The Seat of the Timeless One

Many of you, like me, may have been following the recent debates in the UK over the establishment of religious courts. Today, the Archbishop of Canterbury has caused a furor with his comment that it “seems unavoidable” that parts of Islamic Sharia law will be adopted in the UK. In an interview with BBC’s Radio 4, Dr. Rowan Williams says that the UK has to “face up to the fact” that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.

Dr. Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion. For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court. He says Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty.”

He suggests that having only one approach to law compels the loyalties and allegiance individuals hold for their cultural or religious codes of conduct and therefore poses “a… danger.” He supports aspects of Muslim law being accommodated into the legal system as have other aspects of religious law. (Currently, the Beth Din, Orthodox Jewish courts already exist in the UK).

“The principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a western democracy,” he said. “But I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose that people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that…What we don’t want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people’s religious consciences. We don’t either want a situation where, because there’s no way of legally monitoring what communities do… people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes another way of intensifying oppression inside a community.”

akaltakht2.jpgAre these alternative legal systems inevitable and simply a consequence of multiculturalism or should there only be one law for all? If and how does the establishment of the Akal Takht and the formulation of the Rehat Maryada play a similar role for Sikhs?

Guru Hargobind issued a unique commandment that the Akal Takht must for all times be obeyed by all Sikhs in temporal and religious matters. [Link] In addition, the Sikh Rehat Maryarda is the official Sikh Code of Conduct. The Maryada serves not only as a valuable guide but as the actual law regarding Sikh conduct. [Link]


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18 Responses to “The Seat of the Timeless One”

  1. Phulkari says:

    Really interesting post in terms of how religious "law" can be used in multicultural setting aside from or in-conjunction with state-based Western laws. This may just be my limited understanding of the Rehat Maryarda, but I would not view it as a form of "law" (in the traditional sense), but as an official Sikh Code of Conduct (as cited in this post). Unlike the Islamic Sharia law, I don't think the Sikh Code of Conduct includes physical and immediate consequences and/or "punishments" for certain actions. Instead, I think of the Rehat Maryarda including what we should do, but not what will be the consequences (aside from spiritual distancing from Waheguru Ji and so forth). Since I do not have a law background, I asked a soon-to-be-lawyer friend (who identifies as a Sikh) if a Code of Conduct could be considered "law". Fundamentally, I wanted to know what makes the law, "law". The response was that the "law" gets its power from consequences (the types/forms of consequences vary from community to community [religious, cultural, etc.). I began to wonder what was the meaning of "law" for our Gurujis when they began creating Sikh social, political, and religious institutions that would help Sikh cities function in a “just” fashion? What form of "law" did they use (how was law interpreted by them)? What form of justice did they have? How was any form of "rule-and-order" maintained? What do others think?

  2. Phulkari says:

    Really interesting post in terms of how religious “law” can be used in multicultural setting aside from or in-conjunction with state-based Western laws. This may just be my limited understanding of the Rehat Maryarda, but I would not view it as a form of “law” (in the traditional sense), but as an official Sikh Code of Conduct (as cited in this post). Unlike the Islamic Sharia law, I don’t think the Sikh Code of Conduct includes physical and immediate consequences and/or “punishments” for certain actions. Instead, I think of the Rehat Maryarda including what we should do, but not what will be the consequences (aside from spiritual distancing from Waheguru Ji and so forth). Since I do not have a law background, I asked a soon-to-be-lawyer friend (who identifies as a Sikh) if a Code of Conduct could be considered “law”. Fundamentally, I wanted to know what makes the law, “law”. The response was that the “law” gets its power from consequences (the types/forms of consequences vary from community to community [religious, cultural, etc.). I began to wonder what was the meaning of “law” for our Gurujis when they began creating Sikh social, political, and religious institutions that would help Sikh cities function in a just fashion? What form of “law” did they use (how was law interpreted by them)? What form of justice did they have? How was any form of “rule-and-order” maintained? What do others think?

  3. idiot says:

    I find this whole thing really difficult.

    Firstly, From the avtar of Guru Nanak Dev ji, Until the gurgaddi of Guru Granth Sahib ji, Sikhi evolved from a deconstructive – universal philosophy to a constructive set of guidlines. It evolved in response to the needs of the times.

    I'm still grappling with the relationship between guru Granth Sahib ji and the rehat maryada. Is the rehat maryada referenced anywhere in Guru granth sahib ji (let's put history to one side for a moment). And please I'm not playing devil's advocate here – I'm genuiniely interested but I have a very short attention span so please don't link me to some complicated website. If someone could kindly break it down to idiot mode for me – I would be grateful.

    as an aside as a 'British Sikh' – I think British Law should prevail. haha… bring on the belnas lol I'm waiting – but seriously. I'm in great reverence of our Guru sahibaan who sought to unite people – not to secularise. Guru nanak dev ji said I'm neither hindu nor muslim (he didn't say I'm a Sikh) Guru Teg bahadur ji gave his head for the Hind Quam.

