Gurdwaras are more than just houses of worship

Akmal Nasrullah Nasir

Johor Baru MP Akmal Nasrullah Nasir has received flak for attending a muhibbah iftar (break fast) event at Gurdwara Sahib in his constituency on May 28.

Branded ‘gila’, Akmal defended the move on Facebook, saying that attending such a do would not jeopardise his Islamic beliefs, among others. For the record, Sikhs do not pursue people to convert them to Sikhism.

The event was held at the langgar (dining area) where only vegetarian food is served.

Similar break fast programmes have been organised by other gurdwaras worldwide. In 2014, a 10-member delegation from the Al Manar Islamic Centre visited the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Dubai to promote religious understanding. The visit was during Ramadan and the delegation sat in the main prayer hall before breaking fast at the dining area. The same gurdwara has been hosting interfaith iftars for the past six years.

The gurdwara in North Texas, meanwhile, held a special Ramadan dinner on May 10, serving vegetarian Turkish and Central Asian cuisines.

For the record, Akmal Nasrullah visited the Johor Baru gurdwara before heading over to the nearby An-Nur, Galleria @ Kotaraya Mosque to perform Maghrib prayers and break fast before returning to the gurdwara’s langgar for a meal.

Former Prime Ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Tun Hussein Onn and Datuk Seri Najib Razak are among a list of politicians who have visited gurdwaras in the past while in 2016 it was reported that Hulu Kelang state assemblyman Saari Sungib had been visiting the Gurdwara Sahib Ampang in Hulu Kelang, Selangor, for Vaisakhi every year since getting elected in 2008. He would bring along family and friends as they respectfully entered the main prayer hall and mingled with Sikhs.

Even top brass of the police force comprising various faiths have dined at the Gurdwara Sahib Pulapol langgar in Kuala Lumpur, especially during Vaisakhi.

In light of the Akmal Nasrullah visit which got many buzzing, here are some facts on Sikhism and the role of gurdwaras.

1. A gurdwara is a place of worship for Sikhs. It means the ‘doorway to the Guru (enlightenment)’.

2. The establishment of gurdwaras in Malaya was closely linked to the police force as most of the Sikhs who migrated to Malaysia during the Third Larut War in the 1870s came as policemen.

3. The first gurdwara in Malaya was built in 1881 in Fort Cornwallis, Penang.

4.  While a gurdwara is a place to learn spiritual wisdom and is a centre for religious ceremonies, it also serves as a community centre that offers food and shelter to the needy.

5. Sikhs do not believe in idols, statues or even religious pictures. They only believe in worshiping God and that God does not have a physical form.

6. The Darbar Sahib is the main hall where the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy scripture) is placed.

7. Sikhs do not restrict anyone from entering the Darbar Sahib as long as the individual covers his or her head, dresses appropriately and removes footwear.

8. The langgar is the dining area which is usually below the Darbar Sahib. Only vegetarian food is served here. Everyone, regardless of faith or colour, is welcomed to the langgar. One is required to cover his or her head and remove footwear while in the dining area.

9. It is not uncommon to see one sitting on the carpeted floor in straight lines in a langgar – a sign that everyone is equal. In Malaysia, most langgars have tables and benches.