Beyond “moderate” and “conservative” representations of Sikhi

I like to spend winter catching up on all the reading I’ve left by the wayside, but imagine my surprise when I came across these op-eds. The first argues that the Sikh youth slate (an all amritdhari slate) that won in Surrey is “fundamentalist,” while the other article argues that Sehajdari Sikhs are, by definition, not Sikhs at all.

Both of these op-eds are a little insane to me. The first argues that the Surrey gurdwara’s prior practice of allowing uncovered heads, shoes, and tables/chairs in the langar hall somehow constituted a “moderated” practice of Sikhi, and it effectively calls for a stand against the amritdhari youth slate, which it maligns as fundamentalist, orthodox, rigid, etc. The second article argues that there is no room in Sikhi for Sehajdari individuals, and then proceeds to trace the history of in/exclusion of non-kesdari Sikhs in SGPC elections.

Personally, I’m in the “Sikhi is a journey” camp, in which practice and understanding of the faith move forward together. That said, there’s no “exemption” to the lifestyle requirements of Sikhi. While I believe understanding, study, and focus on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is paramount, I don’t understand what makes a Sikh a Sikh without the “live your principles” practice and formal appearance of the faith. I don’t know when it became hip to label this process as “orthodox” or “fundamentalist.” I was pretty disgusted by the argument that an amritdhari lifestyle is a “fundamentalist” lifestyle, but I think what’s more alarming is the creation of sub-pockets of sangats that completely reject or ignore central tenets in the practice of Sikhi. Not only is this terminology misleading, but these labels politicize levels of observation, create a pecking order, and alienate Sikhs from one another.

I think one of the most alarming aspects of these op-eds is that they both center around ostracization. One side argues that the “children of moderates” will be kept out of gurdwaras, while the other side argues that there is no place in decision-making for non-kesdari Sikhs. Conversely, neither side is talking about enhancing the practice of the faith, bringing sangats together, or promoting Sikhi.

So readers, how would you balance the requirements of practice with the reality that congregations in the U.S. and Canada practice Sikhi at a variety of levels? How do we ensure representation while also not being so wishy-washy that we include people who don’t truly identify as Sikhs (but who could sway our self-governance decisions)?

Previous coverage: Sikh Youth Slate Wins Gurdwara Election; Moderates, Fundamentalists, and Now Orthodox Sikhs


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49 Responses to “Beyond “moderate” and “conservative” representations of Sikhi”

  1. Mewa Singh says:

    Camille,

    I think the reason that the message of "love" or "Sikhi" is not at the forefront of either article is because both are about the 'politics of power' and not the 'politics of transformation.'

    The article by Gurpreet Singh from the Straight that you quoted seems rather confused. This is too bad, because looking at some of his previous articles he seems a nuanced and sensitive writer. His last paragraph was especially jarbled. He writes:

    Despite the recent defeat, moderates still form a majority in the community, but their egos and disagreements will only help the fundamentalists in the long run. Whereas the children in moderate Sikh families will eventually get assimilated into the mainstream, kids growing up in orthodox religious environments will continue to be immersed in the politics of the temples, which are also community centres. If the moderates don’t want to promote religious fundamentalism in the future, they should put their differences behind them and unite for the good of the entire community.

    What is his argument? If the "children of moderate Sikhs" will get "assimilated into the mainstream", then what place does he want them to have at the Gurdwara? Does he not want them to assimilate? What is he calling for – control of the Sikh Gurdwaras without Sikhi? This rather muddled commentary and taking pot-shots at the new committee – calling the incoming Sevadar, Amardeep Singh, the "new boss" of the Gurdwara in the picture caption is either just crude, shows personal bias, or reveals a complete lack of understanding of the Sikh political system. I wonder if he used such terminology for Gill or Samra.

    As far as the WSN article on the SGPC definition that is for voting reasons. Due to the Sikhs' already uneasy position within the Indian Constitution and non-recognition as a distinct entity (Article 25 classifies Sikhs as Hindus), I understand the sentiment to keep the SGPC in the hands of those that have consciously affirmed their faith and have taken an oath to it (those that have taken khanda da pahul).

    In the game of majoritarianism, if this provision is lost, the SGPC will become the center of politics between the Akali Dal and Congress as both will rush to register non-Sikhs as well. Jodha has blogged about the critical importance of the SGPC to the Akali Dal, which is highly problematic, but opening community decision-making powers to non-Sikhs is NOT the solution.

  2. Mewa Singh says:

    Camille,

    I think the reason that the message of “love” or “Sikhi” is not at the forefront of either article is because both are about the ‘politics of power’ and not the ‘politics of transformation.’

    The article by Gurpreet Singh from the Straight that you quoted seems rather confused. This is too bad, because looking at some of his previous articles he seems a nuanced and sensitive writer. His last paragraph was especially jarbled. He writes:

    Despite the recent defeat, moderates still form a majority in the community, but their egos and disagreements will only help the fundamentalists in the long run. Whereas the children in moderate Sikh families will eventually get assimilated into the mainstream, kids growing up in orthodox religious environments will continue to be immersed in the politics of the temples, which are also community centres. If the moderates dont want to promote religious fundamentalism in the future, they should put their differences behind them and unite for the good of the entire community.

    What is his argument? If the “children of moderate Sikhs” will get “assimilated into the mainstream”, then what place does he want them to have at the Gurdwara? Does he not want them to assimilate? What is he calling for – control of the Sikh Gurdwaras without Sikhi? This rather muddled commentary and taking pot-shots at the new committee – calling the incoming Sevadar, Amardeep Singh, the “new boss” of the Gurdwara in the picture caption is either just crude, shows personal bias, or reveals a complete lack of understanding of the Sikh political system. I wonder if he used such terminology for Gill or Samra.

    As far as the WSN article on the SGPC definition that is for voting reasons. Due to the Sikhs’ already uneasy position within the Indian Constitution and non-recognition as a distinct entity (Article 25 classifies Sikhs as Hindus), I understand the sentiment to keep the SGPC in the hands of those that have consciously affirmed their faith and have taken an oath to it (those that have taken khanda da pahul).