    Secular laws mean a secular society with even more turbulence. I really think a universal law applicable to the land is suitable. Please feel free to disagree – I seek to learn

  4. idiot says:

    I find this whole thing really difficult.

    Firstly, From the avtar of Guru Nanak Dev ji, Until the gurgaddi of Guru Granth Sahib ji, Sikhi evolved from a deconstructive – universal philosophy to a constructive set of guidlines. It evolved in response to the needs of the times.

    I’m still grappling with the relationship between guru Granth Sahib ji and the rehat maryada. Is the rehat maryada referenced anywhere in Guru granth sahib ji (let’s put history to one side for a moment). And please I’m not playing devil’s advocate here – I’m genuiniely interested but I have a very short attention span so please don’t link me to some complicated website. If someone could kindly break it down to idiot mode for me – I would be grateful.

    as an aside as a ‘British Sikh’ – I think British Law should prevail. haha… bring on the belnas lol I’m waiting – but seriously. I’m in great reverence of our Guru sahibaan who sought to unite people – not to secularise. Guru nanak dev ji said I’m neither hindu nor muslim (he didn’t say I’m a Sikh) Guru Teg bahadur ji gave his head for the Hind Quam.

    Secular laws mean a secular society with even more turbulence. I really think a universal law applicable to the land is suitable. Please feel free to disagree – I seek to learn

  5. idiot says:

    sorry I didn't mean secular in the political sense which actually means separate from religion. I meant separate.

  6. idiot says:

    sorry I didn’t mean secular in the political sense which actually means separate from religion. I meant separate.

  7. Maestro says:

    Really, really interesting topic. I think for Sikhs, the Rehat Maryada is a means of keeping us accountable and although it isn't a "law" in the terms mentioned above, I think it can be seen in parallel. For Muslims, Sharia Law keeps them accountable to their actions and for Sikhs, the Rehat Maryada keeps us accountable. The Akal Takht surely plays a political role in the lives of Sikhs – for example, they issue edicts against individuals or groups of individuals who act against Sikhi principles. So i can see the important role it plays for our community. But, again, neither are laws of the land.

    Personally, I don't think religious law plays a role in the secular legal systems.

    Idiot, I understand you grappling with the fact that the Rehat Maryada was essentially formualted by individuals and not by the Gurus, but can we agree that it plays an integral role in establishing some accountability in the Sikh community?

  8. Maestro says:

    Really, really interesting topic. I think for Sikhs, the Rehat Maryada is a means of keeping us accountable and although it isn’t a “law” in the terms mentioned above, I think it can be seen in parallel. For Muslims, Sharia Law keeps them accountable to their actions and for Sikhs, the Rehat Maryada keeps us accountable. The Akal Takht surely plays a political role in the lives of Sikhs – for example, they issue edicts against individuals or groups of individuals who act against Sikhi principles. So i can see the important role it plays for our community. But, again, neither are laws of the land.

    Personally, I don’t think religious law plays a role in the secular legal systems.

    Idiot, I understand you grappling with the fact that the Rehat Maryada was essentially formualted by individuals and not by the Gurus, but can we agree that it plays an integral role in establishing some accountability in the Sikh community?

  9. idiot says:

    "can we agree that it plays an integral role in establishing some accountability in the Sikh community?"

    Absolutely! However what annoys me is that often those who set up the rehat maryada as a 'LAW' often abuse the guidlines themselves!

    Personally i beleive the Rehat Maryada provides an excellent CODE of conduct. There I some things that I find difficult to practice wholly but that is my shortcoming and not one in the discipline. I have issues with people who set it up as a LAW / RULE because I don't understand it's direct relationship with our guru sahibaan.

    I understand that it's based on the teachings, lives and history of our Guru ji's but then there are loopholes in this practice. Perhaps not relevent to the rehat maryada now but for example no one ever talks about the fact that Bhai jetha ji married into his wife's family and became a 'live-in son-in-law'. It is never set as a precedent. Sikh 'culture' today ie Sikh way of life is still based on outdated Hindu traditions. Patriarchy, the caste system – though it's covert still exists!

    I really think the whole thing about rules has a lot to do with who's hands 'power' 'leadership' falls into – therefore I reserve the right to pick and choose rules made by men – because they reserve the rights as to which precedents they make apparent.

    My LEADER is my Guru. Guru Granth Sahib ji – though I accept that I still need to get to know him properly

  10. idiot says:

    “can we agree that it plays an integral role in establishing some accountability in the Sikh community?”

    Absolutely! However what annoys me is that often those who set up the rehat maryada as a ‘LAW’ often abuse the guidlines themselves!

