By Abbas Bilgrami
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
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.
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]