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Ms. Meena Sawhney

Religious Co-existence describes a situation in which various religious traditions and belief systems live side-by-side and in which none of them holds a privileged status. Religious Co-existence in the main, refers to, inter-religious relations. In this matter of inter-religious relations only a balanced, positive and tolerant understanding of the diverse religious traditions can lead to peace and fellowship.

Since time immemorial the religious traditions have emerged and grown and existed in diverse ways. But at that time society was primarily isolationist and exclusivist. The life of a community was mostly confined to the tribe, race or nation. Interdependence and interpenetration was almost non-existent. Intolerance and proselytization were the ways of dealing with the foreigners. However, now the discoveries of science and technology have turned the whole world into a global village.

Means of transport and communication have dissolved the distance existing formerly between communities, nations and ideologies. The physical closeness has greatly facilitated interdependence and interpenetration between the communities. Isolationist and exclusivist communities and ideologies are no longer relevant. The great religious traditions of mankind are face to face with each other, not to convert or destroy each other, but to devise ways and means of greater co-operation and fellowship.

Emphasizing the need for co-existence and co-operation among the communities and nations in the present-day world, Radhakrishnan writes[1]:

"Belief in co-existence is not the outcome of expediency or of weakness. It is the only way to rid the world of exclusiveness, intolerance and misunderstanding. There are no more closed societies. The order we seek is not either national or continental. It is neither eastern nor western. It is universal. We must develop a sense of perspective and realize that our nation is one of many, and each makes a specific contribution to the richness and variety of the world. Humanity is not this race or that nation, but the whole of mankind which is getting together, we hope, for purpose of cooperation."

No doubt, the crying need of the hour is one of co-operation and harmony. The mutual understanding among the followers of different faiths. Professor Arnold Toynbee has visualised a special role for Sikhism in the growing interaction and interpretation among the religious traditions of the world. He says[2]:

"Mankind's religious future may be obscure, yet one thing can be foreseen: the living higher religions are going to influence each other more than ever before, in these days of increasing communication, between all parts of the world and all branches of human race. In this coming religious debate, the Sikh religion and its scriptures, the Adi Granth, will have something of special value to say to the rest of the world."

The Sikh Gurus laid stress on co-operation and harmony among different communities. Sikhism is dedicated to uphold the unity of society. The Sikh religion is universal in its orientation. It is not bound by geographical, cultural and theoretical barriers. TRUTH, COMPASSION, TOLERANCE, FORGIVENESS, CO-OPERATION and LOVE are the hallmarks of Sikh religion. It is the source of humanity's finest principles, qualities, virtues and values. Awareness of these values breaks down all barriers between people, and shows that all people are members of one family. Trilochan Singh writes[3]:

"Guru Nanak awakened the world over the spirit of co-operation and confidence in goodwill, in justice, in goodness, in helping downtrodden, and the lowly, in compassion for the weak and the outcaste, in human dignity and the power of love and truth. This is what the world needs. This is the only solution to the present

world crisis."

This shows that Sikhism believes in co-existence.

According to the Sikh philosophy no single path or door has the monopoly of access to the ultimate Reality. No single system or theory can be all embracing panacea for all people in all times in all countries. Any absolutist claim of this nature is foreign to the spirit of Sikhism. Trilochan Singh, with religiously diverse

perspective in mind emphasizes,[4]

"No religion can survive in isolation. It is possible to understand other people only after understanding their faiths and beliefs and showing what is moral and good in their life. No religious culture can progress and prosper unless it imbibes some noble qualities of other faiths. No religion today operates in its pure original form. There is much we need to learn about the lost glory of our own religion."

The Sikh Gurus recognized and accepted the plurality of existing religions of the world. They recognized the basic truth of all religions. The Sikh religion is a staunch believer in religious freedom and religious diversity. The writings of Guru Nanak prefers a positive attitude towards religious diversity. He shows his respect for the best in all religions. In the "Japuji" which is the gist of Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak describes the multiplicity of religious beliefs and practices:

Innumerable are the prayer-chants;

Innumerable the forms of devotion.

Innumerable are the forms of worship;

Innumerable the modes of doing penace.

Innumerable are those with vows of silence

in unbroken contemplation.

How may I give an idea of Divine might?

All thou willst is good, thou Formless one !

