It was not just this mixture of Tamil and Arabic that attracted traders. In the neighboring state of Kerala, whose native language is Malayalam, Arabic Malayalam (called Arabu Malayalam or Mapilla Malayalam) has also flourished.
Other Indian regional languages such as Gujarati, Bengali, Punjabi and Sindhi were also written in Arabic script, Zubair said. Each language was unique – born from the fusion of Arabic and the local language. But Arwi continued to thrive even as Arab traders left the Tamil Nadu region due to the large Tamil-speaking population abroad, Zubair said. “According to historical records, Arwi traveled [with Arabic traders] in Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Malaysia, Singapore, East and South Africa as well.
Tamil Arabic and Malayalam Arabic were so popular because they had a rich literary and oral tradition, Kooria added. In India and Sri Lanka, 2,000 books written in Tamil Arabic have been identified. In Kerala, researchers are trying to preserve rare Arabic Malayalam manuscripts.
However, to preserve the manuscripts, they must first be found. And it turned out to be quite a challenge. Baqavi, who found the book burnt in the mosque premises, claims to have now collected over 300 books in Arwi and Malayalam Arabic from different parts of India and Asia. “I found these books in old dry wells, in cemeteries (called Qabarusthans) and in old unused lofts in Muslim homes,” he said. (Many of these texts from private collections are now digitized and posted online at the Mapilla Heritage Library.
Due to colonialism, manuscripts also found their way to the British Library in London, where they are located today. Kooria, whose mother tongue is Malayalam Arabic, has been helping the British Library catalog these texts for four years. “I was amazed to find so much on history, religion, medicine and culture; [and] a lot of them were written by women,” he said.