Is there such a thing as Sikh banking?

I had a long and interesting conversation with a friend of mine this weekend on different attitudes towards finance and charity between different world religions. We noted that both Judaism and Sikhi require a 10% charitable contribution, in addition to service, which has no upper or lower bound and serves a different purpose. This dovetailed with a conversation I had with a few friends, including one who is an Islamic banker in Dubai, about religious concepts of usury, interest, and charity.

For many low-income and poor communities, asset/wealth creation is a major hurdle, and access to financial/resource markets and services is non-existent. Although Sikhi has strong proscriptions against materialism, greed (moh), and attachment (maya), it also has a redistributive element. While simplicity is embraced, wealth is not necessarily wholly eschewed (if earned honestly and put to just uses).

If a financial institution were opened upon Sikh principles, what would it look like, to you? What kind of services would it offer, or how would it help address the structural exclusion of the poor? For example, I could imagine very low interest or no interest loans, but perhaps other infusions? In other time periods, Sikhs built free clinics and community schools. Khalsa College, on an endowment from one of its funders, still offers free college tuition to local residents (regardless of religion). What are the kinds of “assets,” beyond simply wealth, that could contribute to Sikh principles of economic justice? Do you feel such principles (i.e., economic justice) exist in Sikhi?


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30 Responses to “Is there such a thing as Sikh banking?”

  1. P.Singh says:

    A few quick points.

    1. I believe the predominance of Jews in banking stems from slightly different historical forces than put forward by sizzle. Christians were not allowed to charge interest, but lending was a necessary part of commerce, and kings needed to make money; jews took on the job. While the history of christians persecuting jews is quite sordid, it is worth mentioning, jews were quite often protected by nobility – and part of that protection was no doubt offered by nobility to protect their own economic interests.

    2. Islamic banking is a bit of a sham. Banks that offer Islamic banking still charge interest, they just characterize it as administrative "fees" etc.

  2. sizzle says:

    outside of charitable organizations (perhaps based on faith), i'd imagine widespread no-interest loans would never really take off – there is no incentive to make it happen. moreover, there is an important difference between Sikhi and Judaism/Islam that has bearing on the chartable donations and rejection of interest and usary.

    as you've pointed out, Sikhs have opened free clinics, offered scholarships, offer langar irrespective of faith/race/gender, etc – equality of all. as we know, the abrahamic faiths are not so blind to such things. their very history of banking reflects this. while they were prohibited from earning interest from loans to fellow jews or muslims, they were not prohibited from making interest from loaning to gentiles. this sexplains why jews are so predominant in the banking industry – unlike muslims and christians who existed in communities where they constituted the majority, jews existed where they were always a tiny minority, around a large market to whom they could loan without violating any terms of their faith. my understanding is that muslims are to follow very similar principles. i'm not sure how this operates today, but i know many muslims at least claim to not be reliant on loans (paying interest) or earning interest on any accounts.

    knowing how exclusive/exclusionary both the jewish and muslim communities can be, i think that the history is somewhat relevant when we imagine a sikh banking industry. i can't help but wonder if charity within those communities was subsidized through interest from other communities. of course, such divisions or exclusivity is prohibited within sikhi.

    so, as i said above, without some secular incentive (profit), or charitable source of operational income, can there be any such thing as Sikh banking the same way we think of jewish or muslim banking? i'd venture to say no. if anything, Sikhs can raise the capital and found loaning institution in the spirit of Sikhi, as a form of seva.

    or we could all just loan money through this – http://www.kiva.org .

  3. sizzle says:

    i just explored kiva's website, and interstingly, there are no loan recipients in India. why? i wonder if it is not permitted. or, perhaps there are no "field partners" there, though i find that hard to imagine. might be a good avenue by which to get involved.

    learn more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiva_%28organization

  4. Camille says:

    Sizzle, you make a lot of really interesting points, especially around the unique concept of "insider/outsider" faith-status among Judaism and Islam. I'm going to "think" aloud; please bear with me — in Sikhi, there is clearly a caution against usury (although not against interest; I know the devil is in the details and that person's interest could be another's usury depending on the context). I wonder to what extent, if any, Sikhi has a stronger emphasis on wealth redistribution through combined seva + daswand. Service is also required in Judaism, but I'm not sure if this is confined to within the faith community or if it is expected to take on specific contours.

