Maliyekkal Mariyumma, the first Muslim woman in North Kerala to get English education, dies at 95

THE FIRST Muslim woman in North Kerala to get English education, Maliyekkal Mariyumma, died on Friday in Thalassery, Kannur district. She was 95.

An icon of English education among Muslims in North Kerala, Mariyumma had been an inspiration for generations.

Condoling the death of Mariyumma, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, “We have lost a person who had left her indelible footprints along with the history of Thalassery. Braving the barriers of conservatism, she learned English and thus became a guiding light for others. She fought for the educational rights of Muslim girls. Always a progressive face, she had also been an icon of religious harmony. Her death plunges a generation and a region into grief.”

Born in 1927, Mariyumma belonged to one of the prominent Muslim families in Thalassery. After completing lower primary education, she joined Sacred Heart Convent School in Thalassery for further studies. She was the only Muslim girl among 200-odd students at the school established in 1886. She studied the English alphabet in class 5.

Later, she recalled that as she did not understand English, her father consoled and encouraged her to continue studies. At noon, she used to go to a relative’s house for namaz. Realising this, the nuns arranged a facility for her namaz at the school. She recalled how nuns created a love for the English language in her mind.

The Muslim community had frowned upon the girl, who went to school to study English wearing burqa. She had faced the insult from her community but her father O V Abdulla, who was a religious scholar, stood with her and encouraged her to continue English education.

Abdulla had studied only up to class 2, but he used to read and write in English. Mariyumma continued her convent education till 1943, the year she was married off after she completed fifth forum (class 10).

Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox

After marriage, she associated herself with Muslim Mahila Samajam to continue her social work. Later, she focused on activities aimed at empowering women.

Mariyumma was an avid reader of English and hence local people used to call her English Mariyumma. The image of Mariymma reading English daily had inspired hundreds of Muslim girls to pursue education.