It is October 30 and the place is Nankana, Punjab — a strategically located district touching the boundaries of seven other districts of the province, including its capital Lahore.
A stage has been set up just outside the main gate of Gurdwara Janam Asthan, the sacred birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak — the founder of Sikh religion. Prominent leaders of the Sikh community have occupied positions atop the stage, holding rose petal garlands, loose rose petals and a hand speaker as they look out eagerly in a particular direction.
Luckily, they do not have to wait long. Soon they are able to spot a charged crowd of people of all ages moving in their direction — on foot and in vehicles including decorated motorbikes, bicycles, cars and animal carts. The procession is to commemorate Eid Miladun Nabi, the birthday celebration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), with marchers reciting na’ats and chanting slogans in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
As soon as they reach the stage, the Sikh leaders start showering rose petals on the marchers, some even join the procession and start repeating the slogans raised by the Muslim participants. Not even a single eyebrow is raised and they are welcomed with open hands by the Muslim participants. They can only be identified by their colourful turbans.
This is just one glimpse of how the Sikh community, which is a fraction of the total population of Nankana, lives in harmony with the majority Muslims in this city termed by the locals as a an embodiment of peace and love for humanity.
Muhammad Adeel, a social worker in Nankana, says there is zero tolerance among locals for violence or antagonism among followers of various sects and faiths here and they immediately come together if there is any disturbance. A peace committee comprising followers of different sects and faiths has successfully handled cases before they blow out of proportion.
Adeel explains that the Muslims also show great reverence to the gurdwara and Baba Guru Nanak who also performed the Haj — Islamic pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia — and was inspired by the Quran’s verses and poetry of Sufi mystic Baba Fareed. Luckily, he says, this has had a spillover effect and the minorities other than Sikhs also live in peace with Muslims here. The hospitality of the locals is at its best when Sikh pilgrims visit every year to join birthday celebrations of Guru Nanak who was born here in 1469. However, this year their movement will be limited because of Covid-19 and they will not be able to mingle with the locals.
Garanthi (Sikh clergyman) Daya Singh shares that they have found Nankana Sahib a peaceful city — a proof of which is that Sikhs have moved and settled here from other parts of the country. He informed that his family moved here from Tirah Valley in the tribal areas in 1970s and many others made a similar decision and moved from the country’s north-western region owing to the deteriorating security situation.
Apart from special occasions as well, Muslims and Sikhs co-exist peacefully in Nankana. Being in the spotlight all over the world for its unique nature, Nankana is being developed fast to be presented to the global community as a peaceful and the most revered place for the Sikh community.
Gurdwara Janam Asthan, spread over vast tracts of land, has been built on land donated by the Muslim Rai biradri centuries ago and is being used for various public initiatives. The degree colleges and proposed university of the district have been named after Guru Nanak and there has been no objection to this by the Muslim population.