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Manipuri Muslims or Meitei-Pangal?

Call it as you may like. That is true and they are here in this beautiful land that is romantically referred to as the Sanaleleibak Manipur. The Muslims here have a history of four-hundred years. Hence the name Manipuri Muslims! Muslims call themselves ‘Pangal’ in native name. While the Meiteis call them ‘Meitei Pangal’ that connotes to the mixed-heritage of the Pangal from Meitei women in their earlier period or rather the time of their advent in this former ancient kingdom that has reputedly a long history that goes back to 33 AD when god-king Pakhangba took the throne. One author says the Muslims are so absorbed in Manipuri culture and ethos that they are called Meitei-Pangal. They speak Manipuri or Meiteilon in accent and live in the valleys in different parts intermingling with the Meiteis.

For the uninitiated the people who follow the religion called Islam are Muslims. Islam was founded by Prophet Muhammad (570 AD to 632 AD), the last of the Prophets, in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Their Holy Scripture is called the Qur'an that was revealed by God to the Prophet through Angel Gabriel, as is the belief. The Muslims in Manipur are indigenized to the extent. So the name ‘Pangal’ came up which is a local terminology. And why not Meitei-Pangal! When people call Meitei Pangal, it means they are indigenized and acculturated. They had settled in this land even earlier than many other communities.

The name Kuki, for example, was first heard of here in the 1830s and 1840s according to historians, and they are indigenous community of Manipur. Muslims came and settled in Manipur first in 1606 AD according to the state royal chronicle Cheitharol Kumbaba. Chronicling indeed started in 1483 AD. Authors like R Brown (1873) of imperial British era and Gangmumei Kabui (1991) also writes of the beginning of Muslim settlement in 1606. Some writers like RK Jhalajit Singh (1992) note that the word ‘Pangal’ is derived from ‘Mangal’ which is the corrupted form of the word ‘Mughal’ while some others opine it is corrupted word from ‘Bengal’ which is less likely. R Constantine (1981) writes that the early Muslim inhabitants found wives among Meitei womenfolk during the reign of King Khagemba Maharaj who reigned between 1597 and 1652. Or should we say they are ‘Manipurized’ which is probably the term that makes the explanation easy. 

Muslims are destined to every fate of Manipur like any other Manipuri, say the Meiteis. They are Muslims and Manipuri at the same time. And they are happy as they are. When Manipur is happy, they are happy; when she is sad, they are sad being the sons of the soil. So let’s be all good citizens of Manipur where no one is discriminated against and let’s make an environment where each one of us can say from the heart, "I am a Manipuri". And it’s no different when one says "I am a Meitei" or "I am a Pangal" or "Meitei-Pangal" as long as he or she is a Manipuri. That’s how ‘unity in diversity’ is.

‘Religion is personal’ as many people used to say and it’s no different if ‘religion is social’ as long as people are understanding of each and accommodative. Philosophers and thinkers as early as Aristotle in Greece said ‘man is a social animal’. We should be social and no one should be left out in the lurch. Having many cultures is really fun, life should not be monotonistic like it’s boring to sing the same old song or have the same weary movie. Get off to a new ‘leikai’ and see a new girl of different look. It’s just thrilling. 

Entertainment should be made within ourselves and within our cultures. Each one of us. Otherwise more and more people will be drawn towards the self-destructive drugs and pills trying to draw comfort which is really non-existent in the long last. People should be open and broad-minded. Otherwise we are spiritually dead people. When the youth are spiritually dead, the society is spiritually incapable. Spirituality is not that just narrow religion; spirituality is that inner instinct of willingness, discovery, competitive-mind, excellence and most importantly the inner beauty in a person that respect the self and the others. When the youth are spiritually good then only the societal problems will be solved. The hospitals, police, rehabilitation centres, AIDS-awareness camp et al are not going to solve the mounting problems. The role of the educated youth and indeed the coordination among every conscious person in an organized fashion is paramount. It needs sitting down and talking to each other in the first place. Knowledge and willingness to solve a difficulty or problem is not a monopoly of anybody. 

Ż Farooque Ahmed, Imphal

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