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  • Guru Hargobind: Mosques, Minarets and Multiculturalism

    by Jai
    6th December, 2009 at 1:37 pm    

    This is a follow-up article to my recent piece about Guru Gobind Singh’s stance towards Muslims. As with the previous article, there are some further lessons from history for anti-Muslim groups such as the BNP, SIOE, and numerous other organisations and individuals who wish to scapegoat, caricature and marginalise Muslims in order to further their respective agendas.

    Guru Hargobind (1595 - 1644) was the 6th Sikh spiritual leader, and a predecessor of his near-namesake Guru Gobind Singh. His father, Guru Arjan, who built what is now called the Golden Temple in Amritsar and also created what was known at the time as the Adi Granth (the holy scriptures of Sikhism) by collating the writings of his own predecessors and adding hymns he had composed himself along with suitable hymns by Hindu saints and Muslim Sufis, was executed upon the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, the son of the famous Emperor Akbar the Great; Akbar had granted the land to the Sikhs upon which the city of Amritsar and the Golden Temple were built.

    Ostensibly, the reason for Jahangir’s actions was political, namely the fact that Guru Arjan had allegedly blessed and assisted Jahangir’s rebel son Prince Khusrau when the latter had asked for his help and then refused to pay the fine for treason which the Emperor demanded from him. However, Jahangir’s own memoirs (known as the “Tuzk-e-Jahangiri”) also state that he had religious motivations, including the fact that Guru Arjan had gained Muslim followers.

    According to some sources, Jahangir was provided with another pretext by Guru Arjan’s refusal to remove some verses from the Sikh scriptures which Jahangir believed to be critical of some aspects of orthodox Islam (and orthodox Hinduism, according to other accounts), although Jahangir’s memoirs do not mention this. A religious motivation is curious, considering that the hedonistic Jahangir was not exactly the most puritanical person in the world when it came to Islam (his fondness for alcohol and opium is still legendary), and he was not known for religious fanaticism either; for example, Christians could openly celebrate festivals such as Christmas and Easter, and in fact, Jahangir’s extensive dealings with visiting Jesuit missionaries — who were allowed to open churches in several locations — were so amicable and open-minded that they mistakenly thought he was on the verge of converting to Christianity himself.

    Nevertheless, Jahangir’s memoirs record his apparent reasons, in his own words:

    ”In Goindwal, which is on the river Beas, there was a Hindu [sic] named Arjan, in the garments of sainthood and sanctity, so much so that he had captured many of the simple-hearted of the Hindus, and even of the ignorant and foolish followers of Islam, by his ways and manners, and they had loudly sounded the drum of his holiness. They called him Guru, and from all sides stupid people crowded to worship and manifest complete faith in him. For three or four generations [of spiritual successors] they had kept this shop warm. Many times it occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or to bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.

    At last when Khusrau passed along this road this insignificant fellow proposed to wait upon him. Khusrau happened to halt at the place where he was, and he came out and did homage to him. He behaved to Khusrau in certain special ways, and made on his forehead a finger-mark in saffron, which the Hindus call qashqa [tilak,] and is considered propitious. When this came to my ears and I clearly understood his folly, I ordered them to produce him and handed over his houses, dwelling-places, and children to Murtaza Khan, and having confiscated his property, commanded that he should be put to death.”

    Guru Arjan knew that he would not return alive, and therefore transferred the Guruship to his son Hargobind. Murtaza Khan imprisoned Guru Arjan in a Mughal fort and had him tortured for five days, involving brutalities such as forcing him to sit on a red-hot iron sheet, pouring burning hot sand on him, and immersing him in boiling hot water. On 30 May 1606, Guru Arjan requested that he be allowed to take a bath in the river Ravi which was located next to the fort. In front of thousands of people, he managed to make his way to the riverside, covered in blisters, and walked into the river. He never emerged again.

    Guru Hargobind was one month short of his 11th birthday when this occurred. He was already being trained in martial skills as part of his overall education, but when he grew up, he was the first Sikh Guru to begin the formal militarisation of the Sikh population, a process which culminated in the formation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. In the interests of defending both the Sikhs and the masses, Guru Hargobind began raising a professional standing army and also asked his followers to donate weapons and horses instead of money. He also characteristically wore two swords, symbolising spiritual power and temporal power respectively; in the same spirit, he began the transformation of the Sikh population into a cohesive political unit by building the Akal Takht opposite the Golden Temple in Amritsar, as the seat of Sikh political authority. Guru Hargobind would engage in morning prayers wearing full armour, and encouraged his followers to practise martial activities. Sikhs even began referring to him as “Sacha Padshah”, the True King. These developments did not go unnoticed by the imperial Mughal administration, although the Guru’s own relations with Jahangir were erratic and fluctuated between friendship and hostility. At one point he was also detained in Gwalior Fort for a period, and according to some accounts, upon his release he arranged for 52 Hindu kings who were political prisoners in the fort to be simultaneously freed. When the Guru reached Amritsar on Diwali, the inhabitants lit up the city with thousands of lamps to celebrate his return.

