Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 36: My Visit to Dera Baba Nanak
In 1991, the Centenary Annual Convention (Jalsa) of the Jamaat Ahmadiyya was held in Qadian. Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih IV himself travelled to Qadian to participate in that blessed occasion. I was privileged to accompany Huzoor as Huzoor had very kindly included me in his entourage. We flew to Delhi on the appointed date and after a few days’ stay there, via Amritsar and Batala, travelled by train to Qadian. After partition of the sub-continent, this was the first occasion when a Khalifa tul Masih visited Qadian. Therefore, for every single person i.e. Huzoor, members of his entourage and every resident of Qadian it was an extremely sentimental occasion.
Even after the partition of the sub-continent, I had been privileged to visit Qadian on a number of occasions. However, this journey was totally different and unique. Thousands of Ahmadis from Pakistan had the good fortune to attend the Jalsa. From very many parts of the world, in their thousands, members of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat attended this celebrated convention. In a book, that he has written Mr Hadi Ali Chaudhry has covered this journey in some detail. Here, it is not my intention to describe the historic occasion. Therefore, I move on to describe our visit to Dera Baba Nanak to pay homage to the ‘Cloak’.
A day after the conclusion of the Jalsa I said to Fazl Ilahi Khan, a ‘Dervish’ of Qadian and a member of the Nazaarat Umoor e Ama Qadian. Presuming Huzoor grants me permission, would it be possible to visit Dera Baba Nanak to pay homage to the Cloak. He said that he saw no difficulty in arranging a visit but he warned me that it might not be possible to view the Cloak as it always remains secured in a glass treasure chest and that it always remains covered with expensive fabrics. Some very rich Sikh people bring the fabrics for the specific purpose of covering the casket. Visitors and pilgrims are only allowed to view the casket. Since the cloak is 500 years old, for fear that it may get torn or soiled, it is kept in a folded condition.
I said that for us, the cloak had become doubly significant and blessed since to examine the cloak, on 30th September 1895 the Promised Messiah (pbuh), along with ten of his companions had undertaken a journey to Dera Baba Nanak. I said that even viewing only the casket would be a great privilege.
The next day, to view the cloak, I sought permission from Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih IV for Mr Fazl Ilahi Khan and I to travel to Dera Baba Nanak. Huzoor very kindly granted permission and requested Sahibzada Mirza Waseem Ahmad Nazir e Aala Qadian to make the necessary arrangements. On the following day, Mr Hadi Ali Chaudhry expressed a desire to come along with us. Early in the morning, we travelled to Dera Baba Nanak by car. Mr Fazl Ilahi Khan persuaded a Sikh Advocate, a descendent of Guru Baba Nanak, to accompany us. We reached Dera Baba Nanak around 11 a.m. Before I narrate any further details, it seems appropriate that I should record something in regard to the cloak.
It is written in the Holy books of the Sikhs that Hadhrat Baba Nanak received this cloak, from the heavens, on which appear heavenly inscriptions. It is said that Hadhrat Baba Nanak wore it often. After his demise, it has remained in the custody of the Baba’s descendants and has been secured in a treasure chest in Dera Baba Nanak. To seek blessings from it, for centuries, pilgrims from everywhere have been visiting Dera Baba Nanak. It is said that whenever the Sikhs face any severe problems, by keeping this cloak on their head, they pray and thus their prayers find ready acceptance.
Even today, for the Sikhs in particular and in general for followers of other religions, this cloak embodies sentiments of love and devotion. At Dera Baba Nanak, every year, a fair is organized which, to seek blessings, is attended by Sikh devotees in their hundreds and thousands. The cloak remains protected in a strong room.
When the Promised Messiah (pbuh), along with his companions, went to view the cloak, at Huzoor’s request, it was displayed. This was no ordinary event. In his book, ‘Sat Bachan’ Huzoor has made a reference in these words:
“It is a very blessed garment on which, instead of embroidery verses of the Holy Quran are written in gold thread.”
