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Malaysia A Sikh's Perspective On The 'Alah' Row

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
A Sikh's Perspective on the 'Alah" Row’s-perspective-on-the-‘allah’-row/

Premjit Singh, via e-mail

I refer to Aidil Khalid’s reply to Uthaya Sankar’s article over the use of the word ‘Allah’. I am a reluctant entrant to this discussion and am only doing so to correct general misconceptions that keep appearing again and again in the public domain. I wish only to touch on one matter, to offer the following points to the above learned gentleman, that he may consider them. For clarity, I will take the questionable passages and offer my views.

On usage of the grounds of judgement of a judge from Calcutta from a trial in 1943, Khundkar J, who has portrayed Sikhism not as a stand-alone religion, but as an off-shoot of Hinduism, and with a further claim that only the 10th Guru proceeded to declare a new religion whilst all the others were disgruntled Hindus in effect. The writer has quoted and depended heavily on the judgement of this one judge.

The writer: “I have a general idea of the history of those religions insofar as the law is concerned”.

My comment: I accept his sincerity, but religion is not a case in law, to be interpreted by all and sundry, no matter how well read or esteemed, based on their own religious beliefs and paradigms.It is about as absurd and tantamount to one reading a few books on Islam, and then proceeding to offer judgements in a Shariah Court!

On the matter of the admissibility of the learned judge Khundkar J’s comments on Sikhism and Guru Nanak, Khundkar J is entitled to his opinions, but they cannot be touted as a benchmark for a discussion on the Sikh religion.What he opines may have served his purpose to resolve a dispute in his courtroom, but the truth is that his opinion will be challenged the minute he stepped out of his court.

He may be a learned judge, just like you are a learned lawyer, but how does that make him an authority on the Sikh religion, authorised and empowered to interpret, while you yourself of equal learning as him, by your own admission acknowledge and rightly so assess that you are no authority on the Sikh religion?

If you, being from the same profession have generously admitted that you are no authority on the Sikh religion, despite the fact that you are a person of high learning as evident, why are you so comfortable to accept the opinions of another man of similar circumstance over a religion that neither of you belong to?

Khundkar may say whatever he likes, but who has authorised him to interpret and pronounce judgements on the Sikh religion? And why should they be imposed on the rest of us? Is it not possible that his opinions and beliefs are just that, opinions and beliefs possibly based on the last book that he may have read on Sikhism, written by a bigoted Hindu historian as they almost always are? What would you say to a similar ‘opinion’ on Islam by a Jewish or Christian judge?

If his thoughts and opinions do not stand the test of authenticity when set against the backdrop of the essence of Sikh thought, theology, philosophy and history, who is anyone else to decide their authenticity and acceptability, especially a person of another faith completely removed?

If a Muslim were being tried in the United States, France or Germany today, do you honestly believe that every judge in those countries will understand and accept the position of Islam in exactly the same way a judge in Malaysia or Pakistan might? Would you deem it acceptable for me to take excerpts of those western judges on Islam and write a reply to a discussion on Islam here in Malaysia.

To quote one judge in India and use that as a basis to formulate an argument is hardly acceptable. It is a well known fact that most Hindus especially of India till today do not accept Sikhism as a religion in its own right. Why should I suppose that Khundkar is any different? In India till today, bigotry is everywhere evident. I offer you the proof of my argument through the ‘Hindu Marriage Act of 1955’ below, which remains valid till date.

The case cited is from 1943. Please look at this. It is the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, of 12 years after the judgement you have quoted, and still in effect today.

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

Indian Law Relating to Marriage among Hindus

By Subhamoy Das, Guide

This Act of the Government of India, called the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, “extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and applies also to Hindus domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who are outside the said territories.” Below is an excerpt from the full text of the Act 25 of 1955 – May 18, 1955.

Application of Hindu Marriage Act

(1) This Act applies -

(a) to any person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms or developments, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj;
(b) to any person who is a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion, and
(c) to any other person domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion, unless it is proved that any such person would not have been governed by the Hindu law or by any custom or usage as part of that law in respect of any of the matters dealt with herein if this Act had not been passed.

