Interfaith Promotion by Sikhism
Nanak Singh Nishter
Unka jo kaam hai wo ahale siasat jane
Mera paigham mohabbat hai jahaan tak pahunche.
I congratulate and express deep gratitude to Dr Sardar Jaspal Singh ji Vice Chancellor of Punjabi University Patiala and Dr Sardar Jodh Singh ji Director for their foresight and wisdom in convening this Seminar at the most crucial juncture in history. This humane crusade at this hour of need is a dire need for human society, irrespective of the stage of development.
We have gathered here visualizing that the world is standing at the mouth of a volcano. I believe that our purpose should not be merely showing concern but also to suggest workable remedies to save the planet and its people from destruction. We presume that we are helpless in persuading governments and other state and non-state players. To a large extent this is true, yet we cannot shut our eyes and be passive spectators, we have to be responsible citizens. We can surely work to plug the gaps and create a climate of mutual understanding between religious communities. A first step in this direction is educating religious leaders and then the masses through interfaith dialogues.
Though, from time immemorial, man has been fighting with each other in the Name of God. Religious crusades have been responsible for many a conflict and bloodshed may be even more than through other social and political disputes, there is perceptible change in the air. People and nations are beginning to realize the importance and significance of mutual understanding of religions, alongside projection, profession and propagation of their respective religion.
The root cause of religious disputes was the misinterpretation of one’s religion and miscarriage of the spirit of the same combined with narrow-mindedness, controversies, hatred and conflicts. One side of the coin is to believe that, “My religion is the best of all religions of the world.” It is undoubtedly a correct statement; otherwise one would not have been the follower of one’s own religion. This conviction is hundred per cent correct, but for the individual believer, it is neither meant nor can be enforced or imposed on others. The other side of the coin is that, many religions and faiths exist under the WILL OF GOD.
More than a hundred years ago, sincere efforts for Interfaith Dialogue began with the setting up on the common platform under the nomenclature of World Parliament of Religions in 1893 in Chicago, U.S.A. Though Inter-faith meetings and interfaith dialogues have started all over the globe, but a common strain of affinity, mutual understanding, peace and harmony is still a long way to go.
Worth of Religion
To meet the challenges posed by the adverse circumstances and to stand for the “Freedom of Faith”, more than five centuries ago, when no modern facilities of conveyance were available, Shri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji travelled nearly forty thousand miles across the world and held several interfaith dialogues. To achieve this mission, he emphasized upon fundamentals, rising above the diversities of traditions, rituals and customs practised in the name of religion. He appreciated similarities and pleaded for the need to follow one’s respective religion in true letter and spirit of one’s Scriptures. He condemned negative attitude and ill feelings towards other religions. He was the first crusader for “Freedom of Faith” and staunchly defended the rights of religious practices of all, with all his might and focused mission. He not only promoted religious togetherness and tolerance but also strongly advocated equal respect for all religions. His mission was tremendously effective in bringing a sense of peaceful co-existence among the warring Hindu and Muslim communities in the Indian sub-continent; otherwise any one out of the two would have perished. He invented a new dimension to view religion. Guru Sahib says on page 142 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib:
jwqI dY ikAw hiQ, scu prKIAY ]
mhurw hovY hiQ, mrIAY cKIAY ]
This means, “See the worth of religion. The poisons are in your hand, taste and see how religion can save you, from its effects of death? Similarly, bad deeds are certainly to be punished. There is no remedy or source; by which you can escape from it.” This is the crystal clear verdict given by the founder of Sikhism. This is now accepted and universally practiced convention by each and every society and state all over the globe.
Guru Sahib was born to high caste Khatri parents of Hindu religion. At the early age of eleven, he refused to wear the Janevu (sacred thread meant for high caste Hindus). He posed a question to entire humanity divided into castes and religions, “How do you differentiate from person to person by virtue of his birth when all are equal and created by One and the same Creator?” In a simple way he condemned any religious tag for himself. He introduced a novel system for his long-term mission that could not be completed in one human life. It had to be completed and carried out by his nine successor Gurus in physical body and subsequently to be preserved eternally in the form of “Shabad” i.e., word, hymns, knowledge as selected, approved and compiled in an interfaith volume, by the founders themselves in the Scripture Guru of Shri Guru Granth Sahib.