Immutable, ever perfect art thou.[5]

The Sikh Gurus were enlightened and awakened enough to realize that it was possible to have many different approaches or paths to a better understanding of ultimate Divine reality, that is, to have different religions whose approaches though generally considered mutually exclusive, in essence had much in common. All the scriptures and religious books are different expositions of the same eternal Truth. The same absolute power is being worshipped at all the different places of worship in diverse forms of worship. Guru Gobind Singh emphasizes that all the men, the world over, whether they are Arabs or French, Gorkhas, Tibetans, Chinese or Dravidians from Talangana, they all bow to Him ultimately, and worship Him, though may be following different paths lead to the same pinnacle. He sees one common factor in all these various ways of worship, and this common factor is obedience to His Will and His ultimate service.[6]

Guru Gobind Singh further declared that:

"There is no difference between a temple and a mosque, nor between the prayer of a Hindu or a Muslim. Though differences seem to mark and distinguish, all men are in reality the same. The monastry and mosque, worship and 'namaz' are the same, there is among all humanity, a striking unity in diversity." [7]

According to the Sikh Gurus, ultimate aim of religion is to attune the individual will to the Will of the Supreme Reality, and until that is achieved mechanical performance of worship, rites and ceremonies are of no avail. The attuning of the individual will should also result in righteous deeds:

One realizing God in this life, shall there too have realization.

All other dispute of Hindu or Muslim is false.

All at the Divine Portal shall undergo reckoning

None without good deeds liberation shall find.[8]

The Sikh Gurus did not condemn either Hinduism or Islam or their institutions in their original or pure form. What Sikh Gurus denounced was the corrupt and evil practices which had prevailed in their time. There is truth in all the Vedas, and so they may not be scrapped out; this is the beautiful aspect of Sikhism, to appreciate all that is available in any culture. Guru Nanak says:

Each of the four Vedas have expressed same truth.

Those studying and expounding them realize

What is appropriate action from what is inappropriate." [9]

In speaks volumes of the profundity of spiritual insight of Guru Nanak. Among all the apostles, it is he alone, who expresses so pointedly the close resemblance between the message of the Veda and the message of the Quran. This brings about a complete revolution in the mutual relations of the Hindus and Muslims. There is nothing in the Sikh Gurus' hymns which offends against the Hindu sentiments, and there is nothing in the Guru Granth Sahib which is repulsive to a Muslim. In Gurbani it is explained as below:

Some utter His name as Rama, others as Khuda;

Some serve the Lord of the universe, others Allah;

Gracious Lord Almighty, compassionate show Thy Grace.

Some bathe at Hindu holy spots, others perform Haj;

Some prefer 'puja', others bow their heads in 'namaz'.

Some study Vedas, others the Quran;

Some wear blue, others white.

Some are called Muhammadans, others Hindus

Some seek 'bihisht' others 'swarga'

Saith Nanak: whoever the Divine Will realizes,

The Lord's mystery has understood.[10]

The Sikh Gurus have emphatically maintained that it is the same reality that manifests in various forms. Diversity to the Sikh Gurus is the irrefutable proof of underlying unity. Guru Nanak says that the true preceptor is one who recognizes this underlying unity and aims at uniting all:

Saith Nanak: The true Preceptor is one,

By whom all in Union are bound.[11]

The Sikh Gurus recognized various avenues to Divinity. There are different paths to the mansion of truth, but the goal is practically the same, we must respect the religions of our neighbours, because all human beings are the creation of the Almighty. Each faith is born in a particular environment. Basically, all religions have many fundamentals in common, and all of them lay stress on a truthful and honest living. We therefore can learn from each religion. Other religions help us gain deeper understanding of our own faith.

The Sikhs believe in the co-existence of all religions and do not claim that theirs is the only way. Exclusivism and forcible conversion from one faith to another is totally foreign to the spirit of Sikhism.


[1] Radhakrishnan, S. "Religion in A Changing World"

[2] Trilochan Singh & Others, "Sacred Writings of the Sikhs", Foreword by A. Toynbee

[3] Trilochan Singh, "True Humanism of Guru Nanak"

[4] Trilochan Singh, "Responsibility of the Sikh Youth"

[5] Guru Granth Sahib, Jap, M.1. pp.3-4

[6] Guru Gobind Singh, Dasam Granth, Akal Ustat. 1:S:255

[7] Guru Gobind Singh, Dasam Granth, Akal Ustat

[8] Guru Granth Sahib, Ramkali, M.1 p.952.

[9] Guru Granth Sahib, Asa, M.1, p.470

[10] Guru Granth Sahib, Ramkali, M.5.p.885.

[11] Guru Granth Sahib, Sri raga, M.1, p.72.

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