The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 12, 2003

Signs & signatures
Islam in Sikh scriptures
Darshan Singh Maini

AT the outset, it must be remembered that Islam's advent in India had long preceded the birth of Guru Nanak, and that the founder of Sikhism who was well-versed in Islamic thought and heritage first saw it in action at the time of Babar's invasion of India. The Mughal who soon set up a powerful dynasty through the sword and the steed, gave Islam a bad name because of the ruin he had caused en route. In fact, Guru Nanak was imprisoned when he raised his voice against the rape and spoliation of India. His famous soulful lament in the hymn called Babarvani has few equals in world religious poetry where the highest peaks of compassion and agony are reached.

In this hymn, Guru Nanak using the metaphor of "the marriage party" envisims Babar's march into Hindustan from his native Khurasan to conquer "the bride-India", a marriage party of sin and plunder. The four hymns composed in Raag Telang comprehend the entire issue of war and peace, of God's dispensation, of evil and eventual nemesis.

However, it would be a grave error of judgement to regard Babarvani as a mere index of Guru Nanak's overarching view of Islam. As I hope to show later, the Guru had the highest respect for that pristine Islam which had risen in the 8th century like a flame of truth in the burning sands of Arabia. Its original message had a strongly humanist character. And even though the Sikhs as a community suffered terribly at the hands of Babar's successors, we do not find any trace of rancour in Sikh scriptures. Yes, its depredations and aggressive attitudes by its clergy are not spared either, but Guru Nanak and the later Gurus never lost sight of the basic truths. In the lines below, Guru Nanak defines a true, pious Muslim:


"It's difficult to be called Mussalman....

And when, O Nanak, he is merciful

to all beings will he be entitled to

call himself a true Muslim."

Guru Nanak's hymns were, in fact, composed when the Sufi movement in Islam had ushered in a renaissance of religious thought to be matched by the Bhakti movement around the same time. Sikhism, thus, became a happy Sangam or fusion of the two parallel streams, even as it carved out its own identity in its own sui generis form.

Kabir, a Muslim weaver emerged as a Sufi Bhakti singer of timeless songs, and he finds, thus, an honoured place in the Guru Granth Sahib. Later, the tenth Sikh Guru was to reaffirm the message of Kabir and Farid which emphasised that man originates from one single source, and that all religions were but different manifestations of the same Creator. Consider the following lines which loosely rendered read thus:

"There are five prayers, and accordingly five hours of the day for namaz, the five having five names. Let, then, the first be truthfulness, the second honest living and the third charity - all in the Name of God. Let the fourth be goodwill towards all, and the fifth the praise of the Lord God. Your kalma is only your good deeds, and this alone entitles you to call yourself a Muslim, O, Nanak, the false obtain falsehood, and nothing but falsehood...."

Such a comprehensive definition leaves no room for doubt. A good Muslim can only vindicate his faith and himself if he observes the virtues his daily namaz proclaims.

Kabir, that shining example of Hindu-Muslim affinities at the level of godhead echoed a similar sentiment when moving along the banks of the holy Ganga in Benaras he recited in ecstasy songs of the oneness of God and the brotherhood of man.

"Aval allah noor upae-aa, Kudrat key sabh bandey,

ek noor tey sabh jag upjia-aa, kaun bhaley ko mandey...

"First Allah created the Light. Then by His Creative Power He made all mortal beings. From that One Light, the entire universe came into being. So, who is good and who's bad, indeed?....

Similarly, Guru Gobind Singh was along with his entire family was persecuted mercilessly by the bigoted Emperor Aurangzeb, called upon the true Muslims to repudicate those rulers and masters who had turned Islam into an aggrandising, militant, conquering religion. He himself authenticated Kabir's call for the fundamental unity of all mankind:

"The Khalsa mediates on the ever-radiant

Light day and night, and rejects all

else but the one Lord...."

As for Sheikh Farid (A.D. 1173), his shlokas spurred into song not only Guru Nanak, but also Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan, the great compiler of the Guru Granth. His boundless pity and compassion, his loving concern for the poor, the lowly, and the dispossessed are reflected in several profound shlokas:

"All men's hearts are jewels,

to distress them is by no means good;

if thou desire the Beloved,

distress no one's heart"....

Why I elected to write on the place of Islam in Sikh scriptures was to bring out briefly that face of Islam which, grievously enough, has come to stay in the popular, uninformed Indian mind. That image now deeply imbedded in Hindu-Sikh corporate consciousness has, over the centuries, assumed a grim aspect so that shadows and hobgoblins and old wives tales have replaced the truth as still seen by the perceptive Indian scholars.

This is no place for going deeply and extensively into the nature of the assault and battery by the conquering Islamic rulers, and the trauma and hatred thus engendered. But we may not deny that fact that through the fanatical, jehadi proselytization of Islam by its mullahas and maulvis, as also by their rationalising intellectuals and ideologues, the Muslims in India find themselves alienated in their own motherland. As a result, they have retreated into psychological ghettos and taken shelter under repressive Shariat doctrines as preached by their political elders and betters.

On the other hand, Pakistan a by-blow of the Indian freedom movement and British machinations was, as we know, conceived in hatred, nurtured in hatred, schooled in hatred from the days of its birth. And the pernicious two-nation theory spawned by some Muslim ideologues and appropriated by Jinnah was drilled into the minds of the Pakistani nationals from the start. As a consequence, the new state developed several psychic 'fixations', and began to slide into the state of permanent crisis, as it were.

Thus, the genesis and the raison d'etre of Pakistan made the fledgling state a natural nursery of Islamic jehadi or crusading fundamentalists and terrorists. No wonder, India part, it began to export suicide-squads and saboteurs to all parts of the world.

Finally, returning to the Kashmir imbroglio, I take the liberty of quoting one of the many dissident Pak intellectuals on the communal views that had infected its bodypolitic. I was invited recently, along with a number of such commentators, to write on the Kashmir issue. All these articles appeared in an international journal called Peace Initiatives, and I select a piece by a respected media person, Fasihuddin Ahmed, to illustrate my point. "Pakistan", he wrote in The News (February 10,1995): "had Bangladesh. Having lost it, it is seeking to regain lost territory in Kashmir.....", and he goes on to quote from the Beatle, John Lennon's little poem, "Imagine": "Imagine there are no countries, It is easy if you try, Nothing to live or die."

The moral is clear enough. Not even the conquest of the Kashmir Valley through deadly terrorism is worth the horrendous costs involved. That "paradise on earth", to recall Babar's words, would eventually be the graveyard of Pakistan's napaak dreams.... Such, such are the ironies of history!