    In the game of majoritarianism, if this provision is lost, the SGPC will become the center of politics between the Akali Dal and Congress as both will rush to register non-Sikhs as well. Jodha has blogged about the critical importance of the SGPC to the Akali Dal, which is highly problematic, but opening community decision-making powers to non-Sikhs is NOT the solution.

  3. blue says:

    You should add the option to the blog to increase the font size because it's hard to read now. Not very accessible to those with visual impairments.

  4. blue says:

    You should add the option to the blog to increase the font size because it’s hard to read now. Not very accessible to those with visual impairments.

  5. An article worth reading in the Sehajdhari context..
    http://www.worldsikhnews.com/17%20December%202008

    And in my humble opinion, i support the notion that "Sehajdharis are NOT Sikhs".. We should by all means oppose all attempts to dilute the Sikh identity (whether is due to political motives or RSS). Imagine non-Sikhs getting elected in Gurdwara elections (yes, this is possible!) and then all sorts of non-Sikh activities like idol worship going on in Gurdwaras..

  6. An article worth reading in the Sehajdhari context..
    http://www.worldsikhnews.com/17%20December%202008/Makkar%20faces%20wrath%20of%20Sikhs%20in%20California.htm

    And in my humble opinion, i support the notion that “Sehajdharis are NOT Sikhs”.. We should by all means oppose all attempts to dilute the Sikh identity (whether is due to political motives or RSS). Imagine non-Sikhs getting elected in Gurdwara elections (yes, this is possible!) and then all sorts of non-Sikh activities like idol worship going on in Gurdwaras..

  7. Prem says:

    And in my humble opinion, i support the notion that “Sehajdharis are NOT Sikhs”..

    In the diaspora, that would mean cutting the number of Sikhs down by at least half. In the UK, where the last census showed there were 338,000 Sikhs living in the UK, even if we allow for discrepancies, there are less than 400,000 Sikhs in Great Britain in the nominal definition. Cut out sehajdharis and there are probably fewer than 150,000 Sikhs in Britain. Cut that in half again because the overwhelming remainder of women are not amritdhari, you're probably looking at around 75,000 or 80,000 turbaned Sikhs. As long as you're happy for Sikhs to be registered as numbering maximum 80,000 people in the UK, then go ahead.

    (Question: are women left out of the equation altogether? As usual, probably yes)

    Considering the numbers of nominal Sikhs in the USA and Canada, the story would probably be the same. As long as the 'Sehajdharis are not Sikhs' advocates are prepared to include that when they play the numbers game when projecting their power and demographics, and you want to campaign outright for the Akal Takht to institute an agenda to fotmally and once and for all turn out Sehajdharis from the fold in totality, then you should go for it. Those are the stakes you want to play for, so play them consistently.

  8. Prem says:

    And in my humble opinion, i support the notion that Sehajdharis are NOT Sikhs..

    In the diaspora, that would mean cutting the number of Sikhs down by at least half. In the UK, where the last census showed there were 338,000 Sikhs living in the UK, even if we allow for discrepancies, there are less than 400,000 Sikhs in Great Britain in the nominal definition. Cut out sehajdharis and there are probably fewer than 150,000 Sikhs in Britain. Cut that in half again because the overwhelming remainder of women are not amritdhari, you’re probably looking at around 75,000 or 80,000 turbaned Sikhs. As long as you’re happy for Sikhs to be registered as numbering maximum 80,000 people in the UK, then go ahead.

    (Question: are women left out of the equation altogether? As usual, probably yes)

    Considering the numbers of nominal Sikhs in the USA and Canada, the story would probably be the same. As long as the ‘Sehajdharis are not Sikhs’ advocates are prepared to include that when they play the numbers game when projecting their power and demographics, and you want to campaign outright for the Akal Takht to institute an agenda to fotmally and once and for all turn out Sehajdharis from the fold in totality, then you should go for it. Those are the stakes you want to play for, so play them consistently.

  9. Prem says:

    Spelling correction: fotmally = 'formally'

  10. Prem says:

    Spelling correction: fotmally = ‘formally’

  11. Prem veerji… in your "number game" you are forgetting that Sikhism is about quality and not quantity. I never intended to say (as you have interpreted probably) that we should boycott/demarkate those people who are not sikhs. I never meant that! I just want that the definition of a SIKH should be loud and clear to all with no doubts at all.

    there are less than 400,000 Sikhs in Great Britain in the nominal definition. Cut out sehajdharis and there are probably fewer than 150,000 Sikhs in Britain.

    And as you seem to convey in the above lines, those whom you are calling sehajdharis are actually "patits – the defaulters". Sehajdhari is one who has started accepting the sikh way of life and intends to become a complete Sikh with the passage of time :)

    SGPC’s own resolution of 12 May, 1938, reads,

    Qualifications of a Sehajdhari Sikh:

    The desired qualifications of Sehajdhari Sikh were discussed by the Dharmik Salahkar Committee which decided that the following conditions must be fulfilled by a Sehajdhari,

    (i) He should grow beard

    (ii) Should not expose kesh to the barber’s razor.

    (iii) Make at least one of his children a Singh.

    (iv) Should perform all ceremonies according to Gurmat.

    (v) Should not consume tobacco.

    Source: http://www.panthic.org/news/129/ARTICLE/4604/2008

    (Sadly Wikipedia & SikhiWiki have distorted info about Sehajdharis)

  12. Prem veerji… in your “number game” you are forgetting that Sikhism is about quality and not quantity. I never intended to say (as you have interpreted probably) that we should boycott/demarkate those people who are not sikhs. I never meant that! I just want that the definition of a SIKH should be loud and clear to all with no doubts at all.

    there are less than 400,000 Sikhs in Great Britain in the nominal definition. Cut out sehajdharis and there are probably fewer than 150,000 Sikhs in Britain.

