By M. Burhanuddin Qasmi,
We have one of the oldest and India’s first masjid called the Cheraman Jama Masjid exists at Kodungaloor in Kerala. As inscribed on the masjid’s stone-plate, (where this writer has been after the historic Tsunami in 2004), it was built about 1400 years ago in 9 Hijra or 629 CE). Kodungaloor was the capital of the kings of Kerala, and in 622-628 CE (Hijra 2 to 9) the ruler was a great savant, by the name of Cheraman Perumal Bhaskara Ravi Varma. In those days, the seniormost of the rulers of Kerala was called as Cheraman Perumal.
According to some historians, Malik bin Deenar and 12 of his trade associates landed in Kerala and were engaged in the trade. Their way of trading however was distinctly different from that of earlier Arabs which attracted people beyond mere business relationships.
The King came to know of the surprising trade practices of these Arabs and had them brought to his palace to delve more deeply into their trade practices. On enquiry, Malik bin Deenar (some say a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (saws)) and his comrades related the reason for their honest trade practices to be their recent conversion to Islam.
Cheraman Perumal asked them what was that Islam which could so radically influenced the character and conduct of Arab thugs. The Arabs then described the tenets of Islam to him and talked about their Prophet Muhammad (saws). The King then wanted to know if there was any proof that the person they described was indeed a Prophet. The traders described the Mujizaat (miracles) of the Prophet, including the Shaqq Al-Qamar or the splitting of the moon into two.
The King then summoned his Astrologers who consulted their almanacs and reported a similar phenomenon recorded by them. The King forthwith abdicated his throne and left with Malik bin Deenar for Arabia where it is chronicled that he met the Prophet Muhammad (saws), accepted Islam and performed the famous Last Hajj (Hajjatul Wada) with him. On his journey back, he was drowned in a tempest which destroyed his ship and his body came ashore at Salalah, Oman where his grave is a famous landmark even today.
A historian Hamidullah writes in “Mohammad Rasoolulla”, quoting some old manuscripts from India Office Library (ref no. Arabic, 2607, 152-173) Vol.16 (06): “There is a very old tradition in Malabar, southwest coast of India, that Chakrawati Farmas (perhaps another name for Cheraman Perumal) one of their kings, had observed splitting of the moon, the celebrated miracle of the last Prophet at Makkah, and learning on inquiry that this was a symbol of the coming of a Messenger of God from Arabia, he appointed his nephew as regent and set out to meet him. The love for the Prophet grew in his heart and he became the earliest Muslim convert of present day India.”
A tradition of the Prophet (saws) has also been reported from one of the companions, Abu Saeed Al-Khudri (ra), regarding the arrival of Cheraman Perumal “a king from India presented the Messenger of Allah with a bottle of pickle that had ginger in it. The Prophet (saws) distributed it among his companions. I also received a piece to eat.” It is said that, after conversion, the Perumal took the name of Tajuddin, while other chroniclers say that he called himself as Abdullah Samudri, in remembrance of his past.
One Islamic scholar has written that Perumal’s followers built the mosque after reaching Kerala. “The Cheraman Jama Masjid was built by Malik bin Deenar, (one of the 13 followers of Prophet Mohammad), who reached the ancient port of Musuris on the spice route to Malabar in 629 CE.
As such this Masjid was one designed and constructed on the architectural principles of Hindu art. It is situated in the Mrthala village of Kodungaloor, hardly 20km from the Irinjalakuda railway station in Kerala. There are two tombs that of Malik bin Deenar and his sister in the masjid premises. Until 1984, the Cherman Perumal masjid retained its facade as a typical Kerala structure. In 1984, the local Muslim jamaat, which repaired the building, decided that the new structure should be more like an Islamic shrine with minarets.
While retaining the inner configuration of the edifice, the exterior was changed completely. One member of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage reportedly said that ‘in 1984 the trust was formed to protect Indian heritage, from such radical alterations. But by 1984, the masjid had been given a new exterior. Otherwise the trust would have appealed and ensured that the 1400-year-old facade of the structure (although repaired many times) was kept in its pristine grandeur.
Having done the entire historical scrutiny one thing is certain that Muhammad bin Qasim or Mahmood Goznawi were not the originator of Islamic faith in India but they were only some of the Muslim rulers associated with the rise of Islamic governing system in India.
M. Burhanuddin Qasmi is editor Eastern Crescent and director of Mumbai based Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre. He can be contacted at [email protected])