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Guru ki Maseet


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Tying bonds of unity at Guru ki Maseet

By Anna Bigelow

AS the light in the gurdwara courtyard grew golden, an unusual meeting took place between Baba Kirtan Singh, head of the Nihang Taran Dal in Baba Bakala, and Dr Mohammad Rizwanul Haque, Secretary of the Central Wakf Council, Delhi. The two men sat facing each other on simple string charpoys to discuss their shared interests in a masjid built by a Sikh Guru.

It was like observing master weavers at work as they interlaced two of the many threads that make up the rich tapestry of India’s religious and cultural fabric. Dr Haque sat leaning forward, listening raptly in order to make out the wavering but urgent voice of the elderly Sikh.

Baba Kirtan Singh had come prepared, bringing with him several texts of Sikh history, some written in Gurmukhi and others in Persian script. He read from the records about the Sikh Guru’s conversion of the house of a dead Muslim into a masjid and the setting up of a langar for the poor. He also told of an encounter between Guru Nanak and some Muslims that ended with the declaration that "if Hindus are the left hand, then Muslims are the right, and we all believe in the one true God." In this way, Baba Kirtan Singh skillfully wove together the history of the Gurus and the present situation, the preservation and maintenance of a place — the Guru ki Maseet in Sri Hargobindpur— that is precious to both the communities

The maseet is picturesquely situated on a hill overlooking a curve in the mighty Beas river. After coming to the region in the early 17th century, Guru Hargobind built temples, gurdwaras, and a masjid to accommodate the spiritual needs of all the inhabitants. Since Partition there has been no Muslim population in the area. In the intervening years, the care of the site was taken up by Nihangs sent by Baba Kirtan Singh from his base in Baba Bakala, some 20 kilometres away. The present sevadar, Baba Balwant Singh, has been at the site since 1984, clearing weeds, sweeping dust, preparing langar, and fulfilling all the other obligations of his faith in service to the Guru, his Baba, and the Sikh tradition.

In 1997, a survey team with the Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI) came to the town and saw the maseet. Recognizing the value of the building, the group began to undertake the restoration of the mosque as part of the UNESCO and UNDP-UNV’s "Culture of Peace" programme, and with additional financial support from the US-based Sikh Foundation.

However, some hurdles had to be cleared. The area around the maseet had been encroached upon, the hillside was eroding and needed shoring up, and the local residents seemed largely unaware of this unique treasure and were not entirely comfortable with the Nihang presence at the site. Furthermore, a bir of the Guru Granth Sahib had been placed within the mosque and a Nishan Sahib erected near it, making the building’s identity as a maseet questionable.

As the restoration work began, the encroachment was cleared and the land cleaned up. A neighbour donated a piece of land and further property was purchased by CRCI with the assistance of UNESCO and the Sikh Foundation. Local residents contributed their time and energy to the site by organising a large seva with a langar that brought people from the entire region to the maseet — to see it, learn about it, and help it survive. People who had initially been skeptical or even afraid of the Nihangs began to learn about their beliefs and practices and now frequently and unhesitatingly visit the site to see the progress of the project.

Finally, a new space was built and the Guru Granth Sahib was moved out of the maseet. Various officials from the local Wakf Board, members of the SGPC, MLAs and Members of Parliament have visited the maseet and responded to queries from members of their communities who wished to know about the status of the site. All of these events culminated in the meeting on February 8 between Dr Haque and Baba Kirtan Singh in order to determine the future of the Guru ki Maseet.

The white-bearded elderly man in the blue and white turban sitting on one charpoy with his pile of books lovingly wrapped in cloth contrasted sharply in appearance, age and religion with the much younger, clean-shaven man in western clothes perched across from him. Yet at this meeting their unity of purpose and the similarity of their thinking was equally apparent.

Seeking common ground, Dr Haque had traveled a long and bumpy road from Delhi to Punjab to find Baba Kirtan Singh at his gurdwara. Baba Kirtan Singh had also made a long journey -- into the annals of Sikh history to discover precedents from the past that would strengthen the bonds of the two communities. The two men made great efforts to understand each other, to hear and be heard as they discussed the ways in which both communities could simultaneously live up to their interest and obligations to preserve and maintain the Guru’s maseet. They were helped in speaking to each other across languages and traditions by the translations of Punjab Wakf Board CEO Ikhlaq Ahmad Khan and CRCI Director Gurmeet Rai. As the conversation proceeded in Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu, the matter was clarified and an understanding reached. The Guru had built a masjid.

