The Human Truth Foundation

Sikhism

By Vexen Crabtree 2021

#asceticism #atheism #god_gender #hinduism #india #meditation #monotheism #polytheism #prayer #sikhism #uganda #UK #USA

Sikhism
Links: Pages on Sikhism, Other Religions
The symbol of Sikhism
God(s)Atheist / Monotheist / Polytheist / Other
AdherentSikh
AdherentsSikhs
TextsSri Guru Granth Sahib and others
AfterlifeReincarnation until escape
Founding
HeritageHinduism
Area of OriginIndia
When15th century
FounderBy Guru Nanak
Numbers in the UK (Census results)
2001329 3582011423 000
Sikhs Worldwide (Pew & WM)
World: 0.39%. India (2.19%), Canada (1.03%), Oman (0.66%), UK (0.636%), Fiji (0.586%), Singapore (0.439%), Sri Lanka (0.25%), United Arab Emirates (0.24%), Mauritius (0.22%), Saudi Arabia (0.192%) 1

Sikhism is a relatively modern monotheistic religion2,3,4, with an emphasis on prayer, meditation, some asceticism, and self-control. Sikhism is counted as one of the great world religions5,6,7. In the 15th century Islamic ideas were spreading in north-western India, and several poet-philosophers preached various combinations of Hinduism and Islam. Guru Nanak was the most successful showman of this syncretism, and his movement became Sikhism3,8 especially as a result of codification by the 10th guru, Gobind Singh9. As a whole, its theology is clear and concise and its people are good, serving communities well. The world's religions would do very well to emulate Sikhism.

Its monotheism is combined with belief in reincarnation and karma10,3 (a rare combination). Another distinctive feature is the Five Ks - the visible appearance of a Sikh, and the extent to which they revere copies of their holy book, treating it as a living guru3. This sensitivity can lead to violent overactions to desecration and blasphemy, but overall, Sikhism has been much less involved in bloodshed than other world religions.

Sikhism likes to portray itself as rational, gender equal and against 'superstitions' such as the caste system in India11. For example, being borne of a period with more rational theology, God lacks the anger, petit emotions and soap-opera drama of gods in other religions. Its monotheism is clearly defined and relatively sensible. For example: In Sikhism God is neither male nor female, and not referred to by a gender8,12. Despite all that, it's often as bonkers as other religions: the treatment of copies of their holy books is steeped in medieval thinking and a ritualistic symbolism that goes beyond mere 'respect' into the ballpark of the bizarre.


1. Numbers of Sikhs Around the World, by Country

#religion

Worldmapper (2005)1
Pos.1
1India2.2%
2Canada1.0%
3Oman0.7%
4UK0.6%
5Fiji0.6%
6Singapore0.4%
7Sri Lanka0.2%
8UAE0.2%
9Mauritius0.2%
10Saudi Arabia0.2%
11Malaysia0.2%
12Kuwait0.2%
13Hong Kong0.1%
14New Zealand0.1%
15Kenya0.1%
q=34.

Counting the numbers of Sikhs has a few difficulties. The vast majority (90%) live in India, in particular, in the Punjab, where they make up three-quarters of the population of the state. But there are several other communities that are like Sikhs but going by other names. For example, the Nanakpanthis are named after Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, and there are a great number who call themselves Hindu, but are Sikh in all but name.

Aside from the tumult of Sikh persecution and migration in India, the British slave trade forcibly took large numbers of Sikhs to Africa, to build roads and railways, notably in Uganda13.

This Sikh link endured, but got caught up in the horrendous xenophobia and nationalism of Idi Amin, a brutal dictator, who ruled from 1971-1979. He hated foreigners, and in 1972 forced all Asians to leave the country, and tortured and murdered one to three hundred thousand Ugandans. Many Sikhs fled to the UK, Canada and the USA.14,15, where they have formed small but sometimes statistically noticeable communities.

In 1972 Idi Amin, the tyrannical President of Uganda, forced all Indians in the country to leave. During the 1970s, many Sikhs left Africa and moved to the UK, Canada and the USA. [...] Punjab is now an official language in several East African countries.

"Sikhism" by Sue Penney (2001)15

Amin was often extreme in his nationalism, expelling all Asians from Uganda in 1972, an action that led to the breakdown of the Ugandan economy. [...] Taking tribalism to an extreme as well, Amin ordered the persecution of Acholi, Lango and other tribes. Under his rule, reports emerged of the torture and murder of between 100,000 and 300,000 Ugandans.

