By now, you have heard about the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in New York and plans by a misguided Florida preacher to burn copies of the Quran. The media is saturated with endless points and counterpoints about these proposals, and many Sikhs wonder whether they have an obligation to support or distance themselves from Muslims in these turbulent times.
The Sikh Gurus, in their infinite wisdom, gave practical expression to their belief in interfaith harmony: during his travels, Guru Nanak was accompanied by a Muslim minstrel known as Bhai Mardana; during the life of Guru Arjan, the foundation stone of Darbar Sahib in Amritsar was laid by a Muslim saint known as Mian Mir; in the fullness of time, the writings of Baba Sheik Farid were enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs.
It is no secret that Sikhs experienced brutal persecution in the name of Islam in the course of history, but our forbears did not blame all Muslims for the acts of tyrants. Unlike the Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb, who preached religious exclusivity, both Banda Singh Bahadur and Maharaja Ranjit Singh guaranteed religious freedom to all people—including Muslims—during the two periods of Sikh sovereignty in Punjab during the 18th and 19th centuries. These guarantees were made despite the fact that countless thousands of Sikhs had been killed in the intervening years by invading armies and tyrants for refusing to convert to Islam.
As Sikh Americans in the 21st century, are we prepared to insult the memory of Bhai Mardana, Mian Mir, and Sheik Farid by blaming all Muslims for the acts of terrorists? Are we prepared to follow in the footsteps of Aurangzeb by denying Muslims their Constitutional rights? Or would we rather overcome bigotry and terrorism by living up to our Sikh tenets and defending our Muslim friends and neighbors?