THE CLOSING REMARKS ATV ANCOUVER CONFERENCE**
By IQBAL SINCH SARA
Mr. Chairman, as this final responsibility to wind up these significant proceedings has been entrusted to me, I propose to be candid.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I will deal with my address. Upon completion of the compilation of the Guru Granth, at his own dictation to Bhai Gurdas -sometimes said to be the “St. Paul” of Sikhism- the Fifth Guru, Arjan, is said to have directed that the hymns should afterwards be translated by learned men into Indian and foreign languages. To quote the Guru’s words: “so that they might extend over the whole world as oil spreads over water”.
As can be appreciated, this scheme of things and other facts make Sikhism an inherently missionary religion.
All of the learned scholars and distinguished speakers here today at this seminar are thus carrying out the Guru’s command, “to extend over the whole world, as oil spreads over water”. They have come a long way, across the seas, from India, U.K. and U S.A.
The need for such seminars, in the interests of public education and international peace and understanding, cannot be over-emphasized.
It is a commendable effort that Canadian Sikhs especially appreciate and can be grateful for. You have (to the speakers) helped disseminate a special outlook on life that Sikhism offers. As scholars you are really fulfilling the Guru’s mission. At the same time one has to admit that in this modern age Sikhs are perhaps the worst equipped to spread the missionary religion their Gurus offered to humanity.
“A religion of peasants”, did a professor say about Sikhism ? Well, almost a century ago an Irish Englishman found himself so inexorably and singularly drawn to Sikhism’s charm and simplicity that he ended becoming perhaps the best votary of Sikhism it ever had. As you know, the life long labour of love of Max Arthur Macauliffe consummated in his six volumes on the “Sikh Religion” that he left to posterity. The truth must be that no other single scholar ever since Macauliffe has succeeded so far in depicting Sikhism the way it indeed is. One of the reasons might be that most European or western writers and scholars, even if they were going to be objective, did not know the Gurmukhi language and idiom in which the Guru Granth, the Sikh scripture, is written.
Let me say that the Guru Granth is no more a scripture of peasants and husbandmen than the Bible is of shepherds, fishermen, potters and carpenters’ ....
Yet the liaison of man to God could not more exquisitely be expressed as in the Guru Granth, more uniquely so, I submit, because all of it is in verse. What is even more, the cultural aspect too is in-built. Every hymn is indexed as adaptable to a particular classical musical mode, of which there are over thirty sharing the scripture. Vivid flashes of lightning, formations of over-head migrating cranes, the swing of seasons, the life and embraces of spouses, as experienced in the land of Guru Granth, are, for instance on page 488, thus typically encaptured by Sheikh Farid, keeping in sight the metaphysical context:
Katik Kunjaan, Cet dowe, Sawan bijulian;
Sialay sohandian Pir gal bahurian;
Calay calan-har vicaran le manoe,
Gandhedian chhe mah, turindian hik khino.
Only perhaps in Thomas Gray’s poem, Elegy in a Country
Churchyard “,you might sense a parallel conjuring the picture of apparent and esoteric reality of things, and I quote:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear,
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
The natural expansion of Sikhs and Sikhism in the present age is quite apparent. What certain native as well as foreign writers and scholars seem to be intolerant of is the reality of the definitive self-sufficiency of Sikhs and Sikhism that has been attained in the course of time, as indeed was inevitable. That is where the shoe pinches, so to say.
With all due respect, the dialectics of such published papers as “From Ritual to Counter-Ritual - A rethinking of Hindu-Sikh Question” betray a desperate attempt to deny the process of self-sufficiency in Sikhism, if not also questioning its legtimacy.
It is like berating, Why were you born at all? Why, for Pete’s sake, are you breathing? Wer’nt you better off dead?
Well, learned writers and scholars anywhere are free to choose research topics and themes that are most suited to their own individual genius.
But imagine, if I was to be fascinated with the subject of the condition of my mother during her gestation or pregnancy, prior to her delivering, who might stand in the way of my inquiry?
Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to imagine any religious system that did not draw from empirical factors. With minor modifications, the theological exegesis of Christianity reverberates spiritual foundations of Judaism. Islam borrows, consciously or sub-consciously, from both the Judaic and Christian beliefs. Sikhism-in the same line-had the advantage of all of the kindred pre-existing systems.
