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Harmony between distinct cultures can be seen in small yet meaningful gestures every now and then. This is exactly what is reflected in the handover of a Pakistan-based gurudwara to Sikhs, and simultaneously, an instance in Punjab where the Sikh community repaired a mosque and handed it over to Muslims. Let’s walk through both occurrences. 

In July 2020, the government of Pakistan's Balochistan province handed a 200-year-old gurdwara in Quetta to the Sikh community after 73 years. Quetta is located in the country's southwest, close to the international border with Afghanistan. It is the largest city in the province of Balochistan, where it serves as the provincial capital. The handover was a result of continuous efforts by local Sikhs and the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and PSGPC.

Sikh reinstalling the gurudwara as a place of worship 

The Siri Guru Singh Gurdwara on Masjid Road in the city's centre has served as APWA Government High Girls School since 1947. Students at the school were instructed to apply for admission to other nearby schools. 

Denesh Kumar, provincial parliamentary secretary, and Adviser to the Chief Minister on Minority Affairs commented on the move and said, 

“Restoring gurdwara as a place of worship for the Sikh community is a historical decision of the Balochistan government.”

In Balochistan, there are approximately 2,000 Sikh families. Sardar Jasbeer Singh, head of the Sikh Community Committee in Balochistan, hailed the action as a gift from the government of Balochistan to the province's Sikh community. He said, 

“The Sikh community of the province is very pleased that our ancient gurdwara has been handed over to us by the government of Pakistan and the Balochistan High Court after 73 years and now we are able to continue our religious practice there,"

Similarly, the Hindu community received the temple in Zhob, which has a history dating back 200 years, from the Balochistan government in February 2020. The temple had previously been transformed into a government boys' school, but that institution is currently located in another building.

As per Jasbir Singh, a local Sikh leader, there are around 10-15 more historical Sikh gurudwaras in Balochistan that are occupied for other purposes. The Sikh community continues to hope that more such religious sites will be given back to the community to be reinstated as a place of worship. 

Sikhs repair a 500-year-old mosque in Pakistan 

The Sikh community and religious leaders handed over a 550-year-old mosque to Muslims in Punjab’s Sultanpur Lodhi town, which has been sealed and in disrepair since Partition in 1947. After renovating the mosque in 2020, members of the Sikh community invited local Muslims as well as Muslim religious authorities from throughout the state to dedicate it by offering Shukrana prayers.

According to locals, Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, offered Namaz (Muslim prayer) in this mosque. The decision to reopen the mosque was made during Guru Nanak Dev's 550th birth anniversary festivities. Inside the mosque itself, Sikh and Muslim religious leaders staged a joint gathering in which they stated their views. 

Sikh religious figures Sant Sukhdev Singh and Sant Balwinder Singh were among those who took part in the programme. Abdul Shakoor, Punjab unit President of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), Maulana Syed Mujtaba Yazdani, Dr. Shahzad, Dr. Irshad, and several others represented the Muslim community.

Many Muslims from Malerkotla, the only area in Punjab with a majority of Muslims, also participated in the joint event and offered Friday congregational prayers in the mosque, which was opened for the first time after 1947.

The Malekotla Gurudwara's Giani Avatar Singh told India Tomorrow that the programme was excellent and crucial for both Muslims and Sikhs. For Sikhs, it was significant because Guru Nanak Dev had offered Namaz in this mosque, and it was significant for Muslims because they offered prayers in a mosque that had been locked for a decade. 

Abdul Shakoor, President of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) of Punjab unit, said, 

“Guru Nanak Dev spent about 14 years in Sultanpur Lodhi. He offered prayers in this mosque. He had very close relations with Muslims. One of his disciples was also a Muslim. Muslims and Sikhs have a common and friendly history.” 

It may be recalled that several Muslim mosques closed since Partition in 1947, were repaired and handed over to Muslims by the Sikh community in the last few years. It was in Sultanpur Lodhi that Guru Nanak Dev is said to have attained enlightenment and declared here that there is only One Supreme Reality (Ik Onkar), the central tenet of Sikh religious philosophy. In fact, the Sikh holy scripture Guru Granth Sahib begins with the words, “Ik Onkar”.

These powerful anecdotes showcase the peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between followers of the Sikh and Muslim religions. Despite historical conflicts and differences, both communities have demonstrated a strong commitment to promoting peace, tolerance, and understanding towards each other. Through various initiatives such as interfaith dialogues and community service programs, both Sikhs and Muslims have made significant efforts towards fostering a harmonious relationship, promoting unity, and strengthening social bonds.

 

*Based on an article published in Times Now News on 23rd July 2020, and an article by Masihuzzama Ansari, published in India Tomorrow on 16th November 2020

 

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