Explanation.- The following persons are Hindus, Buddhists, Jains or Sikhs by religion, as the case may be -

(a) any child, legitimate or illegitimate, both of whose parents are Hindus, Buddhists, Jains or Sikhs by religion;
(b) any child, legitimate or illegitimate, one of whose parents is a Hindu, Buddhist Jain or Sikh by religion and who is brought up as a member of tribe, community, group or family to which such parents belongs or belonged; and
(c) any person who is a convert or re-convert to the Hindus, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh religion.

(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the members of any Scheduled Tribe within the meaning of clause (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution unless the Central Government, by notification in the Official Gazette, otherwise directs.

(3) The expression “Hindus” in any portion of this Act shall be construed as if it included a person who, though not a Hindu by religion is, nevertheless, a person whom this Act applies by virtue of the provisions contained in this section

To understand the implication of this act, you would have to imagine that in India, all Muslims are considered to be Jews in the eyes of the state, with their justification that Islam is an ‘off-shoot’ of Judaism! That, sir, is how absurd this argument is.

What is even more alarming than the Act itself is that that is the status quo even till today, with the small exception that Sikhs have now (after decades of opposition and legal battles) been allowed one tiny dispensation – they can marry under their own marriage rites under the Sikh ‘Anand Karaj Act’.

Most people the world over even till today, do not know that Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs are still lumped together as Hindus by the Brahmin ruling class of India, which will never give up their claim on these religions, since they wield the power, and will never accept that the people of these religions are not Hindus! Let me say that again – in India, a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh is classified as a Hindu! So what are we expecting from Khundkar?

Under that light, how do you expect Khundkar to adopt a position that goes contrary to the stance of the Indian government. Is it any wonder then that all the books on Sikhism written by Hindu and for that matter, Muslim authors, never tire of claiming the Sikh religion as an ‘off-shoot’ of their respective religions?

Whereas I can well appreciate where the writer being a member of the legal fraternity is coming from, where precedence can be cited in a trial to influence its outcome, I must highlight that this is not a matter for the courts or even the law. It is a matter way beyond all human laws and opinions. It is rooted in the matter of the Divine. Opinion, and so called Precedence set by mere mortals has no place in the domain of God and religion. The writ of the courts does not extend to the prophets of God.

Khundkar says: “Guru Nanak who founded Sikhism and was the first of Sikh gurus broke away not from Hinduism, but from certain features of that religion which he considered objectionable”. Then he lists these as the aspects that Nanak found ‘objectionable’- He disapproved of caste, preached against idolatry and condemned the veneration of saints, pilgrimages, and worship at shrines…

My comment: Hinduism is identified with exactly these things – caste, idol worship and the worship of gods and demi-gods, and the veneration of human beings. After Nanak has rejected all these, how does Khundkar justify that Nanak remained a Hindu?

The writer says: The fact that Sikhism at its initial state was not regarded as a religion of its own but rather as a branch or a sect of Hinduism is pertinent for it goes to show how the religion that was founded in the 15th century, later absorbed or at least reflected upon some of the practices of other religions that existed then.

Then he goes on to quote Khundkar, who said: “Nanak and his followers were really dissenters who aspired to establish a reformed and purified Hinduism.”

If the writer is willing to accept that as true, then by the same score, would you allow me to say that Islam is a branch or a sub-sect of Christianity and Judaism, that Muslims “were really dissenters who aspired to establish a reformed and purified Christianity or Judaism”? I mean, Jews circumcise, and Muslims continued the practice. Jews fast; Muslims kept that practice. Jews wear a skull-cap; Muslims kept that practice. Jews perform ritual sacrifice of animals in the fashion of Abraham; Muslims kept that practice. Orthodox Jews grow their beards; Muslims kept that practice; Jews of old wore turbans; Muslims have kept that practice too. Christian nuns wear a head dress (called a Habbit); Muslim women wear a tudung , almost exactly like the habbit. So can we now proceed to state that Islam at its initial state was not regarded as a religion of its own but rather as a branch or a sect of Judaism? Would that be acceptable to Muslims?

