Book Review: Janāb Gurū Nānak Jī awr Islām

Fārūq, Muammad, Janāb Gurū Nānak Jī ؒ awr Islām, Maktaba Mamūdiyya, UP (1431/2010), 80 pages, paperback.

Review by Shahin-ur Rahman

Concise and easy to read, this succinct treatise on comparative religion offers a profound insight into the life of Gurū Nānak, who is believed to be the founder of the Sikh religion. Targeting the objective Sikh observer, the author presents a well-referenced Urdu biography of Gurū Nānak, proving him to be not only a Muslim, but a knowledgeable Muslim leader.

It should be known that the objective of the book was not to celebrate Gurū Nānak and boast that he adhered to the same religion as the author does.[1] Rather, quite the opposite is true: the author’s intent behind this work was to bring forth anecdotes of Gurū Nānak’s biography, which can assist the objective researcher in identifying the true teachings of Gurū Nānak as he himself taught. This would, in turn, be a means of guiding the Sikh brethren to reconsider their perception of Sikhism, and, thereby, adopt the religion that Gurū Nānak had truly preached. This is evident from the ‘food for thought’ at the end of the booklet, where the author requests the Sikh brethren to read this book side by side with the original sources and compare the two to reach an unbiased conclusion.[2]

Having relied on Mawlānā Ḥabīb Allāh’s work,[3] Muftī Muḥammad Fārūq ؒ summarises the core arguments of the booklet in sixteen points, which include Gurū Nānak believing in and practising the fundamental tenets and rituals of the Islāmic faith. The author then provides a reading list of twenty-three books on the topic, after which he begins the biography by mentioning some anecdotes from before and shortly after the birth of Gurū Nānak. There are no references at this stage, perhaps due to the author considering it insignificant or irrelevant to his actual argument.

After moving forward to Gurū Nānak’s studies and listing examples of his skills in poetry, particularly in Arabic – which are available to view in libraries of the Muslim world[4] – the author begins to reference his writings. Visiting Makka and Madīna,[5] praying, taking the pledge of taṣawwuf – all are referenced, albeit some from Muslim sources. Again, this could be because of it not being as powerful of an argument as the coming chapters.

From page 26 onwards, when proving Gurū Nānak’s belief in the Islāmic concepts of tawḥīd and risāla, every claim is thoroughly referenced – from Sikh sources (like the Gurū Granth Ṣāḥib), with page numbers – and quotes are given in the original Punjabi, followed by its translation and/or interpretation in Urdu. Among the strongest and conclusive arguments would have to be the fact that Gurū Nānak, in his Punjabi quotes and poetry, mentioned ‘Allāh’ and ‘Muḥammad’ explicitly, by name,[6] and – something for the Sikhs to seriously consider – his open condemnation of idol worship.[7] The couplet resembles the statements made by the great Prophet Ibrāhīm n during a dialogue between him and his polytheist father.[8]

Similar powerful quotes are given with regard to the ritual prayer. The author concludes: “There is clear testimony in the Sikh literature that Gurū Nānak Jī was punctual with the five daily prayers.”[9] This is, likewise, the case with fasting and almsgiving (zakāh).

In line with the Islāmic scholastic tradition, the author provides an ʿaqlī (reason-based) evidence as well as the naqlī (textual): On page 38, the author notes how Gurū Nānak frequently addresses four individuals within his hymns – namely, Mardāna, Qāḍī Rukn al-Dīn, Sūdhī Meherbān and Sayyid Karīm al-Dīn. All of these were the Gurū’s close disciples who used to frequently accompany him in journeys. The style of the writing suggests all four were Muslims. This shows the Gurū must have been influenced enough by Islām that he had selected four Muslims to be closest disciples.

