Oldest Indian mosque sets new precedent

Oldest Indian mosque sets new precedent

However, unlike many religious institutions, which are in the throes of modernisation, the Cheraman Juma Masjid in the legendary coastal town of Kodungalloor in  the Thrissur district of Kerala is being resto­red to its original form.

The Cheraman Juma Masjid owes its name to Cheraman Perumal, the last of the Chera kings who ruled Kerala with Kodungalloor as their capital. However,  it was built by Malik Bin Dinar, one of the disciples of Prophet Mohammed, way back in AD 629.

Legend has it that Perumal experienced an unusual dream of the new moon being split into two halves at the horizon.

His court astrologers could not give him a convincing explanation. Later, it was a group of Arab traders on its way to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) which  explained to Perumal that this could probably be the miracle performed by he Prophet in Arabia.   

This explanation convinced him and he decided to embrace Islam. Though his
decision to leave for Mecca was kept a secret, he divided his land and assigned various territories to local chieftains to ensure smooth governance.

At Mecca, he met the Prophet and embraced Islam. He spent some years there and while returning home, fell ill and died at Dhufar in Oman. Before his death, he wrote letters to local rulers of Malabar and handed them to his friends.

One of them, Malik Bin Dinar, who reached Kodungalloor along with his companions, handed over the letters to the ruling chieftains. They were given  permission to construct mosques in different places and the mosque at Kodungalloor was the first to be established. It is said that a defunct Buddha vihar was handed over to set up the mosque there. The first mosque in India was thus const­ructed at Kodungalloor and Malik Bin Dinar himself was the first Ghazi of Cheraman Masjid.

Mohammed Sayed, president of the Cheraman Masjid Committee, pointed out that the mosque had to undergo several modifications in the past to accommodate the growing number of believers.

It was first renovated or reconstructed sometime in the 11th century AD and later again 300 years ago.  Another renovation was done in 1974 when an extension was constructed after demolishing the front portion of the mosque. The ancient part of the mosque was left untouched and is still preserved.

Yet another extension was made in 1994 and another extension was carried out in 2001 when it was decided in principle to reconstruct the mosque in its old form. “The Cheraman Juma Masjid is a cultural monument and it should be preserved it in its original form,” said Sayed.

The plan now is to demolish the additions made to the original structure after 1974 to accommodate more believers, especially for the congregational Friday prayers, and restore the heritage value of the mosque built in the traditional Kerala architecture style.

“We will also restore whatever we had demolished from the 15th century till 1974,’’ said Sayed. The old pond, roofs, the undamaged artefacts and the pulpit will be restored to the original form as part of the project which will cost around Rs 12 crore. Sayed said the believers will now be accommodated in two new underground prayer halls which will also be the first of its kind in a mosque.

“Since there was little chance to expand the mosque vertically, we decided to build underground halls that would cater to the needs of the local population at least for the next 50 years,’’ he said.

The committee has decided to begin the restoration work in September. The mosque has been visited by a galaxy of celebrities including theologians from different parts of the world. Among the most celebrated visitors was former President A P J Abdul Kalam in July 2005. 

Interestingly, the mosque authorities allow ‘Vidyarambham' (initiation into the world of letters) for Hindu devotees.

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