    I wonder if there are strong, religiously-defined financial principles that would make "Sikh banking" unique or different from other forms of what we see as traditional banking. Would the structure itself be different, like a merry-go-round or credit union model? And, while Sikhi requires everyone be given equal treatment, it is unclear to me if there is actually a prescription that Sikhs should work to ameliorate class inequality. I wonder to what extent wealth is effectively redistributed when we think of seva and daswand in the predominant service-based (as opposed to structural/institutional) models.

  5. sizzle says:

    outside of charitable organizations (perhaps based on faith), i’d imagine widespread no-interest loans would never really take off – there is no incentive to make it happen. moreover, there is an important difference between Sikhi and Judaism/Islam that has bearing on the chartable donations and rejection of interest and usary.

    as you’ve pointed out, Sikhs have opened free clinics, offered scholarships, offer langar irrespective of faith/race/gender, etc – equality of all. as we know, the abrahamic faiths are not so blind to such things. their very history of banking reflects this. while they were prohibited from earning interest from loans to fellow jews or muslims, they were not prohibited from making interest from loaning to gentiles. this sexplains why jews are so predominant in the banking industry – unlike muslims and christians who existed in communities where they constituted the majority, jews existed where they were always a tiny minority, around a large market to whom they could loan without violating any terms of their faith. my understanding is that muslims are to follow very similar principles. i’m not sure how this operates today, but i know many muslims at least claim to not be reliant on loans (paying interest) or earning interest on any accounts.

    knowing how exclusive/exclusionary both the jewish and muslim communities can be, i think that the history is somewhat relevant when we imagine a sikh banking industry. i can’t help but wonder if charity within those communities was subsidized through interest from other communities. of course, such divisions or exclusivity is prohibited within sikhi.

    so, as i said above, without some secular incentive (profit), or charitable source of operational income, can there be any such thing as Sikh banking the same way we think of jewish or muslim banking? i’d venture to say no. if anything, Sikhs can raise the capital and found loaning institution in the spirit of Sikhi, as a form of seva.

    or we could all just loan money through this – http://www.kiva.org .

  6. sizzle says:

    i just explored kiva’s website, and interstingly, there are no loan recipients in India. why? i wonder if it is not permitted. or, perhaps there are no “field partners” there, though i find that hard to imagine. might be a good avenue by which to get involved.

    learn more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiva_%28organization%29

  7. Camille says:

    Sizzle, you make a lot of really interesting points, especially around the unique concept of “insider/outsider” faith-status among Judaism and Islam. I’m going to “think” aloud; please bear with me — in Sikhi, there is clearly a caution against usury (although not against interest; I know the devil is in the details and that person’s interest could be another’s usury depending on the context). I wonder to what extent, if any, Sikhi has a stronger emphasis on wealth redistribution through combined seva + daswand. Service is also required in Judaism, but I’m not sure if this is confined to within the faith community or if it is expected to take on specific contours.

    I wonder if there are strong, religiously-defined financial principles that would make “Sikh banking” unique or different from other forms of what we see as traditional banking. Would the structure itself be different, like a merry-go-round or credit union model? And, while Sikhi requires everyone be given equal treatment, it is unclear to me if there is actually a prescription that Sikhs should work to ameliorate class inequality. I wonder to what extent wealth is effectively redistributed when we think of seva and daswand in the predominant service-based (as opposed to structural/institutional) models.

