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Faith and Spiritual Conversion


Amlan Dasgupta

THE LAMP OF LOVE: JOURNEYING WITH THE SABRI BROTHERS
By Amanullah Armstrong Chishti
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2005, pp. 147, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 5 May 2006

The Lamp of Love is an account of the writer’s experiences of travel, first to Pakistan, and then with the famous Pakistani qawwali singers, the Sabri brothers, to various Sufi shrines in India and Pakistan. The work is however neither a travelogue in the conventional sense nor a book about music: it is best described as a personal account of faith and spiritual conversion. The account is unusual, to say the least: the writer was an Australian national, and she describes how she experienced a vision of the late Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri, which drew her to the Sabri family with whom she finds a new home. The cultural and familial transposition is interlarded with the story of a gradual absorption in the spiritual realm of the Chishti silsila or tradition. Visions, dreams and miracles figure largely in the account. The book we have is the fulfilment of a mandate received in a vision; however, the author’s engagement with Islam appears to be of longer standing. That too, we are informed enigmatically, came out of a dream.   It is difficult to assess a book so uncompromisingly based upon belief in terms of autobiography or travel narrative. The journey, as Amatullah Armstrong Chishti makes it clear to us, is to be mapped in spiritual terms. As one might expect in a narrative of this kind, it is punctuated by moments of crisis or epiphanic vision. The point of the book appears to be its description of the writer’s discovery and engagement with the Sufi tradition. The book gives an account of Sufi devotional practices, especially about the part played by music. Sufi saints and their legendary histories feature largely in the account. The book however makes no claim to objectivity: the writer’s interest is entirely in the Sabri clan and their music. One should not therefore expect a coherent account of the qawwali tradition and its phenomenal spread throughout the world in recent times. What we have instead close personal vignettes of the Sabri brothers, especially of Mehmood Ghaznavi Sabri; though the book does not make this explicit, the journey that begins with the vision of Haji Ghulam Farid ends in the marriage of the author with Mehmood Sabri. The style of the book is elliptic and sometimes extravagant. The past and the present merge, making it difficult to reconstruct a chronology of events, but that is ...


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