Symbols of the world's religions


Part 2


Timothy Conway

Babajan's given name at birth was Gul Rukh, meaning "like a rose." She was born to a royal Muslim Pathan family of Baluchistan in northwest India (now Afghanistan) perhaps as early as 1790. Growing up in relative luxury, Gul Rukh became a hafiza, that is, someone who learns to recite by heart Islam's sacred scripture, the Qur'an.

She lived a cloistered life in purdah, as was customary for a young Muslim woman, spending almost all her time in a few large, airy rooms lined with gorgeous rugs and tapestries, the rest of her time in a courtyard decorated with arabesques, plants and fountains.

Occasionally she would leave the house when family members might take her on one of those traditional Muslim "holy picnics" to the shrine of a local saint. She received good tutoring and grew fluent in Persian and Arabic, in addition to her native Pushtu. Along with engaging in the customary Muslim practice of formally praying five times a day, Gul Rukh spent much of her time reflecting on the exquisite 99 Names of Allah and the meaning of the more inspiring verses she had learned from the Qur'an.

Like other Muslims, she was undoubtedly struck by the power of the Arabic words, revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad through archangel Gabriel during the years 610 to 632 of the Common Era.

Contemplating the majesty and glory of Allah must have plunged Gul Rukh into the depths of mystical consciousness, for at age 18, this beautiful Muslim princess did the unimaginable: she fled an arranged marriage proposal before it bound her to the world, and, leaving behind all her aristocratic comfort, privilege, and security, she took up the life of a nomad. Trekking by herself along a northeast direction, high into the awesome Hindu-Kush mountains, Gul Rukh crossed over the Khyber Pass, and meandered down through rugged territory into the fabled Indus River valley.

This spiritual adventures then continued her way through territory further east to Peshawar, and on a Rawalpindi, about 100 miles to the southeast. (Both are now in Pakistan.)

Along her route over rock paths and dusty roads, a dangerous journey for a young, single woman in a masculine world, Gul Rukh may have been guided to meet sages and saints living in caves, in hermitages, or in meeting places within the towns. They would communicate to her the deeply spiritual Sufi teachings and practices behind the facade of an exoteric, pseudo-mystical "Sufism" that had spread throughout the Muslim world over the recent centuries.


1994 © Timothy Conway, Ph.D.


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