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Is Sikhism Succumbing to Fundamentalism?

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Admin Singh, Jun 10, 2009.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    There were riots across northern India last week after a shooting at a Sikh temple in Austria resulted in the death of a sect leader and, given that Punjabi culture is something I bang on about on occasion, it wasn't surprising, I suppose, that a couple of news producers rang, asking me to put the disturbances into context.

    I declined because: (a) as a community we are only just learning to talk about ourselves, and too often any kind of commentary is taken as criticism; (b) commenting about religion is a dangerous business when people are being killed and one has absolutely no theological authority; (c) I feel about broadcasting the way many feel about general anaesthetic (you should do it only when you absolutely need to); but mainly because (d) it's quite hard to explain what Sikhism actually stands for.

    You see, one of the founding principles of the monotheistic religion, established in the late 15th century by Guru Nanak, was opposition to Hinduism's oppressive caste system. Yet the world's fifth largest organised religion has a caste system of its own, with differences between Jat Sikhs (a group that I belong to and which makes up about two thirds of Sikh society) and non-Jat castes, such as the Ramgarhias, remaining a source of political, social and religious tension.

    Even in Britain you'll find different Sikh temples belonging to different groups on the same road, and - according to some media reports last week, many of them disputed by the groups involved - the violence in Austria was sparked after orthodox Sikhs from one caste objected to preachers from another caste being disrespectful towards the Sikh Holy Book.

    Also, officially, Sikhs don't worship human beings, since Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, named Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Book, as his successor. But certain Sikh sects do believe in living human gurus, some mainstream Sikh families revere spiritual figures and ancestors, and - according to some media reports, again disputed by the groups involved - the violence in Austria was sparked when members of a certain sect gave the Guru Granth Sahib pride of place next to photographs and idols of their own human "gurus".

    Then there's the issue of booze. Officially, Sikhs don't drink, and some families don't even allow alcohol to be kept in their houses.

    But as the academics Gurharpal Singh and Darshan Singh Tatla point out in Sikhs in Britain: The Making of a Community: "Consumption of alcohol has always been high among Sikhs, with the per capita rate among Sikhs of Punjab among the highest in the world" and "a particularly distinctive feature of British Sikh society today" being "the high rate of alcoholism among males . . . Consumption rates are higher than in any other ethnic minority and in the white community."

    There are other contradictions. Sikhs are meant to adopt the name "Singh", meaning "lion", as a way of encouraging equality (one's caste can often be identified by a surname), but many of us use it only as a middle name. The Gurus declared men and women to be equal, but Punjabi culture is highly patriarchal. Sikhism is the only major world religion that acknowledges that other religions are a valid way of reaching God, but some believers risk being disowned for marrying outside of their religion.

    Also, Sikhs, partly as a result of having no clergy (the idea is that everyone can be directly in touch with God without priests) and partly as a result of factionalism, have never been very good at building institutions to represent them, and yet have had great success campaigning on issues such as the right to wear the turban, so much so that Sikhs can legally ride a motorbike with a turban instead of a helmet. When, the other week, the police announced that they were developing a bulletproof turban, apart from a few tiresome jokes about the "turbanator", there were almost no objections from any quarters. Imagine the fuss there would have been if the religious headwear in question had been a burka.

    And if there is anything that epitomises the fluidity of Sikhism, it is the turban. Long hair, beards and colourful headwear are synonymous with the religion - I kept my own hair unshorn until the age of 14 - but if you ask any Sikh why they keep their hair uncut, they will give you a different answer.

    Some say that it's a way of showing respect for the God-given form; some that it is a way of expressing love for God (like a married person would wear a wedding ring); some link it to intelligence, health and spirituality; some say that Guru Gobind Singh made the keeping of unshorn hair mandatory to give Sikhs a binding identity. There are others who will argue that long hair isn't actually necessary to be a that Sikh.

    In fact, a great many Sikhs, if not the majority, don't have long hair and don't sport turbans. And those with turbans are not necessarily hugely religious: I know one turbaned man who runs that most un-Sikh of things, an English pub; another who started wearing a turban simply because he had developed a bald patch; another who is actually an atheist.

