In the absence of a centralized political leadership among the Muslims of Southern Kerala, it was Khatibs and Imams like Maudani, who took up and engaged with the political anxieties and aspirations of the Muslim community. Maudany was especially gifted in delivering sermons and had become very popular all over Kerala as a Khatib. So in the face of numerous riots against Muslims and the growing trend of Hindutva in the 80s, it was not surprising that Maudany formed the ISS in response.
Though the ISS was mainly meant to spread Islamic tenets among the Muslim community, due to the intrinsically political nature of Maudany’s speeches and the huge following that he could gather, this organization became discomforting to some political formulations in Kerala. Thus his speeches, which were mostly about the injustices being done to Muslims and other lower castes in Kerala, were quickly branded as “inciting communal passions” and condemned even by those who had never heard them.
Maudany’s politics had two important aspects, both of which challenged the dominant mainstream in Kerala. One was his deep rooted allegiance to Islamic tenets, which he wanted to revive and re-circulate among contemporary Muslims. It is from this framework that Maudany raised various issues surrounding Muslims in India and Kerala.
Kerala, however, has constructed its national character with a strong allegiance to a kind of secularism, which prevents the articulation of any issue in terms of caste, gender or community, and which bans any manifestation of religious identity by branding it as pre-modern and reactionary. This happens even as the assertion of Hindu values, rituals and customs in the creation of its secular ethos goes totally unnoticed, ignored and unquestioned. In this situation, the emphasis that Maudany fearlessly and loudly placed in Islam and its doctrines was quickly diagnosed as reactionary and orthodox. Maudany was very easily portrayed as a “religious fundamentalist,” a word which evokes many fears and deep rooted hatred, when used in the context of Islam, not just in Kerala, but all over the world.
Secondly, Maudany talked about the denial of basic and other human rights to Muslims in the context of the same happening with regard to the dalits, bahujans and other minorities in Kerala. He tried to equate the conditions of all these people both economically and socio-politically and he came up with the term “savarna fascism” to describe the denigration of both Muslims and the lower castes in Kerala. He also put forward the formulation, “power to the avarnas and liberation to the oppressed”(avarnankku athikaram, peeditharkku mochanam). This kind of an emphasis on caste was being revived by the resurgence of the Dalit movement in the 80s. However, when this was articulated from the side of a Muslim religious scholar who clearly asserted his Islamic roots and who held out a hope towards a greater alliance between the oppressed classes in Kerala, this became extremely threatening to hitherto dominant positions.
Note prepared by Jenny Rowena