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Islam Guru Granth Sahib : A Model For Interfaith Understanding


Jun 1, 2004
Guru Granth Sahib : A Model For Interfaith Understanding

[Dr. Kazi Nurul Islam is Professor and Chairman of the Department of World Religions and Culture at thea University in Bangladesh.]

Though all the religions of the world teach love, preach sympathy for
others and encourage Man to exercise utmost self-restraint and have
most profoundly been a source of inspiration for the highest good of
mankind, the world today is torn by conflicts, enmity and religious hatred.

In this predicament, a lasting and peaceful society is impossible
unless different faiths are understood in their proper perspectives.
Therefore, it is necessary that people belonging to different faiths
understand each other better. This necessitates a constant dialogue
and effort to generate moral and hearty religious thinking.

The advocates of all the religions of the world emphasize the
importance of certain virtues and moral values. Only these can foster
unity and cohesion of mankind. But the moral and religious values
cannot be invoked by force. This can be achieved through the exchange
of words, kind words, sincere words and loving words that can reach
the deepest fathoms of the heart.

There is no religion without peace and no peace without religion. We
must admit that peace and religion are complementary to each other.
When the good of all is desired with an undivided mind peace will
definitely be ours. But people belonging to different faiths, in most
cases, have betrayed religious ideals and commitment to peace. The
time has come when this betrayal must be corrected. And this can be
and should be done through knowledge, dialogue and demonstration of
the fact that love, compassion, selflessness and the inner force of
truthfulness have ultimately greater power than hatred, enmity and

There was a time when various religions, precisely because of their
own convictions, were unable to cooperate and were even antagonistic
to each other. But the times have changed to a great extent.
Improvement in the means of transportation has made the earth
smaller. Now religions, in-spite of historic differences, must seek
to unite all men for the attainment of world peace. Unless the
peoples of faith come closer to each other the irreligious and
antireligious forces will gain the upper hand. And this may lead to
the further breaking up of the moral fibre of the human society. But
at all cost we must preserve the moral aspect of the texture of human society.

Religious people represent a vast majority of the peoples of the
world. But unfortunately, we are a confused, divided and silent
majority. The religious people of the world have been quite silent
for long, and their silence has worked against human welfare. Our
division, our timidity, and our silence left the mighty forces of
terrorism, fanaticism, racism, poverty, and war unchallenged. Our
silence has been paid for by the suffering of millions, for whom we
should have been advocates, friends, and spokespersons.

The time has come when religionists, instead of antagonizing each
other because of what we once thought was a religious conviction,
should cooperate with each other in order to contribute to the cause
of peace for mankind.

Before I explain my own position as to what makes me feel that the
Guru Granthh Sahib is a model for interreligious understanding in
today's world, let me speak a few words about the attitude of Islam
towards other religions. I believe, this will help us to understand
Guru Granth Sahib's attitude towards other traditions better.

Islam seeks to bring about reconciliation between the followers of
different faiths and establish a basis of respect and honour among
them. Islam can claim uniqueness in that for a person to be a Muslim
it is mandatory that he/she must have respect for the people of
others' faiths, must believe in all the prophets and in all the
revealed texts. The Qur'an teaches us that God has sent His
revelation to all the people from time to time and no section of
mankind has been left without Divine guidance. Many of the prophets
of the Old Testament have been mentioned by name in the Qur'an, and
so also is Jesus, who along with other prophets, is highly revered
and honoured by the Muslims all over the world.

It is stated in the Qur'an : "Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah
and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto
Abraham and Ismael, and Isaac, and Jacob and the tribes, and that
which the Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets
received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any one of
them, and unto Him we have surrendered."

If a man belies any one of them, he belies all and if a man confirms
and believes in one of them he must and ought to confirm all. "One
who does not believe in any one of the Prophets, would be a *****,
though he must believe in all the Prophets raised in India, China,
Persia Egypt, Africa, Europe and any other countries of the world."
But a Muslim cannot definitely say about a particular person outside
the list of the prophets named in the Qur'an, whether he was or was
not a Prophet.Muslims are also not permitted to say anything against
the holy men of other religions.

Sikhism goes one step further in its attitude forwards other
religions and in its world view.

Sikhism is a religion which was founded on the principles of
interfaith understanding, mutual respect and harmony. From the very
beginning the leaders and the followers of this tradition preached
the principles of interfaith respect, dialogue and understanding. To
be a Sikh it is mandatory that he/she must respect and accept all
other religions of the world and at the same time must protect, guard
and allow the free-practice of the customs and rituals of others. The
Guru Granth Sahib teaches its followers to love all creation as God's
own manifestation. Acceptance of all faiths, and interfaith tolerance
and understanding are basic to the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib.

History of the Sikh tradition shows remarkable consistency in the
pursuit of these ideals and in the defence of the right to free
worship of peoples of all faiths.