As Baba Kirtan Singh put it, "This maseet was established by our Guru. It is a maseet, but it is as important to us as a gurdwara." Dr Haque echoed this sentiment, declaring, "Your Guru built a maseet and it was his intention that Muslims come and perform namaz there. There are no Muslims now, but you (the Nihangs) have been preserving it very well and we all want it to stay in its original form." Later Baba Kirtan Singh stated that just as Muslims testify to the oneness of God, Sikhs say Sat Sri Akal. He again assured Dr Haque and the other representatives from the Wakf Board that they should not worry at all, the building would be kept as a maseet, as the Guru had wanted.

If the Guru built a mosque, it should be understood as more than a conciliatory gesture towards the other community. It was an act of community-building by a leader whose Miri-Piri sensibilities were steeped in the devotional traditions of Nanak, Baba Farid, Kabir and Namdev. The masjid is not simply a place sacred in various ways to these separate religions. It is an important symbol of the integrated past and present of India’s cultural heritage.

The maseet as a Muslim space also represents the deeply held principles of equality in Islam. This value is visible in the structure of the mosque itself. The horizontal orientation maximizes the proximity of the faithful to Mecca. It is further evident in the accessibility of the space to all people. Everyone is welcome here in a space that is designed to reflect the oneness of God and the importance of community. There is no rule in Islam against the participation of non-Muslims in the care of a Muslim shrine. On the contrary, there are countless precedents for the collective custody of such places. The only rules pertaining to who may or may not enter a masjid, or for that matter a gurdwara, are rules of adab, or right conduct, by which one shows respect to God, the place, and the assembled people, and oneself by entering in a state of bodily cleanliness with a covered head, bare feet, and a reverent attitude.

The crucial lesson to learn from this encounter is that these two leaders made deliberate and sincere efforts to meet each other, and to forge, rather than sever, the bonds between their two communities. Instead of seeking precedents and principles that would establish priority of their own claims and interests in the property, both strove to find the events and ideas of the past that would support their sharing of the maseet’s maintenance. In this way they established that sharing the responsibilities that both groups want to assume in the future care of the mosque is a fulfillment of the principles of their faiths. They further demonstrated that this joint project was simply one more example of India’s proud heritage of pluralism.

With the leadership of people like Dr Haque and Baba Kirtan Singh and the support of the Muslim and Nihang communities, neighbours, visitors, and benefactors, the Guru ki Maseet has every hope of surviving and providing future generations with yet another historic precedent for their efforts to live together in an increasingly plural and diverse society.

With the sound of the evening rehras permeating the air, providing a soothing sonic background, an agreement to this end was reached — the Guru ki Maseet is a mosque and should remain such, as per the wish of Guru Hargobind. The Nihangs who have cared for and respected the site for so long would continue to oversee its upkeep. The Guru Granth Sahib is in a newly built room at some distance from the maseet.

The locals of Sri Hargobindpur, who take increasing pride in their unique monument, will continue to support the place, doing seva there and executing plans for a community centre with a garden and library. Muslims who come are free to perform namaz. And visitors from all over the world will have the opportunity to see the Guru ki Maseet as a living example of the depth of India’s integration, past and present.

Original link: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2001/20010224/windows/main1.htm

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It's indeed a wonderful thing that Guru Hargobind did. But if we are to believe the Mahadin story it would mean that Guru Hargobind built a place that promoted something other that God's worship. It is one thing to accept someone having the right to a wrong opinion and another to promote a place where it is encouraged. The Gurus said they came to spread dharma. To build a place that promotes the teachings of a man who supposedly placed his name above God's name, became king of arabia and cut the lingas of kings would be to spread adharma.

This is why the Bachitar Natak represents a problem: it conflicts with the teachings and actions of the previous Gurus and so do writings like Karni Namah.

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hmm, yes, but can dharma be spread in a maseet?

Also, we have sufi writings in Adi Guru Granth Sahib right? And they are not kataar muslmaan like mainstream.

Ok, I cannot give a clear opinion, I am just trying to make something of it.

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londondajatt wrote:

"hmm, yes, but can dharma be spread in a maseet?

Also, we have sufi writings in Adi Guru Granth Sahib right? And they are not kataar muslmaan like mainstream.

Ok, I cannot give a clear opinion, I am just trying to make something of it."

Some good points:

"but can dharma be spread in a maseet?"

If it can't spread dharma then it is something else i.e. adharma which means that Guru Hargobind would have built a place that spreads adharma if we are to take Bachitar Natak's stance on Mahadin as authoritative.

