advent of Turkish rule in north-western India in the early 11th century,
Muslims began to settle in the region. To their increasing numbers were added
the local converts. By the time of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), Muslims had become
the most visible section of the social order in Punjab. They consisted mainly
of the orthodox Sunnis, represented by the Ulama (Mullas and Qazis) who upheld
the Islamic law (Shariat), and the various orders of the mystics of Islam (the
Sufis) who represented a parallel interpretation of religious beliefs and
practices. Guru Nanak came into close contact with Islam during his 10-year
stay in Sultanpur, and later at several places during his travels. He brackets
Islam with the major religious systems of India in the early 16th century.
LEADING LIGHT: For becoming a true Musalman, Muslims are invited to follow the way shown by Guru Nanak
recently published Shri Guru Granth Sahib: Teachings for Muslims contains over
30 extracts from Guru Nanak’s compositions. The editor, Nanak Singh Nishtar,
says in his introduction that the Sikh gurus respected Islamic beliefs and
practices, and presented them to Muslims as the teachings of Islam. They told
Muslims to become good Muslims, as they told Hindus to become good Hindus. This
raises two issues: Guru Nanak’s familiarity with the beliefs and practices of
contemporary Musalmans, and his assessment of Islam.
talks of God in His primal state before creation. For millions upon millions
of years, there was only darkness—neither the earth nor the sky, but only the
limitless Divine Ordinance, and the Creator was absorbed in unbroken trance.
None other than the Only Lord was there; there was no Brahma, Vishnu or Mahesh.
There was no mulla and no qazi, no shaikh and no haji; there were no Vedas, and
there was no Quran. Significantly, there is no mention of Allah. In another
composition, Guru Nanak equates Allah with Aad Purkh. In other words, Islamic
monotheism was close to Guru Nanak’s own conception of God.
the universe, God revealed many of His attributes. In terms familiar to
Musalmans, Guru Nanak says: “Baba! Allah is inscrutable, He is boundless; His
abode is holy and His are the holy names; He is the true sustainer. His
Ordinance (hukam) cannot be comprehended; it cannot be described adequately;
not even a hundred poets coming together can describe the smallest fraction of
it. All hear and talk about Him, but none really appreciates His worth. There
are Pirs, Paighambars, Saliks, Sadiqs, Faqirs and Shahid; there are
Shaikhs, Qazis, Mullas and dervishes—all adore Him through their prayers (Durud),
in the hope of blessings (Barakat). But Allah does not consult anyone when He
makes or unmakes, or when He gives or takes away; He alone knows His power (Qudrat);
He alone is the doer. He watches everyone and bestows His grace on whomsoever
He wills.” In another composition, the term Maulah (Master) is used for Allah.
Maulah is the great Creator who has made the universe beautiful and green.
more important than one’s firm allegiance to God. The earthly achievements have
little importance. To be a king, with forts and armies, was futile if one were
to forget God. Guru Nanak says he would not forget God even if blood-sucking
rulers were placed over his head. Conversely, for Guru Nanak, the Divine Name
was his rulership and army.
brackets Islam with the brahminical and ascetic traditions. He says the Qazi
did not know the time of creation because it was not given in the Quran; the
Brahman did not know the time of creation because it was not there in the
scriptures he read; and the Jogi did not know the time, date, day, season or
month. Guru Nanak brackets the Mulla, the Pandit and the Jogi to underline that
they all have to leave this world. The Jogi and the Mulla are equated, as are
the Vedas and the Quran. This implies that in many ways the Islamic tradition
is taken as seriously as the brahminical and ascetic traditions. However, none
of them is really appreciated.
tells the mulla and the qazi to remember that they will die one day, and
therefore, remember God all the time. Their meticulous observance of five
daily prayers, recitation of the Quran, study of the sacred texts, telling the
beads, fasting in the month of Ramzan and pilgrimage to Mecca would not prolong
their lives. The call from the grave could come any time.
