Violence and Faith

Deh Shiva bar mohe ihe / shubh karman the khabhu na taro
God, grant me this: that I will never refrain from righteous acts

na daroo ar siyoo jab jah laro / nische kar apni jeet karo
That I will fight life’s battles without fear, and will claim victory with courage

Ar Sikh hao apne hi mum ko / Eh lalch hou guna tau uchroo
That you will be ingrained in my mind / with my highest ambition to sing your praises

Jab aav ki audh nidhaan nane / aut hee rann me tab joojh maroo
when this mortal life comes to an end, may I fight with limitless courage

“Deh Shiva” is often described as the Sikh national anthem, and it comes to us from Dasam Granth. As a shabad, it has been invoked on the (literal) battlefield as a rallying cry and a unifying call around Waheguru. The shabad analogizes the struggle in our daily lives to overcome issues that lead us away from Waheguru to a battle — with a single-minded focus on Waheguru, we are able to transcend our attachments to the material and emotional trappings of life.

But as a shabad it has also been used in a very literal manner to mobilize Sikhs in war. As Mewa Singh mobilize action around a political (and militarized) struggle. Does a literal intepretation, or recitation, of shabad convert its meaning? I’ve always found this specific shabad empowering and elevating, but not inherently “violent” or “militant.” As a child, I always felt strangely calm and elated by the words, punctuated at each phrase with “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal!” I have always heard this shabad as a call to the nation, not as a device or tool for violence.

We’ve heard the arguments (valid and not) before about why Sikhi is a martial faith or has a martial history or a martial outlook. There are certainly religious foundations that acknowledge the real challenges faced in every day life and the need to resist oppression. Resistance eschews, but does not forbid, violence. Nonetheless, at its core I believe Sikhi is a religion of love — love of the Guru, Granth, and community, defined in the context of humankind and creation.

A few of our commenters have argued that Islam is a violent faith because, under their reading/interpretation, they believe the Koran promotes and rewards violence in its scriptural messages. Religions and their philosophies are more complicated, in my opinion, than a literal reading or interpretation. We’ve discussed this briefly in the past — that sometimes we look to religion to provide a list of do’s an don’ts. Really it’s more complicated and dynamic than that, and faith is often a struggle to re-orient our view/understanding of the world in order to reach an elevated state of being. I don’t want to focus on Islam; I wanted to point out that, just as our own faith is more complicated than a literal translation or interpretation of our scriptural teachings, the same is true for other faith traditions.

I think it sometimes helps to understand, and ground, our conversation in a conversation of Sikhi and gurbani. In a very profound way, Sikhi has shaped my belief system, my politics, and my world view. I’ll be the first to admit ignorance, but I like to believe my life is going to be a process of continual revelation. I’m still growing. I’m ok with that. As a person of faith, I see the light of my Creator in everyone, although believe me, it’s hard to do that over my super fast temper, my deep sense of conviction (which sometimes comes off as self-righteous), or my frustration with inequalities that I believe are produced, or can be ameliorated, by coordinated action.

I put this out there because, in the middle of an uncertain world where it’s easy to choose anger or violence over reflection, I think it’s important to have space to think about how things are (or are not) connected. I hope our readership will take this with a grain of salt and realize that, at least speaking for myself, this project at The Langar Hall is not a knee-jerk reaction or a shallow collection of beliefs and political leanings. It’s an act of love.

Here’s wishing everyone a safe and fantastic weekend.


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14 Responses to “Violence and Faith”

  1. kaptaan says:

    Camille,

    FYI, jihadists themselves are the ones saying that the koran, and mohamad's words and actions, tell them to do what they are doing, its NOT that a "few of our commenters have argued that Islam is a violent faith because, under their reading/interpretation, they believe the Koran promotes and rewards violence in its scriptural messages"…

    Its the MUSLIM jihadists themselves who are saying these things and they quote scripture and verse, not to mention mohammad's own words and deeds as recorded by ISLAMIC texts which muslims themselves cite as being authentic representations of what mohammad was about.

    why don't you engage in some intellectual honesty. are you saying the MUSLIM sheiks, mullahs, maulvis, and imams are all ignorant of their own religion? like the imam/ sheik in australia who compared non-burqa'd women to "uncovered meat" for consumption…

    so camille maybe you can let the world know what Islam is and maybe explain to the religious scholars of al-azhar university what islam is really all about.

    people of your ilk can't help but be apologists, its truly idiotic how you could equate "Deh Shiva Bar Mohe" shabad as being anything like the words of the koran/sunna/hadith of Islam encouraging muslims to shun/ kill/ oppress non-muslims as evidenced by the words the Muslims Student Association at USC had to remove from its website at that university…

    sticking your head in the sand is one thing, but comparing Shabads to anything like the words used by jihadists is truly despicable…

  2. kaptaan says:

