of January 1921, a special service was held in the cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City, with Orthodox and Episcopal clergy offering prayers in six languages—Hungarian, Greek, Arabic, Russian, Serbian, and English—for the restoration of Hagia Sophia as a Christian sanctuary. The American interdenominational prayer services of 1921 came as a response to the British movement known as the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, founded in 1864. An 1877 article in the New York Times began, “How soon will the cross replace the crescent over the minarets of St. Sophia, or how soon the minarets themselves will be entirely swept away, leaving the outlines of the church in their ancient condition, no seer has foretold.” The same article notes the longstanding belief among the Greeks, “not altogether discredited by the Turks,” that the building would be restored to Christianity. As Ottoman control of its European territories crumbled, the restoration of Hagia Sophia to Christianity was a firmly held hope and widely-felt belief, according to Ousterhout.

According to Rev. John Douglas, the idea of the return of Hagia Sophia to Christianity symbolised European aspirations for the ancient city of Constantinople, which was invaded and renamed by Turks as Istanbul. Rev. Douglas said, "Never probably has there existed in Great Britain, a sentiment more forceful and more wholly disinterested than that,  which though at present hardly articulate is ready to insist on the restoration of Saint Sophia to Christian worship"

Hagia Sophia issue was snowballing into a major problem. A foreign secretary from 1916 till 1919, Arthur Balfour received a letter from the Church of Scotland demanding the expulsion of Turks from Constantinople, which was once the Holy City of Byzantine (Eastern) Christianity. Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1895 to 1905 and replaced Balfour as foreign secretary, was much interested in Hagia Sophia Cathedral.  Prime Minister Herbert Asquith (1908—1914) pronounced with unfounded optimism that with the control of the straits, "the cross will replace the crescent on the minaret of St' Sophia," which has been discussed by Robert S. Nelson, who has written on Hagia Sophia (1850 –1950).

The reclaim of Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Europe, especially in Britain, raised much discontent among the Indian Khilafat Committee of 1920. The anti-British sentiments of the Khilafat Committee in India were fundamentally based on anti-Christian solid emotions linking back to the Crusades and the unwillingness to give back Saint Sophia Cathredal converted to a Mosque by Ottomans for the Muslims exist as a symbol of victory by Islam over Christianity. When Ottomans assumed power in Turkey, Mehmet II revived the jihad against Constantinople and ensured no "Christian fifth column" would join hands with the European powers. There was escalating tension between Christians and Muslims in Ottoman Empire.

The Khilafat Mappilas were infuriated with the Christian labourers at Kodakkal near Ponnani in South Malabar. On October 2, 1921, not far away from Thirunavay at Kodakkal,  there was a Christian settlement. Nearly a thousand people, including men, women, and children labourers in a nearby tile factory, resided. At night, the settlement was attacked by nearly three hundred Mappilas, butchering Issac and Jacob, two labourers, and Yesumitran, a school master, and his five children. The rest of the nearly one thousand Christians resorted to a mass exodus to nearby  Kozhikkode and Palakkad regions. The gruesome incident is narrated by K Madhavan Nair, secretary of the Kozhikkode  Congress Committee, in his much-acclaimed Malayalam work  Malabar Kalaapam  (Malabar Rebellion) published by  the Matrubhumi.

During the spread of the 1921 riots, M.C.Chandy, who was a forest conservator at Nilambur, fled to Nedungayam, where he was captured by Moplahs and threatened to either adopt Islam or face death,  but he escaped. 

There was a mass exodus of nearly a thousand Christians from the riot-hit regions in south Malabar into neighbouring Thrissur, Palakkad and Kochi regions. Their houses and settlements were mostly burnt down, destroyed, and the rest looted, which has been discussed by Madhavan Nair.

Attack on Christians by Mappilas in Malabar has a long history. In his Malabar Manual, William Logan discusses the attack on churches by Moplahs during the period of the Mysorean interlude.  In March 1764, Moplahs attacked the church on Dharmapattanam island during the holy mass and murdered one and severely wounded several others. Sayyid Sana Ullah Makti Tangal was an uncompromising critic of Christianity and Christian missionaries. He orchestrated large religious debates and published numerous pamphlets challenging Christian religious ideas.

