Pakistan Ambassador Akbar Ahmed Calls Guru Nanak ‘Prince of Interfaith Dialogue’ and Appeals for Healing Process

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Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Pakistan’s former high commissioner to United Kingdom and Ireland called Guru Nanak, Founder of Sikhism, ‘a prince of Interfaith Dialogue’. Speaking at the 542nd birthday celebrations of Guru Nanak at Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (GGSF) in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, Mr. Ahmed said that “we are living in a world of change and a world of challenge and after 9/11 these challenges are accentuated and Guru Nanak’s life and his teachings and instructions provide us the answers.”

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Pakistan’s former high commissioner to United Kingdom and Ireland called Guru Nanak, Founder of Sikhism, ‘a prince of Interfaith Dialogue’. Speaking at the 542nd birthday celebrations of Guru Nanak at Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (GGSF) in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, Mr. Ahmed said that “we are living in a world of change and a world of challenge and after 9/11 these challenges are accentuated and Guru Nanak’s life and his teachings and instructions provide us the answers.”

Ambassador Ahmed, a scholar of Islamic studies at American University in Washington DC and at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington’s leading think tank. He is also a writer of many books. He has taught at Princeton, Harvard, and Cambridge Universities. Regularly interviewed by CNN, NPR, BBC, Fox, he has appeared several times on Oprah, and has also been a guest of The Daily Show and Nickelodeon. Ahmed was the Pakistan High Commissioner (Ambassador) to the UK and Ireland.

During his first ever visit to a Sikh congregation, he stated, “If we are looking for a model, Guru Nanak gives us the best model in the 21st century. I feel a great sense of pride in figures like Guru Nanak (1469 - 1539) from South Asia who brings us together and tell us to hold on to the concept of unity of God.”

He added, “Guru Nanak gave us as a framework to be able to meditate on the beauty of God and beauty of unity; to be householders and yet think of Divinity; and finally to live as a community and to share our wealth. These are wonderful principles for any society. “

He quoted one of his favorite sayings of Guru Nanak "When I give myself to thee O, Lord, the whole world is mine," and said, “Everyone can related to it and I, as a Muslim, can also relate to it.”

He added, “Guru Nanak played an important role in the South Asian region. Through Guru Nanak you have a great intersection of history between two great religions, Hinduism and Islam and now the third religion Sikhism. So you have all the great currents of history meeting in Guru Nanak.”

Ahmed shared his personal pain of partition when in 1947 India and Pakistan separated. He said it felt like “a knife had gone through the heart of all of us… and separated us, the brothers and sisters.” He urged that the healing process must begin by saying “Here we have an opportunity in United States to begin the process of healing and that is the ultimate message of Guru Nanak in the 21st Century. His message of love and compassion constantly inspires us in our daily lives.”

Ahmed narrated the message of Guru Nanak during his visit to Mecca, Islam’s holiest shrine "that God is present everywhere and it struck me even as a young boy growing up in Abbotabad that there is so much depth and sense of compassion in Guru Nanak’s observation.”

He also regretted that a shrine built in memory of Guru Nanak’s visit to Baghdad was damaged recently. He said, “Guru Nanak’s shrine is a testament and we ought to preserve history and in turn we preserve ourselves. It provides us the dignity and identity with the message of Guru Nanak that comes to us through generations."

Ahmed reminded to a large audience about the close connections between the two communities. He said, “We know of close connections with Sikhism and Islam. We know that Mian Mir, a great Sufi saint from Lahore laid the foundation of the Golden Temple and Mughal Emperor Akbar gave a golden gift to the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Scriptures). We also know that when Dara Shikoh, a Mughal prince fell ill and who was very close to the Sikhs, Sikh Guru prayed for him. We also know the problems with Mughal emperor Aurangzeb but we must remember that it was not a clash between religions. Aurangzeb in fact imprisoned his own father.”

Dr. Rajwant Singh, Secretary of GGSF, welcomed Ambassador to the Sikh congregation and said, “We are touched by Ambassador Ahmed’s comments. They are indeed full of passion and deep appreciation for Guru Nanak. We are also proud of Ambassador’s contributions in the field of interfaith dialogue and his desire to bring people of Indian subcontinent together. All religions in the Indian subcontinent must initiate a lead towards civil dialogue rather than always be led by politicians or geopolitical events. Ahmed's presence today was befitting while we are celebrating Great Guru’s life.”

Sarabjit Singh Sidhu, Chairman of GGSF, presented a book on Sikhism and Guru Nanak on behalf of the Sikh congregation and said, “We pray that Ambassador Ahmed continues to work towards bringing harmony in a broken world. The world needs persons of faith like him who can create a loving world in line with the vision of Guru Nanak.”

Later Manjula Kumar, a prominent Indian and a director at the Smithsonian institute, said, “Ahmed was creating history... I have never had such a wonderful experience at any Gurdwara.”

Dr. Nisar Chaudhury, the President of the Pakistan American league, who advocates people to people contact among Indians and Pakistanis to foster harmony in the subcontinent and has organized trips of Pakistani physicians to visit India recently, was also visiting his first Gurdwara with the Ambassador and was thrilled. Sardar Harcharan Singh Brar who is head of the Mian Mir foundation in Amritsar and his organization is working to bring together relatives separated during the tragedy of the partition and has brought together 600 people together such families also spoke.

Ambassador Ahmed had received a Bridge Builder's Award from the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.

YouTube link to his speech:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mc5fH0sViHE

Blog in the Washington Post about this news by Dylan Kaplan, Student leader of the American University:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/seeking-sikh-muslim-peace/2011/11/22/gIQAW3YylN_blog.html

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Ambassador Ahmed receiving momento from officials of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation. From left to right: Ranjit Singh Kaler, Sarabjit Singh Sidhu, Ambassador Ahmed, Chattar Singh Saini, Bhai Gurdarshan Singh and Dr. Rajwant SinghNisar Chowdhury and Ambassador Ahmed with Sikhs at Guru Gobind Singh FoundationFrom Left Nisar Chowdhury, Ambassador Ahmed, Manjula Kumar of Smithsonian Institution and Dylan Kaplan, Senator of the Student Body of the American University partaking Sikh langar during the celebrations