Though Sikhism is a distinct religion separate from Hinduism and Islam, we are sharing this story in the spirit of communal harmony
Kuldeep Singh Saini, a mechatronics engineer developed the app Ramadan 2016 which helps keep a track of the direction of prayer, iftar (meal after sunset), sehri (pre-dawn meal), prayer timings, and has been downloaded more than 500,000 times.
Kuldeep, 27, was always intrigued by how the workers at his father’s garage diligently observed the various religious customs during the Holy Month of Ramadan, and had always wanted to make it easier for them to do the same. Armed with basic coding knowledge and a fair experience in app development, he started working on a Ramadan App in 2015. He started by researching religious practices by talking to the workers in his father’s garage. It took him two months to finish work on the UI and UX, while the actual coding took him another two months.
LUDHIANA: A Hindu priest, P D Shukla, in saffron robes and a rudraksh mala in hand, was going around the mosque premises, asking people if they have had a proper meal. So was Manpreet Singh, a church pastor, as some Sikhs served food in the mosque’s verandah. The food was prepared in the community kitchen (langar) on the rooftop of the mosque. Close to 400 people — madrasa children, some Sikhs and labourers, too — were served food.
“Hi Langar, Goodbye World Hunger,” read the banner at the entrance of the mosque, put up by Sikh Press Association (SPA) and Basics of Sikhi, who chose the mosque as the venue to celebrate International Langar Week. We want to spread the message of communal harmony as well as give a call to fight world hunger, said the representatives of the four communities.
The tomb of the Sufi saint Daud Bandagi Kirmani is a typical Mughal construction with an octagonal base and a round bulbous white dome. The shrine is covered by a protective wall and there are several other graves in this courtyard, some of his descendants and others of rich people from the city who paid or vied to be buried close to the saint, hoping to achieve salvation through their proximity.
The shrine is located in the centre of this city of Shergarh, a historical city located about 100 kilometers south of Lahore. The city as well is protected by a fort like wall. Whereas such walls of larger cities in India were razed down by the British after 1857, they remained untouched in smaller cities. The entire city was celebrating the annual 3 day celebration of the urs of the saint. All streets and roads in here had been converted into a makeshift bazaar. Smell of freshly prepared samosa lingered in the air. Some were selling eatables to those who did not want to partake in the langaar at the shrine. Most of the shops were selling religious paraphernalia – sacred threads, bangles, rings with special stones, items one is likely to encounter outside major Hindu temples. In fact to an unacquainted visitor this might as well be the threshold of a Hindu temple. The only difference would be the posters. All the posters here represented iconic Muslim saints like Daud Bandagi, Baba Farid, and Shahbaz Qalandar, while posters outside Hindu temples sell Hindu images. Women, men, children, old and young, all throng to the shrine for these festivities.
Balaji Temple in Tividale near Birmingham was founded to meet the social needs and the spiritual aspirations of a large number of Hindus in the UK, especially in the Midlands. At the time of its opening in 1999, this was the largest temple of its kind in the UK.
Today, the temple is being visited by people from all over the country and from abroad.
The temple complex includes seven Faith hills created to represent seven major faiths in the United Kingdom and India. Seven hills on the site are to show our respect to seven major faiths and to reflect the seven peaks of Shri Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, India. “Unity is divinity” is the motto of the temple and relevant for interfaith work. Lord Buddha’s statue, carved by a local sculptor, was installed on one of the hills in May 2001. Faith hill representing Christianity bears a plaque with an inscription “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.”
The Sufi and Bhakti tradition in Pakistan and India are two such trends from within Islam and Hinduism respectively, that are focused more on the unity of humanity as a whole, overcoming sectarian divides.
The saints from these traditions had massive appeal among people of different religions and they were away from the centers of power, unlike the clergy. We have seen rich traditions of people like Kabir, Tukaram, Narsi Mehta, Shankar Dev, Lal Dedh, clearly from within the Hindu tradition, while Nizamuddin Auliya, Moinuddin Chishti, Tajuddin Baba Auliya Ajan Pir, Nooruddin Noorani (also known as Nund Rishi) coming from a clear Sufi tradition and Satya Pir, Ramdev Baba Pir, having a mixed lineage, where Bhakti and Sufi themselves are deeply intertwined.