  8. sizzle says:

    camille – i don't know enough about how sikhi addresses banking to know if there's a model build within. as for ameliorating class inequity, everything within sikhi has been remarkably pragmatic and voluntary. thus, i'd be hesitant to say that sikhi in any way would actively encourage wealth redistribution per se – only advocate seva and the worthwhileness of helping those in need through charity rather than an established system.

    p.singh – i'm not sure how the history you've proffered is really different than what i was saying, especially since the consequence is identical. basically – christains (members of an abrahamic faith) weren't to lend to one another, and jews, being a minority who didn't belong to the same faith, felt no qualms and filled the void. but, thanks for the additional background. as for islamic banking…you said what i was a little more hesitant to say, hence my "claim to not be reliant on loans…" i'm not sure how any modern economy can exist without any sort of loaning structure, and a loaning structure cannot exist without incentive for the loaner and the recipient.

  9. P.Singh says:

    A few quick points.

    1. I believe the predominance of Jews in banking stems from slightly different historical forces than put forward by sizzle. Christians were not allowed to charge interest, but lending was a necessary part of commerce, and kings needed to make money; jews took on the job. While the history of christians persecuting jews is quite sordid, it is worth mentioning, jews were quite often protected by nobility – and part of that protection was no doubt offered by nobility to protect their own economic interests.

    2. Islamic banking is a bit of a sham. Banks that offer Islamic banking still charge interest, they just characterize it as administrative “fees” etc.

  10. sizzle says:

    camille – i don’t know enough about how sikhi addresses banking to know if there’s a model build within. as for ameliorating class inequity, everything within sikhi has been remarkably pragmatic and voluntary. thus, i’d be hesitant to say that sikhi in any way would actively encourage wealth redistribution per se – only advocate seva and the worthwhileness of helping those in need through charity rather than an established system.

    p.singh – i’m not sure how the history you’ve proffered is really different than what i was saying, especially since the consequence is identical. basically – christains (members of an abrahamic faith) weren’t to lend to one another, and jews, being a minority who didn’t belong to the same faith, felt no qualms and filled the void. but, thanks for the additional background. as for islamic banking…you said what i was a little more hesitant to say, hence my “claim to not be reliant on loans…” i’m not sure how any modern economy can exist without any sort of loaning structure, and a loaning structure cannot exist without incentive for the loaner and the recipient.

  11. Singh says:

    Khalsa Credit Union?

  12. Singh says:

    Khalsa Credit Union?

  13. Mewa Singh says:

    Interesting topic Camille. In college I delved into 'Buddhist Economics' by scholars such as Payutto and longed for the day for Sikhs to form such an economic theory. I believe that value would be placed on work (as work – not 'labor' – in terms of 'kirt karna' plays such a central role), ecology (as expressed in the love of Vismaad throughout Gurbani), liberation, and justice.

    Sikh history is REPLETE with accounts of radical wealth redistribution. It truly was revolutionary. Here I will give a few HISTORICAL references to suggest such a case, while duly noting sizzle's mention of the 'volunteer' notion, although the combined effects of the revolution did not always look for individuals volunteering (all references are taken from Jagjit Singh's The Sikh Revolution:

    Guru Gobind Singh spoke that his mission was to eliminate tyranny and to establish the rule of justice. The first coin struck by the Sikhs within a yea of Guru Gobind Singh’s death, and those issued later, bear the inscription, "Guru Govind had received from Nanak’s Degh (cauldron to feed the poor), Tegh (Sword) and Fateh (victory)."

    It is fascinating to see that Nanak's 'degh' comes first before his 'tegh.'

    Nanak goes to poor Lalo’s house and spurns the invitation of the rich landlord Malik Bhago.

    There can be fewer clearer preferences for Sikhs than this. Although whether this is really true for today is a reflection on how far we have deviated from this message.

    From the Rehatnamas, we find many references about the poor, such as:

    Rehatnamas state “They who shirk the poor is an absolute defaulter”

    “Serve a Sikh and a pauper” SR,123

    If some among a group of Sikhs sleep on cots and the poor Sikhs sleep on the floor and are not shown due courtesy, the former Sikhs are at fault.

    Another fascinating tidbit from the Rehatnama literature comes from Chaupa Singh. Chaupa Singh was a Brahman that became a Sikh. Many of his Rehatnamas have a Brahmanical-tinge, yet despite his individual biases he still penned down:

    The Sikh should have marriage alliance only with a Sikh, "preferably have alliance with a poor Sikh. Such a step brings them nearer to the Guru."