Again, Huzoor said:
“When we expressed our desire to see it, in the beginning they only showed it to us while still wrapped in a cloth. However, a small portion of the corner was visible on which the inscribed words had faded. Another thin cloth covered the back and we were told that this was the cloth that had been woven by Arjan’s wife with the thread spun with her own hands. The narrator was an old Baidi, a descendent of Baba Nanak. He was the one who was showing us the cloak. He also told us that whatever was written on it had not been written by a human but by a Divine hand. Then we insisted that we wished to see the inscription written by the Divine hand. We pleaded that we had come from a great distance to view it. Then he lifted the cloth a little and on the cloak underneath the cloth, ‘Bismil Allah ur Rahman-e-Raheem’ was written in a beautiful hand. Then the old man wanted to wrap up the cloth. But on further persistence from nearly twenty of us and some dignitaries of the town who had come to meet us, the old man lifted the cloth a little. On one corner, with a bold pen, in a clear and beautiful hand was written ‘La Ilaha Ill Allah Muhammad Rasoollu Allah’. Then the old man wanted to wrap up the cloth but instantly Sheikh Rehmatullah of Gujarat placed three silver Rupees on the old man’s palm. Of the three Rupees, he had paid, two were from himself and Moulvi Muhammad Ahsan had paid the third. The Sheikh had already paid four Rupees earlier on. Then the old man lifted the cloth slightly and on this occasion, in one corner we could see ‘Inna Deen Indallah al Islam’ i.e. ‘the true religion is Islam and no other’. Once again the old man felt most hesitant. Then, on behalf of Hakim Moulvi Noor ud Deen the Sheikh placed another two Rupees in his hand. To please him further the Sheikh placed another four Rupees on his hand. Another devotee placed another Rupee. Having received fourteen Rupees, the old man seemed pleased and we were thus allowed to view it without any restriction. Some further cloths were removed and the following became visible. ‘Ashhado an La Ilaha Illallah wa Ashhado anna Muhammadan Abdohoo wa Rasool o Hoo’. Then, by chance, the Sheikh noticed some dust within the cloak. He suggested to the old man that the dust should be removed from the cloak. WE offered to clean it. After that, the remaining cloths were also lifted and it was proven beyond doubt that the Quranic verses were written on it, and nothing else. In one place Sura Fatiha and in other places it was written that the Quran was the sacred word of God and those who were impure must not touch it.” (Satt Bachan page 32)
When our party reached Dera Baba Nanak outside the hallowed room in which the cloak was housed we met Sardar Anop Singh Baidi. He was a direct descendent of Guru Baba Nanak and the Chola (cloak) was in his custody. He met us with great warmth and we told him the purpose of our visit. Quite happily, he showed willingness to let us view the casket. Saeed Ahmad Jaswal and his brothers who had brought with them their movie cameras accompanied us. In the beginning, the Baidi appeared most hesitant to authorize the cameras indoors, but then he agreed. We removed our shoes and entered the room where there was a kind of platform on one side of the room, which was covered by very expensive sheets. A glass casket had been placed on the platform, which was fully covered by large handkerchiefs. The Baidi and some of his Sikh friends prostrated before the casket. We raised our hands and, with great humility, prayed for Hadhrat Guru Baba Nanak and that He may enable the Sikhs to enter the fold of Islam. After having had prostrated the Sikhs also joined us in our supplications. After our silent prayers, we presented a monetary gift to the Baidi. Then I submitted,
“We have come from the distant land of England to see with our own eyes the blessed cloak and to seek blessings from it. By merely looking at the casket our thirst will not be quenched nor would our desire be satisfied. We humbly submit that permission may be granted for us to view the cloak after it had been taken out of the casket.”
To begin with, the Baidi made an excuse and said that it was impossible to take the cloak out of the casket. However, on our repeated submissions his heart melted. In fact, God Almighty moderated his heart. He closed the doors of the room with great respect and deference. With prayers, with the help of his friends, he opened the casket with his own hands and the cloak came in to full view.
Mr Baidi bestowed another favor on us and unfolded the cloak. For us it was a moment of great emotion as this was the garment that had touched the body of Hadhrat Baba Guru Nanak for many years and on it were inscribed verses of the Holy Quran. This was proof enough that the Baba was a God-fearing Muslim and an arch-lover of the Holy Quran. We were therefore able to examine the cloak at close quarters on which, apart from other verses of the Quran, Sura Fatiah and Sura Ikhlas had been inscribed. Mr Hadi made a note of the verses and Mr Jaswal saved the inscriptions on film with the help of his camera.