    As it happens, I don't think that these ambiguities are necessarily a problem. Such issues crop up with all organised religions, and for me, and I am a believer, the massive variation in observance is appealing, as you're basically left to define your own religiosity. Not least, it's an expression of another of Sikhism's fundamental teachings, that empty ritual is meaningless, and it ensures that believers concentrate on the things that really matter, namely "Nam simran" (meditation on and awareness of God) and "Sewa" (community service).

    But the concerning thing about last week's events is that we seem to have another contradiction developing. This most modern and liberal of world religions, which allows its believers to develop their own relationship with God, is developing a fundamentalist streak, with certain people determined to tell others what to believe and how to believe it, under pain of death if necessary.


    About the Autor: Sathnam Sanghera
    Sathnam Sanghera writes for The Times. After graduating from Cambridge University in 1998, he joined the Financial Times, where he worked as its chief feature writer and a weekly columnist. His first book, The Boy With The Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton, is published by Penguin
     
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  3. Huck_Finn

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  4. Gyani Jarnail Singh

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    The Pendulum is definitely swinging...way OUT...One side the Fundamentals...Matt Bhitteh ve matt bhittehs...and the other side...no hair, no turban..no gurbani..no punjabi...NOTHING
    Very little Middle Ground..Moderation...
     
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  5. spnadmin

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    Gyani ji

    The article is very refreshing. But your comments also mark some truth. Oh my! Where does that leave me in the scheme of things? Are there any pals out there? Help!!!!:D Or is Waheguru the one who will throw the lifeline .....
     
  6. AdsKhalsa

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    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa..Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh...

    even my friends comment "being as a Sikh you don't drink alcohol and eat meat".... I tell them I am a veg..and Alcohol is not a part of Sikhism...

    But thats true...we Sikhs are number 1 in consumption of Alcohol............its bitter...but true.............

    Chardi Kala..........
     
  7. lotus lion

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    Hi,

    With regards to the question in hand, No, I do not believe that Sikhi is succumbing to Fundamentalism.

    btw, for me Fundamentalism means something like Hizb-ut-Tahrir and The Sikhs are nowhere near that, as far as i can tell anyway.

    wrt to the article, i can only say that i read it with interest.

    For me there was nothing in there that pointed to Fundamentalism. If anything, it spoke of the variety that life has to offer and i would say had tone of dissapointed naivity.

    It is a shame that the Brother who wrote this article is not here to engage in some dialog regarding the issues raised.

    My first concern would be that we, including the Brother, are frankly quite judgemental and have no room for manouver. Generally speaking of course.

    There is diversity in life and different people value different things. I for example hold Ethics over Money, but another person may not. Would it be right of me to argue with this person or visa-versa?

    We are ridge and like the Tree in the Wind will crack when the Pressure picks up as we have no flexability in us if we continue down this path.

    I have never really understood why Sikhs are so concerned that every single individual subscribe to their version, understanding and level of comfort with Sikhi.

    Answering some points raised:

    ...Yet the world's fifth largest organised religion has a caste system of its own

    The Caste system has been established for over 1000 years and is part of the very psyche of every single Person who is of Asian origin. It is practiced in other Dharmas also, such as Islam, even though they do not allow it either.
    The Followers have simply reached an equilibrium that they were comfortable with so that they could operate in their society. Clearly, depending on their upbringing and Dharma, this will have different effects on the person.

    To drive the point home, if i were to ask weather the Author or the Article was of Working ,Middle or Upper class origin, i feel that he would be able to answer within a heart beat as this is part of the British psyche.

    Please note I am not defending the caste system, but simply explaining that something that has/is been practiced for over 1000 years is not going to vanish over night.

    As we all know, Sikhi teaches that one should not follow the caste system:

    "Recognize the Lord's Light within all, and do not consider social class or status; there are no classes or castes in the world hereafter. ||1||Pause||"

    SGGS Ang 349

    Even in Britain you'll find different Sikh temples belonging to different groups on the same road.