    And as you seem to convey in the above lines, those whom you are calling sehajdharis are actually “patits – the defaulters”. Sehajdhari is one who has started accepting the sikh way of life and intends to become a complete Sikh with the passage of time :)

    SGPCs own resolution of 12 May, 1938, reads,

    Qualifications of a Sehajdhari Sikh:

    The desired qualifications of Sehajdhari Sikh were discussed by the Dharmik Salahkar Committee which decided that the following conditions must be fulfilled by a Sehajdhari,

    (i) He should grow beard

    (ii) Should not expose kesh to the barbers razor.

    (iii) Make at least one of his children a Singh.

    (iv) Should perform all ceremonies according to Gurmat.

    (v) Should not consume tobacco.

    Source: http://www.panthic.org/news/129/ARTICLE/4604/2008-12-12.html

    (Sadly Wikipedia & SikhiWiki have distorted info about Sehajdharis)

  13. loverboy says:

    While I believe understanding, study, and focus on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is paramount, I don’t understand what makes a Sikh a Sikh without the “live your principles” practice and formal appearance of the faith. I don’t know when it became hip to label this process as “orthodox” or “fundamentalist.”

    I think formality is given too much emphasis in Sikhi, and that is why we waste so much time fighting about beard length and whether to keep our heads covered in the langar hall when we could be spending time spreading the message of the Guru Granth Sahib, which contains the writings of Hindu bhagats and Muslim mystics, who were not Sikhs, who were not Amritdharis, and yet who achieved the highest understanding of God. Obviously we need to regulate our institutions and should draw a line between Sikhs and non-Sikhs on the basis of the Rehat Maryada, but we end up arguing about granular details with such force and passion that we often end up coming to blows. Why should someone keep their head covered in a langar hall? Will God care if a child happens to have his head uncovered there? What if an elderly woman with arthritis has to sit on a chair in a langar hall? Will she be reincarnated as a slug? And if we can give a pass to the child and the elderly woman, why should others be held to a higher standard?

  14. loverboy says:

    While I believe understanding, study, and focus on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is paramount, I dont understand what makes a Sikh a Sikh without the live your principles practice and formal appearance of the faith. I dont know when it became hip to label this process as orthodox or fundamentalist.

    I think formality is given too much emphasis in Sikhi, and that is why we waste so much time fighting about beard length and whether to keep our heads covered in the langar hall when we could be spending time spreading the message of the Guru Granth Sahib, which contains the writings of Hindu bhagats and Muslim mystics, who were not Sikhs, who were not Amritdharis, and yet who achieved the highest understanding of God. Obviously we need to regulate our institutions and should draw a line between Sikhs and non-Sikhs on the basis of the Rehat Maryada, but we end up arguing about granular details with such force and passion that we often end up coming to blows. Why should someone keep their head covered in a langar hall? Will God care if a child happens to have his head uncovered there? What if an elderly woman with arthritis has to sit on a chair in a langar hall? Will she be reincarnated as a slug? And if we can give a pass to the child and the elderly woman, why should others be held to a higher standard?

  15. Mewa Singh says:

    Loverboy,

    I understand the gist of your argument and am empathetic in many ways, but your line of argument is highly problematic.

    You ask:

    What if an elderly woman with arthritis has to sit on a chair in a langar hall? Will she be reincarnated as a slug?

    But the answer is, who knows? Maybe! But regardless, do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    You are tangling too many issues together. I am in complete agreement with you that the message of the Guru Granth Sahib should be a priority of the Gurdwara.

    However, there are differences between Muslim and Hindu Bhagats and Sikh Gurus. The bhagat through individual bhakti attained a union with Waheguru. We respect such people and many of their thoughts and words have indeed been recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib. In the Siddh Gost, Guru Nanak dialogued with such individuals as well. However the bhagats are not the examples for the Sikhs. Our role-models are our Gurus and those that tread the Guru's path – those that turned their faces towards the Guru – the Gurmukhs.

    The highest goal of a Sikh of the Guru is to follow in the path of his/her Guru, to tread upon the Guru's 'gulee' to draw from the words of Guru Nanak. Thus one CANNOT only be concerned with their individual relationship with Waheguru. The Guru gives a path for the masses to create a transformative society.

    In order to do so, one requires a discipline. Guru Gobind Singh provided us that discipline.

    I completely agree with you that many Sikhs focus so much on the discipline that they forget the higher purpose and goal of the discipline. It is like they are looking down when they walk and pay so much attention to the road that they forget about the goal up ahead. However, the road is our path to the goal.

    While I wish more Gurdwaras and Sikhs focused on the 'goal', this is not to say that the 'path' through Rehat is not important. It is extremely important.

  16. Mewa Singh says:

    Loverboy,

    I understand the gist of your argument and am empathetic in many ways, but your line of argument is highly problematic.

    You ask:

    What if an elderly woman with arthritis has to sit on a chair in a langar hall? Will she be reincarnated as a slug?

    But the answer is, who knows? Maybe! But regardless, do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    You are tangling too many issues together. I am in complete agreement with you that the message of the Guru Granth Sahib should be a priority of the Gurdwara.

    However, there are differences between Muslim and Hindu Bhagats and Sikh Gurus. The bhagat through individual bhakti attained a union with Waheguru. We respect such people and many of their thoughts and words have indeed been recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib. In the Siddh Gost, Guru Nanak dialogued with such individuals as well. However the bhagats are not the examples for the Sikhs. Our role-models are our Gurus and those that tread the Guru’s path – those that turned their faces towards the Guru – the Gurmukhs.

    The highest goal of a Sikh of the Guru is to follow in the path of his/her Guru, to tread upon the Guru’s ‘gulee’ to draw from the words of Guru Nanak. Thus one CANNOT only be concerned with their individual relationship with Waheguru. The Guru gives a path for the masses to create a transformative society.

    In order to do so, one requires a discipline. Guru Gobind Singh provided us that discipline.

