E-Pao! Manipur - Muslims in Manipur

Muslims in Manipur

By: Farooque Ahmed Makakmayum *

Having come to the full circle of research in this area, I now put briefly about the history of Manipuri Muslims (Pangals who are acculturated to the Meiteis in various aspects) wherein I consummate the points of relevant previous papers and at the same time abrogating the inconsistencies of the earlier same hereby providing the ultimate and authentic opinion vide exhaustive studies and findings.

This passage tries to trace the earlier history only and the most known theory is that 'Pangan'/'Pangal' is a word derived from 'Bengal', from where most of the Muslims came between 1550 AD and 1690 AD. And neighbouring history is also referred to for a better grasp of idea.

On close scrutiny and critical analysis, I find that the Manipuri Muslims are one of the earliest settlers (i.e., from circa 680 AD) outside the Arab Peninsula and the Gulf region vis-a-vis histories of South Asian and S.E. Asian Muslim histories including China where the Prophet Muhammad (570-632 AD) sent two preachers by sea in c. 616 AD.

Teaching of Prophet Muhammad (Sa'd bin Waqqas) and that of Tang period Chinese records reveal that in a return journey to China in reciprocity to the Chinese embassy to Arabia, i.e a Muslim embassy to Chinese capital Chan'gan reached in 651 AD. The Hui of China (Chinese Muslims) trace their origin to the date of 25 August, 651 AD.

"The advent of Islam in South China makes a fascinating study. The earliest Muslims came to these parts by sea. Arab traders were known to have sailed to China even during the period beyond historical records. Records exist from 5th century A.D. (Tang Dynasty 618-907) which shows the route from Siraf in the Persian Gulf to Muscat in the Gulf of Oman, thence to the South Indian (Malabar) coast. From there the route continued to Ceylon (Sarandip), to Nicobar group of islands, to straits of Malacca, then round the South coast of the Malay Peninsula to the Gulf of Siam and thence to Canton and Hangchow in China.

According to Muslim traditions, when the early Muslims were being persecuted in Mecca some of them were allowed to migrate to Habash (Abyssinia) but most of them later came back, including the famous companions and muazzin Bilal. However, the Books of Individual Records noticed that four companions did not return, one of them being Abi Waqqas, a maternal uncle of the Holy Prophet. It is narrated that Abi Waqqas had gained favour with the Najashi King of Habash who had allowed him to sail to China.

"This tallies with the account of Liu Chih (who wrote a 12-volume Life of the Prophet in Chinese in 1721 A.D.) according to which Abi Waqqas, the Holy Prophets maternal uncle, arrived in China with three other Sahaba. Broomhall gives the date of this arrival in China of the Sahaba. Broomhall gives the date of this arrival in China of the Sahaba as 611 A.D. The Chinese historian gives the date as 587 A.D. Both the dates are incorrect, since the first revelation to the Prophet came in 611 A.D. and the first batch of Muslim emigrants went to Abyssinia in 615 A.D.

Abi Waqqas could not have reached Canton before 616 A.D.) Abi Waqqas then went back to Arabia to being the Holy Quran and came to China the second time after 21 years. An inscription at Canton dated 1861 A.D. also states that Abi Waqqas landed in Canton in 587 A.D. and built the mosque of Holy Remembrance. It is believed that the earliest mosque built in China is the present mosque of Holy Remembrance at Canton. The mosque was built along-side the Smooth Minaret (Kwang Ta) which was built earlier by the Arabs as a lighthouse.

The mosque and the minaret exist even today in Canton, and the tomb of Abi Waqqas as well as a small mosque are also located in the Muslim graveyard of Canton. According to Great Ming Geography, two of his companions lie buried in nearby Fukian. It is almost certain that these were the first Muslim preachers who came to South China by sea and propagated Islam in the coastal cities of Kwangchow, Chuanchow, Hangchow and Yang- chow.

There is, however, a difference of opinion about the exact dates because of the difficulties in calculations in the Western Gregorian Calendar and the Chinese and Muslim Lunar Calendars.