From Wikipedia

The Dome of the Rock (Arabic: مسجد قبة الصخرة‎, translit.: Masjid Qubbat As-Sakhrah, Hebrew: כיפת הסלע‎, translit.: Kipat Hasela) is a shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was initially completed in 691 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik. The domed basilica structure was patterned after the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,[1]and has been refurbished many times. The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is considered “the most contested piece of real estate on earth.”[2]

From the above, if we are to accept Khundkar’s opinion, then we would all now have to decide for these three religions too, decide who is an off-shoot of who! They all seem to come from the same epicentre. And it would not be farfetched to conclude that Khundkar, who is being cited here, would himself endorse the view that Islam is actually Judaism with a few slight changes.

Just because Hinduism and Islam have ‘first person advantage’ i.e., existed before Holy Guru Nanak and Sikhism, that does not give either a right to classify or categorise Sikhism as their off-shoot. It is just like the Muslim dilemma in France; not wanting France to impose their writ on the Muslims there, where the French, since they were there first, insist that it’s up to them to decide how to categorise the Muslims in France and decide who they are! What you good folks are doing to the Sikhs, is no different from what you are protesting against over there from being done to you!

The three religions earlier mentioned actually even share the same prophets, something that Sikhism does not do with either Hinduism or Islam. And yet, the historians and writers of these two religions continue to rant on about Sikhism being a branch, sub-sect and especially, an off-shoot of them both! Truth is that no religion began its first day as a new religion. This applies to every religion. Do we now proceed to declare that all religions are off-shoots of the religions being practiced in that land? All religions took time to establish a separate identity.

The Holy Ka’aba was a Pagan temple, containing idols of the Pagan gods of Saudi Arabia. The Holy Prophet took it over and had the idols removed. The fact is that he retained the temple which stands till today and God willing, forever, and is the ‘centre of the Islamic world’. Does that make Islam an off-shoot of a Pagan religion? If the argument applied by Khundkar is to be accepted as precedence as in the law, then we would all have to agree.

Khundkar says: ‘Nanak preached monotheism similar to that of Hinduism in Vedic times’.

If you are offering Khundkar’s comment as evidence, therefore is it fair to now say that The Holy Prophet Muhammed also ‘preached monotheism similar to that of Judaism’, and then go on to say that Islam is actually modified Judaism? Can we appreciate the implications of such a statement? Can that make Islam a branch, sub-sect or off-shoot of Judaism? I think not. Islam is a religion in its own right, whatever similarities it may have with Judaism and Christianity.

It saw different and subsequently broke away. Whether that process took one day or one century, every religion has to be treated as exactly that, as a religion in its own right. It takes years for an idea and ideology to take root, to change practices that may have prevailed for centuries.

Singapore is Singapore. It is not an off-shoot of Malaysia. It used to be part of Malaysia. Its leader saw different and broke away, separated, starting a whole new country called Singapore. It took many years from its inception for that idea to take root, even among his own people. To continue to plead that Singapore is an off-shoot of Malaysia is simply babble. It is simply an emotional need to satisfy our egos.

In the same light, just because Adidas was there first, and Nike decided they would enter the same line of business with a difference, to suggest that Nike is an off-shoot of Adidas is laughable.

Going beyond the article that has prompted this debate, please permit me to add that this emotional gratification that is sought by us, to claim that ‘everything mine is bigger and better than yours’, and the need to tell others that yours is wrong and mine is right is the result of this most human failing that we call ego, ironically, the exact thing that God wants us to be free of. Even more ironical is that it is the religions themselves that are feeding these egos, by preaching those messages, that God is a franchise, and we are the sole franchisees to everybody else’s exclusion.

If all people, whatever their faith, discarded this franchise mentality and just went about their business of ‘Dwelling in God’ as God wants us to do, there would be peace on Earth. But mere mortals insist on insisting that God is our property alone, and His message is for us alone to interpret, and to keep arguing that every other path is an off-shoot of ours alone, and then beyond that, insist on policing the human race based on our interpretations, this is where conflicts are created.

To amplify my argument, if all the world’s human conflicts were data entered into a computer, and it was asked to compute a solution for world peace, the computer would effortlessly determine that the common denominator of all the strife on earth is none other than God himself. The solution it would offer would undoubtedly be – Remove God, and you will have peace! If pressed further that it is humans who are defining God according to their egos, the computers response again would be obvious – Remove the humans.

