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Islam Guru Granth Sahib : A Model For Interfaith Understanding

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by Aman Singh, Jun 8, 2011.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    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.

    Attached Files:

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