    Personally i beleive the Rehat Maryada provides an excellent CODE of conduct. There I some things that I find difficult to practice wholly but that is my shortcoming and not one in the discipline. I have issues with people who set it up as a LAW / RULE because I don’t understand it’s direct relationship with our guru sahibaan.

    I understand that it’s based on the teachings, lives and history of our Guru ji’s but then there are loopholes in this practice. Perhaps not relevent to the rehat maryada now but for example no one ever talks about the fact that Bhai jetha ji married into his wife’s family and became a ‘live-in son-in-law’. It is never set as a precedent. Sikh ‘culture’ today ie Sikh way of life is still based on outdated Hindu traditions. Patriarchy, the caste system – though it’s covert still exists!

    I really think the whole thing about rules has a lot to do with who’s hands ‘power’ ‘leadership’ falls into – therefore I reserve the right to pick and choose rules made by men – because they reserve the rights as to which precedents they make apparent.

    My LEADER is my Guru. Guru Granth Sahib ji – though I accept that I still need to get to know him properly

  11. Maestro says:

    Idiot, your points are well taken. The Rehat Maryada becomes problematic when it has various interpretations (not necessarily a bad thing but becomes an issue when these interpretations are imposed on others). The issue arises when you have a "blind" leader leading a "blind" contingency.

  12. Maestro says:

    Idiot, your points are well taken. The Rehat Maryada becomes problematic when it has various interpretations (not necessarily a bad thing but becomes an issue when these interpretations are imposed on others). The issue arises when you have a “blind” leader leading a “blind” contingency.

  13. Sundari says:

    Phulkari, I would agree that the Rehat Maryada is not a "law" for the reasons you mentioned. I did however wonder what kind of "role" the Rehat Maryada plays for Sikhs… and Maestro touched upon it by saying it keeps us accountable. There are no punishments associated with not following the Rehat Maryada, and there is even the opinion (as idiot brought up) of questioning the Rehat Maryada. But i do think that when people in our community don't follow the Rehat Maryada – we judge them and question whether or not they are a "good" Sikh. This judgment in itself could be seen as a punishment and that's why i found this whole issue interesting…

  14. Sundari says:

    Phulkari, I would agree that the Rehat Maryada is not a “law” for the reasons you mentioned. I did however wonder what kind of “role” the Rehat Maryada plays for Sikhs… and Maestro touched upon it by saying it keeps us accountable. There are no punishments associated with not following the Rehat Maryada, and there is even the opinion (as idiot brought up) of questioning the Rehat Maryada. But i do think that when people in our community don’t follow the Rehat Maryada – we judge them and question whether or not they are a “good” Sikh. This judgment in itself could be seen as a punishment and that’s why i found this whole issue interesting…

  15. Jay says:

    Any attempt to conflate rehat maryada, which is a personal religious code regarding ritual and conduct, with the legalistic and oppressive Islamic sharia, is so far off the scale it is amazing.

    In Britain we live in a free democratic liberal society based on individual rights and freedom of speech and worship precisely because of our secular law which is applicable to everyone. If any religious law or code conflicts with that, secular law prevails. End of story.

  16. Jay says:

    Any attempt to conflate rehat maryada, which is a personal religious code regarding ritual and conduct, with the legalistic and oppressive Islamic sharia, is so far off the scale it is amazing.

    In Britain we live in a free democratic liberal society based on individual rights and freedom of speech and worship precisely because of our secular law which is applicable to everyone. If any religious law or code conflicts with that, secular law prevails. End of story.

  17. kprincess says:

    I thought the law was that all Sikhs are supposed to follow Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji? Aren't supposed to look into the SGGS to answer all questions, rather than looking into what some guys decided to write up.

    Most of the things in the Rahit Maryada don't even make sense, like a Sikh woman can't marry a non-Sikh. Tell me where in the SGGS it says that.

    I can't imagine the Rahit Marya being the "law" considering not all Sikhs adhere to it.

    I agree that government should remain secular. Not as secular as France, but secular enough that people have the freedom to practice religion or not practice it. Isn't that what Sikhism fought for to begin with – the freedom from the Sharia in Punjab.

  18. kprincess says:

    I thought the law was that all Sikhs are supposed to follow Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji? Aren’t supposed to look into the SGGS to answer all questions, rather than looking into what some guys decided to write up.

    Most of the things in the Rahit Maryada don’t even make sense, like a Sikh woman can’t marry a non-Sikh. Tell me where in the SGGS it says that.

    I can’t imagine the Rahit Marya being the “law” considering not all Sikhs adhere to it.

    I agree that government should remain secular. Not as secular as France, but secular enough that people have the freedom to practice religion or not practice it. Isn’t that what Sikhism fought for to begin with – the freedom from the Sharia in Punjab.

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