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  Books   20 Apr 2024  I feel I must embody the best version of my faith: Rana Safvi

I feel I must embody the best version of my faith: Rana Safvi

THE ASIAN AGE. | SUCHETA DASGUPTA
Published : Apr 20, 2024, 12:58 pm IST
Updated : Apr 20, 2024, 12:58 pm IST

All the world over, there is a lot of Islamophobia. And having travelled extensively, I have seen that.

Rana Safvi
 Rana Safvi

Delhi and Islamic heritage are two abiding themes in the books of scholar, translator and historian Rana Safvi, one of whose passions is to explore and document the many histories of Indian Sufism. Sample In Search of the Divine (2022) and A Saint, a Folk Tale and Other Stories (2021). Rana is all set to make her foray into the world of fiction with Firestorm in Paradise out next month. To write in a very accessible format well-researched, well-referenced material that dispels misconceptions is how she presents her credo to Sucheta Dasgupta on the sidelines of the Jaipur Literature Festival:

What drew you to study Sufism?

In the past three decades or so, the world over, there’s been an increase in religiosity. But this religiosity is mainly ritual-driven and also dogmatic. People are becoming very rigid about their beliefs without really studying even the scriptures or the spiritual side of their faith. When I started writing about Delhi around 2012, I began frequenting the dargahs because Delhi is characterised by them. And here I encountered a very different kind of Islam. That is what drew me and in 2017 I decided to write about it.

But even before that, I have been a believing Muslim and I have gone to mosques and imambaras, but never dargahs. I realised that the essence of every faith is seeking the divine. I quote this in the beginning of my book and this is what I firmly believe. Kabir Das says, moh ko kahan dhundo re bande, main to tere paas hoon. And that is where I got the name of the book, In Search of the Divine. The divine is within us. We have to internalise our faith instead of falling into the trap of don’ts. Don’t eat this, don’t do that. Everybody needs discipline, but that is not all that there is to faith. For instances, one of the verses in the Quran says your fast and your sacrifices don’t remain, your piety does. This is what drew me to Sufism and this is what I follow in my own life as well.

Can you tell us an interesting story about a shrine or a saint?

A favourite story of mine is about a Sheikh Ali. He has been quoted by Nizamuddin Auliya, so he would have been in the 12th century. So Ali was sitting in the jungle with his legs stretched out before him darning his shirt when a king passed by. But seeing the king he did not draw his feet in under him at which the couriers took offence. And Ali said, but don’t you see my fists are closed? I am not asking any favours from your king, he said. All Sufi saints stayed away from power.

As far as shrines are concerned, my favourite shrine in Delhi is that of Sheikh Yusuf Qattal. A small red stone shrine, it is very pretty. Located near Malviya Nagar in Yusuf Sarai, it is a lesser known shrine. Another shrine I visit a lot is, of course, Nizamuddin’s. Now that is famous all over the world.

You have written about Delhi. I was reading somewhere that you want to write about Lucknow as well. Then there are other heritage cities like Bhopal and Hyderabad. What is your favourite city?

I was brought up in Lucknow. Lucknow remains deep in my heart and even I myself have been unable to understand or explain why I started writing about Delhi. From 2002 to 2012, I was in the Middle East. In 2012, I shifted back to India, started living in Noida and started researching about Delhi.

Any historical fact about Lucknow that intrigues you?

The generosity of the Nawabs! Their syncretism and pluralism, and those are what I live my life by. While the term Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb actually took birth under the Sultans of Delhi, it was during the reign of the Nawabs that it came into flower.

What do you think are the responsibilities of historians in today’s times?

To write in a very accessible format well-researched, well-referenced material that dispels misconceptions.

What does it mean to be Muslim today?

All the world over, there is a lot of Islamophobia. And having travelled extensively, I have seen that. So I feel that I have to be the best version of a person belonging to my religion. I am an ambassador of my own faith.

What is your next project?

My first novel, a historical one, is coming out in May.

Tags: rana safvi, historian, scholar, writer