After having viewed the Cloak, I asked Mr Baidi about the origin of the cloak. He said that it was related that it had descended from Heaven and was given to Baba Sahib. He also said that, according to another narrative, a Muslim King had the cloak made and presented it to Baba Sahib. He added that Baba Sahib wore it all the time and it came into the possession of his successors after he had passed away. He added that whenever a new Guru was enthroned he would put the cloak over his head to seek blessings. That is how this sacred Cloak as Amanat (trust) of Baba Sahib has been safe with the Sikhs for more than 500 years. He told us that every year, to pay homage to and view the casket, which is never opened, hundreds of thousands visit Dera Baba Nanak. We became very envious of our good fortune in having been given an opportunity to view the cloak in its uncovered condition.
Because of our visit, Sardar Anoop Singh Baidi and I became very close. When he came to England the following year, I requested Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih to grant him an audience. Most graciously, Huzoor agreed to meet him. I was instructed to arrange a feast in honour of the guest. On the appointed day, along with some friends, Mr Baidi came to meet Huzoor and I was privileged to be present during the meeting. After the meeting Mr Baidi, charged with emotion said:
“Mirza Sahib’s face is illuminated and on it signs of contentment and tranquillity are apparent. Never before in my life have I seen such signs on anyone’s face.”
In the evening in the Mahmood Hall a well attended dinner had been arranged in which Huzoor also participated. In my address, I welcomed Mr Baidi and in response, he expressed his sentiments of love and esteem for Huzoor. On this occasion, many other Sikh people had been invited. A brotherly relationship with Mr Baidi continues.
While on the subject of Sikhs I would mention that in 1976, along with Hadhrat Chaudhry Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, I had an opportunity to visit Qadian. A detailed account of this journey has been published in the ‘Badar’ from Qadian.
Before commencing our return journey from Qadian I said to Hadhrat Chaudhry Sahib that I would not be able to accompany him to Lahore as I wished to see the Durbar Sahib at Amritsar. Chaudhry Sahib said:
“We have come together and we will go back together. For a long while I have not been to see Durbar Sahib, therefore we can go together.”
During his stay in Qadian, as hosts, the Indian Government had posted two Ministers from the Federal Government and another Minister from the Provincial Government. Two of these Ministers were Sikhs and Chaudhry Sahib mentioned my desire to them. They agreed quite happily to make the necessary arrangements for us to visit Durbar Sahib.
The next day early in the morning, we moved to Amritsar where we were housed in the Guest House. Many dignitaries and officials had assembled there to see Hadhrat Chaudhry Sahib. Before 11 a.m., we went to visit the Durbar Sahib. To welcome us some organizers were present at the entrance. They garlanded us. One of the organizers acted as a guide. After having taken off our shoes, we followed the guide into the premises of the Durbar Sahib. For our benefit, the guide related the history of the Darbar Sahib. We saw the Guest House and the communal kitchen at Durbar Sahib. Akaal Takht was opened particularly for our benefit and there we caught a glimpse of the jewels the Sikhs had collected during their rule. We also saw some precious wonders of the world that had been donated to the Durbar Sahib. Throughout our visit the guide remained busy with his running commentary.
After having visited the Durbar Sahib we entered Pakistan through the Wagah border post. In earlier years, whenever I went to Amritsar, I also visited the famous Jallian Wala Bagh where during a freedom movement, under orders from the Governor of the Punjab General O’Dwyer; General Dyer opened fire and massacred many hundreds of Indians. Even now, bullet holes can be seen on the walls. The Indian Government has established a Museum on the spot where the atrocities were perpetrated. In fact, the indiscriminate firing at Jallian Wala Bagh had given an impetus to the freedom movement against the British rule.
We have always enjoyed an extremely cordial relationship with the Sikh community in Britain. For the Fifth Centenary celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak, a convention was held at Ealing Town Hall. On that occasion Edward Heath, High Commissioners for India and Pakistan and some Sikh leaders spoke on the life and character of Guru Baba Nanak. On behalf of the Muslims, I was invited to speak. I congratulated the Sikh community on the Centenary Celebrations and in my speech covering the life and character of Guru Baba Nanak; I highlighted his love and devotion for Islam. The Sikh audience applauded. At the end of my speech, the Indian High Commissioner particularly congratulated me on my speech. On that occasion, there were more than 500 present and the convention was widely reported in the local papers.
When I began holding Seerat un Nabi (saw) meetings every year some Sikh speakers, in the course of their speeches, paid glowing tributes to the Holy Prophet of Islam (saw). These events were always reported in ‘Akhbar e Ahmadiyya’ and ‘The Muslim Herald’.
The Sikhs have been endowed with some noteworthy qualities. They are very hospitable. Visitors to their Gurdawaras are always received with open arms. Once a friendship is established, they always remain faithful.