"Encyclopedia of Terrorism" by Combs & Slann (2003)14

2. The Founding of Sikhism in a Merging of Hinduism and Islam

#christianity #hinduism #india #islam #judaism

In the 15th century Islamic ideas were spreading in north-western India, and several poet-philosophers preached various combinations of Hinduism and Islam. Guru Nanak was the most successful showman of this syncretism, and his movement became Sikhism3,8.

A number of Hindu poet-philosophers called sants [...] came to advocate bringing Islamic elements into Hinduism. Among these thinkers was Guru Nanak (1469-1539), who lived in northwest India's beautiful and verdant Punjab region. Nanak boldly rejected the entire vast Hindu pantheon of divinities in favor of the single mystical and formless God sat, or truth. Nanak dismissed traditional rituals, idol worship, and astrology as empty and foolish superstitions, preaching meditation instead.

"Hammond Atlas of World Religions" by Murray et al. (2009)9

Some textbooks proclaim that Sikh scriptures containing "hymns and prayers from both Hindu and Muslim writers" is unique3 - but the world's most popular religion, Christianity, has a Holy Book that is two-thirds written by Jews practicing Judaism. It's the same situation: new religious beliefs adapt from existing ones due to proximity. The specific Muslim content is Sufi, a minor mystical (but progressive) Islamic denomination.

3. The Five Ks and the Visible Appearance of Sikhism

#christianity #india #islam #judaism #religious_clothing #sikhism

In common with other religions, a great of attention is given to appearances. As with Judaism, Christianity and Islam, divine truth is best dispensed if you're wearing the correct clothes, and have your hair in the correct way, and, as with many religions that want to divide people according to religion, it's best done if Sikhs look special. Sikhism's distinctive features derive from The Five Ks3 and related traditions such as wearing a turban, serving to give Sikhs one of the best-looking brands of the world's religions.

  1. Kesh: No shaving, no haircuts, although hair should be tidy and combed. In order to avoid excessive asceticism displayed by some early Sikhs, it was added that hair shouldn't look unruly. Looking after yourself is part of the religion, and this is shown through tidy hair.16

  2. Kangha: A small wooden comb, for combing the hair and fixing it in place.16

  3. Kirpan: A short sword, often kept in a strap over the shoulder. Although it should only be used for defence, it's easy to interpret the need for defence to include not just physical defence, but also to combat criticism of Sikhism, perceived blasphemy and other events which are commonplace in a world where religions compete for influence.16

  4. Kara: A symbol of strength worn on the right wrist - a thick bracelet. And a reminder that there is "one god, and one truth"16.

  5. Kachera: Short trousers.

    At the time of Guru Gobind Singh, when they were introduced, most people in India wore long, loose clothes. Guru Gobind Singh said that the chance in style was a symbol that people were leaving behind old ideas and following better ones. Kachera were also more practical, especially in battle.

    "Sikhism" by Sue Penney (2001)16

And,

  1. The Turban One of the most identifiable features of a Sikh, the Turban is tradition rather than doctrine. It was a symbol of power and importance in India16, and represented the kind of elitism that Sikhism was otherwise against. It would be more consistent with their beliefs if the Turban were abandoned.

  2. The surname of Singh is adopted by Sikhs as part of their shared identity17.

Despite the uniqueness of their appearance, some, mostly in the Western world, mistake Sikhs for Muslims. This is largely because of the secular (non-religious) nature of modern society, and poor exposure to the peoples of the world.

4. Reincarnation and Karma

#afterlife #buddhism #hinduism #india #jainism #karma #new_age #reincarnation #sikhism #taoism #vedic_religions

Karma is an important concept in a range of Vedic religions and cultures, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism10,3, all stemming from Indian beliefs. Karma is a universal principal and cosmic law, like the Tao of Taoism18. Unlike Taoism, individual beings (and the entire universe) go through a large number of incarnations. It is closely linked to the concept of continual rebirth (reincarnation)19. Although belief in Karma is a good tool for improving motivation to treat others well, it also has a worrying implication: Karma creates blames on those suffering from disabilities and other ailments, unfairly insinuating that they deserve their problems.

Original Jain beliefs had it that all actions had negative karma and only complete serenity and detachment could help the situation20. Later Jain beliefs came closer Hindu and Buddhist ideas: Acts of merit such as pilgrimages and worship can improve your next fate21. Eventually, beings can break free from the cycle and scape the evil world in which we all are trapped. In Hinduism and Jainism this liberation is called moksha and in Buddhism the result is the attainment of enlightenment and nirvana. Western New Age movements have also taken on the concept "though sometimes with a degree of misunderstanding"21. All in all, more people on Earth believe in Karma through a series of rebirths than in any other religious principle.19,20,21,22,23,24

For more, see:

5. Good Stuff

#christianity #god_communication #god_gender #islam #judaism #sikhism #vegetarianism

6. Some Strange Behaviour Towards the Guru Granth Sahib

The tenth guru, Gobind Singh... decreed in 1699 that the holy texts they had collected as the Granth Sahib would thenceforth fulfill the role of a living guru and from that point become the ultimate authority for this new religion, which was formalized as Sikhism.