also makes critical comments on some practices of Musalmans. The best known is
the comment on the custom of burial: “The Musalman’s dust may be kneaded after
burial to make vessels and bricks. It wails in flames, the poor earth cries,
and burning cinders fall over it.” Guru Nanak says that only God who created
the universe knows what would happen to a human being after death. In this verse,
Guru Nanak seems to underline that neither burial nor cremation was important
for a genuinely religious life.
lays great stress on ethics. There are many statements on ethical living as
indispensable for the attainment of liberation. Also, there are some statements
addressed directly to Musalmans: “If blood-stained cloth is regarded as
impure, how can the mind of the one who sucks human blood remain pure?” “A
Musalman should make compassion his mosque, sincerity his prayer-mat, honest earning
his Quran, modesty his circumcision, and noble conduct his fast. A true
Musalman should make good deeds his Kaaba, truth his guide, good actions his
kalima and namaz, and what pleases God his rosary.”
Nanak’s preference for Sufi Islam over that of the Mulla and the Qazi is quite
clear: “The Musalmans praise the Shariat; they read and ponder; but only those
are His true servants who become His slaves to see his face.” To see God face
to face, or experience God, is a Sufi idea. In fact, the basic relationship
between God and human beings in the eyes of the Mullas was that of a master and
a servant, but for the Sufis it was one of love. Guru Nanak argues with the
Mullas in the terminology of the Sufis, and in doing so he shows the Sufis as
true Musalmans: “To be a Musalman is difficult. One should adopt the religion
of the Auliya (friends of God—the Sufis) and regard renunciation as a file that
removes the rust of the heart. They would become Musalman only when they live
their faith and dismiss all thoughts of life and death, accept God’s decree
most willingly and believe in him as the true Creator, and efface themselves.
Only then may they receive God’s grace and only then shall they be real
this relative appreciation for the Sufi path should not lead us to infer that
Guru Nanak approves of the Sufis of his day without any qualifications. He
brackets the qazi and the Sufi Shaikh who suffer from self-centeredness
(haumai). A true dervish abandons everything to meet his Creator. But many a
Shaikh subsisted on revenue-free land obtained from the State, and distributed
‘caps’ among their disciples authorising them to guide others. Thus, the Shaikh
was presumptuous enough to be sure of his own place of honour with God, and
gave assurance to others as well. The qazis had their offices, and the Shaikhs
had their establishments (Khanqahs). They tended to treat the means as ends,
forgetting that God alone is everlasting. Guru Nanak advises them both to
remember: “Allah is ineffable; He is inscrutable; He is the all-powerful
Creator, the Merciful. The whole world is transitory and the Merciful alone is
permanent. Only He is eternal, for He is not subject to any destiny. The earth
and the heavens shall perish; only He, the only One, remains forever.”
whole, Guru Nanak talks mainly of Allah and the Shariat. The Prophet and the
Quran are mentioned, but without much role or importance. He also talks of two
different interpretations of Islam: one by the Ulama or the Qazi, and the other
by the Shaikhs or the Pirs. He refers to some of their most important
practices, and shows a comprehensive understanding of their beliefs. The
Islamic conception of God is close to Guru Nanak’s own.
some of his ethical values with the Sufis and appreciates the Sufi way of life.
However, he finds nothing worth appreciation in what the mulla and the qazi had
to say or do. The Sufis too were not altogether free from limitations. Despite
their claim to complete trust in God, they received financial support from
the government. They also appeared to assume that they had found the path of
union with God, and could authorise their disciples to guide others, which was
rather presumptuous in Guru Nanak’s eyes.
associated by Guru Nanak with the Kaliyuga (the fourth and worst cosmic age),
whereas the path discovered by him was meant to redeem the Kali Age. The
question of how to become a true Musalman is answered by implication when
Muslims are invited to follow the way shown by Guru Nanak.
Grewal is a historian and former vice-chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University,
Amritsar and director and later chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study,
Shimla. Indu Banga is professor emerita, Punjab University, Chandigarh.
Headline: Sufism Prevails In Guru Nanak's Islam, No Place for Mullah Or Qazi
Source: The Outlook India
of Allah Almighty is the final station of a Salik (a person who spiritually travels on the
path leading to God’s gnosis). This station can be achieved only by the
attainment of the divine blessings which come after all evils are removed from hearts.