The Sikh Gurus perceived that there was lack of real love among the
people and, therefore, they always laid great stress upon spiritual
practices and preached the philosophy of one God, the supreme
Reality. They understood that a new strength and vigour had to be
imported into the field of religion and religious practices, it had
to be brought home to the minds of the people that there really
existed no differences in places of worship resorted to men of
different faiths.

That is why Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and the last Guru, states:
"The temple and the mosque are the same, the Hindu worship and the
Muslim prayer are the same, all men are the same; it is through
erroneous judgment they appear different ... All men have the same
eyes, the same ears, the same body, the same build, a compound of
earth, air, fire and water ... let no man, even by mistake, suppose
there is a difference."

The Sikh Gurus systematized all the past Hindu and Islamic
philosophies and brought a confluence in an organized manner for the
temporal and spiritual uplift of all humanity without any
discrimination. Guru Nanak made friends with both Hindus and Muslims.
He never discriminated against any one. He treated the whole world as
his own family and all human beings as his brothers and sisters. He
raised his voice against injustice anywhere. Like him, all the Sikh
Gurus were large-hearted. None of them were parochial or
narrow-minded, communal or caste-ridden. They set out for the
regeneration of mankind.

The Guru Granth Sahib is a unique sacred text in the history of world
religions. The pattern of this text was conceived and worked out in
such a way that it can integrate various religions and varnas of
India, spiritually, religiously and emotionally. Guru Nanak gave the
idea of this kind of scripture, his successor Gurus subscribed to it
and worked to collect material for most of the Granth.

Guru Arjan collected most of the materials and contributed a major
portion of the Granth in the form of his bani and completed editing
this sacred text in 1604 C.E. Guru Gobind Singh added the hymns of
Guru Teg Bahadar to the Adi Granth and then installed it as the
Guru-Eternal in 1708 C.E., abolishing the personal guruship thereon.

The unique catholicity and egalitarian approach of Guru Arjan is
evident in the fact that, other than the hymns of the Sikh Gurus, he
incorporated the compositions of as many as thirty men of God,
belonging to various castes, creeds, religions and vocations. Among
them were Jaidev of Bengal, Surdas of Awadh, Namadev, Pipa, Sain,
Kabir, Ravidas and Bhikhan of Uttar Pradesh, Dhannu of Rajasthan and
Farid of Multan.

Kabir was a weaver, Sadhna was a butcher, Namdev a seamster, Dhana a
farmer, Sain a barber, Ravidas a cobbler, Farid a Muslim Sufi ... It
may be mentioned here that Guru Gobind Singh hosted fifty two poets
in his court to translate various ancient texts of India with the
object of unifying the people of the subcontinent through their own
literature and culture.

What a wonderful example of catholicity! What a wonderful instance of
egalitarianism! And what a remarkable endeavour for interfaith
understanding!! I salute all those who made this possible.

Sikhism advocates four kinds of unity: unity of God, unity of
mankind, unity of religions and unity of classes. In fact, the
Oneness of God and the essential oneness of humanity is the basic
teaching of Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak was an advocate for peace
and unity. For all the religions of the world, he envisaged a
fellowship of faiths. His efforts for creating an atmosphere for
world-reconciliation and world-amity were much ahead of his time.

The attitude of the Sikh Gurus towards the leaders or founders of
other faiths and their sacred texts is unique and genuinely
praiseworthy. For instance, the attitude of Guru Nanak towards
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was one of unbounded love and
respect. In a verse which is given in the Janam Sakhi of Bhai Bala,
Guru Nanak is stated to have said:

dita nur muhammadi, ditha nabi rasool
Nanak qudrat dekh ke, khudi ghei sab bhool.

"I have seen the light of Muhammad (with my mind's eye). I have seen
the prophet and the messenger of God, in other words, I have
understood his message or imbibed his spirit. After contemplating the
glory of God, my ego was completely eliminated."

In the same spirit Guru Gobind Singh said in his Bacchittar Naatak
("The Wonderful Drama") that prophet Muhammad was a divine messenger
and a great man of religion and faith.

Guru Arjan had profound respect for Mian Mir, a celebrated Muslim
Sufi and had the foundation stone of the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple)
laid by him. This instance alone is enough to prove the magnanimity
and catholicity of the Sikh Gurus.

It may be mentioned here that Muslim scholars had also tremendous
appreciations for the Sikh Gurus. For instance, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad,
the founder of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, observed in his Sat
Bachan that Guru Nanak was a treasure-house of divine knowledge and
knower of all mysteries. The most famous poet-philosopher of this
subcontinent, Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, in one of his immortal verses
expressed that Guru Nanak was a perfect human being and awakened
India from a dormant, dreamy condition to the realization of God.

