Rabiya: An iron woman who changed the history of Kerala

K.V. Rabiya lived on alphabets and words and so through the educational light which she had set for her people, she will live forever.

Vellilakkadu, Tirurangadi: “The Kerala society always looked at and the media hyped me as a literacy mission crusader but they always took care to turn a blind eye towards the inspirational role of Islam behind my activities, the role of Islam in ‘the making up’ of me was never discussed and now I need to do something desperately to convey ‘the right message’ out of my life. I feel I am nearing death, so visualising my life in a documentary – well in lines with my dreams and ideas – is an important and urgent task before me”, says KV Rabiya.

A documentary ‘Charitram Sakshi, Rabiya ennennum Jeevikkunnaval’ is intended at carrying out Da’wat by portraying her life, which she has tried to live according to Islamic principles, she wanted that the documentary should be directed by a non-community member, having an affinity and willingness towards Islam. She was fortunate enough to find such a director in Suresh Iringaloor, and the documentary is under way.

“I believe it is the passion to release this documentary, which still keeps me alive despite all these life threatening diseases I am subject to”, says Rabiya.

Beginning of the mission
Born handicapped to Kariveppil Moosakutty Haji and Allipara Biyyachutty Hajjumma, Rabiya had her legs weakened by Polio, but this couldn’t stop her from going to school, with immense passion, she read books aloud, thus wiping tears off her parent’s eyes. As she reached the Pre Degree level, when she was seventeen, being unable to stand sound on her weakened legs, she had to stop studies. Unlike most others who would weep over their fate, Rabiya started living a meaningful life thereafter. She was not ready to blame her destiny nor did she shed a single drop of tear. She started taking tuition classes to her neighbouring students and this indeed was the start of a big leap in her life as well as the history of Kerala. It was such efforts by Chelakodan Aishumma, Khadeeshumma and Rabiya, that initiated the complete literacy mission in Kerala.

She joined the literacy mission as a temporary instructor and took the Vellilakkadu village by her hand to the magical world of letters. Even her mother and grandmother learnt letters from her and literacy units across the state came to know about the complete literacy achievement of Vellilakkadu village. Rabiya was of the opinion that mere literacy rate won’t be sufficient enough for the development of her region, so she emphasised on the need for getting engaged through jobs.

Development of Vellilakkadu village
With complete support from the villagers who were mostly potters by profession, she set up cottage industries, a publication group called ‘Chalanam’, vocational training programmes, tuition centres, village libraries, a school for the mentally retarded and deaf students, discussion and debate rooms, inter family get together, family counselling centre, reading promotion club, blood donation team, small investment plans and pain and palliative campaigns. Along with Rabiya, Vellilakkadu village was thus entering a new phase of development. The income from ‘Chalanam’ publications made her financially self sufficient and was able to meet the needs of those dependent on her.

The awards and recognitions which she received were numerous. She even won the UN international award in 2000. The other awards and recognitions which she received were Nehru Yuva Kendra Award [1992], National Youth Award [1993], Bajaj Trust award [1995], Ramashram Award [1996], Karunakara Menon Smaraka Award [1997], Jaysees Zone Award [1998], MSS Ahmed Maulavi Smaraka Award [1998], Junior Chamber International Award [2000], The central govt’s first Kannaki Sthree Shakthi Award, Kuwait Tahira Award [2000], IMA Award [2002], Yuva Kala Sahithi Award [2003], Kerala Handicapped Social Service Organisation Award [2004], Murimattathil Bava Award [2004], Star Friends Creation Literary Award, Riyadh [2006], Nahdi Malayalam Association Award [2007], Bhaskar Foundation Award [2008], Mahila Tilakam Award of the Kerala Social Welfare Ministry [2012].

Though in wheel chair, Rabiya involved in every spheres of the village life and had thus set an example for the whole state. She married her cousin brother and Rabiya was the second wife. Fate had a few more harsh games to play with her life as she was diagnosed with cancer when she was 32 and had her left breast removed as part of the treatment. When she was 34, she accidentally slipped in bathroom and damaged a few spinal nerves which almost dumped her into an inactive phase of life for years.

