"Keralayathra": A Pluralistic Mirror
by P.M. Muhammed Muhsin
Appearing in 60 well-filled reception centers at 14 locations around Kerala state, the effort taught the reconstruction of the devastated foundations of human life. Through this revolutionary outlook, even secular-minded people became aware of the crucial roles to be completed by Sufis and Muslim scholars in the contemporary world. We were reminded of the sacred footprints of sheikh Khwaja Mo'inuddin Chishti Ajmeri, the "sultan of India" and king of the Sufis living in the sub-continent. He came from Madinah at the inspiration of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to lead the people to the light of Islam, and was influenced profoundly by people from the different religions, tribes, and castes. The recent Keralayathra, similarly, was a grand pluralistic representation of the multi-civilizational masses living in a secular country.
A caravan of vehicles, following the inauguration of Thajul Ulama Sayyid Abdulrahman Al-Bukhari as the supreme leader of the conventional Sunni Muslims of Kerala, passed along roads lined on both sides by people with humane hearts. They waited a long time, irrespective of caste, sect, color, and age, for a glimpse of the great Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musliar, as our sheikh is known to many. He spoke to those assembled, saying, "Ideological differences and disputes should be resolved only by ideological means, not by the use of any kind of [physical] weapons."
This was a statement that needed to be delivered by a spiritual leader, particularly in a state like Kerala where a peaceful atmosphere is frequently disrupted by gross communal and political atrocities. In all the reception centers, these meaningful phrases reverberated, as each of the sheikh's lectures was refined to confront the current significant issues in each specific area.
At the same time, welfare relief aid was distributed to the down-trodden, needy, and marginalized. Ambulances and dialysis machines were delivered. At Thrissur, the largest city in central Kerala, a mass wedding was held for 11 women whose families could not afford the customary burden of large dowries.
The campaign was not a speedy tour, but was slowed frequently so that our sheikh could visit the critically ill elderly and victims of unexpected misfortunes, offering them items they lacked. All these aid packages were made possible by the generosity of business and public leaders among our sheikh's numerous followers.
As I anticipated in my earlier article, "Kerala, India: Awakening Humanity Through Sufism," published by the Center for Islamic Pluralism, Keralayathra has entered history. It proved that a rose may be counterposed to a physical weapon as a pen is to a sword. Some brilliant intellectuals, both partisan and non-partisan, wrote about the experience and frankly and bravely described it as a movement for justice and peace, against bloodthirsty incitement, and, as they cynically commented, "a whisper against thunder."
The action of sheikh Aboobacker Ahmed adds an eloquent chapter to the chronicles of struggle for affirmation of human values. Many strategic events have been aimed at bringing a human message to all corners of Kerala. They included conferences, rallies, planting of trees, and, most successfully, more than 5,000 village conferences. All were motivated by the same ethical standard. Such may convince the devotees of other faiths that Islam has always promoted human solidarity and that the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) should prevent any Muslim from joining terrorist conspiracies or embracing extremism.
Keralayathra has been successful, because of the principles it upholds and the intellectual leadership of Qamarul Ulama Sheikh Aboobacker Ahmed. Priceless values may be maintained by pursuing a moral and ethical life, for which the world presently yearns.