    Guru Hargobind, when starting a war against the Mughal forces of Shah Jahan, after capturing an imperial hawk stated:

    I will not give the hawk to them

    I will get the crown and hawk from them

    I will wrest from them the sovereignty of the country

    I will bestow this all on the poor and the helpless, 129

    Even Ratan Singh Bhangoo, one of the greatest Sikh historians wrote in his introduction to his Prachin Panth Prakash

    Ratan Singh Bhangoo in his introduction to his history of the Sikh Panth writes that rulers are like tigers and hawks, the subjects like goats and sparrows. He writes that he is going to tell the story of how goats killed tigers and sparrows killed hawks

    Later he writes

    Sovereignty cannot be had without armed struggle

    The Guru initiated the armed struggle

    The Guru gave sovereignty to the poor and

    The lowest castes who know nothing of politics

    The world calls them rustic Jats, Bawas, Kirars, Khatris,

    Iron-smiths, tanners, carpenters, and the low castes

    We call them Sardars

    For RADICAL wealth distribution, look no farther than the RADICAL LAND REDISTRIBUTION that occurred during the time of Banda Singh Bahadur. That the Jatts of Punjab are zimmidars 'small landholders' today opposed to other regions of South Asia that still suffer from large absentee landholding 'zamindars' is due to the revolution of Banda Singh Bahadur and his destruction of Mughal land rights in Punjab.

    Hopefully this adds to the discussion.

  14. Mewa Singh says:

    Interesting topic Camille. In college I delved into ‘Buddhist Economics’ by scholars such as Payutto and longed for the day for Sikhs to form such an economic theory. I believe that value would be placed on work (as work – not ‘labor’ – in terms of ‘kirt karna’ plays such a central role), ecology (as expressed in the love of Vismaad throughout Gurbani), liberation, and justice.

    Sikh history is REPLETE with accounts of radical wealth redistribution. It truly was revolutionary. Here I will give a few HISTORICAL references to suggest such a case, while duly noting sizzle’s mention of the ‘volunteer’ notion, although the combined effects of the revolution did not always look for individuals volunteering (all references are taken from Jagjit Singh’s The Sikh Revolution:

    Guru Gobind Singh spoke that his mission was to eliminate tyranny and to establish the rule of justice. The first coin struck by the Sikhs within a yea of Guru Gobind Singhs death, and those issued later, bear the inscription, “Guru Govind had received from Nanaks Degh (cauldron to feed the poor), Tegh (Sword) and Fateh (victory).”

    It is fascinating to see that Nanak’s ‘degh’ comes first before his ‘tegh.’

    Nanak goes to poor Lalos house and spurns the invitation of the rich landlord Malik Bhago.

    There can be fewer clearer preferences for Sikhs than this. Although whether this is really true for today is a reflection on how far we have deviated from this message.

    From the Rehatnamas, we find many references about the poor, such as:

    Rehatnamas state They who shirk the poor is an absolute defaulter
    Serve a Sikh and a pauper SR,123
    If some among a group of Sikhs sleep on cots and the poor Sikhs sleep on the floor and are not shown due courtesy, the former Sikhs are at fault.

    Another fascinating tidbit from the Rehatnama literature comes from Chaupa Singh. Chaupa Singh was a Brahman that became a Sikh. Many of his Rehatnamas have a Brahmanical-tinge, yet despite his individual biases he still penned down:

    The Sikh should have marriage alliance only with a Sikh, “preferably have alliance with a poor Sikh. Such a step brings them nearer to the Guru.”

