600 Years of Dialogue: A Sikh Perspective

Image by https://wilmetteinstitute.org/a-learners-how-to-list-for-engaging-in-interfaith-dialogue/.

It is interesting that the idea of interfaith dialogue is coming to the forefront now. People are just realizing what it is and acknowledging its tributes. What more people don't know is that the idea of interfaith dialogue and tolerance is an ancient concept. For Sikhs, it goes back to the 15th century, when Guru Nanak, the first prophet of Sikhism, promoted a lifestyle of love, humility, and respect. This lifestyle evolved into an ideology that revolutionized the eastern hemisphere and captured the hearts of many. Six hundred years later, the message still rings strong and millions around the world follow the Teacher, the Guru, as Sikhs.

When I think about what interfaith dialogue is and how, as a Sikh, it applies to my faith and life, I have no other answer than to say it IS my faith. If interfaith dialogue is to be describes as positive cooperation between people of different religions, working towards understanding and mutual respect, then I need look no further than the Sikh Gurus as unparalleled examples. While the mainstream versions of the major religions of the world were propagating the path of one religion and one religion only, Guru Nanak propagated a different line of thought. Employing a more humanistic approach, he attracted people because of his respect for and acceptance of their faiths. To me, the Sikh faith is a way of life premised on equality and love, not just for those of your own faith, but for those of ALL faiths.

Guru Nanak did much of his teaching through the most universal medium o fall, music. He scribed most of his messages as poems, which were sung in styles designed to capture every emotion. He did all this to promote the message of equality o grace, sex, creed, and religion, and to install the idea of "openness" in the hearts and souls of his Sikhs. Guru Nanak's first disciple was a Muslim, Bhai Mardana, and when he died, the Guru performed the last rites as per Muslim tradition. Guru Nanak's successor, Guru Angad, took the principle of interfaith dialogue even further in creating a script, Gurmukhi, which was accessible to the masses. The existing script for Punjabi was Sanskrit, which, because of its complexity, allowed for a social divide of literacy and illiteracy. Gurmukhi bridged this gap and ensured people of other faiths could also read the texts. 

The greatest example of all comes many years after Guru Nanak. The Hindu Pundits came to the ninth Sikh prophet, Guru Teg Bahadur, in need of aid. The Mogul emperor was forcing them to convert to Islam. As Sikhs are taught to oppose injustice, Guru Teg Bahadur went to the Mogul emperor to achieve understanding. The Mogul emperor offered the Pundits peace in exchange for the Guru's life. As he refused to convert to Islam, the 9th Guru was beheaded. The Guru sacrificed his life to protect the right of those belonging to another faith to practice their religion. Before he was publicly beheaded, the Guru stated the following words which highlight the essence and perhaps the root of modern day interfaith religious discourse: "Hinduism may not be my faith, and I may not believe in various Hindu rituals like idol worship, caste system, pilgrimages, and other rituals, but I will fight for the right of all Hindus and all other peoples of the world to live with honour and to practise their faith according to their own beliefs." This is, in my opinion not just as a Sikh, but as a citizen of the world, a most inspiring and magnificent display of interfaith dialogue.

Even today, at the Golden Temple (Sikh Temple in India), the four doors stand as they did hundreds of years ago when first designed by the fifth Sikh prophet, Guru Arjun. Open to all four corners of the world, to all people of the world, to all faiths of the world.


Radix article, originally published in October 2006 by Raveena Seetal.

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