To the Muslims and Christians, Guru Nanak advises: "Practice within
your heart the teachings of the Qur'an and the Bible; restrain the
ten sensory organs for straining into evil. Tie up the demons of
desire and restore faith, charity and contentment, and you shall be

Guru Nanak vehemently opposes those who criticize the holy books of
other religions. He categorically asks his followers: Do not say that
the Vedas, the Bible and the Qur'an are false. Those who do not
contemplate them are false. Guru Arjan says :

"Neither am I Hindu nor Musalman
This body and spirit is of Allah-Rama"

He also asserts:
"Says Nanak! The Guru removeth delusion, Only Allah is Parbrahma."

This indicates he had tremendous respect for God variously seen as
Allah, Ram and Parbraham; in other words, he loved both the religious
traditions in the same spirit.

The principle which underlies the pattern of Guru Granth Sahib is
that every Sikh gives the same reverence to the Sikh Gurus which he
gives to the other 30 contributors writers of this sacred text. A
Sikh bows to the Guru Granth Sahib in reverence and recites the bani
of all the writers included with the same devotion and respect. It
may be noted here that in the Darbar Sahib as well as in all other
historical or local gurudwaras, the hymns of all these saints, Gurus
and Sufis of India are sung.

The followers of the Guru Granth Sahib pay homage to these Muslim and
Hindu saints ... in addition to the Gurus ... and recite their
writings with equal amount of faith, reverence and devotion.

This is not so and cannot be so in any other religion of the world.

Guru Nanak strongly pleaded for an egalitarian society where all
people could be regarded as equals. In order to eradicate caste
distinction and the social stratification based on caste system, he
created two institutions: Sangat and Pangat. Sangat is the community
congregation where all people sit together for divine contemplation
and prayer and Pangat is the free kitchen where different people
irrespective of their caste and creed sit at the same level and dine together.

The distinction between poor and rich is forgotten, because all share
the same food at the same place. This was, indeed, a revolution
against the inegalitarian society.

A successful revolution without a single drop of blood!

These Sangat and Pangat not only promote egalitarianism but also
promote and enhance interfaith understanding.

Let me give an example of the gurdwara inside Dhaka University
campus. In Bangladesh there is not a single Sikh citizen. Despite
that, on every Friday in this gurdwara, hundreds of people belonging
to different religious backgrounds attend Sangat and join Pangat and
these are promoting interfaith understating in this country. Not only
in Bangladesh where there is a gurudwara, but particularly in Europe
and America, the sangat and pangat have enriched the prestige of the
Sikh community and helped to promote inter-religious harmony.

Guru Nanak argues that if God is one, then all the souls coming from
Him are of the same essence. The natural corollary of monotheism is
oneness of humanity. All the Gurus regarded the whole of mankind as
an organic unity and repudiated the distinction on a mundane plane.
They held that the distinction of colour, language or territory
cannot and should not form the ground for claims of superiority of
one group over the other.

Guru Nanak strongly emphasized the highest common factor in all the
religions of his time which were existing side by side but
unfortunately clashing with one another. He conceived the idea of a
new type of scripture, formed a wholesome approach and attitude
towards fellow religions and philosophical schools.

He provided directions for religious co-existence, philosophical
accommodation and social integration. As we have already mentioned
above, Guru Nanak did not believe in the false barriers of religions
and rigidities of caste. Some scholars hold that he was an ideal
Muslim among Muslims and a model Hindu among Hindus. He believed in
the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man and he not only
propagated this philosophy but also practiced this vigorously in his life.

Universalism is a cardinal value of Sikhism. It is not bracketed with
a particular ethnicity or a particular region. The whole earth has
been revered by Guru Nanak as "mother earth" and as a result he did
not believe in any promised land or holy land.

Sikhism is universal because its primary essential concerns - social,
political, cultural and economic - are of a universal nature,
embracing humanity as a whole. Guru Gobind Singh held that God cannot
be bound to a particular creed, place or era. He (God) cannot be
bracketed with any particular ethnicity. Indeed, He is the Lord of
all the peoples of the world. This makes Sikhism a truly universal religion.

In today's pluralistic world, the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib
can play a vital and constructive role. Sikhism not only acknowledges
and appreciates other faiths but also accepts their validity and
integrates worldly life with the idea of divinity. Guru Granth Sahib
seeks to unite people belonging to different faiths and holds that
the object of religion is not to divide mankind, but to unite it, not
to act like scissors and tear asunder the social fabric, but to act
like a needle and sew it together.

In today's world we must feel that we are all members of one great
family of beings, having different forms of working. We must remember
that we are all marching towards the spiritual realizations of truth and love.

Some in ignorance say, 'My religion is the only one, my religion is the best'.

But when his heart is illumined by true knowledge, he knows that
above all these wars of sects and sectarians presides the one
invisible eternal all-knowing bliss. In fact, the different faiths
are like spokes of a wheel in which God forms the hub. Therefore, let
us - all the religionists - radiate towards that hub and find peace
and solace.

Guru Granth Sahib, I am quite confident, can be a guiding force to
the world in this regard.


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