- Benjamin John
Cheraman Juma Masjid - Story of the very first mosque in India
Towards the north of Cochin, in the coastal strip of Kerala is where a lot of history sleeps. The story of the ancient port town - Muchiri-Pattanam (Muziris port town) that existed during the 1st century AD. People here believe that St Thomas (disciple of Christ) arrived Muziris and preached about Christ of Nazareth which eventually led to the introduction of a new faith, his followers were then called "Nazrani" followers of the Jesus of Nazareth. And the great maritime trade relationships with the Romans, Greeks, and Arabs are some pieces of the history available today.
The Muziris port was under the Chera dynasty who was engaged in constant wars with the Cholas and the Pandyas of Madurai. The Kingdom was rich enough and Muziris, the port city, was affluent with the maritime trade of Pepper, other spices, timber, and Ivory. The Cheras were powerful enough even to withstand the combined attacks of the Cholas and the Pandyas. The Dynasty was mostly small groups or clans combined under the sovereignty of the Perumal. The term Perumal, which means God, is a title for the leader or the King.
The first Mosque in India was built during the reign of the Perumals. It was not built; an existing structure was transformed into a Mosque. The story goes like this – the reason why I say it a story is because it is not recorded history and is more of a legend. Historians still do not confirm this and have a lot of difference of opinion on this. Cheraman Perumal once during a walk after his dinner saw a miraculous sight where the moon split into two halves and rejoined. He was very anxious about the vision or maybe the dream that he saw. He announced this among his advisors and wanted them to explain what he saw. However, no one had any convincing answers for the king. During this period a group of Arab traders stopped by Muziris during their voyage to Ceylon, the present Sri Lanka. Hearing about the King's vision, the traders approached the king and explained that his vision must have been the miracle that Prophet Mohammed did in Arabia. On hearing this, the king was more convinced and wanted to meet the Nabi. He handed over his responsibilities to the local chieftains for better governance during his absence and traveled to Mecca to meet Mohammed Nabi. There in Mecca he embraced Islam and changed his name to Tajuddin. He wrote letters to his local Chieftains sent through Malik bin Dinar – A companion of Nabi Mohammed. The letters directed to provide all facilities and arrangements to build a Mosque in his kingdom. It was done, and that was the first mosque in India. Some local people believe that the first Islam convert was a man named Arrackal Appu. The king decided to return to his country, during the journey, he passed away at Salalah, Oman and was buried there, some state that the tomb still exists there.
Historians have very different versions of the story with different partial shreds of evidence. Malik bin Dinar then built the Mosque, and he was the first Imam of the mosque. The mosque is also identified as Malik Dinar Mosque, but officially it is known as Cheraman Juma Masjid. The Masjid looked like more of a traditional Hindu house, which might have been the local architectural influence, and later the Mosque underwent a renovation during the 11th century. Today the entire structure is changed with typical masjid domes with contrasting colors. The original architecture and how it looked like are just in old photos and paintings. There is a miniature model of the old Mosque preserved in a glass box at the Masjid museum adjacent to the Mosque.
Inside the mosque, there is a thousand-year-old oil lamp which is always lit inside and a piece of white marble is preserved inside which considered being brought from Mecca. All mosques around the world are constructed facing Mecca. However, the Cheraman Juma Masjid faces the east which is the opposite direction of Mecca and is open for Non-Muslims as well. There is a lot of clarity missing about the story about the Masjid, and the Perumal story; this is still a subject for detailed research as stated by many historians. The fact remains that for faith and belief, a story carried over by tradition is sufficient.
To know more about this, the below links would be helpful. http://historicalleys.blogspot.in/2008/12/perumal-and-pickle.html http://blog.calicutheritage.com/2008/11/tale-of-two-conversions.html http://mappilahistory.blogspot.in/
Considering ourselves as a Kerala tour operator focused into local stories and experiences, we treasure these aspects of history for exciting travelers bound to Kerala who have a love for history and folklore