Sant Guru Nanak did try a conscious mixing of the two major religions of India. He traveled up to Makkah to learn the wisdom of Islam and went to Kashi to unravel the spiritual moral aspects of Hinduism. His first follower was Mardan; and Miyan Mir was the one who was respectfully invited to lay the foundations of the Golden Temple of the holy Sikh Shrine. Guru Granth Sahib has an inclusive approach to religious wisdom. No wonder people referred to him as, ‘Baba Nanak Sant Fakir, Hindu ka Guru Musalman ka Pir’ (Saint Nanak is a saint for Hindus and a pir for Muslims).
DUBAI: Representatives of Al Manar Islamic Centre ended their fast on Monday evening at the Jebel Ali-based Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara during an iftar organised by the temple committee that represents 250,000 members of the Sikh community. The iftar followed a religious discourse where scholars exchanged ideas.
Both Sikh priests and Islamic scholars exchanged ideas on the oneness of humanity and existence of one God before a gathering of more than 100 people.
Surinder Singh Kandhari, chairman of the Gurudwara, told Gulf News: “We consider the month of Ramadan an excellent time to observe interfaith harmony and bond with the community. Our religion has taught us the importance of the oneness of all human beings and the important role that the community kitchen at the gurudwara plays in bringing people together to share a meal. Every day we hold a langar (free meal for the community) for 1,000 people at the Sikh temple and on Fridays for 10,000 people. This iftar, which has become an annual feature since last year, is an excellent opportunity for us to forget our egos and come together and share a meal with our Muslim brothers.”
At the turn of the century, several thousand Indians settled in regions like Northern California. It’s the largely untold story of the migration of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims from pre-partition India from the late 19th century up until the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act (which was passed to limit Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Indian migration). At the time, about two-thirds of Indian immigrants in California were Sikh, and as a result, the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society – a gurdwara – opened in Stockton in 1911.
Because Hindus and Muslims in the region were still small in number, and unable to get the approvals to build any sites of worship, the Stockton gurdwara served as a place of worship for all three religions. While Hindu-Sikh co-worship was common in northern India for centuries, a place for all three groups in the United States was created by circumstance and sustained through interfaith bonds.
Over the next three decades, the Khalsa Diwan hosted Hindu leaders and Muslim leaders alike, including the Hindu leader Swami Yogananda, who founded the Self-Realization Fellowship and authored Autobiography of a Yogi. Moreover, it served as a meeting ground for those seeking to build support for the Indian freedom struggle, especially those involved with the Ghadar Party. Despite having different religions, Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus still felt strongly connected to India and identified strongly with Indian nationalism.
RAJKOT: India has amazing diversity. What is even more amazing is how India embraces so much diversity. Showcasing this assimilative aspect of India, scores of people from different religions recently gathered to listen to Ramkatha or the narration of the ancient.
Renowned Hindu preacher Morari Bapu narrated the story in Rajkot city of India’s western Gujarat state. The event was attended by high functionaries of different religious faiths. The main objective behind organising the event was to bring together people from different religions under one roof. Members of about 58 different communities including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs were present during the recital of the Ramkatha.
While Sikhism is a distinct religion from Hinduism & Islam it has made major contributions to inter-religious harmony
AMRITSAR: “Sikhism is a Panth which was founded on the principles of interfaith understanding, mutual respect and harmony” said former Jathedar during the inaugural address of symposium on Contribution of Sikhism.
Dr. Singh said politicians were dividing the people in the name of religion for their own benefits. He said that the holy scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib was not only on for Sikhs but for the whole humanity. He also stated that the divine teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib provide directions to lead balanced life and being a good human.
MUMBIA: From Makar Sankranti, Bhogali Bihu, Lohri, Pongal to Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi, a string of festivals lined up on Tuesday will make it a day of celebration of sorts for the city. Each of the festivals – largely celebrated to mark the harvest season in different parts of India – will be observed by different Hindu and Sikh communities. Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi will be celebrated to mark the birthday of Prophet Mohammed by Muslims.
Makar Sankranti is attributed due to astral changes. It is said that the Sun enters the Capricorn zodiac sign. Lohri is celebrated by Punjabis, both Sikh and Hindu, and Bhogali Bihu by the Assamese while Pongal is celebrated in southern India. While these celebrations will be held mostly in homes, the birthday of the Prophet will be celebrated across the city through rallies.
