RATIB A PRACTICE AMONG MALAYALAM MUSLIMS OF KERALA: NOT IN QURAN
By Dr. H. Koya
Cellphone: 510 677 4488 . Email: email@example.com
Growing up in a village setting in Fiji in a Malayalam Muslim community, we were taught basic Arabic, Milaad and Ratib a most feared practice restricted to the Malayalam or Malayalees ( of Keralan descent of South India). There was a strong force of authority among the elders to learn these few things as the only way of Islam.
The other five pillars of Islam were given least importance. As such there were very few practicing Muslims among them. My father was one of them. Although my mother, who never went to elementary school in those days) was taught Quran at home and she read it on regular basis.
The milaad recital
The Molvi (cleric) in charge, in our case our own uncle father’s elder brother, and his team would sit in a center position facing the audience seated on the floor. He would read from a milad book with students (us) seated next to him to take turns read apiece each. The recital would precede with reading from various by members in the audience.
The milad comprised of narrative of the author interspersed with poetic expressions. There several milads devoted to each saint or a prophet of one’s choice. There was for the Holy Prophet of Islam as well, similar to one in Urdu by North Indian Muslims. This Urde vs Malayalam milad presented a conflict situation and “social distancing” with the result they had separate mosques as well. The Fiji Malayalam Muslims were registered as Then India Manatul Islam to distinguish themselves from others.
As a kid, this was very troubling to me as my heart was bent toward Urdu. I bugged my mom with lots of questions. The poor soul did not have answers. She would refer me to my uncle who was unread on Islam except for the Arabic that he taught us.
The Molvi would be paid for the recital and we in the supporting cast might get a quarter each enough for my weekend movies.
This mlad participation came with degree of respect as there not too many who took it seriously to cater for several weekend invitations.
There are two types; one just like milad with a whole night of recitals of ‘YAHOO, ALLAH HOO” etc. the second is a more dramatic and fear-driven. Most Malayalees settle for the first one practiced when faced with severe problems or having come out of some serious life-threatening events.
The second Ratib mentioned above is reserved for almost like an annual show or public performance. Those who practice it claim that a saint called RIFAI SHEIKH wields huge spiritual power and saves the self-injuring participants to demonstrate the strength of Islam.
Ratib requires months of practice to perfect the art of performance which is characterised with fake showbiz, some martial arts and some real self-inflicting injuries similar to the ones practiced by Shia Islam in Muharram.
Like in milad, the molvi and his team take a center position lined up by dozens of participants seated in a square position with a huge space in the middle for the performance. Generally, it is a night performance in open shed to accommodate visitors.
In the team is a select group that sings and uses a duff for music. There is a style one needs to adapt to in the augural part as far as duffing and stepping is concern. Being out of step not only looks turkey but also incurs displeasure of the lead cleric. The music (duff beating) must also rhyme with singing in tone and pitch.
After initial recitals, the show begins in which only “qualified” participants take to some light performance. Typically, a believer obtains a pair of sharp knives from a special box in front of the molvi, kisses his hands and then goes in a rhythmic swing brandishing the knives to an eager public. Then he starts slashing his abdomen side to side with care not to cut deep. Only superficial marks. However, there is a skill required both in terms of how you use the knives and facial expressions.
Growing up as kids, we were required to go through one of the practices which we were very apprehensive of. It involving piercing of a 12 inch long silver needle through our cheeks. The moliv told us that if we do not yield to it , Allah will regard it as weakness of faith. He assured us that those with true faith will not experience any pain. We were, however, skeptical.
Once the event came, about 12 of us mostly cousins )ere lined up in front of about 200 observers. The molvi’s assistant came forward with a handful of large needles. It was frightening to look at the needles that only promised pain in store for us. Then he took the first kid in the line up by hand, pierced the long needle from inside his mouth till the long needle came out. The kid screamed a bit. He took him and nailed him with the needle to a nearby wooden post. I was third in the line up. The piercing was very painful. I wanted to scream in protest and prove all promises were false. I held back for fear of backlash at home our peers. I said to myself: “This is it for me.” I never participate after that and expressed my repugnance to mom who listened with sorrows.
My mom’s dad (Haji Moidin Koya) not being an enthusiastic practitioner, sternly warned my father not to participate for lack of his Islamic practices. My dad never observed daily prayers or fasting in the month of ramadan. My mom would remind him of the warning my grandfather had issues.
I am now 16 years old. At my mom’s insistence, I agreed to attend a Ratib hosted by her cousin. As the “show” started, out of the blues I noticed my dad took to the floor, grabbed a pair of sharp knives and got in the mood to slash across his abdomen which already bore clear evidence of past punishment – marks of sharp knives.
I was about four feet away from him. Five minutes into the show, I noticed my dad wibble. I stood up, put hands from him and through arms and grabbed. The knives fell on the floor. My dad collapsed. The molvi pankced and rushed to him from his seat and placed his arms on his bleeding abdomen. Crowd is stunned. The molvi intensifies his rectals in panic. Rest of the participants yell, yA RIFAI, YA RIFAI. The molvi grabs his fire bowl next to him, throws in a bunch of incense called “LOBAN” and cloud of smoke fills the atmosphere. All these we were told induces the power of the RIFAI SHEIKH.
My dad recovers, although weak, and his bit to rest and refrain from further participation.
I thought that this was a genuine case my mom must know. On returning home, I gave a fukk report to mom to make sure it was last performance for my dad.
The following year I came across a fellow school teacher Master Mohammed Hussain who introduced me to the Ahmadiyya Islam.
I accepted the Ahmadiyya Islam the night Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan departed from his one week tour of Fiji as Wakfe Arzee. I missed accepting Bai’at at his hands.
The Ahmadiyya Islam equipped with true knowledge of Islam and power of knowledge and expression.
Within a few months, I read the whole English translation of the Holy Quran. No one dare speak to me or challenge me for being silenced.
No where in the Holy Quran I found any reference of ratib or the milad i mention here. I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt if it not in the Quran it is not Islamic. I made a public denunciation of all my Sunni or the Malayalam beliefs.
To this day, no one from the Malayalam Sunni Islam has been able to prove that Milad or Ratib are part of the Islamic faith in is part of the Holy Quran.
Categories: The Muslim Times