Kochi, Dec 30: Opening a new chapter in the history of communal harmony in Kerala, an ancient church in nearby Kothamangalam opened its gates to hundreds of Muslims, who were participating in an anti-CAA protest, to offer prayers.
"I could experience the real spirit of India when authorities of an ancient church in Kothamangalam provided us space to offer Maghrib Namaz," Sayyid Munavvar Ali Shihab Thangal, an influential spiritual leader of Kerala Muslims, who led the namaz, told PTI.
The call for Maghrib Namaz (prayers offered after sunset) came when a "secular march" organised by the Kerala chapter of All India Professional Congress (AIPC) reached near the church on Saturday, known as Cheriya Palli.
AIPC leader Mathew Kuzhalnadan said to avoid the delay in offering evening prayers for hundreds of people from Muslim community, the church authorities were contacted and requested them to permit the Muslims to offer namaz in the church premises.
He said the church authorities immediately threw open the iron gates of the church, wholeheartedly welcoming their Muslim bretheren.
The chief priest of the church also arranged carpets and microphones for facilitating the prayers, he said.
"The gesture shown by the authorities of the church...
it generated a kind of feeling among us... no words to explain it. We could experience secularism and the soul of India," said Thangal, who is also a member of Panakkad Thangal family which controls Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).
Priests of the shrine were offering evening prayers inside the church when Thangal was leading namaz in its courtyard.
"This is the message we intended to convey through the secular march," said Kuzhalnadan, a Congress leader, who is heading the AIPC, a department of the Indian National Congress.
The "secular march" against the BJP-led government's decision to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was attended by people from all major political parties including the Congress, the CPI(M) and the IUML.
Noted Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaisingh, former MP and CPI(M) leader M B Rajesh, Congress MLA V T Blaram, Thangal and Kuzhalnadan addressed the meeting held in Kothamangalam town after the march covered over 10 km from a masjid premises in Muvattupuzha.
Ancient Kerala church opens gates to Muslims for prayers