One of Guru Gobind Singh’s main gifts to the world was the message of unity and equality of all the peoples of the world. The Guru was responsible for the unity of the peoples of Punjab and the message of the universal brotherhood of the human race. The Hindus, Muslim, Sikhs and others felt that they were treated fairly and equally within the domain of the Guru. The Guru’s mission was centred on Anandpur Sahib, which became the main centre of development during the time of the tenth master.
Prior to the arrival of Guru Tegh Bahadur the hill country around what would become Anandpur was made up of kingdoms ruled predominately by Hindus, where the Brahmanic brand of caste distinction was rigidly observed. Fellow human beings within the same religion worked each in his own sphere of carefully delineated castes each with its own duties. The Hindu kingdoms were often at war with one another and were subjugated to the Mughal rulers who were at every chance attempting to win converts to Islam, particularly from the lower castes who were not even allowed to enter the temples of the religion that they were a part of. By joining Islam they could rapidly rise to rule those who had called them untouchable only days before. Wars and skirmishes were a common occurrence. However, in the kingdom ruled by the Sikhs slowly and steadily this mood of agitation changed with the introduction of a recognition of the unity of man.
1699: Creation of Khalsa
In 1699, the Khalsa was formed to give a sense of unity and a strong backbone to the society of the region so that they could protect their rights and their freedom. The city’s atmosphere became elevated with the recitation of sacred hymns and divine music, meditation upon the one Creator and powerful sense of protection for the weak. The city began to prosper and the perceived redundant norms of the past began to disappear. The hill Rajas of the surrounding kingdoms were threatened by the breaking of the caste system and the end of old ritualistic practises. However, the Guru did not shy away from the huge task of changing the perception and the practises of the people of the region.
It is only now that we can see how the Guru and the Sikhs had to fight with dedication to change the ingrained and unfair systems of discrimination and prejudice within each religion group and within the different religious communities. The Guru succeeded in creating a caste-less society where both men and women were seen as equals; one where all human beings' rights were considered equal. The following famous shabad by the tenth Guru highlights one of the central tenets of the Sikh faith:
|ਹਿੰਦੂ ਤੁਰਕ ਕੋਊ ਰਾਫਜੀ ਇਮਾਮ ਸਾਫੀ ਮਾਨਸ ਕੀ ਜਾਤ ਸਬੈ ਏਕੈ ਪਹਿਚਾਨਬੋ ॥|
|hindhoo thurak kooo raafajee eimaam saafee maanas kee jaath sabai eaekai pehichaanabo.|
|Some are Hindus and others are Muslims; someone is raafjee (follower of Ali);|
others are Imam-Shafi (adherents of the Prophet); Recognize the whole of human race as one.
The Guru went further to state that not only was there no difference between one Muslim and another Muslim but that in God's eyes, there was no difference between a Hindu and a Muslim. The following Shabad highlights the equality of the two main religious groups of the region:
|ਦੇਹਰਾ ਮਸੀਤ ਸੋਈ ਪੂਜਾ ਔ ਨਿਵਾਜ ਓਈ ਮਾਨਸ ਸਬੈ ਏਕ ਪੈ ਅਨੇਕ ਕੋ ਭ੍ਰਮਾਉ ਹੈ ॥|
|dhaeharaa maseeth soee poojaa a nivaaj ouee maanas sabai eaek pai anaek ko bharamaao hai.|
|The temple and the mosque are the same, there is no difference between a Hindu worship and Muslim prayer; |
all the human beings are the same, although they may appear to be different.
Sikhi accepts other faiths
In his introduction to the translation of “The Sacred Scriptures of the Sikhs” published by UNESCO, Toynbee made a very important prophetic observation. He stated:
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 the days of increasing communications between all parts of the world and branches of human race. In this coming religious debate, the Sikh religion and its scriptures, the Adi Granth, will have something special of value to say to the rest of the world.
