Guru Nanak and Sikh Gurudwaras in the Middle East
The Ethos of the Middle East
The Middle East is a volatile place dominated by Islam. It is almost a closed world to other religions and none can practice his or her faith in most nations of this area. Yet it is worth learning that some intrepid travelers did travel through this iconoclast land and preached their faith. One of these was Guru Nanak.
Guru Nanak and his Travels
Guru Nanak (1469-1539) is widely regarded as the founder of the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak was also a traveler who traveled to distant lands to learn and present his views to other eminent religious heads. He is reported to have traveled on a westward voyage to the Middle East during the period 1518-21. Sikh records insist that he traveled by the sea route from Kutch to Mecca and from there he traveled to Baghdad and thence via Persia and Afghanistan returned home by end 1521.
Mecca and Nanak
This travel is well documented except for his visit to Mecca which has no source from Muslim archives. One reason for this is the closed nature of the Muslim religion and the act of denying that a non-Muslim may have entered Mecca. In any case, the Saudi government dominated by the Wahabbi concept of Islam will not allow any research to be carried out to authenticate the visit of Nanak to Mecca. Many Muslim’s claims that as a non-Muslim Nanak could not have visited Mecca.
The Opinion of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, Head of Ahmaddiyas
The point to note is that Nanak went to Mecca not in the garb of a Hindu but in the garb of a Fakir wearing a long robe which was worn at that time. Thus the fact that he went there as per Sikh sources is perhaps true. In addition, the head of the Ahmadiyya faith Mirza Ghulam Ahmad also accepted that Nanak visited Mecca but not as a Hindu, but as a Muslim Pir (holy man) and he buttresses his claim by pointing out that Nanak Pir is accepted as a Muslim Sufi saint.
In case there is a relic of Nanak in Mecca it is obviously buried or destroyed by fanatical Islamic followers.
Nanak Visits Baghdad
From Mecca, Nanak traveled to Baghdad. He reportedly reached Baghdad in 1520 and stayed there for many months. There is no doubt that Nanak visited Baghdad as a Gurudwara or Sikh temple was in existence as late as 2003. This gurudwara was constructed by Mohammed Pasha who was a follower of Pir Bakol with whom Nanak held many discourses sometime in 1524.
Gurudwara at Baghdad
The gurudwara is now destroyed by fanatics but the Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar visited the site in 2008 and the then Iraqi Vice President agreed to restore the gurudwara. We understand work is on to restore it, but the extreme and fanatical nature of Islam coupled with terrorist violence has made reconstruction work a difficult task.
The Biggest gurudwara for the Sikhs has come up at Dubai. His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai was instrumental in giving sanction for this gurudwara by donating land. The gurudwara is spread over 25,000 square feet near the Jebel Ali hospital and its hall for Langar (free kitchen) can seat 5000 persons. The Gurudwara functions round the clock and the free kitchen( langar) serves meals to all and sundry on a 24-hour basis.
Gurudwara at Tehran
There is also a gurudwara at Tehran. The India Prime Minister had visited it in 2008. The Gurudwara was founded in 1941 and is located at Avenue Hedayat, opp Iran hospital, Mesjed Henidyah, Tehran.
The Guru during his travel must have also stopped at many more places but relics of his stay and visit are hard to come by as Islam is an iconoclast religion which permits no deviation whatsoever. Hence, the chance that any more relic or temple commemorating his travel and stay will ever be found is zero. But this is fertile ground for scholars of history as a plank has been found in Istanbul in Turkey, dedicated to 'Nanak'. This opens up further interesting subject for research.