Monday, May 28, 2007

Iraq keen to re-build damaged Sikh Gurudwara

Iraq is keen to rebuild a historic Sikh shrine commemorating Guru Nanak's visit to Baghdad, which had been destroyed by "fanatics" after the invasion of the country by US-led coalition forces, a top leader said on Friday.
Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi, one of Iraq's prominent leaders, who drove down through the desolate streets of Baghdad to the sacred Sikh site last night under heavy military protection, said "it has unfortunately been wiped out by fanatics because they thought it was against Islam". "It's shameful they cannot respect someone who has millions of followers," he told PTI at the gurdwara site along the river Tigris.
Iraqi officials escorting Chalabi informed him about the original design of the gurdwara that was built alongside the tomb of a Muslim religious leader, which has suffered no damage. "We will rebuild it," Chalabi said even as he admitted he did not know that a Sikh shrine had ever existed in Baghdad, which houses the Indian embassy.
The Iraqi leader, seen as close to the Bush administration, ruled out the possibility of the gurdwara being destroyed in military fire. "It was a mortar attack by some fanatic," he said, adding he believed it would have happened after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
News reports during the Iraq war had suggested the gurdwara had suffered damage in the attack, but there has been no official confirmation until now from Iraq about its condition. The visit to the site revealed complete destruction of the shrine. Chalabi, who broke the lock at the gate of the shrine's compound to inspect the site, pointed out that the shrine's marble floor had been pulled out and its roof razed to the ground.
Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who accompanied him, also requested immediate rebuilding of the gurdwara.
According to Sikh history, Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith, visited Baghdad and had a discourse with Bahlol Dana, a sufi teacher. The gurdwara commemorating the Guru's visit lies near what is now a devastated railway station in Baghdad. "The Sikh community has contributed a lot to Iraq. They have worked here in railways, construction and a lot of other activities. We respect them and will see to it that this is rebuilt," Chalabi said.
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