    I completely agree with you that many Sikhs focus so much on the discipline that they forget the higher purpose and goal of the discipline. It is like they are looking down when they walk and pay so much attention to the road that they forget about the goal up ahead. However, the road is our path to the goal.

    While I wish more Gurdwaras and Sikhs focused on the ‘goal’, this is not to say that the ‘path’ through Rehat is not important. It is extremely important.

  17. loverboy says:

    Mewa Singh,

    Thanks for your input. Here are my responses –

    However the bhagats are not the examples for the Sikhs. Our role-models are our Gurus and those that tread the Guru’s path – those that turned their faces towards the Guru – the Gurmukhs.

    Are you saying that we should not aspire to model our spiritual lives on Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Ravidas, Sheik Farid, and others whose writings are embodied in the Guru Granth Sahib, our eternal Guru? Why did our Gurus incorporate the writings of these exalted men in our scripture? And where in the Guru Granth Sahib is it written that formalism trumps spiritual substance?

    Thus one CANNOT only be concerned with their individual relationship with Waheguru. The Guru gives a path for the masses to create a transformative society.

    Are you suggesting that our path is the only path to God?

    In order to do so, one requires a discipline. Guru Gobind Singh provided us that discipline.

    Back to the original issue, did Guru Gobind Singh write about covering our heads in the langar hall? Where in our scriptures is it written that covering one's head is relevant to our spiritual lives. Who is making this rule? I understand that there is an institution of Guru Panth in the Sikh tradition, but what are its parameters and entry requirements? In other words, why should you (or I, for that matter) get to decide what is or is not Panthic? I know people who verbally abused elderly women at my langar hall simply because their chunnis didn't cover their heads. We call them the chunni police.

  18. loverboy says:

    Mewa Singh,

    Thanks for your input. Here are my responses –

    However the bhagats are not the examples for the Sikhs. Our role-models are our Gurus and those that tread the Gurus path – those that turned their faces towards the Guru – the Gurmukhs.

    Are you saying that we should not aspire to model our spiritual lives on Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Ravidas, Sheik Farid, and others whose writings are embodied in the Guru Granth Sahib, our eternal Guru? Why did our Gurus incorporate the writings of these exalted men in our scripture? And where in the Guru Granth Sahib is it written that formalism trumps spiritual substance?

    Thus one CANNOT only be concerned with their individual relationship with Waheguru. The Guru gives a path for the masses to create a transformative society.

    Are you suggesting that our path is the only path to God?

    In order to do so, one requires a discipline. Guru Gobind Singh provided us that discipline.

    Back to the original issue, did Guru Gobind Singh write about covering our heads in the langar hall? Where in our scriptures is it written that covering one’s head is relevant to our spiritual lives. Who is making this rule? I understand that there is an institution of Guru Panth in the Sikh tradition, but what are its parameters and entry requirements? In other words, why should you (or I, for that matter) get to decide what is or is not Panthic? I know people who verbally abused elderly women at my langar hall simply because their chunnis didn’t cover their heads. We call them the chunni police.

  19. loverboy says:

    Thus one CANNOT only be concerned with their individual relationship with Waheguru. The Guru gives a path for the masses to create a transformative society.

    And what does a "transformative society" have to do with letting elderly women with arthritis sit on chairs in the langar hall?

  20. loverboy says:

    Thus one CANNOT only be concerned with their individual relationship with Waheguru. The Guru gives a path for the masses to create a transformative society.

    And what does a “transformative society” have to do with letting elderly women with arthritis sit on chairs in the langar hall?

  21. Mewa Singh says:

    Thanks for your response loverboy. Let me see if I can better explain some of those points and address some of the questions you put forth.

    First off, though, let me say emphatically that the "chunni police" is the absolutely wrong approach and I do not condone such behavior at all.

    Now to address your questions….

    1) Your first question:

    Are you saying that we should not aspire to model our spiritual lives on Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Ravidas, Sheik Farid, and others whose writings are embodied in the Guru Granth Sahib, our eternal Guru?

    I would respond, sort of. Since you said 'spiritual life', sure we should aim for that type of connection with Waheguru. However, 'spiritual' life if you are using a European paradigmatic dichotomy, which I assume you are, then in someway the answer is also no. Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Ravidas, Sheikh Farid were remarkable individuals and far greater than I will probably ever be. But they are not my role-model. My role-models are my Gurus.

    Our Gurus not only had not only achieved union in their relationship with Waheguru, but created a "mat" (path) and a community for others to do so as well. Their path was not for individual union, but part and parcel of transforming society and creating union through a society.

    2) You wrote:

    And where in the Guru Granth Sahib is it written that formalism trumps spiritual substance?

    Of course no where, but I am not suggesting that either. I am against the dichotomy that we must see formalism/spiritual substance as 2 separate entities. I think they can be connected. I think you, by seeing them as 2 separate entitities, are engaging in the same practice as the "chunni police". They, too, see these as separate entitities and are thus trying to enforce 'formalism' as you would call it. I think the point is to not see these as 2 entitities but rather as a harmonious 1.

    3) You asked:

    Are you suggesting that our path is the only path to God?

    Again, I would say no. In fact in the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak describes how one can follow the "true" path for a Hindu and a Muslim. However, if one wishes to follow the path of our Guru, yes then it requires discipline. I am not trying to say that I have attained that discipline in my own life. I have not! However, I still recognize the discipline, believe in its importance, strive to uphold it, and work to bring myself up to that level, not lower it to mine.

    4) You wrote:

    Did Guru Gobind Singh write about covering our heads in the langar hall? Where in our scriptures is it written that covering one’s head is relevant to our spiritual lives.

    Now my question that follows is why would you even want your Guru to do such thing? Why are you looking for a list of do's/don'ts. (A blogger on this website wrote a great article addressing this very issue.) We don't have a conception of shari'a and I think that is the beauty in Sikhi. However there are traditions that tie and I believe there is beauty in those as well. There are traditions we should challenge and armed with Gurbani and the spirit of our Gurus, I believe those hierarchies will be challenged as well.

