Towards 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) which existed during the 1st century AD, arrival of St Thomas (disciple of Christ) and conversion of a community to become followers of Christ, 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 with constant wars with the Cholas and the Pandyas. 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 together under the sovereignty of the Perumal. The term Perumal, which means God, is a title for the leader or the King.
Inception of Islam in India and the story of Cheraman Juma Masjid
The first mosque in India was built during the reign of the Perumals. 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 sight 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 travelled 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. It is believed by some local people that the first Islam convert was a man named Arrackal Appu. The king decided to return to his country, during the course of his 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 evidences. The Mosque was then built by Malik bin Dinar 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 complete structure is changed with typical masjid domes with contrasting paints. 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 and a piece of white marble is preserved inside which considered to be brought from Mecca. All mosques around the world are constructed facing Mecca, however the Cheraman Juma Masjid faces the east which is on 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 on the subject – the below links would be helpful.
Article by Benjamin John