India’s Sufi pictorial takes Islam to children worldwide

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : “O Imam Ali, can you tell us how far it is to heaven?” asked a group of Muslim pilgrims to which the wise one replied, “Just Two Steps Away”… The cover of a new Islamic text reaches out to children worldwide with its witty quips.

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A pictorial anthology, “40 Sufi Comics” by Bangalore-based entrepreneurs and creative artists Arif and Ali Vakil, has brought anecdotes, fables, lessons and traditions from Islam and Sufism in English for younger generations of Muslims across the world.

The book, launched in the capital Feb 17, is already in use in madrassas – Islamic seminaries – across Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Africa and Dubai which have stocked their libraries.

The Islamic Shia Study Centre (ISSC) at West Madrasah in Ontario has included the book in the syllabus, said Ali Vakil.

The book has been translated into French, Russian, German and Indonesian.

“We decided to create the pictorial book three years ago. It started as an experiment. We were running a spiritual blog to share with friends and family. And we thought why not put the stories from Islam in the form of a picture book with Islamic texts and share it with the world,” Ali Vakil told IANS.

Vakil said the seeds of the book were sown during their (brothers Arif and Ali) childhood in Dubai.

“We went to school in the morning and a madrassa in the evening to study Islam. Our teachers would narrate stories of faith, wit, love, sacrifice and adventure. The stories stayed with us,” the young writer said.

The Vakil brothers have also launched an I-pad app of the book in colour strips.

“We are trying to get it translated in Persian and Urdu for use in India,” Vakil said.

The book is divided into five segments – “Ethics, Spirituality, Philosophy, Existence of God and References for Tradition”.

The book conveys Islam to children through “exchanges of simple and practical wisdom”.

“When a man asked the prophet to explain nobility of character to him, he replied, ‘It means that you should forgive him who wronged you, re-establish ties with him who has broken them off, give to him who has denied you something, and tell the truth even if it is against your own interests.”

The book even teaches the correct postures and thoughts for prayer in an illustrated section, “Secrets of Prayer Taught by Imam Jafar Sadiq”.

“When you face the Qiblah, you should despair of this world, what it contains of creation and what others are occupied with, empty your heart of all pre-occupation which might distract you from Allah,” the book teaches beginners, “Opening the Prayer”.

The anthology has culled its texts from “Prophetic Traditions in Islam”, “Nahjul Balaga”, a collection of sermons from Imam Ali, “Sahife Sajjadiya” from Psalms of Islam, “Lantern of the Path”, a collection of sayings by Imam Jafar Sadiq and Mizan Al-Hikmah, the scale of wisdom.

“We are working on the second volume of the Sufi comic in colour with short anecdotes,” he said. Islamic pictorial books are still unfamiliar in India, Vakil said.

Mumbai-based Goodword Islamic Books, is one of the biggest publishers of Islamic children books and pictorial texts in the country with categories like “Treasury of Stories From Quran”, “Tell Me About Series”, “Quran Stories from Little Hearts”, “Treasured Islamic Tales” and “Ramadan and Eid Stories”.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])