People in search of peace and truth have started shopping around. George W. Cornell in his article, Gazing into Religions’ Future, quoted Leazer, who wrote: If one denomination does not offer a particular item, people will go to another faith to find it. The megatrend of pluralism will further swell the shifting of members among denominations. Already, Gallop poll statistics show a whopping increase in that phenomenon. For example, in 1955, only one in 24 Americans left the faith of childhood to join another denomination, but by 1985, that migration had grown to one in three – a third of all members. (Saturday, May 5, 1990, The Free-Lance Star, Virginia)
Interfaith discussions are already at the prime of their popularity. There are innumerable interfaith groups at all levels, local, national and international. The world Conference of Religions for Peace, recognized by UNO, holds its global conference after every four years. About a decade ago at New Jersey, they observed:
Too often the names and practices of our religions have been associated with warfare and strife. Now we must reverse this by:
- (i) Breaking down barriers of prejudice and hostility between religious communities and institutions.
- (ii) Confronting the powers of the world with the teachings of our religions rather than conforming to them when they act contrary to the well-being of humanity.
- (iii) Building inter-religious understanding in our local communities.
Is this not Sikhism defined in modern terminology? Does it not mean that the principles laid down for humanity by Guru Nanak five centuries ago have now been accepted by leaders of all the world religions? Surprisingly, in addition to the philosophy of Sangat and Pangat, the world Conference of Religions for Peace has also endorsed the unique Miri-Piri concept of the Sikh faith under item (ii) above.
Have not the words of the Rev. H.L. Bradshaw, published a long time back in the Sikh Review, Calcutta, come true? His observations are very clear and emphatic. He stated:
Sikhism is a Universal world Faith…a message for all men [and women]. This is amply illustrated in the writings of the Gurus. Sikhs must cease to think of their faith as just another good religion and must begin to think of Sikhism being the religion for this New Age.
Father of Humanity
So far, the preachers emphasized on conversion to ‘save’ people of other faiths. They believed that theirs was the only true faith and the others were pagan faiths. However, Gurbani proclaimed that God is the Father of all humanity and not just for any one particular community alone. God is nobody’s private inheritance. No one can claim a monopoly on Him. He belongs to everyone. (Guru Granth, p. 658)
The Almighty Lord can be worshipped through innumerable languages and by innumerable names – Creator, Allah, Ram, Gobind, Guru and God. All names are equal; no single name is superior or inferior. We may praise Him by any name and still gain acceptance by Him. Those who love him achieve the goal of their lives.
(Guru Granth, p. 8)
Guru Nanak revealed that only good deeds could save a soul on Judgment day. No prophet, Avtar, or savior would be able to intercede. Without good deeds, all persons, whatever their faith, will have to repent.
(Bhai Gurdas, Var 1-33)
The Guru cleared another big ignorance of the traditional thinkers. He stated that there was no place called heaven nor any called hell where, after death, people will go for eternity. Gurbani explains that living according to the Will of the Lord, keeping Him always in mind and singing His Virtues, is being in heaven. Hell is suffering from ego, lust, greed, anger, jealousy, slander, etc.
(Guru Granth, p. 749)
(Guru Granth, p. 1369)
'God is our Father; we all are His children, hence equal. No one of us by birth is superior or inferior to others.' (Guru Granth, p. 97)
This makes the Sikh faith unique and fundamentally different from other faiths, wherein it is believed that only followers of their own faith will be saved through their prophet, while the rest will be sent to hell. These radical principles established by Guru Nanak founded for all humanity a new faith which has been accepted as the faith of the new age.
To preach and practice his mission, Guru Nanak founded the institutions of Sangat and Pangat. All people participate as equals, without any kind of discrimination on the basis of one’s faith, caste, color or country. They sit together, pray together, and eat together as children of the same Father. They conclude their prayer with a request, “May God bless whole humanity.”
