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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Collective Punishment Is Unjust

Several religions promote stories about the destruction of entire settlements because of a perceived wrong. When Guru Nanak Dev ji reached Sialkot on one of his preaching tours, the people came to see him and tell him that they were greatly worried about their city. The Guru asked them what the reason was for this concern. They said that a Muslim mystic, or Pir, named Hamza Gaus had gone on a 40-day meditation to destroy the city and its residents. This was because he was angry with the behavior of one person. He made a decision to use his mystical powers to make the whole city sink into the earth and vanish forever. Guru Nanak Dev reassured the people that no such harm could come to them. He advised them to remember God and return to their daily routines.

The Guru went to the place where the Muslim Pir had locked himself in a chamber in which he sat meditating to destroy the city. Bhai Mardana was asked to play on the rebeck while the Guru started singing a shabad. The Pir heard the music and virtues of God sung outside his chamber. He broke his 40-day continuous meditation, opened the door and came out. He was surprised and angered to see the Guru and his associates. He asked them, "Who are you? Why have you come here and interrupted my meditation?"

The Guru told him to calm down and reminded him that holy men are expected to serve and help the people with the virtues God bestows on them. It is a sin to use holy authority to harm people. The Pir insisted that all the people of the city were evil. None possessed any goodness. They all deserved to be destroyed. The Guru decided to challenge him. He gave some money to his associate and sent him to the city to purchase a packet each of 'truth' and 'falsehood'.

The associate went to the city and moved from shop to shop asking for truth and falsehood. He always got a negative answer to his query. Finally, he contacted Bhai Moola. Bhai Moola took the money and wrote on a piece of paper, "Marna Sach, Jeona Jhuth - Truth is encountered in death, and falsehood in life."

The Guru showed this message to the Pir and warned him that he was totally wrong to think of doing any harm to someone who had such a deep understanding of morality. There were people in the town who knew and understood that life is temporary, while death is a surety. Hence, we should live according to this truth.

The Pir confessed that he was wrong to believe that everybody was bad and needed to be destroyed. He decided to use his authority to serve the people rather than frighten them.

Stereotyping entire groups based on the actions of a few is counterproductive and wrong, as it leads to a false sense of superiority.

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