    And the same is found in other Dharma's. Let us take Christianity as an example now. There is a church down the road from my Gurdwara where there are the followers are of Black origin and move up the road and only White people go there. Ofcourse they do intermingle, but by and large, Black people stick together as do the white people.

    This can be found up and down the streets of Britain also, but i have never seen an issue raised about this in the same way.

    But certain Sikh sects do believe in living human gurus, some mainstream Sikh families revere spiritual figures and ancestors

    Certain Muslims beleive that divine revelation will continue until the end of time even though according to Islamic belief Mohammed was apparently the last prophet.

    Source: Ahmadiyya Sect, Islam

    And Chinese Worship Ancestors also.

    Source: In the Middle Kingdom - Religion

    Dharma is 'pure' but is mixed with the local understanding and it comes out in a particular way. These things will happen.

    I for example do Buddhist Meditation and everytime i enter the building, i touch the floor and then touch my Pugh. This is not a Buddhist practice, but something that has come over from my Sikh and Punjabi upbringing which i am incredibly proud of.
    I do not think it would be right if someone stopped me doing that just beucase it does not fit with the Buddhists view of how i should conduct myself.

    Then there's the issue of booze. Officially, Sikhs don't drink...[But] "Consumption of alcohol has always been high among Sikhs, with the per capita rate among Sikhs of Punjab among the highest in the world"

    This is strange topic as i am of the belief that this has infact been engineered by others who wish to see our destruction.

    Having spoken to many elders i did ask if Sikhs always drunk like we known to today and the overwhelming response is always no. Yes, we are known to have the ability to hold our drink, but never to such ridiculous excesses.

    There were never as many Alcohol shops per square metre as there are today in Punjab, and Amritsar alone generates Rs1 Crore for the goverment alone a day.
    Also when Organisations are setup no support is given by the goverment.

    Source: Drug Addiction in Punjab - 3HO SuperHealth | MrSikhNet

    In the same way that the Sikhs have the ability to laugh at themselves, this too has been taken to such extremes by others that we are now having to fight for our respect and dignity.

    There are other contradictions. Sikhs are meant to adopt the name "Singh", meaning "lion", as a way of encouraging equality (one's caste can often be identified by a surname), but many of us use it only as a middle name.

    This is the manisfestation of the psyche coming out again and one has to understand that people will do these things, me included.

    The Gurus declared men and women to be equal, but Punjabi culture is highly patriarchal.

    There is currently a vacum for teaching the Dharma in a meaningful way and add to this that women have not really been treated fairly by men all over the world. Sikhs of Punjab have to learn like everyone else. Rome was not built in a Day as the saying goes.

    I could go on, but i believe that the point has been made.

    My best regards,

    Lotus
     
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  8. dalsingh

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    The author comes from a poor background in Wolverhampton. He father was a Paranoid Schiziophrenic. He has done very well for himself but in his own account of his life (a good read btw), he describes himself as a coconut. He had kesh growing up but cut it as a teenager.
    Actually, given his background I was quite shocked to read how he has no friends from a working class background (he says as much). He seemed almost proud of it? Seeing as the vast majority of his own family will be from this background, it is surprising. I guess we can call him a snob. Probably trying to hard to get away from his past now that he has moved from grim Wolverhampton to London.


    Good luck to him anyway.

    [​IMG]
     

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  9. Huck_Finn

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  10. dalsingh

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    Kee tera ristadaar lug da Amar? lol
     
  11. Huck_Finn

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    ant his eyenlis sound fumiliar aye?
     
  12. Gyani Jarnail Singh

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    Rishtedaar nahin lagdaa..taan kee hogiya..bana lao ji...rishtedari paunni ki aukhi hai ??
     
