In Nasreen Munni Kabir’s book A R Rahman: The Spirit of Music, the music composer tells the writer how he and his family voluntarily converted to Sufi Islam.
“My mother was a practising Hindu. She 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 Medina,” Rahman said.
“In 1986, ten years after my father died, we happened to meet Qadri Saheb (Sufi Peer Karimullah Shah Qadri) again. The peer was unwell and my mother looked after him and he regarded her as a daughter. There was a strong connection between us.”
Asked whether the Sufi peer asked him to embrace Islam, Rahman replied ” No, he didn’t. Nobody is forced to convert to the path of Sufism. You only follow if it comes from your heart.”
“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.”
Asked how Sufism affected his attitude to life, the music composer replied, “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.”
Asked whether converting to Islam affected his relations with people, Rahman replied, “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.”
Asked why he changed his name to AR Rahman, the music director said: “The truth is I never liked my name. No disrespect to the great actor Dilip Kumar! However, 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. 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 that’s how I became AR Rahman.”