Personal Religion of Guru Sahib
The founder Guru, Shri Guru Nanak Sahib invented and propagated a strange slogan about religion, which was never heard before. He said, “Na ko Hindu – Na Musalman”, means that nobody is a Hindu nor a Muslim; everybody is human. ‘Brotherhood of man and fatherhood of God’ was his message.
After hearing his views about religion, people became curious to know about Shri Guru Nanak Sahib’s personal religion. The beautiful answer in his own words is inscribed on page 353 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib. It reads, “The True Name of God is my caste and religion. Good deeds, righteousness and self control are my rituals.”
hmrI jwiq piq scu nwau]
krm, Drm, sMjmu, sq Bwau]
The 3rd Guru Shri Guru Amardas Ji says on page 853 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji that, “This world is burning on fire. O God, be merciful, and save all those who ever comes out from any passage, means through different religions and faiths.”
jgqu jlMdw riK lY AwpxI ikrpw Dwir]
ijqu duAwrY aubrY iqqY lYhu aubwir]
The 5th Guru, Shri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji says on page 1136 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji that, “We are neither Hindu nor Muslim. We are the soul and body of Allah and Ram i.e., all pervading God not the Shri Ram of Ayodhiah.” He categorically denied belonging to any of the religion, and particularly disassociated with Hindu and Muslim religions.
nw hm ihMdU n muslmwn]
Alh rwm ky ipMfu prwn]
Respect for All Religions & Scriptures
He further says on page 266 that, “Of all the religions, the best religion is to always remember the Name of God and do good deeds.”
srb Drm mih sRyst Drmu]
hir ko nwmu jip inrml krmu]
None of the Sikh Gurus ever said that the faith introduced by them was the only and the best of all religions. They respected all religions and declared all to be equally good. Regarding the authenticity and worth of all, in the scriptures, Bhagat Kabir Ji declares on page 1350 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji that, “Do not say the Scriptures of Semitic or Indian religions are false. False is he, who does not reflect upon them correctly.”
byd kqyb khhu mq JUTy]
JUTw jo nw ibcwrY]
The tenth Guru, Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji declared unambiguously on page 19 of Shri Dasam Granth Sahib saying, “Realize the truth that all human beings belong to one religion.”
ihMdU, qurk, koaU, rwPzI, iemwmswPI ]
mwns kI jwq, sBY eykY pihcwnbo ]
He coined a new name for the Sikhs to distinguish them independently as “Wahguru Ji Ka Khalsa”, indicating the peculiar characteristics of faith, philosophy and true concept by improving the then popularly prevalent names as Nanak Panthi, Nanak Prasat (believers of Nanak) and falsely propagated to be an offshoot of Hinduism. Before concluding succession of the Guruship in physical body, he formulated certain rules and regulations for the followers of this organization, converted it into a discipline to save it from any infiltration. To continue this crusade of inter-faith understanding, he conferred succession of Guruship to Shri Aad Granth Sahib, thus elevating the status of a revered Scripture Shri Aad Granth to the most holy status of the eternal Guru as the Shri Guru Granth Sahib.
Collection and Compilation of Interfaith Scripture
Undoubtedly, it took 135 years to gather the material for “Shri Aad Granth Sahib.” The first five Gurus collected and compiled the gospels of God, revealed to the 35 pious souls who lived and experimented in human laboratories for the benefit of all humankind. It was inscribed for five years from 1599 to 1604 at Amritsar, under the direct supervision of the fifth Guru Sahib. And the tenth Guru Sahib added the hymns of the ninth Guru - Shri Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji in the year 1705 at Takhat Damdama Sahib, Bhatinda, Punjab. The tenth Guru – Guru Gobind Singh Sahib bestowed the succession of Guruship to “Shri Aad Granth Sahib in 1708 at Takhat Shri Hazur Sahib, Nanded, Maharashtra.
