The 'Dubai elsewhere phenomenon': 10 photos of the transformation of Kerala's mosques

Villagers in the Indian state are demanding for their traditional mosques to be converted into the modern, spacious and comfortable ones they are used to in their adopted homes

Mosque architecture throughout ­Kerala used to be unique to the region, inspired by local houses made of tiled roofs. However, since the 1970s, they’ve taken on a distinctly Gulf-influenced theme.

As millions of Keralites migrate to the ­Arabian Gulf, remittances sent home mean not only has the standard of living in the region increased, but so too has its local Islamic architecture.

Billions of dollars in remittances are sent back to Kerala every year by the 2.1 million Keralites who work overseas, significantly contributing to modernising the state's architecture. But some villagers have taken this one step further, with demands for towns to convert their traditional mosques in to modern, spacious and comfortable ones, locally referred to as Gulf-like mosques, which they have become used to in their adopted homes.

Check out our gallery above to hear more from the people involved in the fight for or against Kerala's Gulf-inspired mosques, and take a closer look at their architecture. 

Sayyid Ibraheem Khaleel Al Bukhari is an imam and prominent voice among Keralite Muslims. He is also founder of the Ma'din Academy, a charitable educational organisation in Kerala. He tells The National: "Those who had migrated to the Gulf imported a new Islamic lifestyle to Kerala after having experienced lavish prayers rooms."

Villagers now want to build minarets, which the older mosques do not have. "The Gulf has become our reference point in terms of architecture. We call it the 'Dubai elsewhere' phenomenon," says Dr M H Ilias, professor at the India-Arab Cultural Centre in New Delhi. Those demands have recently come up against some resistance from those who want to protect the historic architecture, however, resulting in an ongoing row.

Proponents for Kerala’s Islamic architectural heritage have responded by campaigning for the preservation of the old mosques. Faqrudheen Panthavoor campaigns independently against the modernisation of traditional Islamic architecture, and writes on the matter for local newspapers. He says: “Traditions have been weakened by the migration process and newly rich Keralites no longer pay attention to the preservation of history.”

Abubakr Ahmad, general secretary of the Muslim Scholars Organisation of India and president of the Islamic Education Board of India, also weighed in. “We encourage Keralites to preserve our traditional mosques from ‘concrete masjid’,” a spokesperson for Ahmad says. “Unfortunately, there is no awareness among government officials regarding the preservation of our heritage.”

As the debate between villagers keen for change and conservationists continues in the area, The National went to speak to those on both sides of the argument. This photo essay shows examples of both new and old mosques in Kerala, while surveying the views of activists, villagers and public figures. For many, converting the mosques means eroding aspects of Kerala's history, while for others it is a necessary sign of the times. This series offers a snapshot.