"The introduction of Islam in Western China makes a still more colourful and fascinating study. According to Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) records, two embassies, one from Yezdegrid, the grandson of Khosroes and the other from the Roman Empire, came to the court of Tai Tsung, the second tang Emperor (627-650) in 638 and 643 respectively and both reported their defeats at the hands of the Arabs. Yezdegird, the last of Sassanian Kings of Iran, had sought refuge with the Turkish tribes of Ferghana and had also sought friendship with Emperor Tai Tsung whose capital was at Chang An (modern Sian). The Chinese of the time were at the height of their power, and had their frontiers with the Persian Empire.

In 650 Tai Tsung died and his son, Emperor Kao Tsung, received an appeal for aid from Firuz, the son of Yezdegird. Kao Tsung sent an emissary to Caliph Osman at Madina to plead for Firuz and the Caliph in return sent one of his generals to Sian in 651 and thus the first Muslim Embassy was established in Western China."
(Source ::

Prophet Muhammad (born to a Quraish clan) proclaimed: "Utubul ilma lau kana bisseen" (literal meaning: Go in quest of knowledge unto China). Thus China and Arab civilizations were familiar to each other since early Tang period by virtue of trans-Asia trade by the Silk Route and sea route as well. Another lesser known silk route passed through Manipur to Yunnan along which early Arab caravan, muleteers and Persian traders and adventurists (known as Posa/Posse/Pasa from Persian/Farsi in Japanese and Chinese annals) traded in items as horse-trade and on return journey the Middle east and Syrian Arabs brought back silk, spice and other items.

Another silk route was via Tripura-Arakan besides the Patkai range along which the Ahoms (Tai) led by Sukanpha came and settled in Upper Burma in 1228 AD and earlier Turuskas (a disgruntled section of Bakhtiyar Khilji's army that conquered gaur/Bengal in 1204 AD) reached Gauhati and Mikir Hills, some of which reached and settled in Manipur setting up a principality within the Meitei kingdom, known as Pathan Ningthourel/Turushka principality as found in Puyas (Yengkhom Bhagya Singh, 1956, "Leithak Leikharol", pp. 112-3) and Vaishnavite literatures.

Earlier, a group of Arabs led by Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya (son of Caliph Ali) of Ummayad dynasty based in Damascus (Syria) sailed from Kufa across the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal trying to reach China but ended up in Arakan and then Maundaw in 680 AD. Some of them led by a saint probably Hanafiyya himself visited and preached in Manipur, and founded a nascent Arab hamlet possibly taking Meitei women as wives in Manipur by circa 680 AD during king Naophangba's reign.

Habib Siddiqui notes: "Some historians tell us that the first Muslims to settle the Arakan were Arabs under the leadership of Muhammad ibn Hanafiya in the late 7th century (CE). He married the queen Kaiyapuri, who had converted to Islam. Her people then embraced Islam en masse. The peaks where they lived are still known as Hanifa Tonki and Kaiyapui Tonki" (http://www.weekly A. Ezzati (1994, Spread of Islam, Tehran, pp. 333, 428): This Hanifa was a son of Ali, the 4th Caliph, 656-661 AD) and reached Arakan in 680 AD.

Rajkumar Kokngangsana ("Kanglei Langba Pakhangba", 1955: 2) and Khulem Chandrasekhar Singh ("Sakok Lamlen Ahanba", 1992: 10) wrote in these puyas: "Lairen Naophangbaki hakthakta nongchuplomdagi Pangal Musalman guru ama phaorakye". R.K. Sanahal (Pangal Thorakpa, 1983/1989) and N. Dibendra Singh (2005) noted that Muslim (Pangal) Aribam clan had been existing, the clan name being conferred by king Naophangba, since the reign of this ancient king.

This group from Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya included some Persians (Pasa) that founded hamlets in Sylhet and Cachar in 7th-8th century. Pemberton (1966:113) noted of a Pasa (Basa) kingdom apparently in Cachar of 777 AD (Chietharol Kumbaba, 1989; 2005 by S.N. Arambam Parratt) till where Shan adventurer Samlungfa raided, before he raided Manipur. A Chinese account Chia Tin's itinere of 785-805 AD, mentions of a Ta-ts'in Po-lo-men of Manipur which G.E. Gerini (1909:813) opined to be Sylhet.