    Camille,

    FYI, jihadists themselves are the ones saying that the koran, and mohamad’s words and actions, tell them to do what they are doing, its NOT that a “few of our commenters have argued that Islam is a violent faith because, under their reading/interpretation, they believe the Koran promotes and rewards violence in its scriptural messages”…

    Its the MUSLIM jihadists themselves who are saying these things and they quote scripture and verse, not to mention mohammad’s own words and deeds as recorded by ISLAMIC texts which muslims themselves cite as being authentic representations of what mohammad was about.

    why don’t you engage in some intellectual honesty. are you saying the MUSLIM sheiks, mullahs, maulvis, and imams are all ignorant of their own religion? like the imam/ sheik in australia who compared non-burqa’d women to “uncovered meat” for consumption…

    so camille maybe you can let the world know what Islam is and maybe explain to the religious scholars of al-azhar university what islam is really all about.

    people of your ilk can’t help but be apologists, its truly idiotic how you could equate “Deh Shiva Bar Mohe” shabad as being anything like the words of the koran/sunna/hadith of Islam encouraging muslims to shun/ kill/ oppress non-muslims as evidenced by the words the Muslims Student Association at USC had to remove from its website at that university…

    sticking your head in the sand is one thing, but comparing Shabads to anything like the words used by jihadists is truly despicable…

  3. Camille says:

    Kaptaan, way to completely ignore the core of this post. I'm not comparing Deh Shiva to any justification for violence put forward by terrorists. This post is reflecting on how prayers are not as simple as their literal interpretations, and further, that shabad asks us to transcend material definitions.

    I didn't answer your last post because you are so wrapped up in your own reality and your own projection of what you believe a) my argument is, and b) who I am that you're incapable of parsing ANY OTHER CONTENT.

    Excuse me while I continue to ignore your comments, your accusations, and your slurs/slander. I hope you enjoy reveling in your sense of self-righteousness and bigotry, but I'm not going to entertain it.

  4. Camille says:

    Kaptaan, way to completely ignore the core of this post. I’m not comparing Deh Shiva to any justification for violence put forward by terrorists. This post is reflecting on how prayers are not as simple as their literal interpretations, and further, that shabad asks us to transcend material definitions.

    I didn’t answer your last post because you are so wrapped up in your own reality and your own projection of what you believe a) my argument is, and b) who I am that you’re incapable of parsing ANY OTHER CONTENT.

    Excuse me while I continue to ignore your comments, your accusations, and your slurs/slander. I hope you enjoy reveling in your sense of self-righteousness and bigotry, but I’m not going to entertain it.

  5. Harinder says:

    I dont think this Shabad is in GURU GRANTH SAHIB our present Guruji.

    It was a hymn sung by Guruji when his men and followers were being persecuted by the MUGHAL EMPIRE.

  6. Harinder says:

    I dont think this Shabad is in GURU GRANTH SAHIB our present Guruji.
    It was a hymn sung by Guruji when his men and followers were being persecuted by the MUGHAL EMPIRE.

  7. Mewa Singh says:

    Harinder,

    You are right. It is not in the Guru Granth Sahib.

  8. Mewa Singh says:

    Harinder,

    You are right. It is not in the Guru Granth Sahib.

  9. Harinder says:

    Sorry for a hasty post

    I actually meant Guru Granth Sahib our "Eternal GURU"

    I also meant "not his men" but "our own ancestors"

  10. Harinder says:

    Sorry for a hasty post
    I actually meant Guru Granth Sahib our “Eternal GURU”
    I also meant “not his men” but “our own ancestors”

  11. Camille says:

    Harinder, you’re right, it’s in Dasam Granth (please see the post, above, for this citation). I didn’t write the shabad and don’t begin to pretend that I could speak for the 10th Guruji, but I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say the shabad is broader than the (literal) battlefield.

  12. Camille says:

    Harinder, you're right, it's in Dasam Granth (please see the post, above, for this citation). I didn't write the shabad and don't begin to pretend that I could speak for the 10th Guruji, but I don't think it's going out on a limb to say the shabad is broader than the (literal) battlefield.

  13. Kaptaan says:

    the only one here ducking the issue is YOU, Camille. You call me a bigot, without ANY justification. I specifically, addressed your own words in YOUR post in my comments.

    You have no response and can't answer the simplest of questions about Islam on a day when the Islamic council in Pakistan just ruled that gender equality is AGAINST Islamic principles (you'll probably say that they don't know anything about Islam and are 'bigots' as well for saying that about their own religion. LOL)…

  14. Kaptaan says:

    the only one here ducking the issue is YOU, Camille. You call me a bigot, without ANY justification. I specifically, addressed your own words in YOUR post in my comments.

    You have no response and can’t answer the simplest of questions about Islam on a day when the Islamic council in Pakistan just ruled that gender equality is AGAINST Islamic principles (you’ll probably say that they don’t know anything about Islam and are ‘bigots’ as well for saying that about their own religion. LOL)…