Matrilineality was introduced to the Mappila from the Nayar community that is also located in Malabar. Leadership and property ownership were traditionally vested in the oldest sister, a practice that was and is very rare in Islamic societies. A majority of the Mappila now follow the patrilineal system; only some wealthy families carry on the matrilineal tradition. Families maintain strong bonds and mostly live under one roof. But modern conditions are forcing this practice to change, with each nuclear family now often striving to own a home and concentrate on its own survival and prosperity.
Islam plays a major part in childbirth, marriage, death, and burial ceremonies. At marriage, the marriage contract and blessing are signed and read by a qazi, a religious judge. Following death, the Koran is chanted in the mosque, and then the body is buried facing toward Mecca. Prayers are chanted at home on the anniversary of a death. Mappila life has been influenced by new attitudes and they have become greatly concerned about their health and surroundings. Head shaving is not practiced any longer by Mappila men. The dowry system is becoming less prominent as the Mappila women change their social status to that of citizens of Kerala. Women's position as property is also changing, as women are now seeking higher education and becoming schoolteachers, doctors, etc. Traditionally, the women of lower laboring castes in Kerala were relatively free compared to women of upper castes, because they could do any available work, whereas the upper-class women could not do anything inappropriate to their social status; this situation is also changing for the better. Polygamy is not practiced, even though Islam permits men to marry up to four wives.