Why India’s finest film composer converted to Islam

When AS Dileep Kumar decided to shed the faith
he was born into and adopt a new one, the
reasons were several. His father’s untimely
death had put several financial pressures on the
family, which included four children. His
spiritual-minded mother had met, and gained
immense succour, from a Sufi saint, peer
Karimullah Shah Qadri. And he had been
grappling with minor and major identity issues:

he didn’t like the name he was born with, he was
looking for direction and purpose, and he
wanted to get a handle on his professional
future. That man is today known as Allahrakha
Rahman ( http://scroll.in/article/698525/Mozart-from-Madras-New-documentary-celebrates-AR-Rahman ) , one of India’s
foremost composers. He discusses his decision
to convert and the impact it had on him in these
edited excerpts from AR Rahman: The Spirit of
Music by Nasreen Munni Kabir.

How has Sufism affected your attitude to life?
It has taught me that just as the rain and the
sun do not differentiate between people, neither
should we. Only when you experience friendship
across cultures, you understand there are many
good people in all communities…

Did your belief in spirituality help when you and
your family were facing hard times?
Yes, absolutely. My mother was a practising
Hindu… My mother had always been spiritually
inclined. We had Hindu religious images on the
walls of the Habibullah Road house where we
grew up. There was also an image of Mother
Mary holding Jesus in her arms and a
photograph of the sacred sites of Mecca and

In 1986, ten years after my father died, we
happened to meet Qadri Saaheb again.
The peer was unwell and my mother looked
after him. He regarded her as a daughter. There
was a strong connection between us. I was
nineteen at the time and working as a session
musician and composing jingles.
Did the peer ask you to embrace Islam?
No, he didn’t. Nobody is forced to convert to the
path of Sufism. You only follow if it comes from
your heart. A year after we met Qadri Saaheb in
1987, we moved from Habibullah Road to
Kodambakkam to the house where we still live.
When we moved, I was reminded of what Jesus
Christ, peace be upon him, once said: “I wish
that you were cold and hot. So because you are
lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit
you out of my mouth.”
What I understood by his words was that it is
better to choose one path. The Sufi path
spiritually lifted both my mother and me, and we
felt it was the best path for us, so we embraced
Sufi Islam.

Were you conscious of the fact that changing
your faith might affect your relations with
My family had started working by then and we
weren’t dependant on anyone. No one around
us really cared – we were musicians and that
allowed us greater social freedom…
The important thing for me is that I learned
about equality and the oneness of god. Whether
you are a winner or loser, king or slave, short or
tall, rich or poor, sinner or saint, ugly or beautiful
– regardless of what colour you are, god
showers unlimited love and mercy on us if we
choose to receive it. It is because of our
inability, our blindness in seeing the unknown
that we lose faith.

On the net there are many versions of how you
came to be called AR Rahman. What is the real
The truth is I never liked my name…. No
disrespect to the great actor Dilip Kumar! But
somehow my name didn’t match the image I
had of myself.
Sometime before we started on our journey on
the path of Sufism, we went to an astrologer to
show him my younger sister’s horoscope
because my mother wanted to get her married.
This was around the same time when I was keen
to change my name and have a new identity. The astrologer looked at me and
said, “This chap is very interesting.”
He suggested the names: “Abdul Rahman” and
“Abdul Rahim” and said that either name would
be good for me. I instantly loved the name
“Rahman.” It was a Hindu astrologer who gave
me my Muslim name.

Then my mother had this intuition that I should
add “Allahrakha” [protected by god], and I
became AR Rahman.

Excerpted from AR Rahman: The Spirit of Music,
Om Books International.

This post first appeared on Scroll.in ( http://
Rahman )


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