Year 1998.

Dileep was 21 years old then, and was extremely busy in film music industry and jingles industry. That was the time when his career was moving in top gear, with many international tours accompanying famous bands. It was then that his sister started suffering from severe stomach ache. An unknown fear engulfed them, for they had witnessed RK Shekar’s suffering and death because of such stomach aches!

They consulted several doctors, but to no avail! (Some claim that they would have missed out on consulting the right doctors/hospitals in all their anxiety!)

Her condition was worsening each day.

Rahman recollects those moments. “The visions of my dad’s suffering kept torturing me! We had shifted nine different hospitals, from Vellore CMC to Vijaya Hospital, Chennai. Many Christian Fathers would come and visit him and pray for him. Several Hindu priests would also visit him and bless him. Those didn’t help. Towards the end, some Islam pirs also came… But, dad left us forever”

Dileep, who had witnessed the cruel last days of his dad, had turned into an atheist for sometime! If there’s really some God, would my dad have passed away at such a young age – this was the question that kept haunting him. When a similar disease attacked his sister, his mind had different questions, had more confusions. Is this all coincidental or is this a screenplay written by God or an unknown power, he used to wonder!

Rahman continues, “Some days during my teenage, I believed that there was no God. I had been affected so much. Though I denied that God existed, I felt that there was a vacuum. At one stage, I realized that the world can’t function with out a power controlling us. That was when that disease attacked my sister. I was shocked. But, someone cured my sister. It was like a miracle”

What happened? Who was that person?

Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani Sahib also known as Pir Qadri. According to Rahman’s family, Pir Qadri came to see Rahman’s sister when she was ill, and she was miraculously cured due to his prayers. This sudden turn of events amazed Dileep. He couldn’t believe it. Dileep considered it as a boon that was granted by God because of Pir Qadri’s prayers! After this, Pir Qadri became a family friend, well-wisher and guide.

Fe more things have to be stated at this point. It was the time when Dileep was putting in all his hard work into music. Dileep was learning everything from Hindustani, Carnatic to Western Classical! He completed graduation in western classical from Trinity College, London. His musical skills were getting sharpened more and more. He didn’t have time to even think about religion as he was immersed in music. But, he listened to Pir Qadri’s spiritual discourses from time to time. His most important advice was “There’s only one God. All prayers to him, cleanses your soul!”

Dileep felt that such thought brought him peace. As days rolled by, Pir Qadri’s words brought about a quantum change in Dileep’s thoughts about religion and faith. But, he had not yet thought about the big change – conversion to Islam. He didn’t have the time for that!

There was another incident, which guided him towards that. Rahman narrates that incident – “I was in Malaysia for a recording. One day, an old man appeared in my dream. He asked me to convert to Islam. I didn’t understand that, and I just left it as just a dream. But, I kept getting the same dream again and again. I felt it was a divine message. I told my mom about the dream. She was of the view that a message from God shouldn’t be ignored.

From then on, I went to Mosques along with my mom, and met many Imams. I got enlightened about religion. Within a few days, all of us in our family converted to Islam.”

Pir Qadri was Rahman’s first Islamic Guru. It was Pir Qadri who chose the spot for construction of Panchathan Studio at Rahman’s house. “Panchathan is an Islamic term depicting the five individual tasks of each of the five fingers”, explains Rahman’s mother Kareema Begum.

After the demise of Pir Qadri, Mehboob Alam, Muhammad Yusuf Bhai were Rahman’s spiritual Gurus. Now, it is Cuddappa Malik.

It was a time when Muslims in the film industry generally used a Hindu or Christian name as their screen name. But, totally opposite to the general trend, Rahman shifted from his Hindu name to a Muslim one. Even in the covers of Roja album, his was supposed to be written as Dileep, but his mom met Mani Ratnam at the last minute and requested him to change it to a Muslim name.

That was when Dileep became A.R.Rahman. But, how did that name come about?

After their conversion, when a search for a name was on, an astrologer suggested the name Abdul Rahman. Dileep’s mom who was a staunch believer of astrology, accepted it and Dileep’s name was changed to Abdul Rahman. Dileep remained with that name for a few days. Veteran composer Naushad asked him to change his name slightly to ‘Alla Rakha Rahman.’

Alla Rakha Rahman means one who has got the blessings of Allah. Before Rahman, there was another famous musician with the same name – Tabla exponent Ustad Allah Rakha Khan – father of Tabla exponent Ustad Zakhir Hussain.

Dileep’s family converting to Islam raised a few eyebrows in the industry. The mega success of Roja silenced everyone. The name A.R.Rahman reached through out the country at lightning speed! Dileep who became Allah Rakha Rahman, became a very devout Muslim, with a deep respect for the religion.

“Each of the prayers is like death. I feel as if I pass away during the prayer, and am born fresh again. My mindy and body becomes totally fresh” , says Rahman.

Rahman who kept openly saying that God’s blessings and Islam are the main reasons for his success, was faced with a problem very soon. That was the accusation that he offered financial help to Islamic terrorists!

Article Credits to Vikatan Magazine. Original article was published in Tamil and was exclusively translated to english by Aravind AM.