Unity of Religions
Scholastic jugglery to find quotations from Gurbani and set them against those of other faiths to prove the ‘Unity of Religions’ is a misplaced enthusiasm. By relying on common points, such as remember God, love thy neighbor, help the needy, refrain from violence, do not tell a lie, do not cheat, etc., one cannot prove the unity of religions. All such statements or principles are accepted even by the agnostics as essential for becoming productive members of society. If one wants to prove the ‘unity of religions’ by proving that the real method of worship is the same in all religions, no research work is needed. It can be right away stated that as all religions believe in God, therefore, there is unity of religions. Such statements mislead the people because they conceal a lot.
The constitutions of two countries may not be the same just because both punish robbers and reward good workers. One may be a democracy and the other a dictatorship. Similarly, two religions cannot be equated just because both say, “Love thy neighbor. Do not steal.” To understand a religion, we must know its definition for God and its mission of human life. Quoting hymns from different religious scriptures to compare their principles is meaningless. While doing so, the writer ignores the basic philosophies of the two faiths compared. Such ‘research’ achievements of interfaith scholars can be compared to those of a child, who after studying a book on animals, concludes:
Cow and cat are not different kinds of animals. They both begin with the letter C and each consists of three letters with a vowel in the middle. Research revealed that in the description regarding each animal, there were the same number of related vowels, i.e. 100 A’s and 66 O’s. Finally, both are classified as mammals, having four legs and a tail. Therefore, basically the cow and the cat are the same.
The research conclusions drawn by some interfaith scholars are as ‘logical’ and as misleading as the results of the above research.
Let us consider another example to understand how comparing quotations and words from two scriptures can mislead the reader. God is worshipped by the followers of all religions. Many Christians believe that God accepts only Christians and throws all other people into hell even if they love Him sincerely. According to the Sikh faith, God loves everyone, believers and non-believers alike. Therefore the statement “God loves us” has a different meaning when stated by a Christian and when said by a Sikh. As long as basic differences exist among the faiths, comparative statements become meaningless.
Many Christians believe all people are born sinners. To be saved one must have faith in the only begotten Son of God, the Christ, who took upon him all the sins of the people. On the other hand, Gurbani says that all people are born blessed, God grants us this valuable life in order to know and love His virtues.
With these facts before us, believing in the ‘unity of religions’ is showing ignorance of the Sikh faith and lowering its image.
We may go on saying all religions are the same and there is unity of religions, however science has shaken the foundations of the major old faiths. The Pope appeared personally on television on October 5, 1989 to regret the imprisonment given to Galileo about three centuries ago. He agreed that the scientist was right and the Pope, who ordered his punishment, was wrong. The ‘crime’ of Galileo was his discovery that the earth revolved around the sun which was against what was mentioned in the Bible.
During the 19th century, Darwin suffered all kinds of abuses from the Christians just because he suggested the theory of the evolution of man. This challenged the concept of creation in the Bible. This theory, now having been accepted to be largely true, is causing serious concerns for people who believe the Bible to be the word of God.
In general, if confronted with two opposing beliefs, one given by science and the other mentioned in religious scriptures, people tend to accept the finding of science.
Christianity may well be thriving in parts of Africa and Asia today, but in the West, Christian faith is eroding at an alarming rate. Secular humanism is fast becoming the prevailing ‘religion’ of the Western world. For instance, it is no longer true to describe either Canada or England as a Christian country, since the vast majority of their respective populations have no traditional ties with any religious body. The Church of England alone has closed nine hundred churches since 1974. Add to this the fact that only a small fraction of children and young people now receive any religious instruction whatever, and the prognosis for the year 2000 looks very bleak indeed.
(Page 4 of For Christ’s Sake (1984)
by Tom Harper of the Toronto Star)
Tom Harper holds science and technology mainly responsible for this erosion. Not just millions but trillions of dollars spent on preaching will have no effect on the people unless the message has value for the scientific man of today. New churches are appearing which do not adhere to the ‘old’ concepts. The Unitarian and Universalist churches do not accept Christ as the Savior or as the only Son of God.
