Keepers of the Faith is set among the members of a small Muslim sect of India, ruled by an oppressive priesthood that demands absolute submission. When a section of the community rebels, the head priest's wrath comes crashing down upon them and a peaceful community is split into two.
The novel follows the fates of two teenage lovers who find themselves on opposite sides of the schism. Their dream of a happy life together is shattered and they are forced into separate destinies. Years later their paths cross again, presenting them with soul-destroying choices.
Ismail K. Poonawala is a prominent academic and scholar who has written exentsively on Ismaili history and philosophy. He is the Professor Emeritus of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. When he read Keepers of the Faith he liked it so much that he went on to write a foreword for it.
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 rigor demanded by the subtle nuances of that history. In an ambitious endeavor 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 readers eyes like a beautiful tableau painted by a skillful 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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