"Also, we have sufi writings in Adi Guru Granth Sahib right? And they are not kataar muslmaan like mainstream."

Baba Farid (ra) was a practising Chishti Sufi who followed shari'a like all authentic Sufis. Your definition of mainstream Islam as being katar i.e. close minded seems to be shaped by your limited experience of Saudi financed Pakistani Muslims in the UK. Islam is way more complex I am afraid.

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"I think he is talking demographics - i.e. Sunny domination."

As much as I may disagree with Sunnism in its allegiance to the three usurpers that are Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman, you seem to forget the fact that much of pre-modern "Sunni" society from Morroco to Indonesia was highly influenced by Sufism. Which means that although the legalist qazis may have been strict on issues of law and jurisprudence, the spirit of Sufism acted as a counterbalance to that. We have many reports from Morroco where Jews and Muslims visit each other's saints, or Egypt where Muslims ask for the blessings of Coptic exorcists. I am not denying that official dogmatic Sunnism was strong. I am just stating that Sufism dominated society much more than it does today where it has been fought against by secularists who saw it as a sign of backwardness. Strangely enough these same secularists created a vacuum now filled by the Salafi movement. In pre-modern Turkey most of the guilds had initiation rituals drawn from Sufism and most often had Sufi patron saints and were linked to Sufi orders, like for example the Jannisaries who were linked to the Bektashi order.

But on the whole UK Sikhs experience of Islam is shaped by their experience with Pakistani or Bangladeshi Muslims and by what they see on TV as well as an older Islamophobic tradition among some old generation Sikhs though not all.

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ok perhaps mainstream was the wrong term to use lol. OF course, internet is also another influence nowadays of what is portrayed as islam.

UK sikhs, in a way, also generalise most hindus and also Nihang Niddar Singh and people who practise shastar vidiya to RSS, amongst many other things.

Alot of muslims in UK try to give dua and "invitations" and it doesn't favour their image.

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"But on the whole UK Sikhs experience of Islam is shaped by their experience with Pakistani or Bangladeshi Muslims and by what they see on TV as well as an older Islamophobic tradition among some old generation Sikhs though not all."

Fine, but most importantly, don't forget historic persecution.

Regarding the balanced picture you paint, the dominant factor that matters in the case of this topoc, is the tyranny of the Sultanate and Mughal rule (be it not comprehensively). Of course your viewpoint (and those in love with the romance of the Mughal courts) will differ, but it matters not, this history has been written in Indian blood.

People are affected and educated by (and form opinions based on) personal experience, not the wider socio/political/religious picture.

For example:

You yourself are famous for having formed hugely gross and stereotypical opinions, posting all sorts of venomous rubbish and lies on other forums, based on your interaction with a 'tiny' sample population.

I am glad to see that your language and hate seems to have 'lightened':

But on the whole UK Sikhs experience of Islam is shaped by their experience with Pakistani or Bangladeshi Muslims and by what they see on TV as well as an older Islamophobic tradition among ''~~~~some old generation Sikhs though not all~~~~.

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hmmm yes, even all of us sikhs are going to be generalised because of hatred towards hindus amongst other things that has come from the fanatics and Singh Sabha orientations, due to sikh history being marginalised.

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Shaheediyan,

my comments are indeed antagonistic towards those Sikhs who:

- believe in the Mahadin issue and hence insult the Prophet (pbuh)

- believe in Karni Namah

- and believe in the anti-Islamic sections of the rahit and rahit literature

That is not a tiny percentage of the Sikh population I am afraid though I do know that many Sikhs simply don't believe in those and don't care. With these Sikhs I have no problem and it is always a pleasure for me to engage in dialogue, friendship and brotherhood with these Sikhs who I believe to be loyal to the original message of Baba Nanak (ra). When I see Neeldharis invite Sufis to play qawwalis, when Guru Arjan invites Mian Mir to put the first brick of the Harmandir, or Guru Hargobind builds a mosque, I feel great joy.I see the potential that was Sikhism in creating a platform for monotheist Indic traditions and Islam to meet in dialogue.

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I doubt the veracity of the Guru Ki Maseet story simply for the reason that if it is true then why did not other towns and cities founded by the Gurus also contain Mosques as well? Were is the Guru Ki Maseet in Amritsar, in the two Kartarpurs? How many Guru Ki Maseet's exist in Anandpur Sahib. Guru Nanak founded the town of Kartarpur and yet there is no sakhi about the Guru building a mosque for the Muslim inhabitants. Neither is there any story of the other Gurus who founded towns such as Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan Dev or Guru Tegh Bahadur having also built mosques. The authors contention that Guru Hargobind Sahib also built temples doesn't hold up either.