    5) Finally, you wrote:

    And what does a “transformative society” have to do with letting elderly women with arthritis sit on chairs in the langar hall?

    Rather I was objecting to your original progression that started with the elderly woman with arthritis, but then was moving towards having no discipline for anyone. I was more objecting to your comment that you would like to make some common sense provisions, but then ultimately you desire 'no standard' for anyone, as you stated:

    And if we can give a pass to the child and the elderly woman, why should others be held to a higher standard?

    I appreciate the critical dialogue and don't mean any offense at all.

  22. Mewa Singh says:

    Thanks for your response loverboy. Let me see if I can better explain some of those points and address some of the questions you put forth.

    First off, though, let me say emphatically that the “chunni police” is the absolutely wrong approach and I do not condone such behavior at all.

    Now to address your questions….

    1) Your first question:

    Are you saying that we should not aspire to model our spiritual lives on Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Ravidas, Sheik Farid, and others whose writings are embodied in the Guru Granth Sahib, our eternal Guru?

    I would respond, sort of. Since you said ‘spiritual life’, sure we should aim for that type of connection with Waheguru. However, ‘spiritual’ life if you are using a European paradigmatic dichotomy, which I assume you are, then in someway the answer is also no. Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Ravidas, Sheikh Farid were remarkable individuals and far greater than I will probably ever be. But they are not my role-model. My role-models are my Gurus.

    Our Gurus not only had not only achieved union in their relationship with Waheguru, but created a “mat” (path) and a community for others to do so as well. Their path was not for individual union, but part and parcel of transforming society and creating union through a society.

    2) You wrote:

    And where in the Guru Granth Sahib is it written that formalism trumps spiritual substance?

    Of course no where, but I am not suggesting that either. I am against the dichotomy that we must see formalism/spiritual substance as 2 separate entities. I think they can be connected. I think you, by seeing them as 2 separate entitities, are engaging in the same practice as the “chunni police”. They, too, see these as separate entitities and are thus trying to enforce ‘formalism’ as you would call it. I think the point is to not see these as 2 entitities but rather as a harmonious 1.

    3) You asked:

    Are you suggesting that our path is the only path to God?

    Again, I would say no. In fact in the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak describes how one can follow the “true” path for a Hindu and a Muslim. However, if one wishes to follow the path of our Guru, yes then it requires discipline. I am not trying to say that I have attained that discipline in my own life. I have not! However, I still recognize the discipline, believe in its importance, strive to uphold it, and work to bring myself up to that level, not lower it to mine.

    4) You wrote:

    Did Guru Gobind Singh write about covering our heads in the langar hall? Where in our scriptures is it written that covering ones head is relevant to our spiritual lives.

    Now my question that follows is why would you even want your Guru to do such thing? Why are you looking for a list of do’s/don’ts. (A blogger on this website wrote a great article addressing this very issue.) We don’t have a conception of shari’a and I think that is the beauty in Sikhi. However there are traditions that tie and I believe there is beauty in those as well. There are traditions we should challenge and armed with Gurbani and the spirit of our Gurus, I believe those hierarchies will be challenged as well.

    5) Finally, you wrote:

    And what does a transformative society have to do with letting elderly women with arthritis sit on chairs in the langar hall?

    Rather I was objecting to your original progression that started with the elderly woman with arthritis, but then was moving towards having no discipline for anyone. I was more objecting to your comment that you would like to make some common sense provisions, but then ultimately you desire ‘no standard’ for anyone, as you stated:

    And if we can give a pass to the child and the elderly woman, why should others be held to a higher standard?

    I appreciate the critical dialogue and don’t mean any offense at all.

  23. Camille says:

    Taranjeet, thank you so much for your inclusion of the definition of a Sehajdari Sikh. I think the most important aspect of the definition is that a person is moving forward on the path of Sikhi, including integrating the practice of the faith into their life/lifestyle. If a person is truly Sehajdari, then, then I don't worry about the introduction of non-Sikh activities such as idol worship. However, I think it's hard to differentiate between people. I think this is interesting if we take into account Prem's comment on numbers but the contravening concern around what those numbers actually mean.

    I was discussing this with my mom the other day, and we talked about the "order of precedent" for different aspects of being a Sikh, specifically, that a Sikh:

    1. Recognizes/believes in Waheguru

    2. Follows the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the 10 human gurujis

    3. Follows the Rehat

    I think you have to have all of these elements, or at least should be working towards all these elements, to claim a space/voice at the table for Sikh advocacy and decision-making. Like Mewa Singh, I don't think this is a dichotomy where practice is one prong and the teachings of Sikhi are another. From where I stand, Sikhi is all about living the faith.

    Which brings me to loverboy's comments: I don't think we (as a community) should waste our time on things like beard length; however, I do think there's consensus that one ought not cut/trim their beard (or hair in general, for that matter). I think covering your head in the langar hall totally makes sense, as does removing your shoes. I genuinely do not understand where the "debate" even comes from when it comes to methods of practice that seem very logical to me, particularly because Sikhi asks very little of us by way of "formalistic" or "ritualized" practice.

  24. Camille says:

    Taranjeet, thank you so much for your inclusion of the definition of a Sehajdari Sikh. I think the most important aspect of the definition is that a person is moving forward on the path of Sikhi, including integrating the practice of the faith into their life/lifestyle. If a person is truly Sehajdari, then, then I don’t worry about the introduction of non-Sikh activities such as idol worship. However, I think it’s hard to differentiate between people. I think this is interesting if we take into account Prem’s comment on numbers but the contravening concern around what those numbers actually mean.

    I was discussing this with my mom the other day, and we talked about the “order of precedent” for different aspects of being a Sikh, specifically, that a Sikh:
    1. Recognizes/believes in Waheguru
    2. Follows the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the 10 human gurujis
    3. Follows the Rehat

    I think you have to have all of these elements, or at least should be working towards all these elements, to claim a space/voice at the table for Sikh advocacy and decision-making. Like Mewa Singh, I don’t think this is a dichotomy where practice is one prong and the teachings of Sikhi are another. From where I stand, Sikhi is all about living the faith.

