“The essence of Sikhism, where God — termed Vahiguru — is shapeless, timeless, and sightless, can be summed up by these words of Guru Nanak: “Realization of Truth is higher than all else. Higher still is truthful living.”
The Toronto Sun
On Thursday, Sikh Canadians and millions in India and around the world will celebrate “Gurpurab” the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev (b. 1469), founder of the Sikh religion and one of the world’s great symbols of pluralism and tolerance.
Yet few outside India know the significance of this day.
So let this Muslim introduce you to the man who founded the world’s youngest religion, Sikhism, and who had a profound role in shaping my own Punjabi heritage.
Alas, one that was torn to shreds by the bloody partition of India in August, 1947.
The 5,000-year-old Indian civilization, born on the banks of the Indus and nurtured for many millennia by the River Ganges, still enchants the rest of the world.
The land of Krishna and the Vedas is the natural home to Hinduism, but under its umbrella it has nurtured the world’s major religions and provided refuge to those fleeing persecution.
Be they Zoroastrians from Persia, Thomas the Apostle, or the descendants of Prophet Muhammed escaping Arab Umayyad armies, India has accepted all without conditions and stands as a power that has never invaded its neighbours throughout its checkered history.
Among the great philosophers and thinkers that India gifted to the world are two who tower above the rest — Buddha and Guru Nanak Dev, the founders of Buddhism and Sikhism respectively.
While Buddha is well known in the West as a result of his creed and followers, Guru Nanak, whose birthday we celebrate on Thursday, is yet to be discovered by many.
Today, the place where Guru Nanak was born in 1469 is a city that was ethnically cleansed of its entire Sikh population during the bloodbath of 1947.
Nankana Sahib, a place where the Guru spent his childhood with Muslim and Hindu friends, is today a Bethlehem without Christians; a Medina without Muslims.
For a few days the town will bustle with Sikh pilgrims from Canada, India and all over the world, but soon they will depart and then, nary a turban will be seen until the Sikhs return next year.
It’s sad because Sikhism was historically intertwined with Islam and Muslims.
The Guru’s closest companion was a Muslim, Bhai Mardana.
It is said when Mardana was dying, the Guru asked him, “how would you like to die? As a Muslim?” To which the ailing Muslim replied, “As a human being”.
After the bloodbath of 1947, Muslim Punjabis lost their Sikh neighbours and family friends of generations.
Most of all, they lost their language that today languishes as a second-class tongue in its own home.
We Muslims kept Nankana Sahib, but lost the Guru.
The essence of Sikhism, where God — termed Vahiguru — is shapeless, timeless, and sightless, can be summed up by these words of Guru Nanak: “Realization of Truth is higher than all else. Higher still is truthful living.”
“We are all brothers,” he once said. “So there is no Hindu and no Muslim,” leaving these profound words of wisdom for his Muslim friends:
“Make mercy your Mosque,
Faith your Prayer Mat,
what is just and lawful your Qur’an,
Modesty your Circumcision,
and civility your Ramadan Fast.
So shall you be a Muslim.
Make right conduct your Ka’aba,
Truth your Pir (saint), and
good deeds your Kalma (oath of a Muslim) and prayers”.