In the context of the upcoming Kartarpur Corridor between India and Pakistan, this post shall attempt to analyse Guru Nanak and some of the teachings of Sikhism in general as enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib from a Subaltern & Islamic perspective.
The Kartarpur Corridor between India and Pakistan is scheduled for inauguration on 9 November 2019 which coincides with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak-the first Guru of the Sikhs who is often portrayed as the preacher of universal brotherhood and who is also credited for bringing the Hindus and the Muslims closer in those times. There is a lot of excitement in the air about the opening of the corridor as it will facilitate a visa-free travel for Indian pilgrims especially the Sikhs to visit the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan which is the final resting place of their Guru.
Guru Nanak’s Family Background
Guru Nanak was born in a rich merchant family of ‘Khatri Baniyas’-a sub-caste of the Vaishyas. In fact, all Gurus of the Sikhs come from the same caste of the Baniya community.
Nanak’s father was also a revenue accountant at Talwandi in the Lahore Suba of the Delhi Sultanate (present day Nankana Sahib, Punjab Province, Pakistan). He tried to groom his child for his profitable business but Nanak did not take any interest in that due to his spiritual inclinations. He later left his home and traveled to prominent religious shrines of all religions in India and abroad. He is said to have been deeply influenced by Islam and its egalitarian principles, monotheism, brotherhood, etc even though he was critical about the allegedly oppressive conduct of invading Mughals. It remains a mystery however if he reverted back to Islam even though he often donned a robe which had the Islamic testimony of faith inscribed on it. He is said to have spent his entire life in preaching about monotheism, universal brotherhood, Hindu-Muslim unity, etc in colloquial tongues.
It is said that followers of all faith were attracted to his plain & simple teachings and over a period of time they grew so attached to him that when he died, a fight ensued between his Muslim & Hindu followers over the funeral ceremony. The former wanted to bury him as per Islamic traditions while the latter wanted to burn him as per Hindu rituals. It is said that the body miraculously disappeared leaving behind some flowers which were equally divided between the contending parties who then conducted the last rites accordingly.
Guru Nanak’s thought on the God Almighty
Guru Nanak was a strong proponent of monotheism and going by the verses of the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh religious scripture), it appears that he was deeply influenced by Islam on this issue. He refers to Allah/God Almighty as ‘Satnam’ (the Truth). Quran also refers to God Almighty as ‘Al-Haqqa’ (the Truth) at several places.(Al-Quran 69:1) Holy Quran in Surah al-Ikhlas describes God Almighty as the absolute, eternal, self-existing, everlasting, and the one who cannot be compared to anything. Guru Nanak also refers to God in a quite similar fashion.
There is only one universal creator God whose name is Truth. Creative being personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image of the undying, beyond birth, self-existent. By Guru’s Grace.”(Guru Granth Sahib 1:1)
True In The Primal Beginning. True Throughout The Ages. True Here And Now. O Nanak, Forever And Ever True. By thinking, He cannot be reduced to thought, even by thinking hundreds of thousands of times.”(Guru Granth Sahib 1:4-5)
You are the Supreme Lord God, Limitless and Infinite. What Virtues of Yours can I speak of and describe?”(Guru Granth Sahib 11:3)
In Islam, Allah has been referred to as the highest and the greatest so much so that He is unfathomable & beyond human comprehension (Al-Quran 22:63-64). Guru Nanak refers to God in a similar way.
Highest of the High, above all is His Name. Only one as Great and as High as God can know His Lofty and Exalted State. Only He Himself is that Great. He Himself knows Himself.(Guru Granth Sahib 5:10)
He also said that the Hindu and Muslim God is one and the same.
The Muslim God Allah and the Hindu God Parbramh are one and the same.(Guru Granth Sahib)
On the Illusionary world
Holy Quran at several places refers to the life of this world as an illusionary and ephemeral affair and that by submitting/surrendering oneself to the will of the God only, can one be free from such illusions. (Al-Quran 3:185) Guru Nanak says somewhat similar.
Hundreds of thousands of clever tricks, but not even one of them will go along with you in the end. So how can you become truthful? And how can the veil of illusion be torn away? O Nanak, it is written that you shall obey the Hukam of His Command, and walk in the Way of His Will.”(Guru Granth Sahib 1:5-7)
This world is engrossed in corruption and cynicism. Only those who know God are saved.”(Guru Granth Sahib 13:16)
Guru as an intercessor between God and the Worshipper
Sikhism stresses the need for a Guru as a bridge between God and the worshipper. Guru has been referred to as a ladder to the God who has been referred to as a fortress. The concept of intercessor between God and worshipper goes against Islam as in Islam, one can speak/pray directly to his/her Lord/God and there is no requirement of any mediator or intercessor no matter how much qualified or spiritually accomplished he/she is. (Al Quran 39:43-44) The concept of ‘Dua’ in which Muslims in their individual capacity request the mercy and blessings of God for others is different from the concept of intercessor or mediator between God and humans.