During those bedridden days she wrote a book named ‘Ente Mauna Nombarangal’ [my silent grievances] and after publishing it she was feeling tensed as she feared that the world might misunderstand – this book – as her life. The book reflected her state of mind and it was full of grievances. So she later wrote an autobiography named ‘Swapnangalkku Chirakukalund’ [dreams has wings] and was published by Lipi publications. The Kerala govt has included a part of her autobiography in the fifth standard Malayalam text book.

Now Rabiya is 46, her liver and kidneys are not functioning well, her words are not that crispy and continuous because of memory loss but her unending passion to serve others has now forced her to make a Documentary on her life and her village.

Documentary on her life and village
The documentary ‘Charitram Sakshi, Rabiya ennennum Jeevikkunnaval’ is intended at giving a message to the victims of fate so that they could stay bold despite physical challenges. “Since times everybody focused on portraying me as a literacy worker, so my other works and things which I had to convey to my society went unnoticed. My literacy works were just another part of my social service efforts. Every similar ventures which accompanied the literacy alleviation attempts, too was out of the ideal set by my prophet Muhammed [SAW]” says Rabiya

Talking on the relevance of her documentary she told TCN, “The inspiration indeed was Islamic values and the reward from the Almighty; so portraying my life by making use of the possibilities of visual media, I believe is a far more efficient form of Da’wath [invitation to Islam]. So by my life, the educational and social services I undertook, I have tried to practically live as a Muslim and now I feel this should stay as a source of inspiration for the world even after my death. Besides I would like to introduce my villagers and lot other good hearted comrades before the world, so that their lives could make more people interested in undertaking educational and social causes”.

“I am not sure whether I would live until its completion and not sure whether I could pay out the debt of around 15 lakhs spent on the documentary film before my death, as I have produced the film on my own. Another 10 lakh rupees is required to complete the rest visualisation, dubbing, editing, brochures and advertising. My Director Suresh Iringalloor has done justice to my dreams and ideas regarding this documentary, and we hope to telecast it in the Samasta EK Sunni owned channel, Darsana TV as episodes, within a few weeks” said Rabiya.

Married life
The feminists, intellectuals and writers favouring west have always attacked Islam over topics like Polygamy. I was married as the second wife to my cousin brother. By portraying my married life, the documentary has a role to prove regarding the purity of Polygamy; even in the present day world. The first wife was indeed possessive over him but what else would make a wife happy than the husband’s words like “Rabiya is the greatest asset in my life”, asks Rabiya. He was kind enough to give a life and wipe tears of a weakened, marginalised lady by accepting me as his wife. Polygamy in his life, Rabiya believes was not different from what is said in the religion. Understanding the emotions of first wife and husband, their married life, she believes if portrayed could be an ideal justification for Polygamy in Islam.

She always tried to hold intact family relations and her husband’s first wife too was not different and this she says as how said in the Holy Quran will bring Allah’s blessings and thus prosperity in to one’s life. She believes this was the only reason why she is able to meet the needs of her family members dependent on her, even in this bed ridden state.

She hopes that her documentary with its English subtitles would travel across the world and would take a blow at writers like Taslima Nasreen, keen on attacking Islam baselessly.

“It is a fact that people within the community are misusing such provisions within Islam, but that doesn’t mean such rules within the religion are to be discouraged and writers like Taslima should have the least sense to distinguish what is said in Islam and what it is now being practised by the vested interests within the community”, said Rabiya.

She will live forever
The profit from the documentary if any, after paying out the debts will be used for setting up a trust called Rabiya Foundation Trust. The trust is intended at supporting the sidelined and victimised lives of the society by continuing those educational and palliative services, she hopes.

Rabiya is proud as she quotes the recently demised, Kerala’s most eminent intellectual and literature giant Sukumar Azheekode who once said that, “The Pope of Catholic Church, Vatican might have easily stepped on to the procedures of canonizing and proclaiming Rabiya as Saint, if she was born a Christian”.

She considers her people’s affection, encouragements, criticisms and their respect for being the teacher who made them learn letters, as the biggest achievements in her life. Thus she is able to forget her physical pains on being loved and respected by her dear ones.