  13. Huck_Finn

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    :rofl!!:

    Gyani ji

    Truth is not always that meets the eye , or is in the newspaper..esp Sun :rofl!!:
     
  14. dalbirk

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    Dear All ,
    It is a grave misunderstanding that the recent voilence in Punjab ( the worst in my memory even compared to 80s & 90s in Punjab ) was a result of caste differences . Most of the perpretators of voilence were Hindus ( the so-called low castes ones ) supported by local Congress leaders . In Khanna SS Dullo was leading the mob while in Jalandhar Mohinder Singh Kaypee was leading the mob . In Darvesh Pind a village on the outskirts of Phagwara ( I have personally visited the village & talked to local Granthi ) some youth came to the Gurudwara , told Granthi that they'll be returning in an hour to burn the BIR OF SRI GURU GRANTH SAHIB . This made the Granthi raise the alarm , as a result villagers gathered in huge numbers 250-300 with firearms . As a result no one returned . But everywhere it was almost the same story .
     
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  15. dalsingh

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    Thing is Dalbir, what happens with stories like this, is that the issue of casteism in Panjabis never gets addressed and is yet again buried in the sand.

    We have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves, we should take it.
     
  16. BaljeetSingh

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    The word "fundamentalist" has been misused many times and so much that it has become synonymous with terrorism and atrocity. I, for one, object the use of the word "fundamentalist" in the way it is used now a days. I mean what is wrong in being a fundamentalist? The term "Khalsa" means pure and if one is trying to stay pure by being a fundamentalist - or sticking to one's principles, what is wrong with that? All great philosophers and scientists have been fundamentalists. Guru Arjan Dev was a fundamentalist - He stuck to his principles till his last breath. Guru Teg Bahadur was a fundamentalist - He never gave up his prinicples. Albert Einstein and Newton were fundamentalists as well.

    I definitely do not condone the use of violence for supporting any cause, but at the same time, I do not agree with the use of the word fundamentalist in the way the respected author has used.

    As already confessed by the respected author, he has not kept his hair unshorn. I, for one, can not believe the words of a man who is not honest to his own religion. He also confessed to be afraid of commenting because of criticism. His lack of understanding of Sikh religion is obvious in his comments throughout the article. If most sikhs do not keep long hair, then it is ok to cut hair, if many sikhs around him drink, then it is ok to drink.....Just because he is in a bad company, it does not mean all sikhs drink or cut hair....During one of my performance appraisals at my old job, I told my supervisor about the problems I had with the people in my team. My supervisor's response was that it was not possible to change all the people around me. My reply was - Yes it is possible to change all people around - by switching job - I can have whole new set of people around me and I would have changed the people around me...Perhaps, the author should consider changing his company and look around for true Sikhs...as mentioned in the Gurbani - Pokhar neer viroleeye, maakhan nahin reese - One can not churn butter out of water.

    Regarding some "Sikhs" following a human, we all know that following any human as a Guru is prohibited in Sikhism - Period. Call it fundamentalism or whatever. What you see around as Gurus and Followers are actually Hindus are trying to redefine Sikhism.

    Regards
     
  17. spnadmin

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    Baljeet ji

    Although I read part of your comments to misunderstand some ideas put forward by Sathnam Sanghera, you have struck a cord with me about the use of the word "fundamentalist" when speaking of Sikhs and Sikhi.

    So far no one has been able to define fundamentalist Sikh for me in a way that is logical or even connected to my perceptions of the realities of Sikh belief and practice. Who are the fundamentalists? When looking around it is hard to say. The missionaries :confused: the Nirmalas :confused: the Akaalis :confused: the Tat Khalsa :confused:, the SinghSaba :confused: AKJ :confused:, various other puratan sangats :confused: Damdami Takht :confused: proponents of Kala Afghana :confused: advocates of Dasam Granth as Guruji's Bani :confused: Namdhari Sikhs :confused: and the list could be longer. Apologies to anyone who feels left out. All make a claim to have grasped the "fundamental" essence of Guruji's teaching. Very often there is enough overlap among some of these groups to make the label "fundamentalist" a meaningless distinction. In other cases, the core teachings of a group change over a period of years and a group re-discovers it fundamentals. In other cases, a group will re-define itself and its "fundamentals" in response to a current and raging controversy, and will incorporate beliefs and rules in order to make itself distinct from its philosophical adversaries.