This digest contains multi-religious and multi-lingual teachings spread over a span of five centuries from Baba Sheikh Farid Ji (1175-1265) to Shri Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji (1621-1675). This vast canvass includes the most memorable pieces of work from each nook and corner of the Indian sub-continent. This is written in Gurmukhi script, specially developed for the purpose of scribing the multilingual spoken languages into one script. Thus has made the single Scripture of 1430 large size pages, a vast library by itself.
For this interfaith dialogue, scholars from different religions are sitting on a dais to speak about the subject for a few hours before these audiences in a hall. The marvelous beauty of this Scripture is that from a single source, 6 Sikh Gurus and 1 Sikh preaches their followers. 7 Muslims preach Islam. 2 so-called untouchables preach the true worship of God. The remaining 20 from different denominations of Hinduism preach the forgotten and true fundamentals, misinterpreted by the priestly class. All of them advocate how to lead a spiritual and temporal life, living and performing one’s family duties and at the same time, how to attain salvation or assimilate into the Ultimate Creator. Even today, the process of interfaith dialogue started four centuries back in a single volume continues to facilitate mankind and will be there for all times to come.
Sikh Relations with Hindus & Muslims
Sikhism is largely acknowledged as a movement, saviour of common man against all sorts of oppressions from the society and state. Justice P.K. Shyamsunder, then sitting judge of Karnataka High Court, and a former Chairman, National Commission for Backward Classes, Government of India, has made an observation in the “Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Violent Clashes in Bidar Town (against Sikhs)”, appointed and accepted by the Government of Karnataka, in which six Sikh students were killed in September 1988. He held on page 63 of the report published by the Government of Karnataka that, “When the might of the Government despite the efforts made, had not been able to remedy the situation, a citizen can only pray for restoration of amity and brotherhood among our Sikh brethren whose religion itself was founded to save Hinduism from extinction, following the savage onslaught of Mughals.”
In the book “Freedom at Midnight” the authors Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins have on page 424 of the fourth reprint 2000 quoted that: “The Sikhs’ tenth guru has specifically enjoined his followers against sexual intercourse with Moslem women.” As a mark of respect for the women and morals for the disciples, adultery is strictly prohibited in Sikhism. And particularly mentioning about the Muslim women shows his deep regards for the people fighting against him. Another reason appears to be, as most of the Hindus who have been persecuted by the Muslims and embraced Sikhism did so to settle their scores. So that they should not be allowed to be revengeful towards the Muslim women, which generally happens in the event of battles with the opposite group on the other side.
No doubt Sikhism stood against tyranny and oppression. It was a religious war in the sense that the Sikhs were inspired by religious ideals to fight against the oppression of the Muslim rulers. It was to defend the genuine human rights of the Hindus who were then oppressed, but not a religious war in the sense of fight against the Muslims or Islam. For it was definitely not. It is a pity that most of the historians out of ignorance or mischief have sought to make out that the Sikhs were against Muslims.
Sikh Shrines in Muslim Names
One may not find any religious shrines and institutions in the name of the person professing another religion. Undoubtedly, this is the unchallenged sole propriety of the Sikhs.
There is a Gurdwara Moulavi Patti Likhi, at Nankana Sahib, now in Pakistan, where Shri Guru Nanak Sahib learnt Persian and Arabic from the Moulivi. A Gurdwara Majnu Ka Tilla is located at Delhi, in the name of a Sufi saint, with whom the 1st Guru Sahib had interacted. There are many more Gurdwaras in the name of Muslims in Punjab, such as Gurdwra Farid Tilla, at Farid Kot and Gurdwara Haji Rattan at Bhatinda, so on and so forth. The name of the University Guest House of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, is named as “Sheikh Sajjan Guest House.” Another name of University Guest House of Punjabi University, Patiala, is named as “Waris Bhavan”, in the name of Waris Shah. There are many more such Sikh institutions named after Muslims.