Rabiya lived on alphabets and words and so through the educational light which she had set for her people, she will live forever. (courtesy: Abdul Basith MA, TwoCircles.net)

The Sufi Courtyard: ‘Dargahs’ of Sufi masters in the centre of Sufism, Delhi

For centuries, the dargahs of Delhi have attracted large numbers of devotees belonging to different countries, faiths and backgrounds who seek spiritual solace and pray for their wishes to be granted. The magnetism of “dargahs” emanates from the personalities of the Sufi saints buried on the premises.

The wisdom of these Sufis and the quest for blessings and intercession with god are what continue to draw devotees to Sufi courtyards. Through a simple narrative that combines storytelling with a wealth of historical detail and stunning photographs, Sadia Dehlvi recreates the Sufi ethos of Delhi and also takes the readers on a journey through the famous and lesser-known dargahs of Delhi.

Discover the history of India s capital city through the fascinating lives and teachings of its Sufi saints The Sufi Courtyard takes you on a journey through the famous and lesser-known dargahs of Delhi. From the first Sufi centre established in Mehrauli by Khwaja Qutub Bakhtiar Kaki during the early days of the Delhi Sultanate to later nineteenth century Sufi retreats in the city, the author explores the spiritual, cultural and historical legacy of he Delhi Sufis, making this book as much about Delhi as it is about Sufism.

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Sadia Dehlvi’s guide to the lesser-known ‘dargahs’ in Delhi offers an insight into the different Sufi orders.

Please don’t call them shrines. That word does not fit into the Islamic context. These are dargahs. This city (Delhi), she says, has always been an important centre of the different Sufi orders called silsila. Delhi’s inclusive culture ensures that though Chishtis are the dominant order here, other orders such as Suharwardis, Qadris and Naqshbandis continue to have a presence.”

says Sadia Dehlvi, sitting in her second-floor Nizamuddin East apartment. The living room has a lived-in feel with musical instruments like the harmonium and tabla stacked up on one side and old black and white photographs framing the walls. Sufis are the heart of Islam, believes Dehlvi (she authored a book with the same name Sufism: The Heart of Islam in 2009), who took about three years to finish her latest book The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi.

In the book, Dehlvi explores the lesser-know dargahs of Sufi masters in the city, and briefly touches upon the different orders and their philosophies.

Providing an insight into the evolution of Sufi orders, she says:

“In early Islam, there were spiritual leaders with small groups of followers. Around the 11th century, these groups grew to a mass movement, with Sufi orders being formed around renowned Sufis. The orders came to be known by the name of their founder masters and spread all over the world. In the 13th century, Delhi became a centre of Sufism owing to the Sufis who migrated to the city after the Mongol invasions in Central Asia.”

We asked Dehlvi to choose dargahs from the four orders and explain why she thinks they are worth a visit. Edited extracts from the book:

Chishti order

Khwaja Qutub’s ‘dargah’, Mehrauli

The Sufi Courtyard— Dargahs of Delhi: HarperCollins India,252 pages, Rs 699.

The Sufi Courtyard— Dargahs of Delhi: HarperCollins India,252 pages, Rs. 699.

Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki established Delhi’s first Sufi centre in Mehrauli village in south Delhi in the 12th century. He was the spiritual successor of Ajmer’s Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who established the Chishti order, known for its traditions of music and inclusiveness, in South Asia.

Owing to Khwaja Qutub’s exalted rank, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti decreed that those who came to him in Ajmer must first pay homage to Khwaja Qutub. The tradition is still followed.

It’s said rulers may come and go, but Delhi will survive as long as thedargah of Khwaja Qutub exists. And so, almost all the emperors who ruled Delhi sought his blessings.

Mai Sahiba’s ‘dargah’, Adchini village

The dargah of Mai Sahiba.

The dargah of Mai Sahiba.

It’s a rare Sufi shrine dedicated to a woman (the other famous one is Bibi Fatima’s dargah in Kaka Nagar in central Delhi). Thedargah of Mai Sahiba, the mother of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, is in Adchini village. Women visit in large numbers. They believe Mai Sahiba cannot bear the sorrow of a woman and blesses her immediately. She died in 1250 and lies buried in the house where she lived.