One such rally will be conducted by the All India Khilafat House Committee. In its 94th year, it was started by Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Mohammed Ali Johar. I “The idea of the rally is to promote communal harmony, create goodwill for community in the minds of other people and brotherhood. These will be highlighted by the saying and quotes of Prophet Mohammed,” said Sarfaraz Arzoo.
JOSHIMATH: Every year local Muslims congregated at a local park to offer Eid prayers. But because of heavy rains, many were unable to pray on the muddy ground so the Sikh community offered their gurdwara as a prayer space.
As a brown man with a beard and turban, I am usually perceived as Muslim. Unfortunately, more often than not, that perception comes with a whole lot of Islamophobic bigotry, but that’s a post for another time. If someone (politely) asks me if I’m Muslim and I say no, the follow up question is usually, “What are you, Hindu?”
I, along with the vast majority of turban-wearers in this country, am a Sikh (properly pronounced “Sick(h)”). Many readers would likely recognize me as a Sikh if you saw me walking down the street, but even many of those who know that man + turban = Sikh (gotta love Goodness Gracious Me) nevertheless have been misinformed (or just not informed) about Sikhism.
The most common misconception I hear from other South Asians about Sikhi is that it is a sect of Hinduism. Perhaps a warrior caste even (ironic, given that Sikhi from its inception was an anti-caste revolution). Another more understandable misconception, or oversimplification, is that Sikhism is a blend of Hinduism and Islam. The reality is that Sikhism is an independent faith with almost 30 million followers, making it the fifth largest religion in the world.
But first, let’s back up. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak, a mystic poet, saint, and revolutionary who was born (to Hindu parents) in Punjab in 1469. Around the age of 30, after emerging from having disappeared for three days while bathing in a river, Guru Nanak stated, “Na koi Hindu, Na Koi Mussalman” (there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim).
This provocative statement wasn’t intended to be a diss to Hinduism and Islam. As Sikh scholar Nikki Guninder Kaur states, “Guru Nanak was not making a value judgment about, nor refuting, the religious life of the Hindus and Muslims of his day. He was pointing to the oneness of the Trascendent that translates into the oneness and equality of humanity… He was not asking people to abandon their faith and adopt another, but stressing the fundamental, common truth underlying the diverse faiths and systems of belief.”
Like his contemporary Kabir and other saints associated with the radical bhakti movement, Guru Nanak saw religious divisions and rigidity as obstacles to the Divine. South Asia at the time was under the rule of the Mughal Empire, which was often at odds with Hindus. He saw a society brimming with hypocrisy, intolerance, caste oppression and sexism, all in the name of God. Guru Nanak traveled around Asia and the Middle East engaging the people he met about questions of God, religion, injustice, and love, while singing his devotional poetry, accompanied by a Muslim musician, Bhai Mardana.
Almost two hundred years later, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and final living Guru of the Sikhs continued to emphasize unity: …Hindus and Muslims are one.
The same Reality is the Creator and Preserver of all; Know no distinctions between them. The monastery and the mosque are the same; So are the Hindu worship and the Muslim prayer. Humans are all one!
Of course, contemporary Sikh institutions have not been immune to the powerful ideologies (and pathologies) of arrogance, sectarianism, and patriarchy (I write about some of these contentious issues in our community at The Langar Hall). Perhaps if Guru Nanak were alive today he might say, “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim, there is no Sikh.”
Despite the problems inherent in most religious institutions, we Sikhs in the end rely on the poetry of the Guru Granth Sahib to inspire us. The Guru Granth Sahib is a 1430 page collection of devotional poetry written by six of the Sikh Gurus and nineteen Hindu and Muslim saints from the Radical Bhakti and Sufi traditions (including Kabir, Sheikh Farid, Namdev, and Ravidas). Indeed, you don’t have to look any further than the Sikh scriptures to see Hindu-Muslim (and Sikh) unity embodied.
Sahas tav nain, nan nain hah tohe kau, sahas murat nanaa ek tohi.
Sahas pad bimal, nan ek pad, gandh bin, sahas tav gandh, iv chatal mohi.
Sabh maih jot jot hai soe.
Tis de chaanan sabh mai chaanan hoe.
