By Aminah Suhail Qureshi
07 May 2017
It Is All About Perspective
Being the most sacred place of worship in Islam, the Grand Mosque of Makkah, more commonly known as Masjid-ul-Haram, is visited my millions of Muslims all year round. But here is a quick reality check – there have been such incidents reported where some non-Muslims also furtively sneaked into the holy city of Makkah. This is not something that I am claiming (please don’t kill me!), but is, in fact, present all over the internet. Even the Saudis punish the non-Muslims who are caught red-handed from Makkah or Madinah by inflicting nothing more than penalties and/or deportations. However, the stationing of religious police beyond the turnoff on the main roads to prevent non-Muslims from proceeding into Makkah highlights two main aspects: Muslim custodians of the sacred sites are efficient in ensuring that no violation of the law takes place; and some non-Muslims are inquisitive enough to know more about true Islamic values and culture whose practical manifestation can be seen only at its religious centres.
The purpose behind setting the grounds for this article is again based on two reasons: not only Muslims but the followers of all religions are equally efficient in guarding their respective places of worship; and there are certain Muslims that burn with curiosity to visit churches, temples and Gurudwaras. One such Muslim was me (I still am a Muslim!) whose spirit of interest made her look towards the northern side of the Hazuri Bagh Baradari.
The Holy Kaaba is venerated as the most sacred site in Islam and is claimed by Muslim ideology to have been the House of God since forever. This is our ideology and no one among Muslims can deny this. But the fact is, as historians narrate, that this building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque was once a house to approximately 360 idols until the Conquest of Makkah and was converted into a mosque. Although Muslims eye this as restoration of the mosque originally established by Prophet Ibrahim, this single incident has been recorded in pages of history from different angles. It is all about perspective (I hope to have not committed blasphemy by saying this!).
Similarly, for how long will we all blame Ranjit Singh for constructing a Gurudwara adjacent to the Badshahi Mosque? Let us all get over it and acknowledge the fact that if these two religious sites can stand side by side, so can their ardent followers.
As mentioned earlier, the administration of Gurudwara Sri Dera Sahib in Lahore is as strict and vigilant as the Muslim religious police in Saudi Arabia; both of them efficiently identify the non-believers and ask them about their purpose of entering the premises of the religious sites. In my case, however, special mention of Mr Ahtisham Jan Butt and Mr Aroon Kumar is an obligation on me as they facilitated and organised a memorable tour to the Gurudwara.
We were welcomed into the Gurudwara by Rana Shahid, a Muslim member of the staff who was willingly serving as an acolyte. By the amount of knowledge he had treasured in his heart and the level of respect and deference he was giving to the Sikh ideology, one could have never guessed that he was not a Sikh had our fellow Aroon Kumar not told us. It touched my heart, if not others’, as it was actually the first time I saw a non-believer of a religion serving it with such devotion and passion. Following his footsteps, all of us wore handkerchiefs on our heads to show our respect for the sanctuary.
We were guided to the hall where specially prepared Langar was to be served, a tradition known as Pangat. Rana Shahid taught us some basic etiquette of the institution of Guru ka Langar, some beautiful pearls of wisdom which might have been prescribed in almost every religion but whose practical manifestation could be seen during these community meals. Food is prepared in ample quantity so as to suffice to everyone’s need, but it is an individual’s moral duty to put only as much food on a plate as he needs; wastage of food is strictly admonished. It is for this reason and to eliminate the possibility of transmission of communicable diseases that sharing of food is also highly discouraged.
The Langar is served to all the visitors, and so were we, without distinction of faith or background, and for free. It is pertinent to mention here that it was one delicious meal – and, of course, without meat. This clarified one facet on me that vegetarian food can be toothsome. We were served mixed vegetable and Palak Paneer along with rice and Roti (Parshada). If one had to refuse from getting more food, one would do it by gesturing Pranamasana, i.e. hands pressed together with palms touching, fingers pointing upwards and thumbs close to the chest; saying a direct “no” to food is considered insult to the Rizq being provided by God.
Another interesting custom is to wash your own dish and glass. This act serves to promote the idea of equality of all human beings. Believe me when I say that all these little yet significant acts practically taught me those moralities which have been enjoined by my own religion. Yet we are unable to see their applications in our madrasa and mosques. We then thanked Rana sahib for the flawless arrangement by doing Pranamasana. We should learn from everywhere, why just from our own religious sanctuaries?
Rana sahib then led us to the Shaheed Asthan of Guru Arjun Dev Ji, the place where the fifth Sikh Guru had embraced martyrdom. As per tradition, the Mughal emperor Jahangir had subjected Guru Arjun Dev in late May of 1606 by making him sit on a burning hot plate and pouring red-hot sand over his head and body. Mian Mir, a renowned Muslim Sufi saint who laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar and taught us the lesson of cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between people of different faiths, tried to intervene but was stopped by Guru Dev Ji, saying that it is the “Will of the Almighty”. On the fifth day of inhumane torture, Guru Ji was permitted to take a bath in the River Ravi on presumption that his blisters will burn even more intensely on coming in contact with cold water. However, as legend has it, Guru Ji dipped in the river but never returned, thus sowing the seeds of martyrdom in context of which his Shaheed Asthan, a memorial rostrum, was erected at the site.
Later, we were guided to the entrance of the Gurudwara adjacent to which was standing the Roshnai gate in its original form. At the top of the entrance were embossed the figures of three Hindu deities, namely Brahma, Ganpati and Krishna. Rana sahib, despite anything to the contrary, clarified that these figures have nothing to do with Sikh ideology and were added later by the Hindu-turned-Sikh Kashmiri rajas Gulab Singh Dogra and Dhiyan Singh Dogra. It was quite amusing for me to know that Sikhism, in its essence, is a monotheist religion.
Rana sahib apprised us that the Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Book of Sikhism, is treated as a living entity and the eleventh and the last Guru of Sikhs owing to which the place (dwara) where it (Guru) is kept and recited, along with the effectuation of all measures of deference, is known as Gurudwara. Hence all the visiting devotees and listeners revere the premises with utmost respect, sit on the carpeted floor, and never show back while leaving the place where the Holy Scripture is placed on an elevated throne in a prominent central position under the shadow of a crown made of pure gold. Guru Granth Sahib has 1,430 Ang (parts) and yet another flabbergasting piece of information was the congruency of the first Ang with Surah Ikhlas (chapter 112) of the Holy Qur’an.
Adjacent to the Gurudwara is Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Samadhi, the building housing his funerary urns. Also, next to the Guru Granth sahib’s resting place are the Samadhis of Kharak Singh and Nau Nihal Singh, Ranjit Singh’s son and grandson, respectively.
Along with amusing my eyes with the features of architecture associated to a totally different religion, this tour to Gurudwara Sri Dera sahib was enlightening in a way that it taught how to respect humanity as equally as the creed. While the Holy Scripture and Gurus are venerated with extreme honour, human beings are also served with equal respect in the forms of Seva during distribution of Langar, washing of dishes, valuing the food being offered, and Serais(accommodation) in the premises of every Gurudwara.
There is no harm in learning from any individual or a different faith as every entity in its entirety comprises salient attributes that must be acknowledged and learnt from. After all, it is all about perspective!