Gurdwara Mata Kaulan is built in the name of Bibi Kaulan. She was the daughter of Rustam Khan, Qazi of Lahore. She was influenced by the Sikh ideology knowing through Hazrat Miyan Mir who laid the foundation stone of Shri Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, Amritsar. When her father wanted to get her married she sent a word to Guru Sahib to rescue her. The 6th Guru Shri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji deputed his confidant Sikhs to bring her to Amritsar from Lahore. She spent her remaining years in the vicinity of Shri Harmandir Sahib, learning and preaching the teachings of “Shri Aad Granth Sahib.” There Guru Sahib constructed a pond in her memory and named it “Kaul Sar”, and later the Sikhs constructed a Gurudwra, where she stayed on during her remaining life.
In Sadhuara, of district Yamuna Nagar of Haryana Pradesh a “Gurdwara Yaadgar (memorial) Pir Budhu Shah” is built in memory of Pir Sahib’s sacrifice at that place. On 21st March 1704, Pir Sahib was brutally tortured and killed by cutting away the various parts of his body one after another by the Governor of Sadhuara Mohammad Osman Khan for his association with Guru Sahib. Later his entire family was hunted and killed by Moghal army leaving none behind. In the same village, there is another Gurdwara built at the place of birth of Pir Sahib named as “Gurdwara Janam Asthan Shaheed Pir Budhu Shah Ji.”
There is a Gurdwara Ghani Khan Nabi Khan, at a village Machiwada, about 35 kilometres from Ludhiana, Punjab. These two brothers lived there. After the battle of Chamkaur, Guru Sahib was passing by that side. When they came to know of the arrival of Guru Sahib along with three Sikhs, Bhai Daya Singh Ji, Bhai Dharam Singh Ji and Bhai Mann Singh Ji, and took them to their house.
For safe passage out of Machiwada, these two Khan Brothers and two Sikhs carried Guru Sahib on their shoulders in a palanquin, and one Sikh flying the whisk from behind. All dressed like Muslims and disguising Guru Sahib as a Pir (Muslim divine) from Uchch, an old seat of Muslim Saints near Multan in the south east Punjab (now in Pakistan) visiting his disciples in this area.
Gurdwara Bibi Mumtaz is located at a village, Badi Pind, near Ropar, Punjab. This Gurdwara is built in the memory of Bibi Mumtaz Begum. She was a daughter of Nawab Nihang Khan of Kotla Nihang Village of Ropar district, who was a great admirer of Guru Sahib. She was not married but engaged to a Muslim Noble.
In December 1705, after evacuation of the Anand Pur Sahib fort, as a strategy, Sikhs dispersed in different sides in groups and all were chased and attacked contrary to the oath sworn by the Imperial levies. A group of one hundred Sikhs led by Bhai Bachitar Singh was killed in a battle. Another group led by Sahibzada Ajit Singh Ji reached the place and found Bhai Bachitar Singh still breathing. They brought him to the place of Nihang Khan for treatment and left there, as he was seriously injured and not in a condition to travel. The Mughal forces came to his fort and asked for a search of the Sikhs. He denied that any Sikh had taken shelter at his fort. During the search, they found one room bolted from inside. On asking, Nihang Khan said that his son-in-law and daughter were in that room. The forces left without search of that particular room. After few days Bhai Sahib could not survive. Nihang Khan performed the cremation of the body in his fort. Bibi Mumtaz remained unmarried and lived like a widow of Bahi Bachitar Singh Ji. This Gurdwara Bibi Mumtaz is built in her memory, in the fort where she stayed for her remaining life.
The interesting question to be debated is when religious tolerance is taught and practised by all religions, then what is new in Sikhism? The basic difference and uniqueness is that, Sikhism teaches not only to tolerate but also to respect all religions and their Scriptures, to venerate them and consider them valid. Sikhism is not a missionary religion inviting and inducing people to shun off the religion in which they were born and embrace Sikhism as the only way of salvation. Sikhism does not advocate proactive conversion, nor do Sikhs or Sikh organizations indulge in it. Otherwise, if anybody is inclined by his or her own conviction, he is welcome.