    Guru Hargobind, when starting a war against the Mughal forces of Shah Jahan, after capturing an imperial hawk stated:

    I will not give the hawk to them
    I will get the crown and hawk from them
    I will wrest from them the sovereignty of the country
    I will bestow this all on the poor and the helpless, 129

    Even Ratan Singh Bhangoo, one of the greatest Sikh historians wrote in his introduction to his Prachin Panth Prakash

    Ratan Singh Bhangoo in his introduction to his history of the Sikh Panth writes that rulers are like tigers and hawks, the subjects like goats and sparrows. He writes that he is going to tell the story of how goats killed tigers and sparrows killed hawks
    Later he writes
    Sovereignty cannot be had without armed struggle
    The Guru initiated the armed struggle
    The Guru gave sovereignty to the poor and
    The lowest castes who know nothing of politics
    The world calls them rustic Jats, Bawas, Kirars, Khatris,
    Iron-smiths, tanners, carpenters, and the low castes
    We call them Sardars

    For RADICAL wealth distribution, look no farther than the RADICAL LAND REDISTRIBUTION that occurred during the time of Banda Singh Bahadur. That the Jatts of Punjab are zimmidars ‘small landholders’ today opposed to other regions of South Asia that still suffer from large absentee landholding ‘zamindars’ is due to the revolution of Banda Singh Bahadur and his destruction of Mughal land rights in Punjab.

    Hopefully this adds to the discussion.

  15. sizzle says:

    Singh – i'd never heard of the khalsa credit union. very interesting and cool. just wondering, who are the primary members? do they tend to be recent immigrants? those who don't qualify for other banks? illegal immgrants? why choose them over a regular bank? are the rates better – as in line with the prior discussion, is there some benevolent purpose for the bank?

    Mewa Singh – I am not familiar with buddhist economics, but will look it up soon. sounds interesting, and i am most interested in how it might relate to micro/macro economics.

    in regards to wealth distribution, we may differ in how we interpret the historical anecdotes you offer. even when revolutionary land redistribution post-Mughal era occurred, did it occur on the basis of Sikh philosophy teaching per se? it very well could have – there may have been an underlying spirit of equality in how to distribute with new land that had previously been held by foreign forces. but, had the land not become available in such a manner, would the more typical notion of redistribution – seizing and redistributing resources (a la animal farm, par example) be condoned by sikhi?

    similarly, with your other examples, i think there are motives or lessons other than "wealth distribution" or revolutionary notion.

    1) malik bhago was shunned and ignored by the guru because he was a boastful and not at all virtuous man. if i remember correctly, the point of that story was to demonstrate that a man is far more than his wealth – he is his character.

    2) the notion of "degh" doesn't necessarily denote re-distribution anymore than a voluntary nature of charity. your point about the order and priority of degh-tegh is well taken.

    3)your other anecdotes, again, seem to stress a sense of awareness and charity among those who have. i'm not sure that they necessarily extend to a sense of wealth redistribution.

    it is difficult, after all, to separate the idea of redistribution from a religious standpoint and redistribution from a political standpoint. and that is where the very introspective heavy nature of sikhi must be noted. there are elements of politics contained within sikhi, but from as far as i have learned and know, they are not fleshed out enough to create concrete political discourse.

    but to quickly challenge the idea that sikhi necessarily dictates redistribution – a brief hypothetical. if i am wealthy and strongly libertarian, i may give liberally to charities to help those in need. if i am wealthy, a miserable miser, live in a sikh regime and am taxed heavily, then i resent such taxes and am not necessarily swayed by the "goodness" of such taxation in the name of sikhi. if i am needy in a free, capitalist regime with some gov't safety nets, there still exists strong incentive to be completely independent and live up to sikh ideals. if i am needy in a socialist or sikh regime, there are fewer incentives to create wealth/benefit to society and live up to sikh ideals.

    i am desperately trying to avoid classic capitalism v. socialism arguments, but as i look to what i wrote, it is impossible. and that is the very problem. such political/economic issues are so macro in nature and do little to deal with personal sentiments – only economic success or society "happiness." i don't know where a personal religion plays a role there since the very definitions of justice, social justice, equality, the notions of "happiness," etc. are so highly debatable and not clearly defined in any gurbani.

  16. sizzle says:

    Singh – i’d never heard of the khalsa credit union. very interesting and cool. just wondering, who are the primary members? do they tend to be recent immigrants? those who don’t qualify for other banks? illegal immgrants? why choose them over a regular bank? are the rates better – as in line with the prior discussion, is there some benevolent purpose for the bank?

