Ask about the Muslim reformation in Kerala, and the first name you get will be that of Vakkom Abdul Qader Moulavi, a genius known for his contributions to religious reform as well as political thought and media in the early 20th century. Ask about Muslim women’s reformation; it was the same name you got until a few years back. But now, one more name will come up – that of M Haleema Beevi. This new name was brought to the fore of Kerala Muslim reformation history by the Malayalam book ‘Pathradhipa: M Haleema Beeviyude Jeevitham’ meaning ‘The Life of M. Haleema Beevi – The Editor’. The biography written by two young Muslim women, Noora and Noorjahan, was released in 2020, thus adding the name of Haleema Beevi to the discourse on reformation in Kerala.

Prof J Devika, historian, feminist and social critic who wrote the foreword for the book, remembers having read Haleema Beevi while doing her PhD in the 1990s. She recalls that several Muslim male intellectuals she had contacted regarding Beevi had disclosed that they grew up writing with the latter’s help. However, she had no answer when she asked why they didn’t venture into writing her biography. However, she expresses her contentment at having witnessed the culmination of Beevi’s efforts through the eyes of a generation that has come up due to her hard work.

In the chapter ‘Introduction’, the authors write about their journey to know Haleema Beevi, which was unexpectedly hard, even though the latter was the first female Municipal councillor and the first female editor and publisher in Kerala. Starting their journey from those who have already written about Beevi, Noora and Noorjahan travelled to where the legendary woman had lived and worked. But they were appalled to know that information about her was very rare, and those they could collect were not complete but had several gaps that needed to be filled. In the town of Perumbavur in Ernakulam district, which was her centre of activities, the authors could find only very few people who knew or had seen her. They met her family members, including her daughters, and wandered through libraries ranging from the University of Calicut to several other old, private, and public ones. The women couldn’t get any information in Thiruvalla, where she was the first female Municipal Councillor in Kerala from 1938 to 1945. In short, the writers’ journey to know the extraordinary woman that began in 2016 was full of thorns and hurdles but with rays of hope.

The biography is divided into five parts – a gist of the life, editor and publisher, social and political activities, her writing life and the lessons given by the absence of Haleema Beevi. She was born in Adoor in the district of Pathanamthitta in 1918 as one of the seven children of Peer Muhammed and Maideen Beevi. As her father died when she was still young, Beevi and her siblings were raised by their mother single-handedly. At a time when education was not looked highly upon, and women’s education faced staunch opposition, Maideen Beevi courageously sent her sons and daughters to school. The strong mother became the foundation for the brilliant daughter, who marked her excellent presence in women’s education and empowerment, social and political fields, religious reformation, editing and publishing, writing and oration, etc.

Beevi married KM Muhammed Moulavi, a teacher and scholar, in 1935. She explored the field of journalism, editing and publishing with the support and cooperation of her husband. She was only 20 years old when she entered the field of editing and publication with the magazine ‘Muslim Vanitha’ (Muslim Woman). Between 1938 and 1970, she was the editor or publisher (or both) of four magazines – Muslim Vanitha, Vanitha (1943), Bharatha Chandrika (1944) and Adhunika Vanitha (modern woman- 1970), which dealt with varied topics such as issues concerning Muslim women and the need for their socio-religious empowerment, society, culture, politics, literature and fiction, family, national and international affairs etc. Several renowned writers of the Malayalam language, including Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer, used to write in ‘Bharatha Chandrika’. However, she had to close down all publications due to several factors, the most important of which was financial constraints.

Haleema Beevi organised the first Muslim women’s conference in Kerala in 1938, in Thiruvalla, in southern Kerala. A women’s organisation named Akhila Thiruvithamkur Muslim Vanitha Samajam was formed at the meeting. Her leadership skills further contributed to politics through the Muslim League and religious organisations through the Kerala Nadwathul Mujahideen.
As an appendix to the biography, the book’s second part begins with an interview with Haleema Beevi conducted by Basheer Randathani years back. It then features six speeches and articles by Haleema Beevi that have been published in various publications. The book ends with a photo album containing pictures of Haleema Beevi and close family members and images of the magazines she had published.

Through this tremendous work, the authors Noora and Noorjahan have done a huge favour to the literary world, the women’s community, and humankind. This book brought a genius who would have remained unknown to the fore of the world. However, anybody learning about Beevi needs to note that this book is not an end in itself but rather should trigger the desire to know and understand more about the historical personality. A lot remains unknown, so there is more scope for study and books.


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