How can I climb up to the Fortress without a ladder? By meditating on the Lord, through the Guru, I am blessed and exalted. The Guru is the Ladder, the Guru is the Boat, and the Guru is the Raft to take me to the Lord’s Name.”(Guru Granth Sahib 17:12-13)
Without the True Guru, the Name of the Lord is not found, even though people may perform hundreds of thousands, even millions of rituals.(Guru Granth Sahib 40:15)
Without the True Guru, God is not found; all have grown weary of performing religious rituals.(Guru Granth Sahib 72:12)
Guru Nanak on Muslims
Guru Nanak’s opinion about Muslims is not consistent. At some times he heaps praises on the virtues & qualities of being a Muslim but at other times he appears to have been guided by his Hindu Upper Caste instincts or the Brahmanical mindset when he unscrupulously refers Muslims as “Malechhyas” or the impure & untouchables ones. Perhaps he is criticizing those Brahmins who claim ritual purity but eat and dine with the Muslims and who actually follow the Islamic way of life and yet criticise the Islam. In any case, referring Muslims in such a manner is outrightly demeaning and derogatory.
It is difficult to be called a Muslim; if one is truly a Muslim, then he may be called one. First, let him savor the religion of the Prophet as sweet; then, let his pride of his possessions be scraped away. Becoming a true Muslim, a disciple of the faith of Mohammed, let him put aside the delusion of death and life. As he submits to God’s Will, and surrenders to the Creator, he is rid of selfishness and conceit. And when, O Nanak, he is merciful to all beings, only then shall he be called a Muslim.(Guru Granth Sahib 141:10-12)
“Dhotee tikaa tai japmaalee Dhaan malaychhaa khaa-ee antar poojaa parheh kataybaa sanjam turkaa bhaa-ee chhodeelay paakhandaa” translated into English as ‘They wear their dhotis, apply ritual frontal marks to their foreheads, and carry their rosaries, but they eat food with the Muslims. O Siblings of Destiny, you perform devotional worship indoors, but read the Islamic sacred texts, and adopt the Muslim way of life. Renounce your hypocrisy!“(Guru Granth Sahib 471:15-16)
One who cleanses himself of impurity is a Muslim.”(Guru Granth Sahib 662:15)
He alone is a Haji, a pilgrim to Mecca, who purifies his heart. He alone is a Haji, a pilgrim to Mecca, who purifies his heart.”(Guru Granth Sahib 1084-1)
To be Muslim is to be kind-hearted, and wash away pollution from within the heart. He does not even approach worldly pleasures; he is pure, like flowers, silk, ghee and the deer-skin…He alone is a Shaykh, a preacher, a Haji, and he alone is God’s slave, who is blessed with God’s Grace. The Creator Lord has Creative Power; the Merciful Lord has Mercy. Realize the True Hukam, the Command of the Lord, O Nanak; you shall be released from bondage, and carried across.”(Guru Granth Sahib 1084:9-13)
Guru Nanak on Babur and Mughals
He was undoubtedly saddened by the reckless bloodshed during the Mughal invasion and has expressed his shock and anger which is visible in several verses of the Guru Granth Sahib. However, he also regarded the Mughal invasion of India as a punishment of God to errant Brahmins and Kings. One should note here that those who were most harmed & insulted during the Muslim invasions were not the commoners or the depressed castes/classes but the elite minority of Brahmins and Upper Caste Hindu Kings & Princes and who all were forcefully stripped of their wealth, honor & pride which they had amassed by suppressing and exploiting the lower castes of India.
