Syed Faisal Ali, Arab News
MINA, 12 January 2006 — From a non-believer to a worshipper; from polytheist to monotheist; from Dileep Kumar to Allah Rakha Rahman, the famous music wizard has come a long way. This journey, he says, has completely changed his outlook toward life.
Rahman is well-known in India. He revolutionized Bollywood music, giving it a new direction. But in Mina, the man was spiritually charged, relaxing in his camp after Isha prayers, remarkably very far from the rhythm of success.
He said that in India’s film world, people change Muslim names to Hindu ones to get success but, “in my case it was just the opposite from Dileep Kumar to Allah Rakha Rahman — and I’m very proud of it.”
Rahman’s music is everywhere: in discotheques, in malls, at wedding parties, on satellite channels, in taxis. He is a celebrity in his own right. His face adorns the cover of every album he cuts. Autograph hunters hound him wherever he goes. A couple of companies have tried to lure him into product endorsements, but he refused, preferring to distance himself from the glare and the sometimes self-indulgent afterglow of fame.
Such was his attitude when Arab News met him yesterday in Mina after a hunt of five hours that had started just after Maghreb prayers.
Once a practitioner of idolatry, Rahman now talks about Islam like a scholar. He winced as he spoke about the ignorance of some Muslims and the divisions among them on trivial issues.
Rahman, who has come to perform his second Haj with his mother, utilized every bit of his stay in Mina, Arafat and Madinah in prayer and remembrance of God to “cleanse the inner self.”
He said Islam is a religion of peace, love, coexistence, tolerance and modernity. But due to the behavior of a few of us, it’s labeled as an intolerant orthodoxy. He says that the image of Islam is being tarnished by a small group of people and that Muslims must come forward to present before the world the correct picture of their divine faith.
“The enormity of their ignorance of the Islamic history and its code of conduct is mind-boggling. We should be united in fighting these elements for the cause of Islam,” he said.
“Muslims should go to lengths to follow the basics, which say ‘be kind to your neighbors, keep smiling when you meet others, pray and do charity.’ We should serve humanity. We should not show hostility toward others, even to the followers of other faiths. This is what Islam stands for. We should present before the world a model through our behavior, nature and presentation. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never used his sword to spread Islam; rather he spread the religion through his virtues, behavior, tolerance and righteousness. And this is what is needed to change today’s distorted image of Islam.”
Talking about his Haj, Rahman said, “Allah made it very easy for us. And up until now, I have enjoyed every bit of my stay in the holy land and I pray to Allah to accept my pilgrimage.”
For him, the stoning ritual is a physical exercise that symbolizes internal struggle: “It means the defeat of temptation and killing the devil inside ourselves.”
“I would like to tell you that this year I got the most precious gift on my birthday, Jan. 6. Allah gave me the opportunity to confine myself inside the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and pray all through the day. Nothing could match this experience and that too on my birthday; I am extremely delighted and thankful to Allah,” he said.
Rahman said that prayers release his tension and give him a sense of containment. He performs prayers despite heavy work pressure. “I am an artist, but despite tremendous work pressure I never skip prayers,” he said. “I am very punctual in offering the day’s all five prayers on time. This releases me from tension and gives me hope and confidence that the Lord is with me, that this is not the only world. It reminds me of the Day of Judgment.”
It was in the year 1989 that he and his family embraced Islam.
Talking about his reversion, Rahman said, “The whole process started with a sequence of dream. It was in 1988. I was in Malaysia and had a dream of an old man who was asking me to embrace Islam. For the first time, I did not take it seriously, but then I saw the same dream several times and I discussed it with my mother. She encouraged me to go ahead and to respond to the call of the Almighty. Also, in 1988, one of my sisters fell seriously ill and in spite of the family’s effort to cure her, her health deteriorated by the day. Then under the guidance of one Muslim religious leader we prayed to Allah, which did wonder for my sister and she made a miraculous comeback to life. Thus, began my journey from Dileep Kumar to A.R. Rahman.”
He said the decision to embrace Islam was a mutual one with his mother. Not one to normally discuss this aspect of his private life, after taking a pause, Rahman narrates succinctly, “My mother and I resolved to follow one faith ... we wanted to cleanse ourselves of our sorrows.”
After initial doubts, his three sisters also embraced Islam. For them he has tried to be a role model, he said. However, his eldest sister was divorced later.
Rahman began learning piano at the age of four. But life was not all that hunky-dory for the young boy who lost his father at the age of nine.
The responsibility of supporting his mother Kasturi (now Kareema Begum) and three sisters soon fell on his young shoulders. He began his prosperous musical career at age eleven out of necessity.
Rahman is married to Saira. They have three children: two girls, 10 and seven, and a three-year-old son.
Rahman performed his first Haj in 2004. This time, he is accompanying his mother.
“I wanted to bring my wife also for Haj this year, but since my son is only three years old, she could not make it. God willing, I will come again — next time with my wife and children,” Rahman said.