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Welcome to Punjab: The Birthplace of Guru Nanak

by Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar

Sikh pilgrims gather in front of Kartarpur Gurdwara Sahib before a groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur Corridor. Arif Ali—AFP

Religious harmony, freedom and protection of minorities’ rights are a cornerstone of the PTI’s policies

Nothing is more satisfying than to be remembered as a peacemaker in the world. But peace with honor and integrity must be prioritized when dealing with an unruly neighbor. Lately, Prime Minister Imran Khan has emerged as a peacemaker in the South Asian region. His vision and efforts for a peaceful and prosperous South Asia have been acknowledged by world leaders. The future generations of Sikhs will thank God on their knees that Imran Khan once held the P.M. Office. History will remember him as a statesman who opened a corridor of peace to the country that is ruled by a war obsessed leader.

That said, Nov. 12, 2019 marks the 550th birthday celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the revered saint, poet, philosopher and founder of Sikhism who believed in the oneness of Allah and spent his life preaching the noble values of love, peace, equality, humility, simplicity and global brotherhood. Born to a Hindu family and deeply influenced by Muslim thought, Guru Nanak has left a tremendous impact on the socio-religious and intellectual milieu of the subcontinent. Today, as many as 27 million of his followers live around the world, including our own Sikh brethren in Pakistan.

Guru Nanak was born in Nankana Sahib near Lahore and spent the later part of his life at Kartarpur in the Narowal district, where his remains are buried and also kept in a Samadhi. These two religious sites are the most sacred to Sikhs all over the world. Gurdawara Janam Asthan and Gurdawara Kartarpur to Sikhs are what Makkah and Madina are to Muslims! Keeping the significance of reverence in mind, our government decided to restore, renovate and enlarge the buildings of these sacred sites on one hand, and ease access of the pilgrims to the sites on the other, despite heightened tensions between India and Pakistan followed by New Delhi’s unconstitutional aggression and grave human rights violations in Kashmir.

As the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor opens today, we have worked day and night on timely restoration and expansion of the Gurdawara ahead of the celebrations of 550th Parkash Purb of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. As a token of good will and a major relief to the pilgrims from India, Prime Minister Imran Khan has waived off the conditions of passport and advance registration for the visitors. The pilgrims will also not be charged any fee on the inauguration day and Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday. Punjab is all set to welcome its guests from across the border with open arms and no malice in heart.

Religious harmony, freedom and protection of minorities’ rights are very close to my heart and a most important cornerstone in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s policies. I have no hesitation in acknowledging that I am a deeply religious man since childhood who believes that religion must be used for global peace and harmony. It should not be used for bigotry, persecution and hatred. I believe that God’s will should be expressed by men through their actions towards other men for humanity is above all religious affiliations. This is what Baba Guru Nanak and other Sufi mystics and saints believed and preached. Its relevance and need to the contemporary world is even greater than before.

I can vividly remember the very first thing my mother taught me as a child was that in a Momin’s life faith was the first step, while acknowledging your faith was the second. But the most important step, she used to tell me, was using the energy that faith gives you to make the world a better place. Later, during my social and political life in the United Kingdom, I realized, the real test of faith is whether it is strong enough to tolerate other faiths? While the majority should not impose its religious views on the minority, the minority should also respect the views of the majority.

This philosophy of peaceful coexistence, pluralism and diversity is common in teachings of almost all Sufi traditions and a touchstone in civilized societies of the World. And this is what we are striving to achieve in Pakistan. On this historic day, one lives in the hope that the kind gesture by Pakistan will ease tensions between India and Pakistan and much needed peace will return to the region with Kashmiris finally getting their right to self-determination materialized soon! I also hope that Kartarpur will be remembered as a corridor of peace between two brothers. Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji, too, would have not wished otherwise!

Sarwar is Governor of the Punjab, Pakistan

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