You have a thousand eyes yet without eye are You,
You have a thousand faces yet without face are You,
You have a thousand feet yet without foot are You,
You have a thousand noses yet without nose are You,
I am enchanted by Your wonders.
There is a Light in all, and the Light is You,
By that Light we are all illuminated.
Often a point of contention in religious debates, the idea of God manifesting in various forms is greatly misunderstood. There are some who believe that Hindus worship “330 million different gods” with Hindu verses taken out of context and misconstrued. It needs to be emphasized that the main point of this piece is not whether religions are polytheistic (belief in more than one god) or monotheistic (belief in one god). This is irrelevant – the objective is to show that multiple forms of the Creator are written about in the sacred texts of ALL major religions, not just in Hinduism. The essence is the same. The conflict is merely an issue of language/semantics. Before detailing what exactly Hinduism says on this subject it’s important to first examine the three religions which are usually labeled monotheistic.
What Abrahamic faiths say
Genesis 1:26 of the Torah narrates “”Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” The words “us” and “our” imply that more than one creator constructed humanity. In Genesis, one Supreme Force assigns the task of creating Adam to
a team of divine servants. The Old Testament calls this team “angels”; Hindu scriptures use the Sanskrit term devas (demigods) instead to describe those who serve Brahman. The Hebrew word El-ohim which is used numerous times in the Torah can be translated to mean one single God or multiple entities. At the end of every angel’s name is “el” (Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Immanu-el, etc.), each representing a different aspect or characteristic of the larger Creator El.
Catholicism references not one but three divinities – God the Father, Jesus his son, and the Holy Spirit. Catholics are also known to pray to various saints who handle specific issues. Protestant faiths revolve around the worship of two distinct beings, God the Father and his son Jesus. The New Testament 23:33 even contains a conversation where Jesus says “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In monotheism would this be considered a monologue or a dialogue?
Islam continues in the lineage of the Hebrew prophet Abraham. Just as in the Torah, the Quran also uses the plural “we”: “And We did certainly create the heavens and earth ” (50:38) and “O people, we created you from the same male and female.” (49:13)
What Hinduism says
It’s clear that there’s an inconsistency when defining religions as polytheistic or monotheistic. When a person worships Ganesh the son and his Father Shiva they’re said to believe in more than one God. The same thing isn’t said about someone who worships Jesus the son and his Father Jehovah. The Catholic Trinity is considered monotheist, but the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva is not. When the Vedas say that Brahman manifested as various entities then the conclusion is that Hindus believe in many gods. But when the book of Genesis and Surat Qaf describe a legion of creators that designed Man this is somehow not the same thing.
And what do religions say about how their sacred texts were delivered to prophets? Exodus 3:3 states “The angel of the Lord appeared to him as flames in the fire from a bush.” Here, commentators refer to this fire as “the presence of God.” But when this story is presented to the public, Moses is instead talking directly with God, not an angel as the scriptures specify. Muslims also believe that the angel Gabriel revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Yet the Quran is referred to as “the word of God.” Even though God did not directly transmit the Quran to Muhammad, it’s accepted that Gabriel is a representation of God delivering the word.
Yet critics of Hinduism will not allow this same logic to be applied to its scriptures. The Mahabharata was penned by sage Vyasa and dictated by Ganesh, yet it’s not considered a divine text because it wasn’t revealed by directly by Bhagavan. The BhagavadGita was sung by Krishna, but since he’s an avatar (manifestation) of Vishnu in the form of an Earthly being, it’s not considered the word of God. And even though it was not heavenly beings but men who penned the New Testament the same way the Vedas where were revealed to rishis, the Vedas cannot be considered divinely inspired.
The common argument is Biblical and Quranic verses do not promote polytheism, but that God merely materialized as separate representations at the same time. This is exactly what Hindu scriptures having been saying all along – that the Creator can manifest, act, and reveal on this plane in an infinite number of ways.
First let’s address the misconception that Hindus worship “330 million gods” (or some similar outlandish number) by looking directly into their scriptures. Rig Veda 1:164:46 says “the One Being is called by many names.” This point is elaborated in the Upanisads, a sub-text which is presented as conversations between a teacher and his pupils. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1:9:1 contains one such dialogue:
Student: How many gods are there?