To appreciate my presentation in the correct perspective, it may not be out of context to quote a few instances of intolerance in India. I do not mean that the religions are responsible for it, but some of the followers are definitely to be blamed for it. Buddhism was dastardly forced out completely by Hinduism from its own birth place, India. The Sikhs were respected and admired till they fought against the mighty empires of Moghals and the British to relieve them from slavery. Soon after liberation, the communal elements of Hindus started a long term policy of assimilating or eliminating the Sikhs, which is still in rigorous progress. This was witnessed in the shape of Genocidal attacks on Sikhs throughout the country, and harassment all over the globe, during the two decades of seventies and eighties. The present Islamic, Christian and Buddhist crusade for conversions and “Shudhi Movement” of the Hindus are practical demonstrations of intolerance of other religions.
During the Mughal period, the rapidly growing numbers of Sikhs was considered a threat by the powers that be, and the Muslim rulers severely persecuted the Sikhs and their two Gurus, and also declared fabulous prizes on the heads of the Sikhs to the extent of extinction. On the other hand, when the Sikhs came to power, they extended military help to the Muslim rulers thousands of miles away at the cost of suffering to their families and their lives. It happened in the eighteenth century, to the Nawab of Rampur (Uttar Pradesh), to Haider Ali of Mysore (Karnataka), and in 1830 to the Nizam of Hyderabad.
In recent times, we have witnessed the episode of “Guru Ki Maseet.” The mosque was built by the sixth Guru, Shri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, even after the torturous execution of his father the fifth Guru, Shri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji at the hands of Emperor Jahangir. This was built by the Daswandh money and Kar Seva (physical labour) of the Sikhs, at Hargobind Pur in Gurdaspur district of Punjab in the year 1634, and was popularly known as “Guru Ki Maseet.” In 1947 at the time of partition of the country, the Muslims evacuated the village and the mosque was abandoned. The Sikhs converted this structure of mosque into Gurdwara, and named it as “Gurdwara Guru Ki Maseet”, retaining the name of mosque with it. In the year 2003, some Muslims came to settle in the village, and then the Sikhs voluntarily vacated the Gurdwara and handed it over to the Muslims restoring once again to its past glory of “Guru Ki Maseet.”
This shows the magnanimity of the Sikhs even towards the community, by whom they were persecuted for sufficiently long period leading to their near extinction. My intention is not to hurt anyone’s sentiments, but to drive home my contention as to how Sikhism respects all religions alike and its unparallel uniqueness in doing so.
Babri Masjid Episode
I would like to take you to the recent Babari Masjid Episode, which is fresh in your minds. In the year 1988 the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of its then president Shri Lal Krishan Advani (who later became Home Minister of India) undertook a Rath Yatra throughout the country to mobilize public opinion in favour of constructing Shri Ram Mandir at the site where Babari Masjid was located at Ayodhya, in the Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh. When the Rath Yatra entered Delhi, the BJP activists wanted that Shri Advani should be blessed at Gurdwara Sis Gunj Sahib, Chandni Chowk. This shrine is the place where the ninth Guru, Shri Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji sacrificed his life for “Freedom of Religious Faith” of the Hindus. They persuaded the Delhi Gurdwara Management to confer him with a Saropa (Sikh religious honour), but they were refused as he was on a mission, which was against the tenets of Sikhism. One B.J.P. activist Avtar Singh Hitt who was also Gurdwara office-bearer, lead the convoy to Gurdwara Sahib. Seeing an unwarranted situation, all the management people and senior priests left the place. Only a junior Granthi (priest) Bhai Nodh Singh was left behind, as he was on duty and could not leave the place.
When Shri Advani paid his obeisance at Gurdwara Sahib, Shri Hitt who was also holding position in management insisted the Junior Granthi to confer him with a Saropa, Bhai Nodh Singh refused. There was a provision of conferring a Saropa to a devotee who offers more than 500 rupees. Taking advantage of this provision Shri Hitt paid Rs.500/- got a receipt in the name of Shri Lal Krishan Advani and produced that receipt and compelled him to confer a Saropa. The Junior Granthi was alone and could not refuse this back-door approach, as that was the custom which was followed for all. Ultimately he conferred a saropa to Shri Advani, which got undue publicity, concealing the fact and circumstances.