    It is easy to define a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim. Very simply it is one who subscribes to a literal meaning for the canonical scriptures of the faith. For a fundamentalist Christian - literal meaning for the Old and New Testaments, no questions, no ambiguities, no desire to explore contradictions between the two scriptures. Pure and simple -- take it a face value wherever it leads you in terms of how you live your life. For fundamentalist Muslims, literal understanding of the Quran, and unquestioning application of Sharia. Again no questions, no ambiguities. Follow the text wherever it leads you.

    In Sikhism there is an astounding absence of such mindlessness. Questions and dialog have persisted since Guru Nanak said ਨਾਨਕ ਪੁਛਿਆ ਦੇਇ ਪੁਜਾਇ ॥ naanak pushhiaa dhaee pujaae ||
    O Nanak, when questioned, the answer is given.

    I can tell you -- as a convert -- when someone I hold dear and trust asks me, What is a Sikh? What do Sikhs believe? It is hard to get beyond a few core statements and in doing the complete richness of the panth and its story is lost. So much is so detailed and mired in controversy that it is impossible to give more than a very misleading answer. Who is the panth? Can we agree on fundamentals? :welcome: If we cannot, then there is no such thing as a fundamentalist Sikh. If wew can agree on the fundamentals, then we will have the answer.
     
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  18. BaljeetSingh

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    Dear Aad Ji - Please note that each religion has two aspects - the spiritual aspect and the social aspect. One can not ignore one aspect of the religion while following the other. For example, in Hindu religion, the spiritual aspect is to worpship God and the social aspect is clearly defined in Manu Smriti. Similarly, in Islam, the spiritual guidance is provided by Quraan and the social aspect is defined clearly by the Sharia. In Sikhism, the spiritual guidance is provided by Guru Granth Sahib and the social aspect including the physical appearance - like unshorn hair, kada, kirpan and other Ks is clearly defined in the Rehatnaama.

    I am not sure what you meant by
    when the definition is clearly present in the Rehatnaama.

    Regards
     
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  19. spnadmin

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    Baljeet Singh ji

    Thank you. Now we have made a start. Why does SGPC change the rehit? Why now is there a proposal before the committee in which the belief in "one God" has disappeared? Fortunately the amendment has been tabled because of internal dissent. But ....

    You know my questions are not coming from being uninformed. They are honest responses to the obvious factionalism and fragmentation of the panth. If we restrict our observations to the course of history in India, it is somewhat understandable because of the history of local cultures gathering around babas and dera culture. Now however we are looking at a worldwide phenomenon of fragmentation.

    Anyone of the groups mentioned by you or by me would argue that your/my definition of rehit is an outright expressions of narrow-mindedness and oppression. We realize that.

    Panth? Who? What?
     
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  20. BaljeetSingh

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    Well, in my humble opinion, SGPC is a management committee to run gurudwaras and not to define Sikhi. What they are doing is unfortunate and should be stopped. Since SGPC is an elected body, people like you should go and participate in the election process and stop all this non sense....which bye the way, is another important topic which should be discussed in another thread separately.

    I do not want to deviate from the original topic of branding practicing Khalsa Sikhs as fundamentalists. They are just following the spritual guidance from SGGS and keeping the social aspect by following rehatnaama. Anyone else is just trying to redefine sikhi to his/her advantage or easiness. Trust me, it is not easy to be a Sikh. It is one of the most difficult religions to practice (when followed strictly).

    Regards
     
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  21. spnadmin

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    What nonsense? If you point out my deficiencies, then I and others will be able to consider and possibly reform ourselves.

    The topic of "branding practicing Khalsa Sikhs as fundamentalists" cannot be discussed intelligently without knowing two things. Who are these practicing Khalsa Sikhs? In other words, what makes their practice consistent with Khalsa? What is a fundamentalist? I am sure that members of 3HO consider themselves Khalsa. They subscribe to the rehit Maryada -- but there are differences in their practices also. I am not going to say that the Western Dharma is not Khalsa.

    Here are two links to read and think about. We can discuss them if you like.

    Redefining the Sikh community

    Do we need an All India Gurdwara Act? | SikhNet
     

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