    Many members of the far-Right, particularly the self-appointed “champions against Islam”, would no doubt assume that, as a result of his own experiences, Guru Hargobind would have “justifiably” declared a similarly hostile attitude towards the religion of Islam as a whole and would have waged war against the Mughal Empire’s Muslim population en masse.

    They could not be more wrong.

    Not only did Guru Hargobind not preach hatred towards ordinary Muslims, ban them from entering gurdwaras/Sikh temples (including the facility to eat the free communal food which is still provided to visitors without differentiating between their religious backgrounds), or add any verses attacking Muslims to the Sikh scriptures he had inherited from his father, but unlike the SIOE, Guru Hargobind did not claim that “There is no such thing as moderate Muslims”, or that “global chemotherapy is needed against Islam to save civilisation”, or that “Islamophobia is the height of common sense”, or that Muslims who appeared to be moderate were hiding the true nature of Islam and were practising “taqiyya“ — lying in order to further Islam — and “kitman” — withholding the truth/facts in order to further Islam.

    Unlike the BNP, Guru Hargobind did not claim that “Islam is a wicked, vicious faith”, or that “the real enemies are the Crescent Horde, the endless waves of Islamics who are flocking to our shores to bring the nation into the embrace of their barbaric desert religion”, or that “their good book [the Quran] tells them that it’s acceptable [raping non-Muslim girls]…if you doubt it, go and buy a copy and you will find verse after verse and you can take any woman you want as long as it’s not Muslim women…It’s part of their [Muslims’] plan for conquering countries, it’s how they do it…Part of what they’re doing comes from what they’re taught is acceptable.”

    And unlike many supporters of the far-Right in general, Guru Hargobind did not claim that Islam is basically a “fascist religious ideology”; he did not claim that Muslims are inherently incompatible with civilised values and people from other backgrounds; he did not claim that concepts such as “diversity” and “multiculturalism” are dirty words; he did not claim that anyone promoting a humane, enlightened attitude towards Muslims was a “morally & intellectually bankrupt liberal fascist”; and he did not start promoting paranoid hysteria about “minarets”, “Islamification” and “the explosive demographic growth of Muslims”.

    Guru Hargobind was certainly not someone who was unfamiliar with Islam or had little direct experience of Muslims. It’s worth bearing in mind that, at the time, Muslims had already been in the Indian subcontinent in large numbers for 600 years; the region has more Muslims than anywhere else in the world, especially the northern half of the subcontinent and most of all the northwest. And India was certainly not a “backward, underdeveloped third-world country” in the global pecking order either; during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (a contemporary of England’s Queen Elizabeth I), renowned for his exemplary leadership and his tolerant, inclusive, pluralistic policies and administrative structure in an extremely diverse, multicultural and multireligious empire, India and China jointly accounted for approximately 50% of the world’s entire GDP. By the time of his grandson Emperor Shah Jahan (of “Taj Mahal” fame), Shah Jahan was technically the wealthiest person on the planet. Furthermore, as non-Muslims, neither Guru Hargobind himself nor any of his predecessors or successors (especially Guru Gobind Singh, considering what he went through in his life as a result of his era’s equivalent of “militant/radical Islam”) had any vested interest whatsoever in practising “taqiyya” or “kitman”.

    One of the most remarkable examples of Guru Hargobind’s stance towards Muslims is the fact that he had a mosque built for the local Muslim population of the fortress-town (eventually called Sri Hargobindpur, now in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab, India) which he had founded and which had attracted Hindu and Muslim settlers as well as Sikhs; the building is called “Guru ki Maseet”, meaning “the Guru’s Mosque”. It fell into disrepair after the Partition of India in 1947 and, due to there no longer being any Muslims living in the area, was subsequently used as a gurdwara by Nihang Sikhs, the modern-day counterparts of the fiercest, most dedicated professional soldiers of Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa army. However, approximately a decade ago, Baba Kirtan Singh (the leader of the Nihangs) wanted Muslims who had recently settled nearby to be able to use the building as a mosque again and perform their prayers there, as intended by Guru Hargobind, and therefore engaged in extensive discusssions about the matter with Dr Mohammad Rizwanul Haque, Administrator at the Punjab Waqf Board (the state’s Muslim authorities), in conjunction with the Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI), UNESCO, the UN Development Project (UNDP), and the UN Volunteers program (UNV).