This is not the end of the tale; there is another significant twist to the story. Bhai Nodh Singh was placed under suspension and given show cause notice of removal from service for conferring saropa to Shri Advani who was on a mission contrary to the tenets of Sikhism. In his reply, he explained the situation and the provision of offering Rs.500/- under which he was forced by Shri Avtar Singh Hitt to give the Saropa. This explanation did not satisfy the Gurdwara Management and this poor fellow was dismissed from service. However this news could not get suitable publicity, as the majority community people who govern the media did not attach any importance to this development. On the contrary, it was against their interest. The tragic aspect is that even the Muslim media did not highlight this event, which could have served as an example of support of their cause.
Protection of the oppressed is one of the main objectives of Sikhism for which throughout their history they have held a brave stand and have sacrificed their lives too. On the one hand, three centuries back, they confronted the Muslim rulers for the religious freedom of Hindus. On the other hand they stood for the same cause in protecting the religious freedom of the Muslims in the last decade of twentieth century.
Role in World Peace
In what way can interfaith understanding help to bring world peace, continues to confront the world community today. As we deal today in this Seminar, it is widely acknowledged by all except atheists that practicing and following the religions and faiths in letter and spirit of their respective Scriptures definitely brings peace of mind, heart and soul. However, no one can deny the significance of the proverb, “We reap as we sow.” Can we deny that we are reaping world restlessness and turmoil because of the seeds of discord and enmity that we have sown?
In England, monarchs and governments were under the control of churches; in the name of secularism they obtained liberation from the church. In other words, they were decontrolled by the churches. At the same time, the term secularism in no way denotes to become irreligious. This word is not for the individuals, but means that the state does not have any religion, subjects of the nation or government will not be discriminated on the basis of their religion and will enjoy the equal rights of practising their religions. But unfortunately, most of the people have become secular and disowned practising religion, nations and governments have been made communal by the dominant majority communities.
Due to exploitation at the hands of people with vested interests - priests, preachers and politicians, a sense of resentment took the form of extreme hostility against religion in certain cases. Some other people without studying the Scriptures started following superficial and superstitious rituals as religion. This has resulted in boosting the evil effects further more.
The positive effects of religions are beautifully described in Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji on page 345 by Bhagat Ravi Das Ji.
byygmpurw shr ko nwau]
dUK, AMdohu nhI iqih Twau]
nW qsvIs iKrwju n mwlu]
KauPu n Kqw n qrmu jvwlu]1]
Ab moih KUb vqn rwh pweI]
aUhW KYir sdw myry BweI]1]rhwau]
It means, “The name of the city is ‘worriless city’. Pain and grief do not have any place there. No botheration about payment of taxes in money and material.
Neither fear, nor error, nor dread nor decline is there. I have become a native of such a great city. O my brother, wellbeing always prevails there.”
On page 522 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Shri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji has shown a simple spiritual way to get rid of worries. He says, “O mortal, do rightful efforts for earning and enjoy the comforts of life. Nanak says, by always remembering in this way, all your worries will be wiped off and you will be assimilated into God.”
audmu kryidAw jIau qUM kmwvidAw suK BuMcu ]
iDAwieidAw qUM pRBU imlu nwnk auqrI icMq ]
If people are made to understand the true values and the results of practising their own religion in letter and spirit of Scriptures, without interfering and criticizing other religions, they can enjoy the pleasure of living in heaven in the present life and on earth itself, in eternal bliss as described in Shri Guru Granth Sahib. When we ourselves live in peace, we can also distribute peace to others, thus creating an atmosphere of live and let live, in peace and pleasure to make the world a paradise.
Let us resolve to promote practicing spirituality in our own lives to attain peace in our own soul, mind and heart for achieving world peace at large. As said,
Dharam (faith) protects those, who practise Dharam in their life.”
“Dharmo rakshati rakshitaha.”