“It was a Hindu astrologer who gave me my Muslim name,” AR Rahman said
Indian music maestro and virtuoso AR Rahman is celebrated across the world for his musical forte, having become one of the most famous music directors of present times.
However, the man who is almost instantly recognisable by his name - AR Rahman, was in fact born with a different name and faith.
In her 2011 book, titled - "AR Rahman: The spirit of music," author Nasreen Munni Kabir explored the reasons that influenced AS Dileep Kumar to convert to Islam, and be known as Allahrakha Rahman. The book is in the form of biographical conversations.
AR Rahman stated that there were several reasons for his decision to shed the faith he was born into and adopt a new one.
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 - Pir Karimullah Shah Qadri. Rahman said back then 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.
The Scroll published an article titled, "Why I converted: The transformation of Dilip Kumar into AR Rahman" based on excerpts from the book.
When asked if Sufism affected his attitude to life, Rahman said it has taught him 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 if his belief in spirituality helped during the hard times in his life, the celebrated music composer said that it did indeed help.
"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 Medina," he said.
10 years after following his father's dead, in 1986, Rahman met Qadri Saaheb. The Pir was unwell and Rahman's mother looked after him. He regarded her as a daughter. There was a strong connection between them. AR Rahman was nineteen at the time and working on as a session musician and composing jingles.
Rahman said the Pir didn't ask him to embrace Islam.
"Nobody is forced to convert to the path of Sufism. You only follow if it comes from your heart."
He added: "A year after we met Qadri Saaheb, in 1987, we moved to 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."
AR Rahman said he didn't care what people around them thought about him and his family changing faith.
"My family had started working by then and we weren't dependent on anyone. No one around us really cared – we were musicians and that allowed us greater social freedom."
He stressed: "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."
There are many versions of the story how the once Dillep Kumar came to be called AR Rahman. When asked about it, Rahman said: "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."
Rahman said that some time before him and his family started on their journey on the path of Sufism, they went to an astrologer to show his my younger sister's horoscope because his mother wanted to get her married. This was around the same time when Rahman was keen to change his name and have a new identity.
According to AR Rahman, the astrologer looked at me and said: "This chap is very interesting."
The astrologer suggested the names: "Abdul Rahman" and "Abdul Rahim" and said that either name would be good for him.
"I instantly loved the name "Rahman."
"It was a Hindu astrologer who gave me my Muslim name," AR Rahman said.
Then his mother had this intuition that Rahman should add "Allahrakha" (Protected by God).
"And I became AR Rahman."