    Which brings me to loverboy’s comments: I don’t think we (as a community) should waste our time on things like beard length; however, I do think there’s consensus that one ought not cut/trim their beard (or hair in general, for that matter). I think covering your head in the langar hall totally makes sense, as does removing your shoes. I genuinely do not understand where the “debate” even comes from when it comes to methods of practice that seem very logical to me, particularly because Sikhi asks very little of us by way of “formalistic” or “ritualized” practice.

  25. loverboy says:

    a European paradigmatic dichotomy

    What's that?

    I am against the dichotomy that we must see formalism/spiritual substance as 2 separate entities. I think they can be connected. I think you, by seeing them as 2 separate entitities, are engaging in the same practice as the “chunni police”. They, too, see these as separate entitities and are thus trying to enforce ‘formalism’ as you would call it. I think the point is to not see these as 2 entitities but rather as a harmonious

    Actually I believe the chunni police are people who think that formal deviations are spiritual deviations and who believe that the mere act of following 'the path' is sufficient to win God-points.

    In fact in the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak describes how one can follow the “true” path for a Hindu and a Muslim. However, if one wishes to follow the path of our Guru, yes then it requires discipline.

    I would argue that the Guru Granth Sahib describes the true path for a human being, regardless of religion. References to Hindu and Muslim religious practices are often made in ways that emphasize the priority of humility and devotion over the mere possession of a rosary or a prayer mat. What I have observed in the Sikh community is a tendency for people to banish raagis from the stage for tying their beards and yell at old women for having bare heads in the langar hall.

    Now my question that follows is why would you even want your Guru to do such thing? Why are you looking for a list of do’s/don’ts. (A blogger on this website wrote a great article addressing this very issue.) We don’t have a conception of shari’a and I think that is the beauty in Sikhi. However there are traditions that tie and I believe there is beauty in those as well. There are traditions we should challenge and armed with Gurbani and the spirit of our Gurus, I believe those hierarchies will be challenged as well.

    I am not looking for a list. That's the point of my argument. And I don't see a dictionary difference between a list of rules that are worth challenging (e.g. people should cover their heads in the langar hall; nobody should sit on a chair in the langar hall) and your "traditions that tie." Traditions are rules, and they are often followed, circularly, without reflection, because "our tradition is the rule, and the rule is our tradition."

    I was more objecting to your comment that you would like to make some common sense provisions, but then ultimately you desire ‘no standard’ for anyone.

    I'm not advocating a standard-less system. What I meant to say is this: if a bare-headed child can run around a langar hall, typically no-one would object. But why? In other words, where do we draw a principled line? Similarly, if a woman with arthritis can sit on a chair in the langar hall, typically no-one would object. But why? In other words, where do we draw a principled line?

    My personal belief is that one should not be required to cover one's head in the langar hall. I also don't believe one should be required to cover one's head in the divan hall. Obviously if a Sikh desires to wear his turban, that's his prerogative, but why should a non-Sikh have to wear a cloth? I follow the guidance of the Gurus, and I have not found any guidance that prescribes that I cover my head in the presence of the Guru, who is omnipresent, by the way. I don't wear a turban to please my Guru or to score points with God. Rather I wear a turban to inform others that I am a Sikh. And so why must I insist that non-Sikhs cover their heads at the Gurdwara.

    I also mean no offense, but it is important for me to ask these questions and get a better understanding of Sikhi.

  26. loverboy says:

    a European paradigmatic dichotomy

    What’s that?

    I am against the dichotomy that we must see formalism/spiritual substance as 2 separate entities. I think they can be connected. I think you, by seeing them as 2 separate entitities, are engaging in the same practice as the chunni police. They, too, see these as separate entitities and are thus trying to enforce formalism as you would call it. I think the point is to not see these as 2 entitities but rather as a harmonious

    Actually I believe the chunni police are people who think that formal deviations are spiritual deviations and who believe that the mere act of following ‘the path’ is sufficient to win God-points.

    In fact in the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak describes how one can follow the true path for a Hindu and a Muslim. However, if one wishes to follow the path of our Guru, yes then it requires discipline.

    I would argue that the Guru Granth Sahib describes the true path for a human being, regardless of religion. References to Hindu and Muslim religious practices are often made in ways that emphasize the priority of humility and devotion over the mere possession of a rosary or a prayer mat. What I have observed in the Sikh community is a tendency for people to banish raagis from the stage for tying their beards and yell at old women for having bare heads in the langar hall.

    Now my question that follows is why would you even want your Guru to do such thing? Why are you looking for a list of dos/donts. (A blogger on this website wrote a great article addressing this very issue.) We dont have a conception of sharia and I think that is the beauty in Sikhi. However there are traditions that tie and I believe there is beauty in those as well. There are traditions we should challenge and armed with Gurbani and the spirit of our Gurus, I believe those hierarchies will be challenged as well.

    I am not looking for a list. That’s the point of my argument. And I don’t see a dictionary difference between a list of rules that are worth challenging (e.g. people should cover their heads in the langar hall; nobody should sit on a chair in the langar hall) and your “traditions that tie.” Traditions are rules, and they are often followed, circularly, without reflection, because “our tradition is the rule, and the rule is our tradition.”

    I was more objecting to your comment that you would like to make some common sense provisions, but then ultimately you desire no standard for anyone.

    I’m not advocating a standard-less system. What I meant to say is this: if a bare-headed child can run around a langar hall, typically no-one would object. But why? In other words, where do we draw a principled line? Similarly, if a woman with arthritis can sit on a chair in the langar hall, typically no-one would object. But why? In other words, where do we draw a principled line?

