The picture and short video of hundreds of Muslims offering namaz at a church in Kerala has become a point of discussion online in light of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Union government. The Muslims were taking part in a protest march in Kothamangalam and needed a space to offer their prayers when the march ended. The St Thomas Church, popularly known as Marthoma Cheriapally in Kothamangalam, opened its doors to the Muslims, says Mathew Kuzhalnadan, state president of the All India Professionals Congress that conducted the march against the CAA and the National Registry of Citizens (NRC).
“It was a secular march when thousands of people of all faiths walked towards Kothamangalam. There were also hundreds of Muslims in the march. By the time it concluded it was time for the Muslims to offer their prayers and going to a mosque would have delayed it. So we requested the church authorities to permit the Muslims to do the namaz. They not only permitted it, they also facilitated the prayers,” Mathew says.
That has been the practice of the church for centuries, says the church priest Father Jose Parathuvayalil. According to the church’s webpage, it was established with a Cross in 1455. Later a small church was erected in its place in 1504.
“For 600 years now, the church has always been a pilgrim centre for people of all religions. Muslims and Hindus come here for many programmes. People of all faiths come to where the Saint Baselios Yeldho is buried. When there was a request to permit Muslims who took part in the secular march to offer prayers, the church’s compound was arranged for them,” says Fr Jose.
“The march was held to strengthen the idea of secularism. And what happened at its culmination sent a great message of secularism,” says Mathew.