    A group of Sikhs and Muslims volunteered their services to begin restoring the mosque: Sikhs offered their labour while Muslim masons repaired the walls, and an all-women team of restorers led by Gurmeet Kaur Rai (Director of CRCI) became involved. The people of the entire village, along with those from the surrounding areas, answered Ms Rai’s request for assistance with clearing the earth around the shrine. Hundreds of schoolchildren and Nihangs did the spadework. As per the wishes of Baba Kirtan Singh, five saplings were planted in the names of five of the Sikh Gurus. The project was successfully completed on 23 March 2004 and the mosque is recognised as a historic site by UNESCO. The initiative had actually been formally celebrated with a ceremony two years previously, when namaz (Muslim prayers) was performed at the mosque for the first time since 1947. Maulvi Hamid Hussain Qasmi, the imam of the Jama Masjid (mosque) in Amritsar participated in the ceremony, and a representative group of Muslims prayed together in front of the building, surrounded by the Nihangs and community members, all determined to overcome sectarian differences, all determined to promote the spirit of peaceful, amicable coexistence, all united by their common humanity.

    The greatness of historical leaders like Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Singh, with their prejudice-free stance towards ordinary Muslims despite the fact that they had suffered horrific personal tragedies at the hands of people claiming to act in the name of Islam, highlights how small the corrupt, malevolent and ignorant leaders of racist organisations such as the BNP, the SIOE, and their respective supporters truly are. And as a response to the poisonous agenda of hatred, division and bigotry promoted by the far-Right, “Guru ki Maseet” – “the Guru’s Mosque” — could not be a more potent symbol, or a more relevant message for our times.

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    13 Comments below   |  

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    1. pickles

      Blog post:: Guru Hargobind: Mosques, Minarets and Multiculturalism

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    3. Dil Nawaz

      RT @pickledpolitics #Pakistan #uk #india #british culture #bradford #southall #bnp #hindu #islam #sikh #eu #usa @libcon

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    1. mamtor — on 6th December, 2009 at 5:18 am  

      Is there a connecting thread between the headline and the article?

    2. Bradistan Calling — on 6th December, 2009 at 5:58 am…

      Retweeted thru twitter

    3. Rumbold — on 6th December, 2009 at 1:34 pm  

      Excellent piece Jai. We need more of this sort of thing.

    4. Leon — on 6th December, 2009 at 3:01 pm  

      Another great piece Jai, echo Rummy above, we need more!

    5. mangles — on 7th December, 2009 at 6:33 am  

      Thanks for the another inspiring read Jai.

      Your two articles have highlighted how The Guru's really were ahead of their times, setting such great milestones in thinking and action, when all around the globe bigotry was the order of the day be it through race/ethnic slavery of our extended human family, forced conversion of other God loving and fearing people, or caste/class based ill treatment of members of society. Thanks for sharing your posts and confirming that there always is another way to deal with hate and the answer does not have to lie in wanton extremism, or hate fuelled violence and hate against a whole religion or ethnic group.

      There is always good in all, and the message of Guru Nanak Sahib at Hardwar and Mecca shows that God resides everywhere and in everyone, its just that we all too often forget God in the rhetoric. Which is where the Al Qaeda nutters have so keenly felt the desire to killanyone that does not believe on their stupid ideology, and the BNP et al want to show that they are more than happy to emulate their rhetoric and then some.

      An apocolyptic thought, imagine a world where Al Qaeda have a region/country ruled by their version of sharia law and all are innimical to their version of Islam; and the BNP have their ultra cleansed ethnically pure country. They'll each survive about a day and then start civil war's cos they'll find something that even divides their inbred retard neighbours. What an anti-climax. Either that or they'll turn on each other cos their hate-ideology will need to be spread to the far corners of their flat planet. They do still believe in a flat planet dont they?

      Rab rakha!

    6. Jai — on 7th December, 2009 at 10:57 am  

      Rumbold, Leon, Mangles, thank you very much for your kind words. Eloquent post by Mangles too.

      Regarding the basic premise of this article and the previous one about Guru Gobind Singh, time will tell if the message is taken on-board by those who really need to hear it.