But to set out to lump Sikhs and Sikhism with the Hindu system, on the reasoning that. they emerged from a backdrop of Hinduistic environment, though counter-poised by Islam, and without any valid basis for the aberrative essay, is obviously tantamount to misrepresenting the reality about Sikhs and Sikhism.
To fancy that until a Sikh wrote in 1897 a tract deflecting
attempted Brahmanical incurisons into Sikhism,
“The Sikhs had shown little collective interest in
distinguishing themselves from Hindus”
- is nothing short of belying the entire history of Sikhs and Sikhism,
the Sikh volksgeist, and their practice and mode of life that made
them distinguishable from the period of the Sikh Gurus, through the establishment of an independent Sikh kingdom, to the Anglo-Sikh wars and the resulting annexation of Punjab in A.D. 1849.
The fact is that eye-witness Afghan historians almost 150 years preceding the “Ham Hindu Nahin” tract of 1897, are. on record in proof of the fact that Sikhs were seen as utterly different from the Hindu population. Just look and see what Qazi Noor Mohammed, the’ official camp historian of the Afghan invader Ahmad Shah Abdali, who invaded the Punjab for the seventh time in 1764, chronicles in his Persian diary known as the “Jang-Nama”. This is how Qazi Noor Mohammed laments:
“Azan Hinduwan nestandeen sagan,
Juda-gana rah asteen bad-ragan”
Translated from persian, it means that:
‘:From amongst the Hindus these dogs are NOT;
These bad-ones (contemptuously, bastards):
‘badragan’, have their own separate way.”
Well, I am grateful to Qazi Noor Mohammed. At the time he might have been our enemy, we are called bastards. But sometimes, I suppose, it pays to be called bastard!
You see, this was in 1764. I am not talking of 1897, I am talking of 1764. This was the crucial period of the Sikh rise as a distinct nation and people, practicing their own separate religion, and a foreign Afghan historian and observer confirms it.
Now, if that is not sufficient to establish the separate collective existence or presence, in AD. 1764, of Sikhs, demolishing the wishful thesis “From Ritual to Counter Ritual, A Re-Thinking of the Hindu-Sikh Question”, Ido not know what else would be.
It should be stated as well that the peculiar customs and practices of the Jats of the Punjab, including the Sikh-Jats, so-called ‘Peasants’ that preoccupy the questionable thesis, are accounted for by the Indo-Scythian ethnology of those people. Several years ago I had occasion to publish a paper, “Scythian Origins of the Sikh Jat”. It notes the link between these people and their forbears from the Central Asian steppes, the Scythians.
All of which reminds me that for some 3 or 4 years now we have a Chair of Sikh Studies at the campus of the U.B.C. in Vancouver. Compared to the work, in terms of quality and character of products, of other similar intellectual centres, of which the Institute of Ukrainian Studies, at Edmonton, comes to mind, what has our Chair in Sikh Studies at U.B.C. done? Or proposes or intends to do?
It was only after political roadblocks and at considerable public and private financial expense that a Chair in Sikh Studies at the University of British Columbia became possible. Is the momentum, of enthusiasm and expectation of literary advancement on subjects important to Sikhs and Sikhism going to be maintained?
Or is “research” going to be programmed to find ways and means to ring the death knell of Sikhs and Sikhism? Perhaps it has not been there long enough.
There is thought to be an urgent need for public accountability. The administration has to be vigilant. Public concerns, especially from Sikh groups, could perhaps best be addressed by the establishment of a committee composed of public members and university officials that could help evolve the direction and orientation of this Chair in Sikh Studies and its work.
Remember, the Guru’s religion is a missionary religion.. Canadian Sikhs do not propose to suffer, by their own default or negligence, a failure of that mission.
Before I close, I wish to acknoledge the presence of my wife Helga Sara, my daughter Sonia Sara, and my son Reza Har lqbal. I am fortunate to be able to say that all of them, my immediate family, are graduates of this University.
That is all I have to say, and as a member of your community, and the first Asian-born to have joined the legal profession here 38 years ago, I am honoured, and serving the community and the Guru. . . God bless you.
* International Seminar (Conference) on Sikhs, Sikhism, Culture and Religion, held at the University of British Columbia Campus, Old Auditorium, on December 2nd, 1990.
Under the auspices of :
The Canadian Sikh Study and Teaching Society
The Sikh Students Association of University of British Columbia
The Sikh Association of Simon Freaer University
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