Guru Nanak’s Shrine in Baghdad

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was a great traveler who visited many places across Asia and the Middle East. One of his destinations was Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, where he arrived around 1511 CE after visiting Mecca and Medina. There he met with some prominent Muslim saints and scholars and shared his spiritual insights with them.

Guru Nanak Dev

According to some accounts, Guru Nanak was initially not allowed to enter the city of Baghdad and had to spend a night in a cemetery outside the city. There he performed a miracle by making a dead tree bloom with flowers. The next day, he was welcomed by the people of Baghdad who were impressed by his radiance and wisdom.

Guru Nanak had a dialogue with Pir Dastgir, a famous Sufi saint of Baghdad. He also met with Pir Bahlol, another Sufi saint who lived in a tomb near the cemetery. Guru Nanak explained to him the concept of one God and the futility of searching for Him in hundreds of thousands of worlds. Pir Bahlol was also convinced by Guru Nanak’s teachings and acknowledged him as a true master.

Guru Nanak’s visit to Baghdad left a lasting impact on the local people who revered him as Baba Nanak or Baba Nana. They built a shrine in his memory in the cemetery area where he had stayed. The shrine was later rediscovered by Sikh soldiers during World War I and World War II who repaired and rebuilt it.

The shrine was also visited by some prominent Sikh personalities such as Major General Harkirat Singh and Dr. Kirpal Singh who documented its history and significance. The shrine of Guru Nanak in Baghdad was a sacred site for Sikhs until it was destroyed during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I was planning to visit the holy site with my colleague and friend Mohammed Al-Samarrae for a couple of years. The place is in the backyard of Baghdad railway station surrounded by graveyards.

I connected with Dr. Mehiyar Kathem, a Research Associate at University College London (UCL) through Twitter. His NGO, Nahrain Network, work in Iraq for funding the development of heritage places. He was also interested to visit the shrine of Guru Nanak.

Dr. Mehiyar is now in Baghdad, and we planned to go together to visit the area. Since there is no Gurudwara existing now, we have to explore the area known as Sheikh Maarouf cemetery, which is being used since the Abbasid era (750 – 1258 CE) in Baghdad and is still being used today.

Mohammed Al-Samarrae also said that he would accompany us too. We decided to meet at 10.00 AM on Friday, 11 November 2022 in Mansour. Mohammed and I waited for a few minutes and Dr. Mehiyar joined us and we proceeded towards our destination with the help of Maps.

From Google Maps, we found that it is near the tomb of the 9th-century Sufi saint Junayed Al-Baghdadi. He is a central figure in the spiritual lineage of many Sufi orders.

Tomb of the 9th century Sufi saint Junayed Al-Baghdadi in the cemetery

When we took the turn from the road towards the shrine, we were stopped at the checkpoint. We were allowed to go in only after we deposited our ID cards with them. The police didn’t tell us the reason. Maybe because we were entering the backyard of the Baghdad central railway station and the rail siding.

While exploring the area, we crossed the tomb of Pir Bahlol. We found another structure and went to check for that. We were surprised to find that the place is being said to be the tomb of the Prophet Joshua.

Prophet Joshua was mentioned in the Quran and the Torah. There is no historical evidence confirming that he was buried in Iraq, as he had at least 3 other shrines, including northern Palestine and Turkey.

The Old Testament states that the Prophet Joshua was a companion of the Prophet Moses, but no one knows for certain if Joshua, actually lived or where he might be buried. But for over 1,000 years, the sick and faithful have visited this Baghdad tomb said to be his.

A caretaker at the tomb of Joshua informed us the shrine of Guru Nanak is next to the tomb of Pir Bahlol. We then went to the tomb of Pir Bahlol. A caretaker there showed us a courtyard next to the tomb as the place where Guru Nanak stayed.

There used to be a Gurudwara. Now, it’s a desolate courtyard lacking maintenance. War, insurgents or looters have wiped any trace of a historical footnote that had preserved the memory of the Sikh Guru’s 16th-century journey through Arabia and his stay in Baghdad, hailed by Sikhs as an early example of inter-faith dialogue.

A memorial in the form of a platform was raised after Guru’s departure, where the Guru sat and discoursed. Later room was constructed and a stone slab with the inscription was installed on it. The Gurudwara was founded by Mohammad Pasha Amoot, a follower of Pir Bahlool after Guru Nanak’s visit to Baghdad in 1520. Baba Nanak Shrine or Sikh Gurdwara in Baghdad, which was rediscovered by Sikh soldiers during World War I, and was repaired and rebuilt during World War II, by Sikh soldiers again; existed till 2003 in good shape.

Historic relics such as an old plaque with text inscribed in Arabic, existed in the Shrine till the Iraq war in 2003, were looted. In the chaos following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, vandals stripped the monument of religious texts and the plaque commemorating the meeting. There is no trace of anything Sikh on the site now.

Let’s hope that this early example of inter-faith dialogue is not erased from the memory of the people and at least, a plaque commemorating the three-month stay of Guru Nanak is placed on the wall. It will be a great gesture if the Gurudwara is rebuilt ai the site. Wahe Guru!

Naa Ko Bairi, Nahin Bigaana; Sagal Sang Hum Ko Bann Aayi.

Guru Arjan Dev

In English, it means “I see no stranger, I see no enemy; I look upon all with goodwill.”

33 thoughts on “Guru Nanak’s Shrine in Baghdad

  1. Nilanjana Moitra

    That’s an amazing journey to history. It’s nice to be at a place where many enlightened saints of different faith had their presence.

    Liked by 1 person


    And I thought you had forwarded an article on Baba Guru Nanak Dev and his visit to Baghdad with his companions Bala & Mardana which my Dadi recounted in my childhood. I enjoyed the casual style and the informative piece and scrolled down to see the photos and….lo & behold, who do I see? A very familiar fellow standing there posing with a bearded hulk. Arré, ai te sadda Munda ai!!! I looked for the credits and sure enough, it is aapro dhokra!! Don’t know what’s a hodophile but that’s okay, it’s a free world Indrajit, you can be what you want. I sorely miss not having gone downtown with you to the legendary pavement book bazaar everybody talks about as a cultural leaning of Iraq. Well done, old hodophile!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Manojit

    Very informative and well narrated. Perhaps Khuswant Singh also missed to include this visit of Guru Nanak to Baghdad in his book The Sikh. I read it he manuscript but cannot remember it clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

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