And that, sirs, is the unpalatable truth; if there were no humans on this planet, just God, there would be paradise, complete peace. The same would apply if humans existed, but this human trait called ego did not exist, since there would be no one to claim sole proprietorship over God! Hence, the root cause for all religious conflict is – ego.

Khundkar said: “Nanak disapproved of caste, preached against idolatry and condemned the veneration of saints, pilgrimages, and worship at shrines…”

That begs the question – so what else is being a Hindu? How can someone reject all of the above and still be classified a Hindu by Khundkar? What does Khundkar expect, that Jesus would walk out of his house one morning, gather all the passers-by, and make a pronouncement that “Folks, as of today, I am starting a new religion called Christianity”! Or the Holy Prophet doing the same for Islam. Or Buddha. All religions started as an idea, as a disapproval of something! It is only years later that they start to take some form or structure, sometimes not even in the lifetime of the person who initiated the idea.

Khundkar says: “It was not until the time of the 10th and last Guru, Gobind Singh, that a fundamental cleavage from Hinduism was attempted … He did away with the Hindu rites such as Kiria and Sradh, prohibited worship of shrines and samadhs and rejected the Hindu religious books, the Vedas, Purans and Shastras. The strict followers of Guru Gobind Singh, known as the Akalis, declared that they were not Hindus.”

It’s surprising that he offers the above to support Khundkar’s contention that only the 10th Guru moved to separate from the Hindu religion, when the writer himself quotes Guru Arjun, the fifth Guru as follows: “From Hindu and Muslim have I broken free”.

So how is it that “only the 10th Guru attempted a cleavage”, when these words are of the fifth Guru, uttered at least a century before?

In the beginning of the article, the writer has described the work of the other as – “shed under erroneous, misconceived and misconstrued contextual light, the result of which is a grave misrepresentation of the true colours of those two religions”.

Really, if there is anything “erroneous, misconceived and misconstrued”, then this judgement by Khundkar deserves that credit. Khundkar needs to go back to his books, and read again the verses of Guru Nanak who rejected everything about the Hindu religion, only accepting the concept of karma and reincarnation.

It was not the 10th Guru who separated from Hinduism. It was none other than the first, Guru Nanak himself, whose “fundamental cleavage from Hinduism” began when as a child of six, in front of his totally astonished and embarrassed parents and relatives and the entire village of Hindus invited to the subsequent feast, He refused to put on the Hindu sacred thread called the Janjoo, and instead, chided the Brahmin who had come to carry out the ritual by ‘informing’ him that it was folly to place faith in a thread, which within the hour will be itself soiled from the sweat of His body, and within the week will probably be itself broken. He then went further to remonstrate with the Priest, asking him how this thread would help save him in the afterlife, when it will be the first thing to burn in His cremation fire and cannot accompany Him there!

The writer says: “…also the fact that the Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib that was cited by Uthaya in his article, is a compilation of works that included and referred to various other texts and sources, among others the Hindu texts as well as Islamic”.

My comment: Is it a fact really? Is the writer serious? This is a complete and reckless untruth. After declaring that “From Hindu and Muslim have I broken free”, why would the Guru include texts from their religious books? Can anyone offer for the reference of the readers, any such Hindu or Islamic text that was included by the Sikh Gurus in the compilation of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib? The only works that were included besides the Gurus’ own were divine songs of the greatest saints of India, both Hindus and Muslims, who just like Nanak, were themselves having issues with the faiths of their birth. Really, in all fairness, the writer should offer proof of his claim, or retract this statement with an apology.

The beauty of Nanak lies in His purity and divinity. He was born to unite the people of the world, not plant more seeds of division. The scripture He produced is unique, incomparable in its universal spirit, giving equal expression to the divine songs of pure praise of God by holy men born of other faiths. There is no other comparable example of interfaith love and respect than showed by the Sikh Gurus, as demonstrated by their Holy Granth.

Nanak never saw anyone as Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, something that today’s persons are being trained from birth to do. These labels did not mean anything to Him. After all, He clearly wrote in the Holy scripture: Pg 611-19; Ekk pitaa, ekas keh hum baarak. Translation: There is only one God, father of all. We are all His children. In fact, if anyone had gone to Him and asked Him “Why have you included the divine songs of men of other religions, He probably would have answered, “There is only one God, and God, is the only religion. I have no concern with the labels created by men

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