    My personal belief is that one should not be required to cover one’s head in the langar hall. I also don’t believe one should be required to cover one’s head in the divan hall. Obviously if a Sikh desires to wear his turban, that’s his prerogative, but why should a non-Sikh have to wear a cloth? I follow the guidance of the Gurus, and I have not found any guidance that prescribes that I cover my head in the presence of the Guru, who is omnipresent, by the way. I don’t wear a turban to please my Guru or to score points with God. Rather I wear a turban to inform others that I am a Sikh. And so why must I insist that non-Sikhs cover their heads at the Gurdwara.

    I also mean no offense, but it is important for me to ask these questions and get a better understanding of Sikhi.

  27. Mewa Singh says:

    'Loverboy',

    Sorry for the delay in response. As a quick note, of course I do not take any offense. That being said, I see this as a "true" exchange. I don't want you to think at all that I am even trying to 'convince' you of anything. I am merely sharing what I have learned and experienced over the years and appreciate you challenging some of my own thoughts so that I can engage in deeper reflection.

    1) As far as a "European paradigmatic dichotomy", this is refers to certain thought processes that especially arose during the period in European history known as the 'Enlightenment'. Basically it engages in various dualisms and separation. Although at times analytically useful, it can also be extremely problematic. For example, to start a conversation where you are assuming that external manifestations of the faith are separate than internal beliefs of the faith, may be analytically useful and help a discussion. However, this is in itself starting with an assumption that the two do not intersect. It was this assumption I was challenging. Looking back at this paragraph, I don't think I have helped my cause much in terms of explaining it better, but hopefully you can make some more sense out of it.

    2) As I am not a card-carrying member of the "chunni police," I cannot even begin to speak for what goes on in their minds. I have no idea what they think or don't think, but regardless the belief that Waheguru is some sort of 'accountant' with whom you accumulate points and demerits is completely against Sikhi.

    3) I appreciate and agree with your comment that the Guru Granth Sahib describes the 'Truth' in whatever ways and limitations language can endeavor to such as a task. However, within the Guru Granth Sahib there is no rejection of the numerous paths. In fact if you follow the bhagats that are included within the Guru Granth Sahib, all of them followed the strictures of their respective paths. This is essential. Choose a path. And then follow that path to the best of your ability. It does not say choose no path or choose all paths.

    4) I think you and I have a difference in belief of traditions that are worth challenging and those that I believe tie a group of worshippers together. I don't believe that the belief in covering one's head in the Langar Hall is worth challenging. I am just against the often-male "chunni police" trying to enforce it by resorting to threats and put-downs. I am against hierarchies based on caste, gender, and power that I believe are completely against the principles of Sikhi. Unfortunately these hierarchies can be seen in most societies, but sometimes even more heightened in the the Punjabi cultural milieu that many of us come from.

    5) It does seem you are advocating a 'discipline-less' system. Because on the one hand you are against the "chunni police" enforcement, yet you use 'common sense' exceptions (for the bare-headed child or the woman with the arthritis) to push for no standards.

    Without allowing some 'common sense' exceptions, what are the alternatives? Then it only seems to me you can be in the 'chunni police' camp that allows NO EXCEPTIONS and full enforcement or you want a 'discipline-less' free-for-all?

    Personally, I am completely fine making 'common sense' exceptions on a need basis. I think that is the most pragmatic and best choice.

    6) Finally while I understand the logic of your personal belief with regards to covering one's head in the Gurdwara, I respectfully disagree. If I go to a church, I do not dress in basketball shorts. When I have visited mosques, I also removed my shoes. So if a visitor comes to the Gurdwara, I do expect them to follow certain protocols. I do not expect them to bow to the Guru Granth Sahib and in fact would discourage them from doing so. However, I see nothing wrong with them covering their head and removing their shoes (to be honest, few visitors I have ever met ever opposed it either).

    7) Finally just to add, where you wrote:

    Obviously if a Sikh desires to wear his turban, that’s his prerogative

    I just wanted to add 'Obviously if a Sikh desires to wear THEIR (HIS/HER) turban, that’s THEIR (HIS/HER) prerogative'

    Again 'loverboy', I appreciate the exchange. Like I said, please don't feel I am trying to 'convince' you of anything. Only hopefully I can provide you with some food for thought, just as you have provided it for me.

  28. Mewa Singh says:

    ‘Loverboy’,

    Sorry for the delay in response. As a quick note, of course I do not take any offense. That being said, I see this as a “true” exchange. I don’t want you to think at all that I am even trying to ‘convince’ you of anything. I am merely sharing what I have learned and experienced over the years and appreciate you challenging some of my own thoughts so that I can engage in deeper reflection.

    1) As far as a “European paradigmatic dichotomy”, this is refers to certain thought processes that especially arose during the period in European history known as the ‘Enlightenment’. Basically it engages in various dualisms and separation. Although at times analytically useful, it can also be extremely problematic. For example, to start a conversation where you are assuming that external manifestations of the faith are separate than internal beliefs of the faith, may be analytically useful and help a discussion. However, this is in itself starting with an assumption that the two do not intersect. It was this assumption I was challenging. Looking back at this paragraph, I don’t think I have helped my cause much in terms of explaining it better, but hopefully you can make some more sense out of it.

    2) As I am not a card-carrying member of the “chunni police,” I cannot even begin to speak for what goes on in their minds. I have no idea what they think or don’t think, but regardless the belief that Waheguru is some sort of ‘accountant’ with whom you accumulate points and demerits is completely against Sikhi.

    3) I appreciate and agree with your comment that the Guru Granth Sahib describes the ‘Truth’ in whatever ways and limitations language can endeavor to such as a task. However, within the Guru Granth Sahib there is no rejection of the numerous paths. In fact if you follow the bhagats that are included within the Guru Granth Sahib, all of them followed the strictures of their respective paths. This is essential. Choose a path. And then follow that path to the best of your ability. It does not say choose no path or choose all paths.

