The Malabar Muslims are one of the earliest group to profess Islam in the Indian subcontinent. Unlike the rest of India where Islam gained foothold through conquest via land from the neighboring countries, the Malabar coast received Islam directly form Arabia via the sea and trade. Since Kerala is separated by the Ghats from the rest of India, Islam grew in partial isolation from the rest of India yet in contact with the rest of the Islamic world such as Arabia and South East Asia through trade. As such certain differences can be observed in the way Islam is practiced. While in most of the Indian subcontinent the Hanafi Mazhab is observed, in Kerala, like in Malaysia the Shafie Mazhab is observed. This is not surprising as the Malabaris were part of the ‘team’ spreading Islam to this region
Kerala’s openness to the Arabian Sea has created an uninterrupted impact of a variety of influences from Arabia and other western countries. Malabar coast was in constant trade with Greece, Egypt, Arabia and Middle -Eastern countries since Phoenician times. Kodungallur(Muziris) was then its major port. In the year 40 AD. a Greek merchant called Hippalus is said to have realised that seasonal monsoons could be used to get from Egypt to the pepper-producing Malabar coast of India. It will, therefore, be pertinent to deduce that traders from Arabia carried the message of Islam to Malabar during the very time of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W )
Though historians and scholars vary in opinion on the exact time of the advent of Islam to Malabar coast, an analytical scrutiny of the legend of Cheraman Perumal has culminated in its partial acceptance as history.
Perumals were the titular leaders who ruled the powerful Chera dynasty. There are varying opinion regarding their appointment whether they were appointed by the leaders of various independent dynasties, selected by the Brahmins or were foreign appointees of the Chola and Pandiya kings. Originally they ruled for twelve year periods but later they extended this period. Cheraman Perumal was a king of Kerala and the last of the Perumal dynasty. Kesari A. Balakrishna Pilla , an internationally reputed historian, states that Cheraman Perumal had also received a letter in the year 628 AD from the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) along with many other rulers of the then known world.
Cheraman Perumal , according to Sheikh Zainuddin Al Malbari, is said to have divided his land to 12 rulers before he left for Mecca. It has been established that this last Perumal travelled to Mecca and embraced Islam and that had his ‘Kalimatul Shahadat’ at the hands of the Holy Prophet(S.A.W.) himself. He thus became the first royal Malabari convert to Islam and his Muslim name was Tajuddin. Cheraman Perumal passed away in Shahar Mukhalla reportedly in Hijrah 10.
At time time of his death , Cheraman Perumal entrusted his co-travelers with a letter , as he told them, would be honoured if presented at Kodungallur, Panthalayani or Dhardamadam. However , after his demise, his entourage did not proceed with their journey as they had planned earlier . After a lapse of time the party traveled to Kerala with renewed vigour and enthusiasm under the leadership of Malik bin Dinar.