Rajeev Sharma is a Marwari and Hindi writer from Rajasthan who has recently published his retelling of Prophet Muhammad’s story in Marwari. He has previously written several books but his choice of subject for his latest book has left some in Rajasthan, the state where the language is widely spoken, intrigued. The Wire caught up with the young author to ask him a few questions about him and the book.
Tell us something about your reasons for having written a book on the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Why were you interested in this subject?
It was about 15 years ago, when I was in 9th standard, that I started a library in my native village. While reading books is considered a major task in schools, I have always been very interested in reading. Because of my deep interest in reading I got an opportunity to read many books of a diverse nature, ranging from comics to mythological books. During that time I found a pocket book depicting the life of Prophet Muhammad. It was when I was reading that, that I realised he spent his whole life struggling against negativity, but despite all the sad events in his life, his belief in God was as strong as a rock.
Apart from finding the book, two other incidents shaped my interest in the Prophet. I am from a Hindu-Brahmin family, but have always tried to protest against bad rituals and the ways of these so-called godmen, which ultimately only benefit them. In my village there was a priest who also worked as a moneylender. He would give out loans to villagers on sky-high interest rates. At times, the interest would have risen to lakhs, when the principal was only a few thousand rupees. Seeing him ruin the lives of people in the village, I was reminded of how Prophet Muhammad was one person who had clearly said that taking interest was a sin. He said it was motivated by evil.
Another time I had heard the story of a girl who was born in our family. When she was barely 5 years old, the family fixed her marriage because in the eyes of priests, marrying a girl before 12 years of age was a dharma vivaah! As luck would have it, at the time of the marriage itself her groom died. The priest then decided that the girl would live her life as the man’s widow. This incident always made me sad, and again I found resonance in the life of Prophet Muhammad, who had married a widow.
Do you feel that Muslims and Hindus in India do not read enough about each other’s cultures and beliefs?
Yes, that is true. Some people consider each other’s holy books as untouchable and most do not bother knowing about each other. Studying or knowing about some other religion or prophet and following their goodness doesn’t mean that you are going to change your own religion. I firmly believe in Prophet Muhammad, and I accept that he was a prophet of God. While I try to follow his teachings, I am as Hindu today as on the first day of my life. Youngsters should be motivated to study more about different religions, their teachings, and their beliefs. My younger brother read about Islamic banking in a finance journal and motivated me to write a book on the life of Prophet Muhammad.
How did you come across information regarding the Prophet? What is the source of the information in your book?
I studied lot of books to research his life. Some are them were authored by writers from Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even India. The Internet is also a good source of information.
Have you always been interested in the history of Islam and the life of the Prophet, or was there any incident that pushed you towards reading about this subject?
No, I was not always interested in Islam and the life of Prophet Muhammad. Like many others, my knowledge was limited to the basics. There wasn’t a single Muslim home in my village, and so exposure to the religion and its practices was limited. When I started my library and read a book on the Prophet, I decided to read more, and realized that my thoughts resonated with his writings. I wanted everyone to know his story then.
What do you think about the incidents of violence that take place between Hindus and Muslims in the country?
The reason for violence between Hindus and Muslims is simply misconceptions about each other and a sense of superiority regarding our own beliefs. All of us read religious books but rarely do we implement their messages in our life. The reading is akin to reading for examinations – for marks and not for knowledge. If you read the Quran, you will find words of peace and kindness. Hindu books clearly say preach that the world is our family and we know Jesus was praying for even the forgiveness of those who were crucifying him. These religious messages are what people should preach and practice in today’s world.
Have you faced any problems because of the subject of your book? What were the sort of objections that you faced in writing the book?
As I completed this book and was preparing to publish it on my blog, I was not scared or confused because I knew I was writing the truth. There is no need to be scared of saying the truth. My family members were fully supportive of the idea and people liked the book more than I had expected.
While I received messages praising the book from all over the world, I did receive some hate mail. People are calling for me to be shot or hanged, and some have even suggested I join the ISIS! Those e-mails really disappointed me. Was this the reward for writing about the Prophet? While interestingly none of the hate mail came from Muslims, I believe that those who post these messages are against the idea of peace, and cannot belong to any religion, because no religion in the world is opposed to peace.
The book is available online for free currently. Are there any plans to publish the book? How has the response been so far?
The response so far has been overwhelming in the e-format, but I think the book should get published in print too. I haven’t yet looked for a publisher but if a good publisher is ready then I would like to get it published.
Have you previously written other books in Marwari or translated works to Marwari? What were the subjects of these books?
Yes, Marwari is my mother-tongue. My first composition in Marwari was the translation of the Hanuman Chalisa. I have translated the stories of Tolstoy, letters written by Abraham Lincoln and teachings of Jainism among other things. I have also written several books in Hindi, all of which are available on my website.
What is the state of the Marwari publishing industry?
The situation is quite bad. It is difficult to even find bookstores that sell Marwari books in the entire state of Rajasthan. Marwari books are generally unavailable, and the younger crowd assumes they are for people of past generations. This can be corrected though, if books were more easily available.
From starting it to finally publishing it online, what was the most difficult aspect of writing such a unique book?
Writing and publishing the book have surprisingly been the easier parts. The problems for me started after the book was online. While some relatives assumed I had converted to Islam, others suggested avoiding topics that were related to other religions. A lot of people talk about this behind my back, but after a while you learn to laugh about it.
Are there any plans to write another book? Will the subject of the next book also be related to Islam?
Yes, I would definitely like to write more books. I want to write about the teachings of the Quran, which I think would be useful for everyone. I am also planning to write a book on Prophet Muhammad’s associates and people close to him. I want these books to be available in English and Hindi, too, along with Marwari.