"Hammond Atlas of World Religions" by Murray et al. (2009)31

The whole point of a religious book is to disseminate the information it contains. Else, what the point in writing it down? Sikhs treat their Guru Granth Sahib as a living person32, and this results in some very strange behaviour. It must have a bedroom of its own and not simply sit on a bookshelf; the room where it sits is a gurdwara32. Rituals are held to wake it up in the morning, moving it from its bedroom to the worship room, and to put it to bed at night. It also has to be carried above the head, and it never sits on a bookshelf, nor alongside other books.

The Gutka: Because the respect towards the Granth Sahib is so extreme, most Sikhs don't own one. It's too much hassle. Instead, they have a cut-down version called a gutka32 which has fewer rules surrounding it. You'd think it would be better to encourage learning by making the text as readable as possible, but what's more important than that is the ritual and dogma around the book, rather than its actual contents.

7. Revelations to the Gurus

#god_communication #hinduism #islam #prophets

Sikhs believe in the concept of gradual revelation3; whereby God hides most truths, only revealing them to particular people when It thinks the time is right. Ultimate truths about God can only be known via a Guru4. In other words: God Itself built Human brains so that we couldn't understand the truth, and for some reason wanted us to realize the truth over a period of tens of thousands of years - any religious systems that cedes gradual revelation must accept that God doesn't mind exactly what we believe, as long as it changes over time. The latest revelations are, of course, those of Sikhism, as given to Guru Nanak.

The problem with the claim of divine revelation is that the development of Sikhism, combining some Hindu and some Islamic ideas, in an area of the world where there were many Hindus and Muslims living together, seems to be a completely ordinary case of human syncretism. There isn't anything in the teachings of Guru Nanak or the following Gurus that isn't simply a case of personal effort and human insight.

Nanak emphasized the crucial role of holy gurus (teachers) in revealing God's nature. He chose his successor from among his disciples, and after his death Sikhism was carried on and developed by nine successive gurus over the next centuries. This lineage of gurus ended with the tenth guru, Gobind Singh, who decreed in 1699 that the holy texts they had collected as the Granth Sahib would thenceforth fulfill the role of a living guru and from that point become the ultimate authority for this new religion, which was formalized as Sikhism.

"Hammond Atlas of World Religions" by Murray et al. (2009)9

8. Violent Extremism in Sikhism

#religious_extremism #sikhism

The symbol of SikhismSikhism is a peaceful religion, whose traditions emphasize helping others. In worldwide history, less violence has been conducted in the name of Sikhism than in most other world religions. But there are four topics that risk fresh eruptions of Sikh extremism:

  1. Martial Imagery abounds in Sikhism31, risking encouraging pseudo-military endeavours and personal violence. The Khanda, the primary symbol of Sikhism, is comprised of four pointed-up weapons, and of the "Five Ks" - Sikh dress and appearance - three are related to aggression: The steel of the kara bangle represents strength, the Kirpan is a small sword or dagger and the Kacchera (short trousers) "signify readiness to ride into battle".

  2. The Khalistan movement saw 20 years of Sikh violence in an attempt to partition off part of India as a new independent Sikh state31; hundreds were killed in fights and by Sikh terrorist actions33. It culminated in the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by Sikh members of her bodyguard in 198434. Although most Indians consider Bhindranwale a terrorist, he is still described as a 'martyr' by Akal Takht (Sikh highest religious authority).34,35.

  3. The Sarbat Khalsa is a Sikh gathering in times of emergency33: these have been used almost always to conduct violence and revenge, especially in the 18th century when the Muslim Mughal empire was exterminating Sikhs33. It was called in 1986 as Sikhs suffered from the backlash after they assassinated the Indian Prime Minister33.

  4. The Threat of Disproportionate Violence to Prevent Blasphemy Against the Granth Sahib as a result of the way they treat it as a living teacher. When torn pages of the Granth Sahib began showing up in Punjab in 2015, Sarbat Khalsa was called again, and 100,000 Sikhs gathered and called for a jailed violent extremist to return to a leadership role33. Nothing came of it, but It's easy to imagine such a gathering resulting in widespread violence on future occasions.

Although Sikh violence has decreased from the 1990s, there is a constant risk that Sikh martial symbolism and strong self-identity refuels violent sectarianism.

For more, see: