Every now and then claims and counter-claims are made about Guru Nanak professing Hinduism or Islam. Vishva Hindu Parishad is the protogonist of the first proposition: the Ahmadiya Sect of Muslims advance the second theory. For enlightment of our readers, we reprint the late Bhai Sahib Sirdar Kapur Singh’s response to an enquiry from the Haji of Mosul (Iraq) first published in the Missionary, January-March, 1963.
Editors, The Sikh Review, March 1991
Question: “I have heard it said that (Hazrat) Baba Nanak was a true Moslem believer, or, at least he was a great admirer of the Holy Prophet of Islam and a staunch supporter of the Koranic Revelation. I request for authoritative comments from some eminent Sikh theologian and scholar on this matter.”
Answer: Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was born in the 15th Century in the North of India that had already been politically integrated to the organized world of Islam for almost 500 years. Arabic was already the official and cultural language at Lahore, a place only a few miles from the birth-place of the Sikh Prophet. Islam and its culture, was not only the dominant strain of the world civilization and culture of those days, but had also percolated into the common idioms and modes of thought of the North-Western Punjab. It was in this milieu that the oecumenical religion of Sikhism took birth. Guru Nanak not only was in intimate contact with the Moslem learned men and centers of religion of Islam of those days, but he also made a close study of the basic Islamic literature. His knowledge of the fundamental Hindu sacred texts now being revealed through a critical study of the Sikh Scripture, is not only pleasantly surprising but it also impresses. Needless to say that Guru Nanak was thoroughly conversant with the texts and the teachings of the Koran. Since Guru Nanak was a Prophet in his own right and according to his own claim, he neither gives direct quotation nor makes precise references to Hindu and Muslim texts, as a mere scholar would be expected to make, and it is, therefore, only a trained scholar of Comparative Religion who can spot out and pin-point the exact sacred texts which Guru Nanak had in mind when delivering a particular Revelation.
When such a critical study of the Revelations of Guru Nanak is made, there is left no doubt in the mind of a balanced scholar that even when apparently affirming or repudiating a particular doctrine or text, the Guru almost always amplifies his own statement by added nuances of critical exposition. An appraisal of this character alone can make it clear that Guru Nanak had a definite and positive attitude towards the Koran.
The Koran has three distinct elements in its texts:
a. Dissertations on the nature of God and man’s relation to Him
b. Pronouncements on Social organization and ethics
c. Statements on Judaic mythology
Guru Nanak ignores the last as irrelevant to the message that he has to preach to the mankind. He also considers this as uninteresting, for, he makes very sparse, if at all, even passing references to it. With regard to the second element in the Koran, namely, the laws and principles of social organisation and social ethics, Guru Nanak would seem to reject most of them as contingent and non-perennial. It is the first element in the Koran which the Guru takes seriously and on which he has made a large number of pronouncements. The space and scope of this answer forbids any detailed discussion of this point and I would, therefore, just state that Guns Nanak seems to find most of it as worthy of consideration and even assent and he has explicitly incorporated its essentials in the Sacred Book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth, though only after a personal digestion and re-interpretation.
I must make this statement slightly clearer.
In sura 2, called Albaqr, the Cow, for instance, amid brief disquisitions on a multitude of subjects, including pilgrimages, divorce, menstruation, the rights of women, proposals of marriage, and the need for killing the adversaries of Islam, there appears, quite unexpectedly, one of the grandest verses of the Koran the famous throne-verse.
There is no God save Him, the living the eternal;
Slumber overtakes Him not, nor doth sleep weary Him.
Unto Him belongs all things in Heaven and on the earth.
Who shall intercede with Him save by His will.
His throne is as vast the Heavens and the earth.
And the keep of them wearies Him not.
He is exalted, the mighty One.
It is this beautiful and noble text which claims the attention and general assent of Guru Nanak and it is this text which he has matched by his own famous text, the Sodar, that Gate, or The Gate, as there being no definite article in the Indic languages, it can only be expressed as that,
Like what is that Gate?
With what compares that Abode?
By visiting where He sustains All?
Then in this text Guru Nanak goes to imply that the formal nature of this “Throne” is best comprehensible by human mind through reference to those areas of Reality that pertain to sound and feeling rather than those that pertain to visual and spatial aspects of Reality, as is implicated by the Koranic text. Herein Guru Nanak has the advantage of his acquaintance with the categories of the Sankhya school of Hindu Philosophy that categorises sound as the subject element of sensibilia and perception. It is only by a careful and critical analysis of such parallel texts in the Koran and the Guru Granth, that the true interrelationship between Islam and Sikhism can be properly understood.
Another grand verse, sura 24 in the Koran goes under the name of mishkat-ul-anwar. The tabernacle. This is the text to which the Mohammedan mystics and Sufis have returned again and again, never tiring of the mysterious Lamp whose rays bathe the whole universe:
God is the Light of the heavens and earth.
The similitude of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp.
And the lamp is within a glass.
And the glass, as it were a pearly star.
This lamp is lit from a blessed tree.
An olive neither of the east nor of the west;
Almost this oil would shine though no
fire touched it.
Light upon Light, God guides whom He will to His Light,
And He speaks in parables to men, for He knows all things.
Now, Guru Nanak has taken an unmistakable note of this text. Guru Nanak was also familiar with certain Hindu texts (Vaikunth, and Dipaparijvalanam in the Guradudapauranam) that speak of the Lamp that guides men here and hereafter, Guru Nanak has revealed a text which not only takes note of all these Moslem and Hindu texts but which constitutes the Guru’s own disquisition on the Lamp that guides. Guru Nanak opens by declaring:
My Light is the Name of One and only God.
And its oil is the pain and suffering:
The former is consumed and the latter is then done away with.
And, lo! there is no-doing between I and Death.
A large number of similar texts in the Guru Granth, are, in this manner, grounded in the Islamic and Hindu texts but invariably the former have the content and identity of their own.
This is true and correct relationship between Islam and Sikhism. As for Guru Nanak’s attitude towards Prophet Mohammed, it has to be a matter of inference, for, nowhere in the voluminous Guru Granth, the name of the Prophet occurs, directly or indirectly, though Koran is mentioned by name more than once. The Sikh doctrine on the subject is sharp and clear, the born is perishable, and all praise is due to the Timeless. In so far as the Guru perceived excellence in Mohammed, he attributed it exclusively to the grace of God, and whatever was contingent, unenduring in the words and deeds of Mohammeqhe deemed as merely human and impermanent trait.
There is no other way of answering the question put by the learned Qazi from Mosul.