The Creator Himself does not take the blame, but has sent the Mugal as the messenger of death.”(Guru Granth Sahib 360:12)
Those, whom the Creator Lord would destroy-first He strips them of virtue. Millions of religious leaders failed to halt the invader, when they heard of the Emperor’s invasion. He burned the rest-houses and the ancient temples; he cut the princes limb from limb, and cast them into the dust. None of the Mugals went blind, and no one performed any miracle…those men whose letters were torn in the Lord’s Court, were destined to die, O Siblings of Destiny.”(Guru Granth Sahib 417:18; 418:1-3)
On Idolatry, Brahmins/Pandits, etc
Guru Nanak frowned upon idol worship and bluntly criticized it using various analogies. He criticised Brahmins for corrupting the original monotheistic religion as was prevalent in ancient India. Anyone who has read the Holy Quran can tell that his criticism of idolatry is quite along Islamic lines. (Al-Quran 37:95-96)
You worship stones and sit like a stork, pretending to be in Samaadhi…If you knew the nature of God, you would know that all of these beliefs and rituals are in vain.”(Guru Granth Sahib 470:16-18)
That stone idol, for which you tear off those leaves, that stone idol is lifeless.(Guru Granth Sahib 479-5)
The sculptor carves the stone and fashions it into an idol, placing his feet upon its chest. If this stone god was true, it would devour the sculptor for this.(Guru Granth Sahib 479-7)
One stone is lovingly decorated, while another stone is walked upon. If one is a god, then the other must also be a god.(Guru Granth Sahib 525-5)
Why worship gods and goddesses, O Siblings of Destiny? What can we ask of them? What can they give us?(Guru Granth Sahib 637-6)
The ignorant fools pick up stones and worship them. But when those stones themselves sink, who will carry you across?(Guru Granth Sahib 556-10)
Those who call a stone their god – their service is useless. Those who fall at the feet of a stone god, their work is wasted in vain.(Guru Granth Sahib 1160-5-6)
The stone does not speak; it does not give anything to anyone. Such religious rituals are useless; such service is fruitless. If a corpse is anointed with sandalwood oil, what good does it do? What good does it do? What does it lose from this? Says Kabeer, I proclaim this out loud-behold, and understand, you ignorant, faithless cynic. The love of duality has ruined countless homes.(Guru Granth Sahib 1160:8-11)
The Hindus have forgotten the Primal Lord; they are going the wrong way.”(Guru Granth Sahib 556:9)
He alone is a Brahmin, who contemplates God.(Guru Granth Sahib 662-14)
O Pandit O religious scholar, your Gayatri was grazing in the fields. Taking a stick, the farmer broke its leg and now it walks with a limp. O Pandit I saw your great lord shiva riding along on a white bull. In the merchant’s house a banquet was prepared for him-he killed the merchant’s son.(Guru Granth Sahib 874:18-19)
There is no Truth in suffering, there is no Truth in comfort. There is no Truth in wandering like animals through the water. There is no Truth in shaving one’s head; there is no Truth is studying the scriptures or wandering in foreign lands. There is no Truth in trees, plants or stones, in mutilating oneself or suffering in pain.(Guru Granth Sahib 952:8-9)
The supreme essence of reality has no shape or form.(Guru Granth Sahib 952:14)
On Caste Discrimination, the Rich and the Poor, etc
Gurus’ opinion about the rich and the poor is reflective of his egalitarian thinking. He was saddened by the mistreatment and dishonour of the poor at the hands of the rich. He was also disturbed by the rampant discrimination on the basis of poverty, caste and occupation.
No one respects the poor man. He may make thousands of efforts, but no one pays any attention to him. When the poor man goes to the rich man, and sits right in front of him, the rich man turns his back on him. But when the rich man goes to the poor man, the poor man welcomes him with respect. The poor man and the rich man are both brothers. God’s pre-ordained plan cannot be erased. Says Kabeer, he alone is poor, who does not have the Naam, the Name of the Lord, in his heart.(Guru Granth Sahib 1159:3-6)
There is nothing wrong with the pot of clay-there is nothing wrong with the Potter. The One True Lord abides in all; by His making, everything is made.(Guru Granth Sahib 1350:2-3)
Anyone who has read Islam and Quran can tell that Guru Nanak’s thoughts and the teachings of Sikhism in general are greatly influenced by Islam. If at all he criticized the Muslims, it was either due to some misunderstanding or due to Muslims deviating from the noble principles of Islam and the resulting moral turpitude. On the other hand, he was deeply disturbed by the ills of the Hindu society and the religious hypocrisy & monopoly of the Brahmins prevalent therein. He was a strong proponent of monotheism and frowned upon idol worship and asked people to shun idolatry and all the ritualism associated with it. It is unfortunate that despite his pro-Islamic views & so much closeness of Sikhism to Islam at the normative level compared to Hindu-Brahmanism, the socio-political relationship between Sikhs and Muslims have been historically strained and marred by so many hostilities & confrontations due to sheer misunderstandings on several issues which could have been amicably sorted out & resolved had people tried in good faith.
Hopefully, the Kartarpur corridor will be a great step ahead in healing some of the historic wounds between the Sikhs and the Muslims even though the flamboyant project undertaken by the Islamic Republic across the border seemingly militates against the principles of Islam as well as the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib which disapproves ritualism.
Pilgrimages, fasts, purification and self-discipline are of no use, nor are rituals, religious ceremonies or empty worship.(Guru Granth Sahib 75:17)
There is no Truth in shaving one’s head; there is no Truth is studying the scriptures or wandering in foreign lands.(Guru Granth Sahib 952:8-9)
The self-willed manmukh performs religious rituals, like the unwanted bride decorating her body.(Guru Granth Sahib 31:9)
- Guru Granth Sahib (English Translation: Singh Sahib Sant Singh Khalsa, MD Hand Made Books 899 N. Wilmot, Suite C-2 Tucson, Arizona 85711, USA)