Jump to content

Sikhism ( Tolerance in Religion)


Recommended Posts


Sikh Review

Jan 1995

Tolerance in Religion

How Sikhism views other religions

I.J. Singh

During the past decade, the Sikh religion - my faith - has received a lot of attention, much of it negative. My charge today is not to defend the record of the Sikhs, so I will not. I will present to you how their theology, history and practice have shaped the attitude of the Sikhs towards other religions. For in that lies the essence of religious tolerance or intolerance from a Sikh perspective.

An expert, a theologian or philosopher and scholar of Sikhism would present an approach based on what the doctrines and the dogmas say. Unlike other speakers here - rabbis and ministers - I am not a theologian or a scholar of religion. Therefore what I say today is based less on the theological doctrines of Sikhism, though there is some of that and more on the Sikh way of life, Sikh scriptures and Sikh history as I see them. Since Sikhism is somewhat new to most of my audience, I am going to keep things short and simple.

I t has been rightly said that man will do anything for religion- wrangle over it, argue it, fight for it, die for it - except live for it. To hate man and to worship God seem to be contradictory and perverse, for religion teaches us that the ultimate reality of God is to be attained through service to mankind. If I were to sum up the philosophy that underlies the Sikh way of life it would have three equally strong elements:

1) to earn an honest living,

2) to share the rewards of life with your fellow men and

3) to do both of these - live every moment of life - with an awareness of the infinite within you.

In this concept of service to mankind, there is no mention that this fellow man must only be a Sikh but cannot be Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, agnostic or even atheist.

Sikhism defines God as love, but love that is not limited only to Sikhs, while excluding others, such as Muslims, Hindus, Jews, or Christians, among others. If God is love then to be furious in the name of religion is to be truly irreligious.

To be tolerant of others who are unlike us does no imply any less of a commitment to one’s own belief. I am with Jefferson who said “It does me no injury if my neighbor thinks there are twenty Gods or that there is none.â€

Toynbee, the celebrated historian, was perhaps the most prominent western observer to note that the two great religious systems of the world - Vedantic and the Semitic - met in Northern Indian in the fertile plains of Punjab. Their interaction spawned a new people - the Sikhs - with a new philosophy and new world view. In the five hundred years of Sikhism there have been many a debate on the Vedantic roots of Sikhism and also on its Semitic antecedents which came via Islam. There is also a second, powerful argument which holds that, to look at Sikhism as a synthesis is to diminish it, for it is an entirely new revealed system. But that discussion is not pertinent here. What is important is that if

the philosophers of both Hindu and Islamic traditions have sought to include Sikhs in their own world-view, it is because they have seen something admirable in Sikhism with which they can identify. And that makes a nice starting point for a discussion of inter-religious tolerance in the Sikh perspective. What I wish to emphasize is that a recognition of the diversity of human belief, and

tolerance of the variety of human behaviour, have permeated Sikh teaching and practice for its entire existence.

History tells us the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak was revered by both Muslims and Hindus of the time. He travelled widely to both Hindu and Muslim places of pilgrimage.

Sikhism makes no claim of exclusivity in dogma. In speaking of the road to salvation, the Gurus spoke of the universality of the human condition. The scriptures say:

of all religions, the best religion is

To utter the Holy name with love, and do good deeds

Of all rites the holiest rite is

To purify one’s soul in the company of the holy;

Of all effort, the best effort is

To meditate on the Lord and praise Him ever;

Of all speech, the sweetest is that,

Having heard it,. to speak of God’s glory;

Of all temples, the most sacred is

(says Nanak) The heart in which the Lord dwells.

(Sri SGGS: Sukhmani,Astapadi 3. Pauri 8.)

Nanak taught Hindus to be better Hindus and Muslims to be better Muslims.

To his Muslim followers he said:

Make compassion your mosque,

Faith your prayer mat,

make honest living your Koran,

Let modesty rule your conduct,

let piety be your fasts;

In such way become a Muslim:

Let right conduct be thy Ka’aba,

Truth your prophet,

Make the Lord’s Will your rosary.

Says Nanak: If all this you do,

The Lord will be your protector.

(SGGS: Majh ki Var, page 140.)

Further on Guru Nanak said:

Five prayers, five times a day

Each with a different name

Make the first prayer, truth;

The second: to honestly earn your daily bread;

The third: charity in the name of God;

Fourth: purity of mind;

Fifth: adoration of God.

(SGGS: Majh ki Var, page 141)

To the Hindus who revered and followed him, he gave similar advice but drawn from Hindu mythology and Vedantic teaching. He said:

From the cotton of compassion,

Spin the thread of contentment;

Tying the knot of continence,

Give it the twist of virtue.

