Kerala stands as a symbol of interfaith harmony
Kerala has been given many names -- among them, the most apposite one is probably “God’s own country” because of the majestic and mesmerizing beauty of the state.
Unfortunately, all these beautiful landscapes and the good souls of the land have witnessed one of the worst natural disasters of the century, leading to the deaths of at least 370 people and displacing over 280,000. In this dire situation of life and death, Kerala has exquisitely exhibited its innermost virtue of interfaith harmony. Such virtue is surely rare in today’s divided world.
While we have heard much distressing news such as “Muslims destroy Hindu temple” or “Hindus vandalize mosques” when it comes to interfaith relations in India and the Indian sub-continent at large, rarely have we seen different religious groups extending helping hands for people in distress.
During this crisis moment, the people of Kerala have transcended religious differences and embraced diversity for a stronger community. Muslims opening mosques for displaced Hindus and Hindus letting the entrapped Muslims pray in their temples are illustrious examples of a long-standing harmonious society of religious tolerance, co-existence, and plurality.
Kerala is one of the most religiously diverse states of India, accommodating all major world religions as well as non-believers. As per the 2011 census data, more than 50% of the population follows Hinduism, slightly over a quarter of the people are believers of Islam, and slightly less than 20% are Christians. Kerala is among the three major states which have historically been home to the Jews living in India.
The openness and welcoming nature of the early residents of Kerala can distinctively be identified if we go back in time. Many Muslims do not know that the first mosque in the Indian peninsula, the Cheraman Juma Mosque, was built in Thrissur, Kerala during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in 629AD by Malik Deenar.
Such is the case for Christianity too. The first church, the St Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, was established in the same Thrissur district, Kerala, after the ninth century. Kerala welcomed the first Jewish travelers in 562BCE, who then formed the oldest Jewish community in Kochi.
How three major Abrahamic religions were welcomed and fostered by the people of Kerala only underscores their openness and inherent penchant for societal harmony.
Kerala is a successful model of equality and religious co-existence among different religious communities. When religion has been a bone of contention and violence, the people of Kerala espoused the core teaching of every faith, tolerance and respect for each other as human beings. Even during moments of distress like this pernicious flood, they upheld the core values of humanity and protected each other like their own family.
While the people of Kerala are undergoing insufferable calamities, they have taught us a long forgotten lesson on how each community should welcome diversity, protect other’s rights, and help each other during a crisis.
Kerala has certainly become a true symbol of interfaith harmony as God’s own country by upholding the values of humanity.
Makshudul Alom Mokul Mondal is researcher on international relations, geo-politics and interfaith issues. He is also a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum. Besides these, he runs an award-winning global youth organization known as Youth Opportunities (www.youthop.com).