From the Ummayad Caliphate (660-750 AD) based in Syrian Arabia (Damascus), Hanifa (Hanafiyya) and his group reached Arakan coast; Tang period Chinese account recorded of contemporary Syrian people as Ta-ts'in and the Arabs in general as Ta-shih, as they (Syrian and Arab Muslims) came from the land of Syria-based caliphate. Hence the Ta-ts'in meant the Arabs (Aribah whose literal meaning is 'Pure Arab' in Peter Thomas Hughes, The Dictionary of Islam, 1999) settlement or abode in Manipur within the Meitei (Kathe) kingdom.

As such the Aribam (the earliest Manipuri Muslim clan) term could have been derived from the word 'Aribah', or it could be mere co-incidence of name as Ariba/Liraba/liba in Meitei language simply means 'old' or 'antiquity'. Aribam clan (sagei/yumnak) also exists prominently among the Meitei community. "Leithak Leikharol" (op. cit, pp. 112-3fts.), records of Pasa Ningthourel and Pathan Ningthourel, that would explicitly mean two Manipuri Muslim abodes or principalities as initiated in different periods.

L. Joychandra (Lost Kingdom: 1995:1) noted that Manipuri (Meitei) king Naofangba reigned between 624 AD and 714 AD. Ch. Manihar (A History of Manipuri Literature, 1997:104) and Wahengbam Ibohal (History of Manipur, 1986:215) noted that Pasa is the old name of Sylhet, while Pemberton (eastern Frontier of India, 1966:113) noted that Pasa/Basa 'probably means Banga, the ancient capital of Cachar country).

Henry Yule noted that Muslims of early Manipur (Kathe Musalmans) are descendants of early Muslims of Arakan, Cachar and Manipur that later altogether got fusioned to form a Muslim (known as Pangal) community. All these records would account that the earliest Muslim clan of Manipur are traced to the period of around 685 AD of initiation of the first Muslim clan. They fanned out eastward to Shan-Pagan area and further to Yunnan, as Moshe Yegar noted of Chinese annals revealing that Chinese travellers found Persian colony on Yunnan-Burma border in 860 AD.

The Pansi (derived from Persian) Muslims of Upper Burma and Panthay of Yunnan have the reputation of being sturdy horse-riders. Frank. M. Lebar et al (Ethnic Groups of Mainland Southeast Asia, Toronto/New Haven, 1964:2) wrote:
"The Panthay of Burma are chiefly known as muleteers on the trade routes. They are excellent caravan drivers, carrying goods as far as Rangoon and Moulmein. They are mostly engaged in trade, and cultivate only just enough to supply their immediate needs. Much of the domestic work is carried in by slaves or by hired servants (Scott and Hardiman: 1900:600-13)."

During, king Irengba's period of Manipur (984-1074 AD according to "Cheitharol Kumbaba") there were distinctly two Pasha and one Pangal villages (Mars) indicating the diverse nature of ethnic origin of Manipur Muslims- from different directions and different eras- that later subsumed to make the Pangal or Meitei-Pangal community as is known today. Abbasid period (750-1258 AD) coins were also found in Lalmai-Samtata region of frontier Bengal (Richard M. Eaton, 1997). The Pangals living at Khuga valley under their chieftain Maradon Adon (Murad al Abdullah) were noted to be a peasant community as found in Moirang Ningthourel Lambuba, K.C. Tensuba's account, Ningthourel Lambuba etc.

According to the Lost Kingdom (op. cit), king Irengba ruled in 1031 to 1121 AD; and Khuman principality was prominent at this time. Asim Roy (1983:89) noted that there were legendary tales, corroborated in early hagio-logical (hagiography) accounts of Muslims of Bengal-Samatata-Arakan continuum regarding Muhammad al Hanifa (son of Caliph Ali, 656-661 AD, from his second wife from Hanifa clan of Central Arabia), who must have brought the heroic tales of Amir Hamza, a maternal uncle of Prophet Muhammad, as Amir Hamza's tales are found in legends and early annals of Muslims of Bengal.

Earlier it was thought that Amir Hamza could have arrived in this frontier region because of such renderings, but the fact is that Hamza died in the Battle of Uhud in 625 AD. Historians such as Abul-Fazl Ezzati, Taher Ba Tha, Maung Than Lwin, Habib Siddiqui and Ashraf Alam noted that Muhammad al Hanifa (Hanafiyya) landed in Arakan and married the local queen there, and their tombs are still exiting in Maungdaw, north of Arakan, who are revered as saints.

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Farooque Ahmed Makakmayum wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on July 28th, 2007

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