    Mewa Singh – I am not familiar with buddhist economics, but will look it up soon. sounds interesting, and i am most interested in how it might relate to micro/macro economics.

    in regards to wealth distribution, we may differ in how we interpret the historical anecdotes you offer. even when revolutionary land redistribution post-Mughal era occurred, did it occur on the basis of Sikh philosophy teaching per se? it very well could have – there may have been an underlying spirit of equality in how to distribute with new land that had previously been held by foreign forces. but, had the land not become available in such a manner, would the more typical notion of redistribution – seizing and redistributing resources (a la animal farm, par example) be condoned by sikhi?

    similarly, with your other examples, i think there are motives or lessons other than “wealth distribution” or revolutionary notion.
    1) malik bhago was shunned and ignored by the guru because he was a boastful and not at all virtuous man. if i remember correctly, the point of that story was to demonstrate that a man is far more than his wealth – he is his character.
    2) the notion of “degh” doesn’t necessarily denote re-distribution anymore than a voluntary nature of charity. your point about the order and priority of degh-tegh is well taken.
    3)your other anecdotes, again, seem to stress a sense of awareness and charity among those who have. i’m not sure that they necessarily extend to a sense of wealth redistribution.

    it is difficult, after all, to separate the idea of redistribution from a religious standpoint and redistribution from a political standpoint. and that is where the very introspective heavy nature of sikhi must be noted. there are elements of politics contained within sikhi, but from as far as i have learned and know, they are not fleshed out enough to create concrete political discourse.

    but to quickly challenge the idea that sikhi necessarily dictates redistribution – a brief hypothetical. if i am wealthy and strongly libertarian, i may give liberally to charities to help those in need. if i am wealthy, a miserable miser, live in a sikh regime and am taxed heavily, then i resent such taxes and am not necessarily swayed by the “goodness” of such taxation in the name of sikhi. if i am needy in a free, capitalist regime with some gov’t safety nets, there still exists strong incentive to be completely independent and live up to sikh ideals. if i am needy in a socialist or sikh regime, there are fewer incentives to create wealth/benefit to society and live up to sikh ideals.

    i am desperately trying to avoid classic capitalism v. socialism arguments, but as i look to what i wrote, it is impossible. and that is the very problem. such political/economic issues are so macro in nature and do little to deal with personal sentiments – only economic success or society “happiness.” i don’t know where a personal religion plays a role there since the very definitions of justice, social justice, equality, the notions of “happiness,” etc. are so highly debatable and not clearly defined in any gurbani.

  17. Camille says:

    So I think there are a few interesting themes here. On one hand there is a practical question: "what are the characteristics of Sikh finance?" Another question falls along lines of governance/logistics: "how should such a system be practiced, and what does it require of people within its governance?"

    In terms of characteristics of Sikh finance, I personally interpret daswand to be a redistribution imperative. This is of course an interpretation laden with my own personal politics and understanding of Sikhi, which is by no means a catholic interpretation. As I discussed, Sikhi does not eschew wealth, but it holds strong cautions against attachment to wealth, greed, and wealth gain by dishonest means. I would argue that kirit karo implies that earnings/wealth ought to be accumulated through work; i.e., not through gambling, high interest, etc. That said, I don't have a firm sense, for myself, of how this would work in the context of today's capitalist system. (for example, are capital gains on stock investments ill-begotten wealth? appreciation on real estate? the capitalist in me would argue that no, depending on who you are investing with and in, this need not be the case)

    In terms of finance under a Sikh regime, I don't think that "mandatory compliance" with specific principles of giving would be appropriate, including for non-Sikhs living under such a framework. Basically I don't think a centralized actor can or should compel people to charitable and service-based action. What would be interesting would be privately held, socially-oriented finance instruments. For example, a community development fund or endowment. In some ways, community development has historically been channeled through gurdwaras, but in communities where a physical gurdwara is not a realistic possibility, or where people do not want their money "over-absorbed" into the gurdwara's budget, this may not be the ideal set up.

