The Story Behind Hazrat Dinar Mosque, One of India’s Oldest Mosques
How did Islam come to the Indian subcontinent? For a vast majority of Indians, the reply to this question would conjure up images of bloody battles of the late 12th century. True, it was in the early thirteenth century that Muslim rulers first conquered the throne of Delhi, thus beginning to rule over certain parts of India.
Islam in Southern India
The story of Islam’s arrival to India, however, is completely different and far older. Unfortunately, that history is hardly etched in public memory. Hence the name Hazrat Malik bin Dinar today would scarcely ring any bell in the Indian mind. Yet in his times Saint Dinar had a considerable following, and surprisingly not in the north, which is where most Indians believe the subcontinent’s first Islamic tradition is rooted, but in the deep south. Despite some disagreements among historians about the Muslim Saint’s exact place and time of death, it is not contested that he passed away in the modern-day state of Kerala. Probably in 748 CE. Traditionally it is held that he breathed his last in Kasaragod, Thalangara, which is where his tomb is located in one of India’s oldest Mosques, the Malik Dinar Mosque.
The fact that Hazrat Dinar came to south India from Arabia to preach Islam sometime in the 7th or 8th century CE is uncontested, though exact dates remain somewhat fuzzy. For example, it is also widely held that India’s oldest mosque, the Cheraman Juma Masjid, in Kodungallur, again in Kerala, was built by Hazrat Dinar, after the death of the local king Cheraman Perumal.
Malik Dinar Mosque
According to Ghulam Rasool Dehlavi, an Islamic scholar, associated with Jamia Milia Islamia’s Centre for Media Culture and Governance, Hazrat Dinar was the ‘earliest Sufi saint in south India’, and the Malik Dinar Mosque was built even before the Cheraman Juma Masjid, in 1603. Such contesting dates furnished by scholars do make it a little difficult to pin down the exact date of the saint’s visit to south India. However, the fact that the teachings of Islam began to be popular in India with the arrival of such early saints is beyond doubt.
Traditionally believed to be among the great Islamic scholars, and a renowned calligraphist of the Holy Quran, Hazrat Dinar was a Tabi’in, i.e. a person who had the fortune to see one or more followers of Prophet Muhammad himself. According to Islamic sources, Hazrat Dinar rose from very humble roots. He was the son of a slave from Kabul. Later in life he moved to Basra, Iraq, and had the opportunity learn his religious lessons from the great scholars such as Muhammad Ibn Sirin, Imam Hassan of Basra and Rabi’a al-Adawiya.
Over time, Malik Dinar himself became a great Qass, Islamic preacher and sermonizer. He was also a great traveler, which is what brought him to India, a land that he finally made his own, and remained here till he breathed his last. It is indeed sad that, besides local memory, such early preachers’ roles in spreading Islam in the Indian subcontinent has largely been obliterated from the public mind.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)