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Keepers of the Faith - Foreword by Ismail K Poonawala

A novel with a grand sweep of contemporary history


It is no easy task to survey and present a comprehensive view of the contemporary history of a close-knit Shia Muslim community to a broad public audience without compromising on the scholarly rigour demanded by the subtle nuances of that history. In an ambitious endeavour to do precisely that, Shaukat Ajmeri masterfully executes just such a task in his debut novel Keepers of the Faith, setting an exemplary standard that ought to be followed by aspiring writers in the genre of historical fiction.

However, it should be noted that the term 'fiction' as employed here ought to be understood in a restricted sense, as parts of the novel are anchored in the heartrending events that took place in Udaipur during the early seventies of the last century, the repercussions of which vibrate until today.

The novel commences with an innocent love story between Akbar and Rukhsana from Udaipur, proceeding through the strange twists and turns in their fortunes, moving to Bombay and finally culminating in America. The novel depicts in vivid detail a tale of separation and sorrow, not only for this young couple but also their extended families in addition to innumerable other members of their community, who are now scattered throughout the seven continents, a function of the draconian weapon of excommunication wielded mercilessly by the high priest. The latter’s vast powers, as critically analyzed by modern scholars, arise from the lethal combination of religious and economic influence which creates a huge problem not merely for the Momins but also for the State as well.

Keepers of the Faith is an inspiring and provocative novel. Ajmeri deserves full credit for his lucid style and thoughtful and philosophical reflections over the bewildering events that unfold. All the scenes vividly narrated come alive before the reader's eyes like a beautiful tableau painted by a skilful master painter. In my view, Keepers of the Faith should be read by all Momins conversant with English. It is hoped that soon the novel will be translated into Urdu, Gujarati and Hindi and other languages so that inquisitive readers all around the globe can also enjoy this masterpiece.

— Ismail K. Poonawala, Professor Emeritus of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.

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