Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, compassion, humanity and love. It demands from its followers to continuously learn till the time one is lowered into the grave. It also puts great stress that a believer should respect others religions and should know about them and their founders so that the believer can compare his religion with the religion of others. He can argue well only if he has sound knowledge about the religion he wants to talk or write about. It also helps him to reach conclusions and add to his knowledge. The book under review, Walking with Nanak, is about Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The book is written by Haroon Khalid, a Pakistani writer. He tries to walk along with Nanak all along in the book where Nanak once walked, stayed and met people of different religions, especially in Pakistan where Guru Nanak was born and also laid to rest.
The books also talks about the other Sikh gurus but in brief. The main focus of the book is on Nanak, his philosophy, teachings, the contemporary Pakistani society and its religious intolerance towards the minorities. The renovation of Sikh Gurudwars in Pakistan by Pakistani governments shows a welcome concern towards religious minorities and these Gurudwaras attract a large number of Sikh pilgrims from Pakistan and other places, which paves the way for religious tourism and helps develop the economy.
In the book, the contribution of Iqbal Kaiser cannot be ruled out as he went along with Khalid to collect data and helped him the most in this project.
The teachings of Guru Nanak, as claimed by the author, are 75% similar to Islam as both religions believe in monotheism. Guru Nanak propagated the oneness of God and laid the foundations of Sikhism. The initial pages talk about the depleted conditions of the Sikh Gurudwars in Pakistan which need immediate renovation to preserve these as a sign of composite culture in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It takes the reader to all the places where Nanak lived or stayed. Nanak was born at a place called Rai Bhoi di Talwindi in a Hindu family, a place now known as Nankana Sahab, in the year 1469. He breathed his last at Kartarpur Sahab in Pakistan. There was a Muslim fakir who often visited a Hindu temple where the mother of Nanak prayed for a child as she did not have even after six years of marriage. It is said that it was the Muslim fakir who prayed on behalf of Nanak’s mother when he met her at the temple.
Haroon Khalid has shed light on Nanak’s early life. It describes how Nanak started taking interest in spiritual philosophy and discussions with Sufis and ascetics. Nanak once spent his father’s hard-earned money to feed sadhus whom he met while on the way to start a business. When Nanak returned empty handed, his father (Mehta Kalu) slapped him, which became an important event in Sikh history and is popularly known as Sacha Sauda (honest trade) in Sikhism.
Boota Singh, whom the author met while collecting material for the book, told him that he never felt alone in a Muslim-majority area. He said his Muslim neighbours protected him and his family at the time of Partition and they even had the backing of the army which announced in the village that this Sikh family must be protected and looked after.
There seems to be a difference between Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh as Nanak lived a simple life and travelled to far-off places singing songs of love and tolerance while Guru Gobind lived his life like a sovereign who laid the foundations of the Khalsa and at his command was a standing army whose weapons were procured through the offerings of devotees and raids upon neighbouring villages, as claimed by the author. Guru Gobind Singh was fond of literature and was adept in Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit.
When Nanak and Bhai Mardana (Nanak born in a Hindu family while Mardana in a Muslim family) travelled to Saidpur, there they found big havelis and temples, poor beggars begging outside of these temples and beggars not allowed to enter inside the premises of these temples as the priests had made religion a business and were selling it to the devotees. Mardana was considered untouchable by high-caste Hindu Brahmans. Every day in the evening Bhai Mardana picked up his rubab and played it while Guru Nanak sang his poetry to the tunes of the rubab. This practice became a permanent daily feature and ritual of Sikh religion. At Saidpur, Nanak told Lalo (a low-caste Hindu) that people like Malik Bhago thought that feeding a few high-caste hungry Brahmins will wash off their sins, but the truth was that they fed them out of the blood of hard-working people. Nanak said:
These are ignoble among the noblest,
And pure among the despised,
The former shall though avoid,
And be the dust under the foot of the other.
The author also argues that many of the miracles which were associated with Nanak by his devotees were invented later as Nanak was against miracles and spoke vehemently against miracles in his teachings. The Gurus of Sikhs made some additions to the religion of Sikhism, among them some practices which had been decried by Guru Nanak himself.
The book also talks about the meeting between Guru Nanak and Sheikh Kamal. The meeting comprised questions posed by Kamal and answers given by Nanak. Kamal asked these questions on behalf of his master Sheikh Ibrahim. After listening to the answers, Ibrahim went along with Sheikh Kamal to meet Nanak in person. It was after this meeting that the poetry of Baba Farid found place in the Guru Granth Sahab and was preserved for posterity.
Guru Nanak was against idol worship. Nanak refused to stand up in a temple when the Pandit and other devotees stood up for the aarti. Nanak felt sad when he saw people pouring liters of milk over a Shivling. He saw this as a waste of milk and thought of the poor and beggars outside temples. He challenged the priest and their conversation is worth reading.
When Haroon Khalid travelled for this book, he found all sorts of ill practices at the shrines of Pakistan where Sufis and fakirs drained the hard-earned money out of the pockets of those who visited these shrines. They, too, have made the religion of Islam as a business for their own benefit.
One of the best practices of Sikhism is the langar where anyone can come and eat irrespective of caste, creed, and religion. This practice is considered as an exemplary democratic practice but the author has not written about the langar in detail. It also seems that the author does not approve of the idea of Partition that created Pakistan. At many places he shows the Pakistani society as intolerant towards its minorities.
The book was published before the recent opening of Karatarpur Sahab for Sikh pilgrims from India and other parts of the world. I too wish to visit Kartarpur Sahab, if allowed, to see the old building and to eat the langar there with Sikh brothers.
The writer is a PhD research scholar. [email protected]