This mosque in Ker­ala also houses a mod­ern art gallery

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

Kochi: For the past 10 months, the faith­ful of­fer­ing jumu’ah (Fri­day af­ter­noon prayer) at Masjid-ul Is­lam in a lane op­po­site the RDO of­fice in Fort Kochi have been do­ing so in a hy­brid space – for, in­side the mosque is a mod­ern art gallery which was opened in April last year.

On Fri­days, when it is prayer time, white cur­tains are hung from dis­creet hooks cov­er­ing the art works -cur­rently on show is a photo doc­u­men­ta­tion of 42 com­mu­ni­ties found in the 5.5 sq km area of Mat­tancherry and Fort Kochi. “The only rea­son why we are cov­er­ing them dur­ing prayers is to en­sure that peo­ple are not dis­tracted,” says K A Mo­hammed Ashraf, chair­man of the mosque com­mit­tee, a busi­ness­man who set up the place of wor­ship with his own funds four years ago.

As you climb the nar­row flight of stairs to the Is­lamic Her­itage Cen­tre art gallery on the sec­ond floor of the build­ing, two quotes wel­come you: a sukta from the Rigveda on the right and a verse from the Qu­ran on the left, epit­o­mis­ing the shared des­tinies of both re­li­gions

The mosque has a board wel­com­ing all, ir­re­spec­tive of faith and gen­der, and cel­e­brates the di­ver­sity of re­li­gion with ci­ta­tions from revered spir­i­tual texts. “We want to be in­clu­sive. We don’t have re­stric­tions on the type of dress one should wear,” Ashraf says, adding that the gallery, close to bi­en­nale venue, is vis­ited by lot of for­eign­ers.

As one climbs the mar­ble-paved, nar­row flight of stairs to the Is­lamic Her­itage Cen­tre (IHC) art gallery on the sec­ond floor of the build­ing, two quotes wel­come you: a sukta from the Rigveda on the right and a verse from the Qu­ran on the left, epit­o­mis­ing the shared des­tinies of both re­li­gions. The bal­cony space has sev­eral other quotes that build on the syn­cretic tra­di­tion.

On one side of the art gallery, neatly-la­belled wooden shelves show­case books rang­ing from re­li­gious texts to even novels and po­etry. “This is not much but we are try­ing to source some rare books. A large ref­er­ence li­brary is also on the anvil,” says Ashraf, who also runs Masjid-ul Is- lam char­i­ta­ble trust.

The IHC and the gallery is a joint ini­tia­tive of the trust and Fo­rum for Faith and Fra­ter­nity (3F) who are fas­ci­nated by the golden age of Is­lam be­tween AD 8 and AD14, when mosques were cen­tres of learn­ing and art and sci­ence flour­ished. “We want peo­ple to un­der­stand the prin­ci­ples of plu­ral­ism, cul­tural di­ver­sity and the im­por­tance of up­hold­ing these traits in the con­tem­po­rary world,” says Ashraf who feels this is the only mosque in In­dia which houses an art gallery.

C H Ab­dul Rahim, chair­man, 3F, de­scribes their or- gan­i­sa­tion as a small group of pro­fes­sion­als work­ing silently to pro­mote cul­tural di­ver­sity through study of dif­fer­ent re­li­gions. “It is a myth that Is­lam is an­ti­thet­i­cal to art. It has al­ways pro­moted art and mu­sic and his­tor­i­cally mosques were seats of learn­ing,” said Rahim, for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of KIMS and a char­tered ac­coun­tant by pro­fes­sion.

The show Tran­scen­dence by Biju Ibrahim is em­blem­atic of this vi­sion of plu­ral­ity. From Lo­hanas, who are fol­low­ers of Jhule­lal, to Dhakni Mus­lims and 24 Tel­ugu Manai Chet­tiars, Biju’s pho­to­graphs cap­ture vi­brant com­mu­ni­ties in all their di­ver­sity. “I don’t think there is any place in the world that houses so much di­ver­sity within such a small geo­graphic space,” says Biju, who be­gan work­ing on the project in 2017 as a res­i­dent of Uru Art Har­bour. Most of these com­mu­nity mem­bers have strived to pre­serve their lan­guage and cul­ture within their home but share a com­mon iden­tity when they step out of the four walls. “The show be­gan in April but once the bi­en­nale kicked off I added five more pan­els to the ex­hi­bi­tion,” he says. His show will be on till end of March.

The mosque has boards with verses from di­verse re­li­gious texts

RK Sree­jith

Is­lamic Her­itage Cen­tre art gallery in the mosque in Fort Kochi

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