In his memoirs titled Tarikh-i Khudadadi (History of the God-given kingdom), Tipu describes his operation against Christians at Mangalore. J.A. Dubois, a French Catholic priest who came to India in 1792, documented the plight of Christianity in Canara under Tipu Sultan: "Sometime after they arrived at Seringapatam, Tippoo ordered the whole to undergo the rites of circumcision, and be made converts to Mahomedanism. The Christians were put together during the several days that the ceremony lasted. After the fall of the late Tippoo Sultan, most of these apostates came back to be reconciled to their former religion, saying that their apostasy had been only external, and they always kept in their hearts the true faith in Christ. Almost 2,000 of them fell in my way, and nearly 20,000 returned to the Mangalore district, from whence they had been carried away and rebuilt there their former places of worship."

Thus Tipu was hostile towards Christians. In a tradition followed for decades, Catholics of Dakshina Kannada district still felicitate members of three Hindu families in gratitude for having protected them during the attack by Tipu Sultan. Tipu Sultan's army attacked the Our Lady of Remedies Church, Kirem 30-km from Mangaluru in 1784. Three families of the local Hindu ‘Bant’ community succeeded in foiling the attack. To date, the members of these families are honoured by Our Lady of Remedies Church, Kirem. This tradition is held at Damaskatte, Kinnigoli, every year. In 2018, the function was held on November 28 at Our Lady of Remedies Church, Kirem, during the church's annual feast. The local Christians are still grateful to the Hindu families who stopped the destruction of the church, which is one of the oldest churches in the Manguluru Diocese in Karnataka.

The Census of India Special Studies on Kerala temples, Thrissur district, by S.Jayashankar,   narrates that in November 1789,  Tipu desecrated and plundered Hindus while invading temples and Christian churches in Thrissur district. 

After being converted by Sultan Mohammed the conqueror into a mosque, Hagia Sophia remained so till 1931. In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, also known as Atatürk, or Father of the Turks, transformed Hagia Sophia into a museum. In 2020, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again converted it into a mosque, which raised massive protests by Churches and Christian organisations worldwide.

Tipu was hostile towards Christians. In a tradition followed for decades, Catholics of Dakshina Kannada district still felicitate members of three Hindu families in gratitude for having protected them during the attack by Tipu Sultan. Tipu Sultan's army attacked the Our Lady of Remedies Church, Kirem 30-km from Manguluru in 1784. Three families of the local Hindu 'Bant' community succeeded in foiling the attack

The Indian Union Muslim League ( henceforth IUML)' in its mouthpiece ‘Chandrika’, published an article on Hagia Sophia titled 'The Friday Prayer at Ayasofya' on July 24, 2020,  written by senior IUML leader Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal in support of President Erdogan's decision to convert the museum into a mosque again. Churches in Kerala, especially the Syro Malabar church, raised their protest.  These issues have polarised the two communities in Kerala.

In August 2020,  Catholic Bishops in Kerala warned about the increasing influence of international terrorist outfits such as the Islamic State in the southern Indian state. The bishops call follows a United Nations report which said there are Islamic State-related terrorists in the southern states of Kerala and Karnataka. The Bishops expressed concern in August 2020. Earlier on January 15 2020, the synod of Syro-Malabar Church, an apex body of Catholic Bishops, chaired by Cardinal George Alencherry, accused that members from the Christian community from the southern state were being lured into the trap of Islamic State and used in terror activities. He also accused the state police of not viewing the matter cautiously and taking timely action (Indian Express January 15, 2020).

The church in India is alarmed at the plight of Christianity in Europe. Contemporary historian Niall Ferguson wrote about Europe's future as "the creeping Islamisation of a decadent Christendom". One of Christendom's most prominent atheist advocates is the Italian philosopher and politician Marcello Pera. In 2004, he delivered a series of lectures and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that presented their shared view of the need to restore the fast diminishing Christian identity in Europe to counter intellectual degeneration and Islamic fundamentalism. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow warned that Europe must not lose its Christian roots. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Europe and European culture have Christian roots. Since 2012, the country's constitution has officially recognised "the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood".

In January 20, 2020, Varghese Vallikatt,  Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) deputy general secretary told The New  Indian Express that “earlier investigations and reports were submitted to the government by various agencies including Vigilance, CBI and special intelligence bureau, no one was ready to discuss it in the public domain, he said. “It's a major problem we've been facing for many years, but secular political parties in Kerala are not interested in discussing these issues. It's part of their politics”. He said that every death and killing in the state is sidelined as an “isolated” incident. “A series of killings have taken place, and yet no mainstream party in the state has addressed the issue. There have been reports that radical groups were involved in the killings. The government has all the details, said Fr Vallikat (Politics in state silent on love jihad, but we can’t  be: Bishops Council in The New Indian Express January 20, 2020).