Suharwardi order

Khwaja Makhdoom Samiuddin’s ‘dargah’, near Auliya Masjid in Mehrauli

In contrast to the Chishti doctrine of staying away from the state, Suharwardis believed it to be a religious duty to advise the state on policy matters. They always played an active role in Delhi politics. The Suharwardi order gained a stronghold in Delhi largely because of Khwaja Samiuddin and Jamali, his poet disciple.

A great scholar, Khwaja Samiuddin authored the Sufi manual Mifatah ul Asrar (Key to Divine Secrets). His tomb, which has a lovely green dome, is inscribed with a Persian couplet composed by Jamali.

Shaykh Jamali Dehlvi’s ‘dargah’, Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Hamid bin Fazalallah Jamali was the favourite khalifa of Khwaja Samiuddin. The mystic poet’s pen name was Jalal, meaning wrath, but he changed it to Jamali, meaning splendour, as advised by his spiritual mentor. Shaykh Jamali is buried close to Khwaja Samiuddin’s dargah. His mausoleum is decorated with ceramic work; its walls are inscribed with his verses. Thedargah remains locked, but the government-appointed caretaker, who has custody of the keys, opens it for visitors.

Qadri order

Shah/Shaykh Abdul Haq Muhaddith Dehlvi’s ‘dargah’, Mehrauli

The mausoleum of Shaykh Jamali Dehlvi.

The mausoleum of Shaykh Jamali Dehlvi.

The Qadri order in Delhi focused on spreading the teachings of its founder, Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad. He came to the Deccan in the late 14th century and arrived in Delhi in the 16th century, during the rule of Sikandar Lodhi. In the Capital, the Qadris are represented by Shah Abdul Haq Muhaddith Dehlvi, whose dargah is in Mehrauli.

Reaching there is complicated. A hundred yards north of the historical Hauz e Shamsi (a reservoir) is a road leading to Islam Colony, which takes you to Shaykh Dehlvi’s dargah.

He established his khanqah (spiritual retreat) in Delhi around 1611; it came to be called the Khanqah e Qadriya. The saint lived through the reign of Jehangir, teaching Hadith, the sayings of Prophet Muhammad.

Most of Shaykh Dehlvi’s writings attempt to reconcile Islamic jurisprudence with the Sufi path. Along with several other books of prose and poetry, he authored Jazb al Qulub ila diyar al Mahbub, a history of Madinah.

Naqshbandi order

Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan Shaheed’s ‘dargah‘, Turkman Gate, Old Delhi

The dargah of Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan Shaheed.

The dargah of Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan Shaheed.

Founded in Bukhara in Central Asia, this order is considered the most orthodox. For instance, it doesn’t allow the use of music to achieve spiritual ecstasy. The order came to Delhi through Khwaja Baaqi Billah, whose dargahis near Sadar Bazar in Old Delhi.

Born in 1699, the poet-mystic Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan Shaheed is another major figure in India’s Naqshbandi traditions.

From Turkman Gate, two roads lead into the interiors of the old city. A walk down the street by the side of Haj Manzil takes you to Chitli Qabar, a lane lined with shops. Further down, on the right side of the bifurcation, the domes of the mosques in the compound of Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan’s dargah are visible. A small winding alley leads to the large, quiet compound known as Khanqah e Mazhariya, where four graves lie under a domed enclosure. His descendants presently occupy the house where the poet-mystic lived. Devotees from all over the world come to attend religious gatherings at this important centre of the Naqshbandi Sufi order.

On completing his initial education in Agra, Mirza Mazhar became a disciple and khalifa of Syed Nur Muhammad Badayuni, a prominent Naqshbandi Sufi who lived in Delhi. Mirza Mazhar took an important step in representing Hinduism as a monotheistic tradition.

The poet successfully bridged the differences between religious orthodoxy and Sufism. Mirza Mazhar is recognized as one of the four pillars of 18th century Urdu poetry.

courtesy: Liveseema.c@livemint.com


The Sufi Courtyard— Dargahs of Delhi: HarperCollins India,252 pages, Rs. 699.

About the Author

Sadia Dehlvi is a well-known columnist who writes for leading publications of the subcontinent. Besides editing a monthly Urdu journal for women, she has produced and scripted a number of documentaries and television programmes. For over 30 years, Dehlvi has been engaged in voicing concern on issues regarding heritage, culture, women and Muslim communities