Hindu Patron of Muslim Heritage
[The interviewer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be contacted at
The 87-year-old Raja Valiyathampuram of Kodungallur in Central Kerala is a
descendant of King Cheraman Perumal [also known as King Chakrawati Farmas ], the
first Indian to embrace Islam in the early 7th century. Talking to him is like
talking with history. In the following interview taken by A U Asif in Ernakulam,
he dwells in detail upon his great early ancestor and the oldest mosque (above)
of the sub-continent. He also asks North Indians to come to Kerala and see how
people of different religions are living there for centuries in an atmosphere of
harmony, fraternity and peace.
How do you take your great great grandfather Cheraman Perumal? Cheraman
Perumal was not only a king and my ancestor, but the first Indian to come into
the fold of Islam. He was actually the person who gifted Islam and the first
ever mosque to the Indian sub-continent. This happened much before the advents
of Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmood Ghaznavi. This shows that Islam didn't come to
India with the sword.
Is it a fact?
As is well known in Kerala, on a moon-lit night the
king while walking on the rooftop of his palace along with the queen saw the
moon suddenly splitting into two halves. Later he came to know through the Arab
traders that that a prophet called Muhammad had wrought a miracle on that
fateful night and sundered the moon before a crowd of dazed spectators.
Impressed by this new messenger of God in Arabia, the king set out for the holy
land after dividing his kingdom and assigning various territories to local
chieftains to ensure smooth governance. In Arabia he met the Prophet and
embraced Islam in the presence of Abu Bakr Siddique, who later became the first
caliph. Cheraman, who took a Muslim name, Tajuddin, died on his way back to
India and was buried on the shore of the
Arabian Sea at Salala in the Sultanate of Oman. It is said that he had earlier
written letters to the local rulers of Malabar and sent it through his ministers
along with Malik bin Dinar, a companion of the Prophet. In the letters he had
asked them to "receive the bearers of the letters and treat them well and help
them to construct mosques at
Kodungallur and elsewhere". The rulers of Kerala honoured the letters and
permitted Malik Bin Dinar and his fellow Arab traders to build mosques in Kerala.
The mosque built in the early 7th century at Kodungallur, known as Cheraman
Malik Masjid, still exists with its original structure and is said to be the
oldest mosque in the sub-continent. It is named after both Cheraman Perumal and
Malik bin Dinar.
Is the mosque intact with its original structure?
Yes, the original structure, including the sanctum sanctorum, remains intact.
However, there have been a few extensions in the past. Its front portion is new
while the back portion with its sanctum sanctorum, mehrab, mimbar (pulpit),
wooden work on the roof of mimbar and traditional lamp as well as the ancient
ceremonial pond, is still untouched.
Anything more about Malik Bin Dinar?
After the construction of the mosque at
Kodungallur, Malik bin Dinar moved towards Mangalore and died at Kasaragod, now
in Karnataka, where rests in peace. Interestingly, Cheraman Perumal and Malik
bin Dinar are buried on two sides of the Arabian Sea, one at Salala in the
Sultanate of Oman and the other at Kasaragod in India. In other words, their
graves are interlinked by the waters of the sea. There exist 14 mosques of the
same pattern and design from Kodungallur to Mangalore.
How do you see all this?
We see all this with pride. There is no question of
any ill-feeling about Cheraman Perumal. We have high regard for him. He was our
patriarch. He embraced Islam but could not come back from Arabia as he fell ill
and died on way. I hail from his lineage and have faith in Hinduism. How do
the general people, particularly Hindus consider Cheraman and his gift in form
of the first ever mosque in the Indian sub-continent?
People belonging to different religions, including Hindus, hold him in high
esteem and the mosque built as per his wish as a historical monument. The
historic mosque has been visited by numerous dignitaries over the centuries and
President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam was recently here. He was given a warm
reception in the mosque. I was also among those present on the occasion.
Unlike North India, there is no communal strife over places of worship in South
No, not at all. In this part of land exist India's oldest places of worship.
The first synagogue, the first church, the first mosque and the ancient
Bhagwathi and Mahadeva temples are located in this region. We have maintained a
record of exemplary communal harmony here. I often wonder about the sudden
eruption of controversy over places of worship. Unlike north, people of all
faiths have high regard for all places of worship. My suggestion is: People in
the north should come to Kerala and see and learn how we belonging to different
religions live here for centuries without any communal hatred, animosity and
Did The Prophet Muhammad split the moon as a miracle?
An Indian King Witness of Moon Splitting
History: The history of Perumathura dates back from the period of the Legendary
King Cheraman Perumal who ruled South India during the 8th century A.D. The name
Perumathura (meaning residence of Perumal) was derived from the Late Kings name.
It is believed that Cheraman Perumal converted to Islam during his stay at
Perumathura. The mainland Perumathura and it's surrounding islands -
Kottaramthuruthu, Cheramanthuruthu and Madanvila are all related in one way or
another to Cheraman Perumal.
The Present Scenario: The present population of Perumathura is around 8000, 95%
of them belonging to the Islamic community, this is due to the effect of Cherman
Perumal's conversion to Islam. 4% are follower's of the Christian faith and the
balance worship the Hindu gods. The economy of Perumathura mostly depends on the
income generated by the people working in the Arabian Gulf States. Other sources
of income include from
the traditional cottage industry of coir manufacturing, fishing, trading,
coconut farming etc. Coir is manufactured from coconut husk which after a
cumbersome process is transformed into variety of coir products. The coir
products are sold mainly to the coir mills of Alappuzha & Cochin from where it
is exported to many countries.
Perumathura boasts of 100% literacy. A good percent of them are well educated
and are well placed in the government and private sector. Perumathura has many
firsts to its credit including the first Muslim doctor from Kerala.
"A SHIP IS SAFE AT THE HARBOR, BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT
IT WAS MADE FOR"