Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it a point to keep visiting temples when visiting other countries.Visits to Dhakeshwari Mandir and Ramakrishna Math in Bangladesh were part of his itinerary (June 2015). On the heels of this he is planning to visit the oldest mosque in India. This happens to be the Cheraman Jama Masjid in Thrissur in Kerala. Contrary to the present perception and propaganda that Islam came to India with Muslim kings with sword in one hand and Koran in the other, initial Islam in India came via the Arab traders in Kerala.

It is due to this that the first mosque in India came up in Kerala. Wikipedia gives a brief history of this mosque. There were trade relations between India and Arabia. Arabian trader used to come to Malabar Coast even before the advent of Islam. With the rise of Islam in Saudi Arabia, the traders brought this faith with them. “Cheraman Perumal, the Chera king, went to Arabia where he met the Prophet and embraced Islam and changed his name to Tajuddin. From there he had sent letters with Malik Ibn Dinar to his relatives in Kerala, asking them to be courteous to the latter. In the 7th Century, a group of Arabs led by Malik Bin Deenar and Malik bin Habib arrived in north Kerala and constructed a Masjid at Kodungalloor, naming it after their contemporary Cheraman Perumal.

This interesting peep into history should help us delink religion from politics. Modi’s associates within BJP and with RSS family (Sakshi Maharaj and the like) have begun asserting that the Ram Temple will be built soon at the site where the Babri Mosque was demolished. Recently we have witnessed a series of attacks on Churches in Delhi, with authorities trying to pass these off as ordinary robberies. This despite the fact that nothing of any consequence was stolen, only religious symbols were desecrated.In Atali in Haryana a half built mosque was destroyed. Subramanian Swamy of the BJP is facing a court case for saying that a Temple is a holy place but a mosque is not.

Communal politics has been built around the issues related to identity. Even during the freedom movement when the communal streams (Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabha-RSS) came up issues related to pig in the mosque and beef in a temple were made the pretext of violence. In Independent India the story begins with the Ram temple issue. Its seeds were sown in 1949 when some miscreants installed Ram Lalla Idol in the mosque. The rest is history. The issue is pending in the Supreme Court but to keep the pot boiling VHP-BJP has started making noises for construction of temple.

There is a long trajectory of incidents related to mosque-temple-dargah. Disputes have been constructed around them systematically. In Karnataka the Baba Budan Giri dargah was claimed to be the Datta Peetham. In Hyderabad near Charminar, Bhagyalaxmi temple is gradually being extended to be dangerously close to the Charminar. In Madhya Pradesh, the Kamal Maula Masjid in Dhar has been claimed to be a Bhojshala.

Historically it is amusing to see that while kings had diverse policies towards holy places, communal historiography which became prevalent looked at Muslim kings as destroyers of temples. This irrespective of the fact the Kings were there to rule primarily for power and wealth, religion being incidental to their policies. Emperor Asoka was the only king who worked for spreading his religion, Buddhism.

Kings also could not rule just on the strength of yhe sword and had to respect the faith and feelings of their subjects. That’s how we see that Babar in his will to Humayun writes “Son, this Nation Hindusthan has different Religions. Thank Allah for giving us this Kingdom. We should remove all the differences from our heart and do justice to each community according to its customs. Avoid cow-slaughter to win over the hearts of the people of this land and to incorporate the people in the matters of administration. Don’t damage the places of worship and temples, which fall in the boundaries of our rule. Evolve a method of ruling whereby all the people of the kingdom are happy with the King and the King is happy with the people.”

Tipu Sultan got the temple of Shrirangapatnam repaired after it was damaged due to the attack by Maratha armies. Primary cause of destruction of the Somnath temple was the massive wealth kept there. Even Babri Mosque has been the pretext of biggest communal polarization in recent times. Hindu King Shivaji got a mosque built at the entrance of his fort in Raigadh. The clever British policy of introducing communal historiography and dividing the history into Hindu, Period, Muslim period and British period paid them rich dividends and the communal streams picked this version from their angles to incite base sentiments.

Lately many from the RSS stable have been making damning statements about holy places. Yogi Adityanath of BJP said that non Hindus should not be permitted in Hardwars ghats. The Somnath temple trust has barred the entry of non Hindus into the temple. Such attempts will be a great detriment to our social practices which have united the society. People from different religions keep visiting places of all the faiths. These are practices where people overcome the religious divides in practice. These will weaken the fraternity which is integral part of our values.

While watching the TV debates on Ayodhya temple-mosque issue, one can see VHP spokespersons beating their breast that Lord Ram has to live in the tent, while he deserves to live in the Bhavya (great) temple. Here is the question, contrary to the belief of communal forces; for most of the medieval saints; the place of worship was within one’s own heart and soul. The identity issues have been brought to the fore by communal forces for their own vested interests. What we need is not the issues related to identity but struggle for a society which wants to see that all its citizens have bare minimum facilities, food clothing, shelter, employment health and dignity.