Such a sacred thread, O Pandit,

Make for your inner self.

(SGGS: Asa di Var, page 471.)

Quite understandably, the emphasis in Sikhism has been less on converting others and more on allowing all human beings freedom to find their own destiny and salvation in their own way. Sikhism therefore, has not generally been a prosletyzing religion. Folk lore and tradition say that at the end of Guru

Nanak’s life, his Hindu and Muslim followers disagreed with each other for each group wanted to claim him as one of its own.

The Sikh scriptures start with three words - God is one, or there is one God - not a Hindu God, Muslim God or Christian God, or any of the lesser gods - but one God. He is further defined as free of gender, form, caste or birth and described as the embodiment of Truth and love. Tolerance between different religions can only grow from an understanding of their common ground. The Gurus defined and emphasized that common ground to allow God’s creatures room for diversity. In many a hymn the Gurus said:

There is one God the Father of all

And we are all his children.

(SGGS: Rag Sorath, page 611)

I quote Guru Arjan who said:

I keep neither the Hindu fast nor the Muslim Ramadan;

I serve Him alone who will, in the end, save me.

My lord is both the Muslim Allah and Hindu Gosain;

Thus have I settled the dispute of the Hindu and the Muslim.

I go neither to the pilgrimage at Mecca,

Nor bathe at the Hindu holy places.

I serve the one Lord, and none else but Him.

(SGGS: Rag Bhairon, page 1136)

Finally, I conclude my presentations with two quotations from the writings of Guru Gobind Singh:

As out of a single fire,

Millions of spark arise;

So from God’s form emerge all creation,

Animate and inanimate.

(Akal Ustat, page 87)

Guru Gobind Singh further declared:

He is in the temple as in the mosque,

In the Hindu worship as in the Muslim prayer.

(Akal Ustat, page 86)

This is the basic Sikh belief. The Sikh attitude towards other religions and their followers flows from this basic belief.

When the Golden Temple at Amritsar in the Punjab, the most important and prominent house of worship in the Sikh faith was built over 400 years ago, the foundation stone was laid by a Muslim Sufi saint - Mian Meer.

Through much of their history, in the many battles that the Sikhs fought for survival, many of the enemies were Muslim because the ruling government of the day was Muslim, other enemies were Hindu. Many of the friends and allies of the Sikhs in those battles were Muslims, others were Hindus. History tells us that during the time of Guru Gobind Singh when the Sikhs fought most of their battles, a Sikh, Bhai Kanhayya by name, had the job of ministering to the wounded in battle. Bhai Kanhayya did the job without distinguishing between friend and foe, for a wounded man was no longer an enemy. He was commended for this by the Guru. There can be no better example of commitment to the principles of religious tolerance and freedom of religion than that of Guru Tegh Bahadur. He willingly embraced martyrdom while defending the right of people other than Sikhs - the Hindus - to remain Hindus and not be converted against their will.

History also tells us that in the past nine years, since 1984, many a gurdwara has been desecrated and many a volume of the Sikh scripture (Sri Guru Granth) burnt or shot at by the enemies of the Sikhs. However, there has never been a documented case where Sikhs had desecrated a Hindu temple, the idols therein, or any mosque. To my knowledge there are no known instances where a gurdwara has been built on the remains of a Hindu or a Muslim place of worship. This statement applies equally to churches or synagogues but I speak here only of temples and mosques because Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism were the only religions involved in the almost internecine conflict in the Punjab over many centuries.

Even in these troubled times, Sikh temples remain open to all, irrespective of religion, as they always have. The only requirements being that visitors remove their shoes and cover the head. The prayer that a Sikh reads every day ends with the plea for betterment of all mankind, not that of Sikhs alone to the exclusion of everyone else.

The 1430 pages of the sacred Sikh scripture contains hymns of the Gurus but also the writings of both Hindu saints like Trilochan, Jaidev, etc, some of low caste not acceptable to orthodox Hinduism, such as Sadhana and Namdev, as well as Muslims such as Kabir, Farid and Bhikhan. When the Guru Granth was compiled, had there been easy access to Christian and Judaic sacred literature, I am sure some would have found a place in Sikh scriptures.

One cannot revere the saints of other religions without tolerating the different beat of the different drummer to which many of us choose to march. As I said earlier, to hate man and to worship God would be clearly contradictory and perverse, for religion teaches us that the ultimate reality of God is to be experienced through service to humanity and by accepting the diversity of His creation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...