Guru: Three hundred and three and three thousand and three.
Student: How many gods are there?
Guru: Thirty three.
Student: How many gods are there?
This dialogue goes on until finally the Guru reaches the answer One. He continues by saying that there is one Being who pervades the entire universe and manifests in infinite forms. There is no Hindu text that lists a million names, let alone thirty three million. In a daily Vedic ceremony priests/brahmins are required to chant the many titles of God. If priests had to speak such high a number in one ritual they’d probably be chanting their whole lives without a break. And imagine the overwhelming task if each Hindu had to individually worship 330 million gods every time they prayed or visited a temple!
The Katha Upanishad expands on the idea of infinite manifestations: There is one Ruler, the Spirit that is in all things, who transforms his own form into many.
Indian saint Namdev of the Sikh tradition also wrote in agreement with Hinduism: He is the One in many, countless are His shapes and forms. He pervades all that exists; wherever I look, He is there.
The Bhagavad Gita also details the idea of devas and One Supreme Deity. Avatar narrator Krishna explains that devotees
have permission to devote their heart to the form of God they desire: I am in everyone’s heart. As soon as one desires to worship a deva, I make their faith steady so that he/she can devote himself to that particular deity. Endowed with such a faith, they execute worship of a particular deity and obtains their desires. But in reality these benefits are given by Me. (7:21-23)
This verse also gives a glimpse as to why there are no Hindu missionaries around the world working to convert people. The Gita states that whichever form of the Creator a person is attracted to whether it be Brahman, Allah, Raba, Yahweh, or anything else, they are encouraged to worship that form so long as the devotion is sincere and they obey God’s basic tenets. The viewpoint that the Supreme has created the Earth to be a battleground for religious fighting or competition is rejected.
Gita 17:23 says that the chanting of priests in Vedic ceremonies performed specifically for God’s agents are directly pleasing to Brahman: From the beginning of creation, the three words OM TAT SAT were used to symbolize God. These three representations were used by brahmins chanting Vedic hymns for the satisfaction of the Supreme.
In Chapter 11 of the Gita, Krishna reveals his infinite forms to Arjun, showing that the Divine is able to manifest in an infinite number of ways, both beautiful and terrible. Arjun is so terrified of the sight that he asks Krishna to revert back to the comforting single, personal form understood by him. This is something mirrored by religious devotees, as most people attach themselves to the religion that makes them feel comfortable in their form of worship.
In all religions various attributes and qualities are assigned to the Creator. But the reality is most people choose to worship a form of the Creator they feel mirrors their personal viewpoints. Some view God as vengeful and angry, while others see a loving and merciful God. Some see God as encompassing of all these qualities, while others say God is incapable of having attributes since attributes are human-like. We see these differences in the various sects of religions, some causing rifts within communities that supposedly worship the same Supreme Being. Likewise in Hinduism, Hindus are attracted to the form of deity which is pleasing to their outlook on religion. Which form of God or deva appeals to a Hindu devotee’s heart and mind is the one they will choose to worship. Instead of being hung up on terms like “polytheism” or “monotheism” Hindus instead must focus on steadying their devotion, purifying their heart, and focusing their intellect on loving worship of the Infinite.
Brahman exists everywhere. Prophets and Incarnations are born to show benighted humanity their way. They give different instructions to suit different temperaments. There are many ways to realize truth. So all these instructions have their relative value. For instance, many birds are perched on the branches of a tree. They are of different colors: white, black, red, yellow, and so on. Their sounds, too, are different. But when they sing we say that the sounds are made by the birds. We do not designate one particular sound only as the sound of the birds, and refuse to acknowledge the other sounds as such. – Mother Sarada Devi
The temple or the mosque are the same, the Hindu worship or the Musalman prayer are the same. All men are the same. It is through error they appear different. Deities, demons, Yakshas, heavenly singers, Musalmans and Hindus adopt the customary dress of their different countries. All men have the same eyes, the same ears, the same body, the same build, a compound of earth, air, fire, and water. Allah and Abhekh are the same, the Puranas and the Quran are the same. They are all alike, it is the one God who created all. The Hindu God and the Muhammadan God are the same. Let no man even by mistake suppose there is a difference.
– Guru Gobind Singh, 10th guru of the Sikh religion