The Guru's Islam
Outlook|November 18, 2019
Nanak’s God was close to the Islamic idea, but mulla and qazi left him cold
J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga

WITH the advent of Turkish rule in north-western India in the early 11th century, Muslims began to settle in the region. To their increasing numbers were added the local converts. By the time of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), Muslims had become the most visible section of the social order in Punjab. They consisted mainly of the orthodox Sunnis, represented by the ulama (mullas and qazis) who upheld the Islamic law (shariat), and the various orders of the mystics of Islam (the Sufis) who represented a parallel interpretation of religious beliefs and practices. Guru Nanak came into close contact with Islam during his 10-year stay in Sultanpur, and later at several places during his travels. He brackets Islam with the major religious systems of India in the early 16th century.

The recently published Shri Guru Granth Sahib: Teachings for Muslims contains over 30 extracts from Guru Nanak’s compositions. The editor, Nanak Singh Nishtar, says in his introduction that the Sikh gurus respected Islamic beliefs and practices, and presented them to Muslims as the teachings of Islam. They told Muslims to become good Muslims, as they told Hindus to become good Hindus. This raises two issues: Guru Nanak’s familiarity with the beliefs and practices of contem­porary Musalmans, and his assessment of Islam.

Guru Nanak talks of God in His primal state bef­ore creation. For millions upon millions of years, there was only darkness—neither the earth nor the sky, but only the limitless Divine Ordinance, and the Creator was absorbed in unbroken trance. None other than the Only Lord was there; there was no Brahma, Vishnu or Mahesh. There was no mulla and no qazi, no shaikh and no haji; there were no Vedas, and there was no Quran. Significantly, there is no mention of Allah. In anot­her composition, Guru Nanak equates Allah with Aad Purkh. In other words, Islamic monotheism was close to Guru Nanak’s own conception of God.

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