India Kerala mosque women entry
More than 5,000 women visitors thronged the Thazhathangady Juma Masjid  when it opened its doors for the first time - representational imageDanish Ismail/Reuters

A 1,000-year-old mosque in the southern Indian state of Kerala has announced it is allowing women to visit for the first time. However, the mosque has made it clear that women can only visit and will not be allowed to pray inside.

More than 5,000 women, most of them fully-veiled, entered the Thazhathangady Juma Masjid on the first day. The mosque, located in one of the heritage zones in Kottayam town, was opened to women visitors despite severe opposition from local groups and conservatives.

"We have seen it only in photos. Though we live nearby, this is for the first time we are having a glimpse of it," a visitor told The Hindu.

The Press Trust of India quoted another woman, Fathima, as saying: "Standing before many historical mosques, I had always wanted to enter and offer worship. But I was afraid of even expressing that desire. I am happy that such an opportunity has come now."

The mosque, also known as Taj Juma Masjid, is popular for its wood carvings and architecture.
Nawab Mulladom, president of the mosque committee, told the Indian daily Deccan Herald: "They used to point out to us that even tourists from other countries were entering the mosque but women who lived so close to it could not. There was some opposition when their entry was mooted but most of us backed the proposal."

As of now, women are permitted to visit the mosque only on two dates – 24 April and 8 May – but officials are planning to extend it depending on the response.

The entry of women into the mosque comes at a time when women are fighting to gain entry into places of worship in many parts of India, as tradition and culture have kept them out.