Now the problem we have here is of Nihangs taking care of the upkeep of a Mosque yet the Nihangs were the ones who also converted the Mosque at Shahabad Markanda ( Gurdwara Mastgarh) into a Gurdwara.

It makes for a good story in these PC times such as the one about Mian Mir laying the foundation of Harmandir Sahib but it is short on evidence.

As Morghe states there is an inconsistency here, either Islam is a true path to God or Mohammed was deluded and like the Bachittar Natak says engrossed in ego and remiss in passing on the message given to him. If the Bachittar Natak is correct then the maseet story can only be a later invention. The fact that it is also a one off also adds to the doubts over its veracity.

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The reason for the other Gurus not building any mosques might be that there never were any problems between sikhs and muslims at the time. Guru Har Gobind Sahib ji might have build the mosque as a gesture of showing that his fight was not aimed towards Islam but tyrany. I think there is a quote of Dasam Patshah saying "I dont strike men. I strike tyrants"

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But what if, the mosque that was converted, was perhaps full of the "wrong" kind of followers. IF you get what I mean?

Interestingly enough there is an account from the Mughal records that in Buriya in Haryana during the times of Guru Tegh Bahadur the Mughal subedar acting on the orders of Aurangzeb got a Gurdwara demolished and a mosque was built in its place. Local Sikhs then attacked the mosque and killed the Imam and demolished the mosque.

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Amardeep wrote:

"The reason for the other Gurus not building any mosques might be that there never were any problems between sikhs and muslims at the time. Guru Har Gobind Sahib ji might have build the mosque as a gesture of showing that his fight was not aimed towards Islam but tyrany. I think there is a quote of Dasam Patshah saying "I dont strike men. I strike tyrants""

The issue still remains:

If Islam is a path of lies as stated in Dasam bani then building a mosque is an act of impiety and in fact spreading adharma.

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I dont think tensions with Mughals too greatly affected what the Gurus wanted to do - i.e. it didnt prevent dasam patshah from retaining friendship with Muslims such as Pir Budh Shah. The wrongs of Mughal authorities towards the Guru doesnt appear to have affected the Gurus relationship with Muslims.

It appears like the passage concerning Mahadin is brought into every topic to make everything in Sikhi appear a conradiction. Things arent always black and white bahadur.

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Malwe da Sher wrote:

"It appears like the passage concerning Mahadin is brought into every topic to make everything in Sikhi appear a conradiction. Things arent always black and white bahadur."

1. We are not talking about "things"

2. We are talking about Guru Ki Maseet and the relationship between teh Sikh tradition and Islam. And it appears, and I am sorry to have to bring it up, that there is an obvious contradiction when the leader of a movement builds a mosque and when his grandson says that the founder of Islam was a false prophet. You can't have it both ways. I know Niddarpanthis love to throw the "abhek and bibek like" gimmick sentence but it means kak. All this wishy washy stuff makes no sense. And I am not the only one pointing it out. One day you're going to have to face this and take position.

Either:

1. you believe that Mahadin was the Prophet (pbuh) and in that case you clearly declare that Islam is a false doctrine. That makes you a muharib, an ennemy of the Islamic state and if you live in an Islamic state that means problems. That also means you have reconcile with the fact that the Adi Granth contains the compositions of a Chishti Sufi who practised shari'a and never broke it.

Or...

2. you believe that the Mahadin passage is fake. Which means that you either have an issue with Bachitar Natak or that you have one with Dasam Granth as a whole in which case you have a greater issue even with the amrit samchar.

You can't have a "something in between abhek and bibek like" position. It just won't happen unless you are happy with wishy washy stuff and in which case you admit not to have clear guidance which is all what religion is about.

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Not really Bahadur. You can keep going on about there being only an option A and B, but peoples understanding is more diverse, particuarly when they dont have a specific agenda.

Lets go with your logic for a moment. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji disagreed with the practise of certain Hindu customs so using your logic you would question why Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji saved the tilak and janjoo? You can disagree with an individuals belief and still support their rights to freely practise religion.

Do the Saudis not believe non-Muslims to be Kaffirs? Yet in Dubai the royal family is constructing a Gurdwara Sahib. Has the British government and other governments not assisted in the finance of constructing places of worship for religions brought into the country by immigrants? Its the result of liberal thinking in society rather than views on anothers faith.

Im not sure I see the link with this issue to bibek and abibek, like.

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