    I think back on fundraising events and how much grandstanding is involved with public charitable donations (I've seen this both in Sikh sangats and in Kenya, where folks coordinate harambees). There's definitely a shaming element at play (i.e., in small communities people tend to know who holds wealth and is holding out), but there's a kind of sick laudatory element that disproportionately favors wealthy redistributive efforts from the wealthy (even if it is a smaller %) than redistributive efforts from the poor. We see these trends int he U.S., also, where people target people with a lot of money despite empirical data that shows that the poor — defined as the bottom two fifth of income earners — are more likely to give, including to religious institutions, as a % of their income than the top fifth (and the middle two fifths).

    Some argue that daswand should be funneled into other, non-gurdwara, organizations such as nonprofits. I think this is definitely a good option, but I wonder if there are more creative non-institution based ways to redistribute charitable donations. If they were more productive or more proactive, perhaps they would serve the underlying economic justice concern in a more structural way. Unfortunately I am limited by my lack of imagination — it's hard for me to conceptualize a model that would do this that doesn't duplicate what is already in existence (e.g., Grameen, Kiva).

    As an aside re: Jewish bankers, I think there were also limited career options or sectors of employment given the heavy discrimination in many countries.

  18. P.Singh says:

    p.singh – i’m not sure how the history you’ve proffered is really different than what i was saying, especially since the consequence is identical.

    Sizzle, the conclusion is the same, and perhaps we're not saying anything different; however, I wanted to stress Jews initially fell into banking because there existed a need for bankers in Christendom and not because Jews saw an opportunity they could exploit.

    Too often, Jews are characterized as being greedy, conniving and exploitative in how they took advantage of the Christian prohibition against charging interest, when, in fact, Christendom needed someone to provide these commercial services and the nobility at least were happy to have the Jews fill that role.

  19. Camille says:

    So I think there are a few interesting themes here. On one hand there is a practical question: “what are the characteristics of Sikh finance?” Another question falls along lines of governance/logistics: “how should such a system be practiced, and what does it require of people within its governance?”

    In terms of characteristics of Sikh finance, I personally interpret daswand to be a redistribution imperative. This is of course an interpretation laden with my own personal politics and understanding of Sikhi, which is by no means a catholic interpretation. As I discussed, Sikhi does not eschew wealth, but it holds strong cautions against attachment to wealth, greed, and wealth gain by dishonest means. I would argue that kirit karo implies that earnings/wealth ought to be accumulated through work; i.e., not through gambling, high interest, etc. That said, I don’t have a firm sense, for myself, of how this would work in the context of today’s capitalist system. (for example, are capital gains on stock investments ill-begotten wealth? appreciation on real estate? the capitalist in me would argue that no, depending on who you are investing with and in, this need not be the case)

    In terms of finance under a Sikh regime, I don’t think that “mandatory compliance” with specific principles of giving would be appropriate, including for non-Sikhs living under such a framework. Basically I don’t think a centralized actor can or should compel people to charitable and service-based action. What would be interesting would be privately held, socially-oriented finance instruments. For example, a community development fund or endowment. In some ways, community development has historically been channeled through gurdwaras, but in communities where a physical gurdwara is not a realistic possibility, or where people do not want their money “over-absorbed” into the gurdwara’s budget, this may not be the ideal set up.

    I think back on fundraising events and how much grandstanding is involved with public charitable donations (I’ve seen this both in Sikh sangats and in Kenya, where folks coordinate harambees). There’s definitely a shaming element at play (i.e., in small communities people tend to know who holds wealth and is holding out), but there’s a kind of sick laudatory element that disproportionately favors wealthy redistributive efforts from the wealthy (even if it is a smaller %) than redistributive efforts from the poor. We see these trends int he U.S., also, where people target people with a lot of money despite empirical data that shows that the poor — defined as the bottom two fifth of income earners — are more likely to give, including to religious institutions, as a % of their income than the top fifth (and the middle two fifths).