    7. Fojee_Punjabi — on 7th December, 2009 at 12:48 pm  

      Great post and all but don't you think you're all slightly missing the point?

      Some Muslims in Britain have turned into tyrants.

      They preach in the middle of town centres and purposely target vulnerable people for conversion either under duress or through coercion which again is mirrored in prisons up and down the country.

      I don't know if you guys are aware of a gang called PDC that exists in south London but the plight of the communities in which these Muslim extremists live hardly gets recognised because of the political correctness that has been fostered owing to a fear of offending anyone.

      I personally know of a man who was murdered in south London because of his decision to object to threats of murder in case he didn't convert to Islam and join the PDC gang.

      Why then is it now considered wrong to challenge these people when our Gurus would have slain them?

      Are you all just scared of offending people or just plain ignorant? Or maybe you're scared of doing the right thing and actually calling a spade a spade?

      Why do you think people are choosing to back the BNP?

      Your average John Bull doesn't give a hoot about someone's religion but when they start feeling unsafe in their own town centres and worry about young Pakistani men targeting their daughters in northern towns in Yorkshire, for example, they turn to extremists like the BNP because the rest of society (especially those who are supposed to represent them like MPs) marginalises their concerns.

      So what do you do now?

      I tell you what you do- you stop trying to mount the moral high ground and writing posts about the Sikh Gurus whilst telling us not to hate Muslims and instead you LISTEN to the concerns of those who feel like the only option they have is to turn to fascists to actually feel like they have a voice,

    8. mangles — on 7th December, 2009 at 3:50 pm  

      Fojee Punjabi

      You may be missing the point made in Jais articles yourself. There are groups out there full of zealots ie the extremist Al Qaeda Bin-Laden worshippers, who have a desire to create an Umma in Britain, Europe, US and even Doaba (the cheeky shites) and I agree those idiots need to be highlighted and our full force thrust upon. However the issue is one of bigotry and fascism, and it's important that we don't replace the same idiotic rhetoric with similar hate-fuelled garbage and worse, against a whole community instead of clearly targetting the PDC and HuT and Al Muhajaroun. No one especially Jai has suggested that nor should they.

      France has banned the veil (and the turban) from secular public life, and in a similar fashion the minaret is being banned in another corner of Europe. This is reducing our liberties not enforcing and strengthening them, and what they have really done is what the BNP would want i.e. create a crusade mentality, and what the Islamists want i.e. a muslim victimhood. Neither of these actions find solace in Sikhi philosophy. Instead it is the tyrants of the said groups and the garbage they spout which needs to be curtailed, not Islam as the EDL would say.

      I've been at enough events and meetings dealing with the aftermath of the Islamist supremacists and their white counterparts. We have to clearly separate these b******s from the everyday Muslim and white person, or be that a 'Sikh'-racist like the BNP loving-fool who calls himself Rajinder Singh.

      But I do hear your point that not enough is being done to disrupt the criminal activities that the Islamist rhetoric has bred, which I have seen referred to as 'Infidelism' or ''Kafirism' -a sort of racist or religous crime against someone because they are simply not Muslim. This includes gang rape of so called non-Muslim promiscuous women, targetting of drugs amongst white women to lure them into prostitution etc. I remember a Panorama programme about this a couple of years ago and a young Pakistani community leader in that programme actually pointed the finger at how PC was withholding proper justice to stop such activities. I agree that this new form of hate politics needs to be better highlighted and tackled, especially so as it is destroying real lives and at the same time fuelling bigotry amongst British society which is otherwise relatively cohesive compared to most parts of the world.

      Keep up the good fight -'At hee rann mae(n) tab joojh maroo(n)'.

      Rab rakha!

      p.s. Your grammar does not have that authentic Punjabi dialect yaar so you can not be a real Fojee, hanna. LOL

    9. Ahmed — on 24th January, 2010 at 2:20 am  

      Fojee Punjabi makes a valid point that some Muslims in Britain have turned into tyrants.

      As a British Muslim myself, I find it most shocking to read the antics of those like islam4uk who claim to be my co-religionists. These individuals are obnoxious amateurs who in their zeal to irritate and provoke the general public, will even trample over every Islamic ethic on decency.

      The tragedy is that because the tabloid press love to placate them as somehow representative of mainstream Muslim community has helped the BNP and EDL all Muslims with extremism.

      I am ofcourse heartened to read the articles on Guru Hargobind, and find much inspiration in his actions and teachings.

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