Just as Gurū Nānak has mentioned ‘Allāh’ and ‘Muḥammad’ by name, he has also explicitly used the word ‘Musalmān’,[10] a south-Asian word for the Muslim, in his hymns. Elsewhere in his hymns, the Gurū has mentioned the four holy books – the Tawrāh, Injīl, Zabūr and Qurʾān (which he sometimes referred to as Furqān) – by name,[11] as well as the four great angels – Isrāfīl, Jibrāʾīl, Mikāʾīl and ʿAzrāʾīl.[12] The acceptance of the Qurʾān as the final divine scripture that abrogated all previous scriptures is an unequivocal testimony of one’s faith in Islām.[13]

The science of taawwuf (rectification of the heart – a science prevalent among the Muslims especially of the sub-continent during the time of Gurū Nānak) seems to have been of great interest to Gurū Nānak, as is evident by numerous hymns quoted on pages 42 onwards. The depth of meanings found between the lines will show any impartial reader that the composer of the rhymes must have a solid ground in Islām. Referring to Allāh ﷻ as ‘Karīm’ and to correctly use the word ‘taḥqīq’ only aids this further.

When discussing the bridge of ṣirāṭ, Gurū Nānak incorporates an athar of Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī ؓ within his poetry that the bridge is ‘finer than hair and sharper than a knife’.[14] Elsewhere, he states the total number of messengers sent to the world was ‘one and a quarter lākh’ – one lākh being a hundred thousand. This seems to be too big of a coincidence if one believes Gurū Nānak was not a Muslim. If he was, however, it would make sense he took this number from the Muslims, who have textual basis for this claim – albeit with a severely weak chain – in Musnad Aḥmad (22288), where the number of Messengers appears as a hundred and twenty-four thousand.

Finally, with regard to his beliefs about the companions of the Prophet ﷺ, one can safely conclude from the hymns on page 56 that Gurū Nānak was of the sunnī school and not that of the shīʿa. This shows he held the same views about the companions ؓ as do the mainstream Muslims across the globe.

An important contribution to comparative religion, this book is definitely worth a read. Not only is it informative and well-referenced; it also avoids the ‘us and them’ narrative that is sometimes found in books of this genre. The author has successfully adopted the Qurʾānic teaching ‘come to a word common between us and you[15] while authoring this brilliant work.

[1] This is because there is neither a religious nor secular benefit for Muslims in merely arguing whether Gurū Nānak was a Muslim or not. If he was, it would definitely be a benefit for him, but it would neither prove nor disprove the validity of Islām. Similarly, if he was not a Muslim, it neither proves the validity of Sikhism, nor disproves the validity of Islām.

[2] Page 56.

[3] Al-Qāsimī, Ḥabīb Allāh, Gurū Nānak Jī Ṣāḥib awr un kī Daʿwat-o-Tablīgh, …

[4] See page 15.

[5] A Sikh scholar has tried to refute this evidence on online videos. He argued that visiting Makka and Madīna does not make one Muslim, just as visiting Rome does not make one Christian. Since Gurū Nānak has also visited Christian, Hindu and Buddhist areas, by that logic he ought to simultaneously be Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist. However, this scholar failed to see the difference between Makka and other parts of the world. While it is true that visiting Rome etc. does not render one a Christian, the same cannot be said with respect to Makka and Madīna. This is because ever since the Muslims have conquered Makka, no non-Muslim has ever been allowed to enter the holy lands (although they are permitted to enter the Arabian Peninsula). Due to the fact that only Muslims have ever been granted entry into Makka and Madīna, the fact that Gurū Nānak entered the holy cities shows he cannot have been a non-Muslim; otherwise, this would necessitate the Gurū having lied to the Arabs – something the Sikhs would surely consider unimaginable. Adding to this, the performance of ḥajj, a great act of worship unique to Muslims, makes it even more far-fetched to believe Gurū Nānak was not Muslim, and Allāh ﷻ knows best.

[6] See pages 26, 28.

[7] Page 41.

[8] See [Maryam: 19/42] and [al-Anbiyāʾ: 21/67].

[9] Page 32.

[10] Page 40.

[11] See page 47.

[12] Page 50.

[13] Page 45.

[14] Ibn Ḥibbān (7377).

[15] [Āl ʿImrān: 3/64].

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Janāb Gurū Nānak Jī awr Islām

  1. Perhaps he entered Makkah during Hanafi rule. The Hanafaiyyah allow non Muslims to enter Makkah for reasons besides manasik.

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