    Some argue that daswand should be funneled into other, non-gurdwara, organizations such as nonprofits. I think this is definitely a good option, but I wonder if there are more creative non-institution based ways to redistribute charitable donations. If they were more productive or more proactive, perhaps they would serve the underlying economic justice concern in a more structural way. Unfortunately I am limited by my lack of imagination — it’s hard for me to conceptualize a model that would do this that doesn’t duplicate what is already in existence (e.g., Grameen, Kiva).

    As an aside re: Jewish bankers, I think there were also limited career options or sectors of employment given the heavy discrimination in many countries.

  20. P.Singh says:

    p.singh – im not sure how the history youve proffered is really different than what i was saying, especially since the consequence is identical.

    Sizzle, the conclusion is the same, and perhaps we’re not saying anything different; however, I wanted to stress Jews initially fell into banking because there existed a need for bankers in Christendom and not because Jews saw an opportunity they could exploit.

    Too often, Jews are characterized as being greedy, conniving and exploitative in how they took advantage of the Christian prohibition against charging interest, when, in fact, Christendom needed someone to provide these commercial services and the nobility at least were happy to have the Jews fill that role.

  21. K Singh says:

    Sorry if this is too straightforward – sikhs don't need to create separate forums of banking or other such economic forums. what's wrong with general banking? If the answer is nothing then there is no need for any separate sikh banking. even the fact that we are discussing this is absurd to me.

    Muslims apparently have a problem with general systems and hence create separate systems for themselves – be it economics or politics. e.g. banking, democracy. We sikhs do not see any problems and in fact embrace society at large. Stop this nonsense of sikh banking. Charity of 10% or whatever does not need separate banking. Bill gates also gives to charity big time. He doesn't need separate banking system. Period.

  22. K Singh says:

    Sorry if this is too straightforward – sikhs don’t need to create separate forums of banking or other such economic forums. what’s wrong with general banking? If the answer is nothing then there is no need for any separate sikh banking. even the fact that we are discussing this is absurd to me.

    Muslims apparently have a problem with general systems and hence create separate systems for themselves – be it economics or politics. e.g. banking, democracy. We sikhs do not see any problems and in fact embrace society at large. Stop this nonsense of sikh banking. Charity of 10% or whatever does not need separate banking. Bill gates also gives to charity big time. He doesn’t need separate banking system. Period.

  23. Mewa Singh says:

    K Singh,

    Your response seems rather absurd. I do not see any contradiction for Sikhs to explore their Guru, itihaas, and knowledge systems to come up with fresh ideas. The 'existing banking system' is hardly stagnant and is always looking for new thoughts and inspirations. Hopefully Sikhs can add to this discussion with innovative ideas that come out of their readings of their Guru.

  24. Mewa Singh says:

    K Singh,

    Your response seems rather absurd. I do not see any contradiction for Sikhs to explore their Guru, itihaas, and knowledge systems to come up with fresh ideas. The ‘existing banking system’ is hardly stagnant and is always looking for new thoughts and inspirations. Hopefully Sikhs can add to this discussion with innovative ideas that come out of their readings of their Guru.

  25. […] A new generation of Sikh youth is coming up to age in a diaspora still unable to decently reflect or respond to the tragedies that have befallen the Panth. Although, cognizant of the injustices done to Sikhs, we have categorically failed at identifying a half-way legitimate vision for our institutions.The following is a humble attempt at one such institution, hinted at by an older post. […]

  26. R B SINGH says:

    Any sikh and /or punjabi investor from any part of the world interested in opening commercial Bank in Kenya in East Africa,where there is large sikh and punjabi population with attractive returns on the capital employed,may contact me ,as we dont have a Bank owned by punjabi or sikh community members
    Thanks
    Raminder

  27. R B SINGH says:

    Any sikh and /or punjabi investor from any part of the world interested in opening commercial Bank in Kenya in East Africa,where there is large sikh and punjabi population with attractive returns on the capital employed,may contact me ,as we dont have a Bank owned by punjabi or sikh community members
    Thanks
    Raminder