Father Jimmy Poochakatt, the spokesperson of Syro Malabar Church, observed, “If the believers are concerned with such a scenario, then you cannot fault them for it. Though officially, the diocese has not taken a stand, we are concerned. So if people are working towards stopping such a thing, what is wrong in supporting them?” (Hindustan Times, July 17, 2017). Mathew Mar Gregorios, the Bishop of the Syrian Independent Orthodox Church, says there is a rampant conversion of Christian girls into Islam in the Malabar region. Since I am heading a Church denomination here, I have my limitations to talk about it openly," the Bishop told Hindustan Times (July 17, 2017).

In 2021, reports came that an Islamic State document titled Know your martyrs says Abu Bakr Al-Hindi was a Christian who embraced Islam while working in the Gulf. The document says he is the first 'Istishhadi' (suicide bomber or 'martyr' in an attack) from India killed in Libya

These incidents are not isolated events in Malabar. As KCBC  Deputy General Secretary revealed, it is a problem faced by the Church in Kerala for many years, and which Left and secular groups are not interested in discussing. What has gone untold by secular and Left historians is the massacre of Christians and their mass exodus in south Malabar during the Khilafat rampage of 1921. The 1921  massacre was not confined to Hindus in Malabar. Even the Christians in Malabar were victimised. But this was not revealed or discussed since the aim of 1921 Khilafat studies was to twist and interpret the rampage as an uprising by the tenants against the landlords and state. Did the Khilafat rampage and its aftermath bring peace and permanently settle communal tensions in Malabar?

The Syro-Malankara Orthodox Church in Kerala informally protested against the Turkish government's decision to turn one of Christianity's most historic masterpieces into an Islamic place of worship.

Wherever they have strongholds, Jihadi groups attack the Church. Since the 1960s, Christian persecution by Islamic terrorists has escalated in Kashmir, such as the attack and destruction of Holy Family Church, All Saints Church, Holy Family Catholic Church  St Francis School, Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson schools, School of the Convent of St. Luke,  all by Islamic militants. There was calculated silence by left-liberal groups who today laments the attack on minorities, fascism and denial of the right to protest in India. Dr Sajan George and Dr Bernard Malik representing the Global Council of Indian Christians, wrote a letter on January 25 2012, to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,  demanding Farooq Abdullah be immediately dropped from the Council of Ministers for his anti-constitutional statement in support of Kashmir Shariat Court's 'recent unilateral decisions of permanent expulsion of 5 respected and innocent Christian clergymen from Jammu and Kashmir'.

On January 15, 2020, a pastoral letter by Syro-Malabar Media Commission under the Syro Malabar Church Major Archbishop, Cardinal George Alencherry, urged the priests and laity to take serious note of Christian girls getting trapped in love and being killed in Kerala and other States by Islamic State organisations. The media commission has Bishop Joseph Pamplany as Chairman and Bishop Paul Kannookkadan and Bishop Sebastian Vaniapurackal. The letter came after a week-long Synod of the Eastern Rite, in which 57 of 64 Bishops of the Syro-Malabar church participated. The Church's statement pointed out that out of the 21 people from Kerala recruited to IS a couple of years back, almost half were converted from the Christian community.

In 2021, reports came that an Islamic State document titled ‘Know your martyrs’ says Abu Bakr Al-Hindi was a Christian who embraced Islam while working in the Gulf. The document says he is the first 'Istishhadi' (suicide bomber or ‘martyr’ in an attack) from India killed in Libya. The engineer is believed to be a youth from an aristocratic Christian family in Kerala. (Malayali engineer dies  fighting for ISIS in Libya? (The New Indian Express,  June 6, 2021).

The reason for this strategic silence is the recent psychological fear that has gripped the church in India against rising attacks by Jihadi groups on its believers. Already there are reports, as in Union of Catholic Asian News on October 12, 2016, that  IS terrorists plan to target Syrian Christians in India, especially Kerala, which is causing grave concern for religious leaders of the southern state. The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council deputy secretary-general Father Varghese Vallikatt told Catholic Asian News in 2016, “We cannot take the threat lightly. The spread of IS militancy poses a threat to all mankind.”  

 

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