The Gurudwara Bhai Biba Singh Temple was built in 1708, during the rule of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.
Closed in 1942, the Sikh temple in Peshawar, Pakistan, is finally being reopened after six decades and a protracted dispute.
Shahab-ur-Rahman visited the place of worship to find out more.
The call to prayer is being delivered in this congested area of Peshawar Jughiwara, the area where the Gurudwara Bhai Biba Singh Sikh Temple is located.
The area is mostly inhabited by Muslims, but the local Islamic community has welcomed the reopening of the Sikh place of worship.
“They are free to practice their religion. No one will interfere in their worship. Sikhs are citizens of this country. Islam teaches us brotherhood with all. There are no Sikhs in the area, but sill the Muslims of this locality will fully cooperate with the Sikh community,” said Mohammad Dawood, a prayer leader at the local mosque.
The Sikh temple was closed in 1942 after a clash between Muslims and Sikhs, in which two Sikhs were killed.
The Sikh community has been struggling to get ownership of the 300-year-old temple since and finally they have succeeded.
The government has handed over rights of the temple to the Sikh community and renovation work is now underway. The temple is expected to be opened within the next month.
While some influential elders in the community initially opposed the idea, most, like Hajji Ibrahim Khan have come around.
“We had reservations against the re-opening. This temple has been closed since 1942. After partition, no Sikhs remained in this area. Not a single Sikh is living around the temple. We had four points, protection of the girls’ school adjacent to the temple, that the road will not be closed for security, Sikhs will not purchase other property and a wall should be erected on top of the roof of the temple to protect Muslim population,” Hajji Ibrahim says. “
“Now we have written agreement and they are allowed. They are free to practice their religion. We will protect them. They are our brothers.”
The protection of the girls’ school was one of the main demands of those who opposed the temple.
Khwaja Mohammad Akbar Setthi was part of the campaign against the opening of Gurudwara.
He says they signed the agreement for the sake of Pakistan’s image as a tolerant nation.
“We had no objections to their worship. Sikhs are Pakistani citizens. But this building was allotted as a vocational training school. We accepted the agreement of re-opening just for Pakistan’s image. The building belongs to Sikhs and we honored that,” Khwaja says.
Here in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, there is only one other temple where Sikhs can worship. And across the country there are less than 20 functional Sikh temples.
It’s one of the reasons why the Sikh Gurudwara Perbandhak Committee worked hard to reopen the Gurudwara temple.
Committee member Sahib Singh says he believes the Sikh and Muslims community can peacefully coexist.
“At partition the Sikhs were shifted to different places. Some were shifted to India and while others starts living in tribal areas of Pakistan. This temple was closed as Sikhs were few in number. Due to terrorism a huge population of Sikhs migrated from FATA to Peshawar. Now the Sikh population is more than 1,000 families.”
After the partition between India and Pakistan in 1947, most Sikhs moved to India.
But in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, the government is working hard to support all religious minorities – providing funds for the upkeep of houses of worship for all faiths.
Sardar Suran Singh, who represents minorities in the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwam, says minorities in Pakistan can freely practice their religions.
“In this country, which came into being in the name Islam, other minorities are free to practice their religion. The re-opening of this temple after six decades sends a positive message to the world that Pakistan is a free country where every religion can be practiced.”
The re-opening of Gurudwara Bhai Biba Singh in this Muslim majority area, is being celebrated as an example of interfaith harmony.