In India too, people worshiped (some do it even today) the sun, the moon, and other heavenly bodies as gods. Science has given them a new message.
On the other hand, when we go through Gurbani, we find that it limits itself to the purpose of human life, which is to love God. The best method of doing so, according to Gurbani, is to love people, serve them and ‘see’ God living in them. Gurbani is a message, not just for Sikhs, but for all people and for all ages.
While laying down its own path for human beings, Gurbani unambiguously and emphatically disagrees with old beliefs of sectarian faiths:
- (i) Because of their ignorance some people worship idols while others worship graves. They waste their life in hollow rituals and fail to realize the truth.
- (ii) The Kazis (judges) are corrupt, the Brahmans suck the blood of the innocent, and Yogis mislead people. They themselves don’t know the path for peace and are responsible for the problems of the people.
- (iii) This human life has been gifted to us to love people and realize His presence everywhere.
- (iv) I do not believe in Hinduism or Islam. I love the Almighty, the Lord of our bodies and souls, Who is addressed as Ram by Hindus and Allah by Muslims.
- (v) There is no other worship than to love Him.
- (vi) One Almighty has created this universe and it works under His Will. He prevails everywhere, we should sing His virtues to realize Him.
- (vii) The mission of this human life is to accept His Will and thus realize Him.
(Akal Ustat, 30) (Guru Granth, p. 662) (Guru Granth, p. 12) (Guru Granth, p. 223) (Guru Granth, p. 489) (Guru Granth, p. 1136) (Guru Granth, p. 139)
Unfortunately, a few Sikh interfaith activists are trying to prove the unity of religions and that the ‘real method of worship’ is the same in all religions. They indirectly say that Gurus did not understand the ‘real worship’ of other faiths when they criticized their beliefs and method of worship. These people, thus, give disinformation about the Sikh faith and lower its image while trying to build up their own thesis of the unity of religions. The Sikh faith when presented without distorting its spirit, meets the needs of all people, whatever their faith. In this sense Sikhism as such is an Interfaith religion.
All People are Equal
The purpose of interfaith organizations is to develop goodwill for all persons and understand their beliefs. The Sikh faith is built on the foundation of loving all people irrespective of their faith, appearance, language, or culture. Sikhs, therefore, don’t need another ‘Interfaith’ for developing understanding among people of different religions.
These principles and the position of the Sikh faith must be explained to the members of all other faiths. The fact that Sikhs believe in ONE God and in the brotherhood of humanity must be pointed out emphatically. Just because there are limitless names for God (Allah, Ram, Gobind, Guru, God, etc.) does not mean there are many faiths or religions.
Another equally incorrect statement is made by scholars who know the Sikh faith from a distance only. They say that Sikhism is a combination of good points from Hinduism and Islam. Such misleading statements conceal the fact that Sikhism is a sovereign faith revealed by Guru Nanak. It has nothing to do with the beliefs of old faiths including Hinduism, Islam, and Yoga. The truth revealed by Guru Nanak should not be distorted to fit ones’ thoughts to make him a multi-faith activist. The Sikh faith, as mentioned earlier, respects people irrespective of their faith but disagrees with the philosophy and methods of worship of other faiths. In the interfaith meetings, one should not hesitate to speak this truth even though it may be contrary to the faith of the listeners. The world Conference of Religions for Peace and other philosophers as quoted above, have frankly agreed to the universalities of the basic Sikh principles. The Sikh participants in the interfaith functions may refer to their opinions as well.
In the end, it must be emphasized that the principles of the Sikh faith must not be muddled to gain mileage in the social and religious life of today. Let people follow the authentic Sikh faith rather than twisting it to fit it into the present-day thoughts of the pseudo leaders of the faith.
- Based on the article by Gurbaksh Singh at www.sikhism.com/books