Islam: Rediscovery
By Abbas Bilgrami

From: Nuradeen Magazine

From the Nuradeen Magazine Vol. 2, No. 2 -- March/April 1982

'And those who want Allah will find a way toward Him.'

The journey began on July 11, 1921 in the small town of Ghazipur, Uttar Pardesh, India. It was an uneventful beginning without any significance for anyone. Even the traveler was unconcerned. In fact the journey began without his knowledge or volition as a result of factors beyond his control.

He was a child born into a world that was changing so rapidly that technological advances in his life-time would be unparalleled in the history of man. Within his life-time he would see man reach forward and out of his safe womblike world to touch the stars, he would see the death and destruction of many wars, he would also see miraculous cures for once incurable diseases, he would help create life but he would also face death and suffer the grief of parting. He would also see the creation of a new nation to which he would gravitate, in search of something he was attracted to, but did not know how to find. So began the story of my father's life. This is a brief account of his search, a journey which he was fortunate enough to make within his lifetime in which he found what it was he was looking for.

Born in Utter Pardesh, India, Razi Bilgrami was a child born into a world of conflict. The world was in turmoil. The world was in a depression. He quickly grew to be independent. He learned the Qur`an in his late teens from his father at his own insistence. He learned a great deal from his family, experience about the eastern values, the Islamic way of life. But he was still a child of modern society. He was a hybrid, a synthesis of many cultures of Indian and Islamic, of Persian and Turkish.

At the university, he studied hard and excelled in what he did. He went on to join the Indian Civil Services, following in the footsteps of his father. But the second world war brought his career in the civil service to an end. He enlisted and joined the Royal British Indian Army as a lieutenant for what he thought would be the duration of the war. The war ended but a series of coincidences and fate in the end kept him in the army. He traveled all over India. He married and thought he might find the peace and serenity he had been seeking.

The war was over and the subcontinent was in turmoil; as in the rest of the world, the peoples of India were restive and wanted their independence from the colonialism of a century. The Muslims wanted a separate homeland. They gained a homeland under the leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a figure who so deeply inspired the young Captain Bilgrami in his conviction for a free Muslim homeland that he left his ailing father and gave up his roots, to move to newly formed Pakistan. He believed, as Tariq had said on landing in Spain, that a Muslim's home was wherever he was in this world.

Razi suffered a great deal in Pakistan, faced by many years of hard living. The years passed, Razi's father passed away, his family migrated to Pakistan, he helped them as much as he could to reestablish themselves in a new country, whose foundations had been laid on an Islamic ideology.

However, western democracy and Islam do not necessarily mix and soon the country was in political turmoil. Pakistan's internal instability was exploited and it was dismembered by India, the mother country. In all this Razi was disappointed -- his search was in vain -- he had not found what he had been looking for. His children had grown up and were leaving to lead lives of their own. His wife was a grandmother now and both of them visited their children all over the world. But Razi had not found inner peace. He was having a recurring dream which troubled him for he could not fathom what this dream meant. In this dream Razi stood in a large hall whirling round and round saying over and over again:

'I am yours and you are mine.'

This dream troubled him for it only pointed to the fact that he had not found what he had been looking for. He lived in Montreal and lived a sedentary life reading and contemplating. Praying to Allah for guidance. He was troubled at heart and both he and his wife felt that their life was not as yet fulfilled. Razi's search, his journey, was not complete. He lacked for little materially but he was not satisfied. The dream came to him again and again in his thoughts.

Then, in the spring of 1981 during a period of great personal distress Razi received a phone call which changed his life. The phone call was an invitation to visit the Muslims in San Antonio. The first reaction on meeting this community of Sufic-oriented Muslims was one of incredulity. However, the first day among the Sufis at Bayt al-Deen and San Antonio dispelled this feeling. Razi was convinced that he had found what he had been looking for. All the questions and doubts he had were answered and set at rest one by one, all his inner anguish vanished, he had indeed found sanctuary.

[Added October 12, 2003]