Doctor working for ‘Sikh-Muslim Affinity’ explains how Muslims donated foodgrains to the Golden Temple
Dr Nasir Akhtar of the ‘Sikh-Muslim Affinity Foundation’ speaks of the heart warming response in Punjab to Muslims contributing 35 tonnes of foodgrains for the free kitchen at the Golden Temple
How did the idea of collecting grains and send it to the Golden Temple come to your mind?
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Golden Temple had issued an appeal for grains. The Golden Temple runs a huge Langar (free kitchen) where food is served to everyone irrespective of their religion. I felt that we should also contribute. While it was possible to collect grains from a few wealthy people, we decided to collect five Kgs of grains from each household in Muslim majority villages.
It took us 35 days and we received a huge response. It has had a positive impact on the brotherly relations between the two communities.
What was the reaction of the Sikh villagers in malerkotla?
Whenever we reached a village where Sikhs and Muslims lived together, Sikh women would break down, cry and pray for us. They would offer us cold water to drink and insisted on serving us meals in their home. The elderly Sikhs blessed us. Sometimes we would reach a village and find that Sikhs were also collecting foodgrains from Sikh homes for the langar. Sometimes they would turn up after us and both the groups moved together to collect foodgrains, they from Sikh households and we from Muslim households.
How were the grains delivered?
A few of us went to Amritsar to deliver the grains contributed. Sikhs in Sangrur, who knew about the drive, felicitated us and enlisted the help of a local Gurudwara to assist us. When 10 of us reached the Golden Temple, we were received warmly. Muslims of Punjab and Malerkotla have been offering Kar Seva at the Golden Temple for years. But this was possibly the first time that Muslims went from door to door to collect food grains for the Golden Temple. It generated a lot of goodwill.
What has been your experience of Sikh Muslim unity in Punjab?
A decade and a half ago I used to run my own clinic. But I sensed the misgivings the Sikhs had over issues like the children of Guru Govind Singh ji buried alive. I was troubled enough to leave the clinic, study Gurmukhi and read Punjabi books. When I read books written by Sikhs 300 years ago, I realised how close Sikhism was to Islam. I began to speak on the subject and referred to Punjabi books. The verses of the Quran were explained in Punjabi and I wrote books on the subject in Punjabi.
Has it helped or healed?
Although even today some people keep harping about the past, the goodwill and harmony between the two communities are growing. Malerkotla is a Muslim majority area and the local MLA Razia Sultana is a minister in the Punjab cabinet. Muslims of Malerkotla are quite well-off and work with Sikhs shoulder to shoulder. People on both sides understand the value of peaceful co-existence. Since news spreads fast these days, Sikhs here were quick to appreciate when a mosque gave up land in Saharanpur for a Gurudwara. A Langar put up by Sikhs at Shaheen Bagh by Sikhs was similarly appreciated by Muslims.
Why form a Sikh-muslim affinity Foundation and not a Hindu-Muslim affinity Foundation?
There should certainly be more friendly dialogue between Hindus and Muslims and I am sure people are working in that direction. As for me, I formed this organisation 15 years ago to promote brotherhood between Sikhs and Muslims. This is the only goal of my life. I did not marry and left my clinic too. In order to explain my point of view to Sikhs, I speak to Sikhs in Punjabi. I freely quote the inspirational words of their Gurus and then talk about my religion in their language. Hindus and Muslims of India unfortunately have ceased conducting healthy discussions. We are human beings first and our other identities and religious affiliations should be secondary.