Musings on Sikh Education

A Pakistani friend of mine from Lahore passed on a video about a 70 year old man named Mushtaq Ahmed from a Punjabi village near Gujranwala, who just complete his MPhil and will be starting his PhD soon in Education.

With five daughters and three sons, Mushtaq Ahmed completes all his necessary farm work, including working in the field and managing and livestock, while carrying his books with him. His plans are ambitious: to go to the university and teach, because for him, ‘Being a Muslim, we should get education from cradle to grave.’

Here’s the clip:

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I couldn’t help think about how this applies to our community. My intention here is not to distinguish from people who are ‘parrd’ or ‘unparrd’ or the class implications this has in the Sikh community in Punjab and the Diaspora. (I’ve met many unparrd/’uneducated’ people who were far wiser than those who were parrd/‘educated’ in some of the most expensive universities in the Diaspora and in the watan. I don’t like those terms myself but just laying out what’s what.) From a Sikh point of view this type of distinction is quite counter productive and has nothing to do with living a life that is Guru-centered.

What I am referring to is the hard work that goes into knowing, our bani, our history, and the complex issues that are facing our world/our pind, much in the spirit of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha who did not have any formal schooling, but by the age of ten could quote freely from the Guru Granth Sahib, but studied independently with pandits, musicians, and Mawlanis to later write Mahan Ghosh; Bibi Harnam Kaur Ji who by age six mastered a number of Sikh volumes and studied under a local granthi to later to be a pioneer in women’s education, establishing the Sikh Kanya Maha Vidyala for Sikh women’s education and the Istri Satsang for women’s dharmic veechar; and Bhagat Puran Singh Ji who failed out of class ten but with his mother’s urging took his matriculation exam again to eventually spend much of his spare time around the libraries in Lahore and Amritsar. In his later years, many could find him sitting on the floor with journals, books, pamphlets, clippings, and crumbled balls of paper on topics as broad as the global arms race and the oil crises, while still reflecting on bani managing Pingalwara for serve those in need.

What role do you think education should play in the lives of Sikhs today?  What do we mean by ‘education’?  Where do we need to go?

Mostly, I’m just writing this as a reminder to myself that, shoot, if seventy year old Mushtaq Ahmed can do it as a farmer in Gujranwala, what is my excuse?

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8 Responses to “Musings on Sikh Education”

  1. ferozepur says:

    I have thought about this for a while. It seems like we're losing so much with the elder generation passing away…. i wonder how SIkhs are going to stay educated about who they are….

  2. kantay says:

    I think its kind of the difference between asli and nakli gian and the manner in which we are invited in gurubani to introspect about which is which.

    Also the language politics in the clip are interesting too, and kind of link with this topic of the nature of being an "educated person". Two of the guys in the video speak punjabi and the telecaster is speaking Urdu. This is kind of linked in with the overall topic; some people may say Urdu is the language you need to be educated….but Punjabi has links to classical Sanskirt and Persian and I think is older than Urdu. Nothing against Urdu I love it, but the whole…Punjabi is an uneducated language is one of the ways Punjabi is discouraged, probably because there was not room for a non-regional national language. The waylaying of Punjabi in the region overall is another casualty of Partition I would say. Hopefully Punjabi will stand the test of time, it is sad to think the keepers of the flame of Waris Shah might let the light go out.

  3. Blighty Singh says:

    "and I think is older than Urdu"
    ^ You only "think" this Kantay ? My friend, Urdu is one of the newest, youngest languages on earth. Punjabi, in comparison is one of the oldest……..a whopping 900 years older than Hindi in fact.
    I take my hat off to Mushtaq Ahmed…..but rather than concentrate on the differences between Sikhs / Muslims regarding education, I think the real difference is our cultural south Asian attitude towards being a mature student ….compared to western attitudes. When I was at university on my course, and every other course, at least 20% of the students were mature students….some senior citizens……..All of them white. I got the impression that us south Asians see life coming to an end at 50 or 60…..whereas caucasions see that age as just the beginning. …i,e its never too late to study. I really can't imagine a south Asian 50 year old having that attitude and being on campus. (granted things may be a little different here in Europe……given the fact that our university education is (was) virtually free compared to other parts of the world). Actually thats a good point…….when I went to university not that long ago, it was not only free but the government actually paid me to do so….by paying me beer money……and yet even though it was free and they paid you for doing so… Sikh or any other south asian mature student bothered to get any higher education. The reason for this ?……Sikhs don't believe anyone over 21 should be studying.

  4. Premi says:

    As far as gurbani goes, one of the best experiences I have had is to participate in small gurbani veechar type group meetings. We pick a shabad and then we meet regularly to come and discuss the meaning behind the shabad…. This is so important to us and think, that if it happened on a larger scale, and in an organized way wherever Sikhs are it would be helpful… Even if it could be organized on Skype.

    As far as the other topics go.. this is important too and I think it comes down to staying update don current events so Sikhs are involved in the world. Not just for our community… but listen to BBC.. read the paper… do it regularly so that we can talk about other peoples' issues too and build connections and bridges.. very important.

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