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Sardar Jasleen Singh*
Sikhism, the fifth largest religion in the world, was founded during the fifteenth century in Punjab, India, by a man named Nanak, who would later be called Guru Nanak. The social environment into which Guru Nanak was born was a time of havoc and violence caused by Islamic rulers who strived to convert India into another Muslim country as they had done with Arabia, Iraq, and Turkey, to name a few. These Muslims had attempted, in vain, though they did manage to convert a number of people, because the inhabitants of the country who were largely Hindus reverted back to practising their own religion. This following of one religion in public but practicing of another in private indicated that falsehood had taken the place of religion. The people of India needed a system of thought in which they could find a sense of religious liberty, social equality, and brotherhood for all, thus setting the mindset needed for the acceptance of the message of Guru Nanak. The principles presented in Sikhism both encompass and reject some of the main beliefs of Hinduism and Islam in order to create a religion that transcends the limitations of both.
Some of the Muslim and Sikh ideas were quite similar. The number one and probably the most important aspect of both Islam and Sikhism was that they are monotheistic and believe in giving absolute submission to the will of God. Muslims, according to the Koran, believed that God was commanding, forbidding, rewarding, and punishing. These definitions gave a human-like quality to God unlike the words used to glorify God through a Sikh’s eyes: fearless, hate-less, omnipresent, and neither created nor destroyed. The monotheistic beliefs of Islam and Sikhism were coupled with their shared requirement of meditation. Muslims repeated Allah, while Sikhs recited Waheguru. In Sikhism, this essential part of life, which was called naam japo, was normally stated along with kirat karo, meaning work hard, and wand chhako, or share earnings with the poor and less fortunate. The principle of kirat karo encompassed the ideal of honesty and, therefore, can be compared to the Islamic obligation of acting righteously and discouraging others from acting immorally. Yet, Sikhism, did not always agree with what Muslims believed was moral.
Sikhism strongly disagreed with Muslims’ treatment of women as well as their use of jihad. One aspect of Islam which Muslims accepted as moral was jihad, or holy war. Muslims interpreted their rights to jihad as launching campaigns of violence and treachery upon resistant people in order to convert them to Islam. This was what was taking place during the life of Guru Nanak, so his observation of this brutality led Sikhism not to accept having forced conversions. Another idea that Guru Nanak stressed was his belief in equality for not only men, but women as well. Muslims, though they did have a sense of being one’s brother’s keeper did not include women in this equation, but only their brothers.
Hinduism contained a few appealing aspects, but the only ideal that Sikhism and Hinduism agreed upon was their belief in karma, the accumulation of good deeds. Sikhs believed in this in order to get closer to God. Hindus, on the other hand, believed that karma would help them ascend the ranks of the caste system after reincarnations, and would eventually lead them to release from the cycle of life. This superficial caste system was rejected by Guru Nanak along with the inferior status of women, and he replaced it by equality for all. Another major difference between Sikhism and Hinduism was that Sikhism was monotheistic while Hinduism was polytheistic. A cause for the rejection of polytheism might have had something to do with how Hindus worship their gods, with idols, when each idol is believed to be the God himself or herself. Guru Nanak believed that idols should only represent the gods, and not be God. This belief was later instituted with the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which contains the wisdom, ideology and philosophy of the Sikh faith, because these scriptures was meant to only represent God, not to be worshiped as God, for God is indescribable. Guru Nanak rejected this idolatry along with the various Vedic rituals and occasional asceticism of Hinduism, for they were merely physical aspects of life.
Instead, Guru Nanak believed that meditation, also practised in Hinduism, was the key to becoming one with God. Sikhs repeated the name Waheguru, both physically with their tongues and spiritually in their minds. The idea was to ingrain Waheguru, or God, into the mind so intensely, that it would always be repeating itself inside the head, adding God to every aspect of daily life. Hindus, on the other hand, recited ancient sacred hymns as well practiced yoga, for it was believed to strengthen the impact of meditating. Yet, in order to read these sacred hymns, they needed to be literate in a language they did not know. A final ideal of Hinduism that could be looked down upon during fifteenth century was that the scriptures were written in Sanskrit, a language that could only be read by the Brahmins, or priests, and not by the common people therefore making Hinduism a religion of the fortunate who were literate. Another problem was stated by Dr S Radhakrishnan, “The Hindu leaders neglected to teach the spiritual realities to the people at large who were sunk in superstitions and materialism” (sikhpoint.com). The Brahmins kept their religious knowledge to themselves and left their people vulnerable to outside influences. Guru Nanak disagreed with this way of preaching and therefore stressed the importance of equality. Though most Hindu beliefs could not contribute to the message that Guru Nanak spread, they did provide a structure that Guru Nanak improved upon.
With the knowledge that some of the Sikh beliefs come from both Muslim and Hindu ideals, one can now deduce which actual beliefs of Sikhism come from which religion and how Sikhism created a new religion that surpassed their limits. Sikhism takes the appeal of monotheism from Islam and couples it with the belief of karma from Hinduism, which can be compared to the obligation of good behavior from Islam to create a religion that is pure and righteous. Sikhs substituted worshipping any gods as in Hinduism with a simple of love of God and a sense of equal compassion for his children, providing a religion that is non-discriminate, an idea emphasized by Guru Nanak in the line: “There is no Hindu, no Mussalman”. This inclusive attitude was made tangible with the establishment of Guru Ka Langar. Guru Ka Langar consisted of a community kitchen that was open to all, where everyone, no matter what caste he belonged to, were made to set down at one level to eat their food. This act demonstrated the equality of all that Guru Nanak strived for as well as the complete rejection of the caste system of Hinduism and the superiority complex of men above women in both Hinduism and Islam. Further, this institution aided Guru Nanak in displaying his piety to God and humbleness to his people, for Guru Nanak himself sat with his followers, washed the utensils and cooked the food, signifying that he was equal to his followers, not above them.
Guru Nanak who observed the Muslim disapproval of the caste system founded Guru Ka Langar, he detected their condemning of idolatry and polytheism, and created a religion that was strictly monotheistic, with no avatars or reincarnations, and lastly he noted Muslims’ dislike of the social disunity among the people of India and therefore stated that all men and women were created equal. Guru Nanak even saw the need of a spiritual leader that could relate to the people for guidance in other religions, so he became that guru, but still retained a meek stature, and often called himself a servant or slave of God. Sikhism quelled all the wants, needs, and intentions of Hinduism and Islam and exceeded the restrictions they set on themselves with a religion whose only rule was to love God in any way one could. Sikhism presented a belief system that gave guidelines to people on how to deal with all aspects of life, not just the spiritual facet. In a time of civil turmoil, this was the type of religion that India needed; a simple religion that did not have rituals or set instructions to follow. Anyone and everyone could execute the presented guidelines of Sikhism in their own personal way with God, and if they ever committed a wrong, the only people they answered to was themselves and God, for the meaning of Sikh was disciple, a person who is always learning from their mentor God, who takes millions of steps towards that person if that person takes one step towards Him. Sikhism’s universal message of brotherhood for all under the belief of one God offered its followers autonomy for interpretation, therefore clearly going beyond the boundaries of Hinduism and Islam, while providing the fortification needed to withstand any disaster, civil, physical, or mental through love, compassion, humility, and honor.
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ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2007, All
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