Sufism and Sikhism: A Musical and Mystical Connection

by Saloni Poddar

The opening lines of the poem ‘Hindustani Bachhon ke Kaumi Geet’ (National Songs of Indian children), written as early as 1905, by Allama Iqbal, say

“Chishti ne jis zamin mein paigam-i-haq sunaya,
Nanak he jis chaman mein wahidit geet gaya,

Mera watan wahi hai.
Mera watan wahi hai.”

The above lines are self-explanatory. They indicate the strong connection between Sikhism and Sufism. Sikhs have had an unbreakable bond with Sufis over centuries and this is apparent from the fact that Guru Nanak Devji included four ‘Shabads’ and 112 ‘Shloks’ of Baba Farid, the 13th-century Punjabi-Muslim preacher, poet, and mystic in the Guru Granth Sahib and the foundation Stone of Harminder Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar, was laid by the Sufi mystic Sain Mian Mir who was called upon to do so by the 5th Guru.

In order to get a deeper understanding of this unique connection we need to analyze the teachings of the two religions. Hatim-al-Aamm established 4 key principles of Sufi life;

  • To remember that no other person eats your bread for you.
  • To remember that no one but you perform your actions.
  • To remember that death is near, so you should address your life in readiness for it.
  • To remember you are under the eyes of God.

The Sikh faith advocates similar teachings;

  • Naam Japna (chanting the name of God).
  • Kirat Karna (earn an honest living).
  • Vand Chakna (sharing everything with the needy).
  • Every action is performed under his command.
  • The day one takes birth, he has to accept death as a means to a spiritual journey.

Sufism, just like Sikhism, talks about ‘Ik Onkar’ or One God. Both stress on divine devotion and experiencing the presence of God in everyday routine through soulful renditions and meditative practices.

Guru Nanak Devji commented about religion, “It doesn’t matter to me from which one is inspired. My prayer unto Dear God is, please take that person into your arms if that person is inspired to come and meet with you.”

Sufism, just like other forms of mysticism, is about experiencing The One in Everyone. According to Sufis, all existence comes from God, and God alone is real. “The universe is the shadow of the Absolute”. They believe that the right path to reach and experience him is through Love: “If you wish to be free, become a prisoner of Love.” Sikh faith also reiterates that Love enables one to connect with God. “Hear you all! I speak the truth, only he attains God, who loves Him freely (sach koho’n sun leho sabhai, jin prem kee-o tin hi prabh paa-eo)”. The most outstanding similarity between these two religions is that the Mulmantra of Guru Granth Sahib and the Bismillah of the Quran are both dedicated to The Merciful God!

We all know the Nanak Devji was revered by both Hindus and Muslims and he traveled widely to both religion’s places of pilgrimage and was always accompanied by Mardana (a Muslim) and Bhai Bala (a Hindu), Guruji had close contacts with his contemporary Mullahs and Pirs and was well acquainted with Islamic teachings and Sufi doctrines. Tara Chand remarked, “How deep Guru Nanak’s debt is to Islam, it is hardly necessary to state, for it is so evident in his words and thoughts. Manifestly he was steeped in Sufi love and the fact of the matter is that it is much harder to find how much exactly he drew from the Hindu Scriptures.”

As recorded in history, Guru Nanak and Shaikh Ibrahim (occupant of the seat of Baba Farid) used to have intense, long discourses about religion and spirituality. During one such conversation with Nanak Devji, Ibrahim Sheikh recited,

“fareeda Par Pattolaa Dhaj Karee Kanbala Ree Pehiraeo.
Jinhee Vassee Sahu Milai Sare Vaes Karaeo”

(Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 1383)

Meaning: Fareed I have torn my clothes to tatters, now I wear only a rough blanket. I wear only those clothes which will lead me to meet my Lord.

Guruji replied,
“Ghar Hee Mundhh Vidhaes Pir Nith Jhoorae Sanmhaalar.
Miladhiaa Dtil Na Hovee Jae Neath Raas Karove.”

(Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 594)

Meaning: The soul-bride is at home, while the Husband Lord is away; She cherishes his memory and mourns his absence. She shall meet him without delay if she rids herself of duality.

In this long discourse, both veterans refer to the ‘bride’ as a person’s soul which wants to be reunited with her ‘husband’,the Lord. But in order to do so she has to let go of worldly vices and take up ‘Shabad’ and ‘kirtan’ in order to be with Him. Guru Nanak’s replies impressed Sheikh Ibrahim so much that he handed various couplets of Baba Farid to the former.

Mian Mir, the revered Sufi Saint, is famously regarded as a friend of Guru Arjan Dev, the fourth Sikh Guru. According to legend, after buying the land for building the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Guru Arjan invited Mian Mir to lay its foundation stone because he considered the ‘pir’ an ‘ideal fit’. This Sufi ‘Pir’ is revered by Muslims and Sikhs alike. Many Sikhs visit his shrine saying, “To us, Mian Mir Sahib is as divine as the Guru of Sikhism.”

Sufis and Gurus and their message transcend geographical and religious boundaries and merge in one place. In Him. He, who is divine. He, who is sublime. He, who is the only truth.

Har Surat Vich Didar Ditham
Kul Yaar Agar Noon Yaar Ditham”.

(The Beloved is seen in every form By the Lover.)

“Sahib Meira Eiko Hai, Bhai Eiko Hai”.
(My Master is He, the One and Only One).

Saloni Poddar

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