    4) I think you and I have a difference in belief of traditions that are worth challenging and those that I believe tie a group of worshippers together. I don’t believe that the belief in covering one’s head in the Langar Hall is worth challenging. I am just against the often-male “chunni police” trying to enforce it by resorting to threats and put-downs. I am against hierarchies based on caste, gender, and power that I believe are completely against the principles of Sikhi. Unfortunately these hierarchies can be seen in most societies, but sometimes even more heightened in the the Punjabi cultural milieu that many of us come from.

    5) It does seem you are advocating a ‘discipline-less’ system. Because on the one hand you are against the “chunni police” enforcement, yet you use ‘common sense’ exceptions (for the bare-headed child or the woman with the arthritis) to push for no standards.

    Without allowing some ‘common sense’ exceptions, what are the alternatives? Then it only seems to me you can be in the ‘chunni police’ camp that allows NO EXCEPTIONS and full enforcement or you want a ‘discipline-less’ free-for-all?

    Personally, I am completely fine making ‘common sense’ exceptions on a need basis. I think that is the most pragmatic and best choice.

    6) Finally while I understand the logic of your personal belief with regards to covering one’s head in the Gurdwara, I respectfully disagree. If I go to a church, I do not dress in basketball shorts. When I have visited mosques, I also removed my shoes. So if a visitor comes to the Gurdwara, I do expect them to follow certain protocols. I do not expect them to bow to the Guru Granth Sahib and in fact would discourage them from doing so. However, I see nothing wrong with them covering their head and removing their shoes (to be honest, few visitors I have ever met ever opposed it either).

    7) Finally just to add, where you wrote:

    Obviously if a Sikh desires to wear his turban, thats his prerogative

    I just wanted to add ‘Obviously if a Sikh desires to wear THEIR (HIS/HER) turban, thats THEIR (HIS/HER) prerogative’

    Again ‘loverboy’, I appreciate the exchange. Like I said, please don’t feel I am trying to ‘convince’ you of anything. Only hopefully I can provide you with some food for thought, just as you have provided it for me.

  29. Priya says:

    They gave up their live for us siks

  30. Priya says:

    They gave up their live for us siks

  31. Priya says:

    We should always remember them

  32. Priya says:

    We should always remember them

  33. sunny says:

    You are totally correct

  34. sunny says:

    You are totally correct

  35. Justine says:

    Respect your Gods

  36. Justine says:

    Respect your Gods

  37. […] news surrounding the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey is especially noteworthy. We have covered the topic in the past a few times and the results seem to be in (again). The Youth Slate wins […]

  38. Zoey says:

    I was born and raised in the Vancouver area.. As a child I attended the Gurdwara without covering my head. Our community was small in those days and it was decided by the elders that there should be no compulsion placed on anyone to do so. Such practices were challenged by newer immigrants to Canada and eventually head cover became a requirement at all Gurdwaras. There were some Sikhs (sehjdari) who decided to build there own place of worship and retain the Gurdwara as a Private Society with a limited membership.. I and the majority of others now cover there heads in the Diwan Hall. There are however a few from the founding families who choose not to. This will change over time.
    In the Langar Hall we sit in equality on tables and chairs. Head Cover is not mandatory in the Langar Hall.
    So there it is. I am sure this bothers many but in Canada everyone has the right to worship the way they wish. I respect those that do it another way but would expect them to respect my right as well.

  39. Zoey says:

    I was born and raised in the Vancouver area.. As a child I attended the Gurdwara without covering my head. Our community was small in those days and it was decided by the elders that there should be no compulsion placed on anyone to do so. Such practices were challenged by newer immigrants to Canada and eventually head cover became a requirement at all Gurdwaras. There were some Sikhs (sehjdari) who decided to build there own place of worship and retain the Gurdwara as a Private Society with a limited membership.. I and the majority of others now cover there heads in the Diwan Hall. There are however a few from the founding families who choose not to. This will change over time.
    In the Langar Hall we sit in equality on tables and chairs. Head Cover is not mandatory in the Langar Hall.
    So there it is. I am sure this bothers many but in Canada everyone has the right to worship the way they wish. I respect those that do it another way but would expect them to respect my right as well.

  40. Bahadar says:

    Can religion ever allow you to be anything other than conservative?

  41. Bahadar says:

    Can religion ever allow you to be anything other than conservative?

  42. iSingh says:

    @ Bahadur
    The best post I have read so far in this exchange.

    I think "may be not" but then – Is Sikhism a religion ? I think the concept of religion was introduced in India by the British when they started data collection. And the concept in itself is linked to the us vs they emphasis in middle east triumvirate of islam, christianity and judaism. And this could be linked to their political influence as well as missionary focus.

    I think if we stop fitting Sikhism in the western dogma of formalized "Religion", we'll have much more inclusive discourse. On the same note – is Hinduism a religion ? Similarly what were the religions of indigenous tribes in South Asia and elsewhere ?

    I would call them spiritual philosophies.

  43. iSingh says:

    @Zoey – Can you share of which Gurudwara are you the member of and the criteria of membership. Thanks.

    And I wonder how will the interpretations of SGPC and other Gurudwara Prabandhak Committees change if the non-turbaned Sikhs (especially from the West) stop donations to these Gurudwaras.

  44. iSingh says:

    @ Bahadur
    The best post I have read so far in this exchange.

    I think "may be not" but then – Is Sikhism a religion ? I think the concept of religion was introduced in India by the British when they started data collection. And the concept in itself is linked to the us vs they emphasis in middle east triumvirate of islam, christianity and judaism. And this could be linked to their political influence as well as missionary focus.

    I think if we stop fitting Sikhism in the western dogma of formalized "Religion", we'll have much more inclusive discourse. On the same note – is Hinduism a religion ? Similarly what were the religions of indigenous tribes in South Asia and elsewhere ?

    I would call them spiritual philosophies.

  45. iSingh says:

    @Zoey – Can you share of which Gurudwara are you the member of and the criteria of membership. Thanks.

    And I wonder how will the interpretations of SGPC and other Gurudwara Prabandhak Committees change if the non-turbaned Sikhs (especially from the West) stop donations to these Gurudwaras.