By Jagdesh Singh
For generations since the first batch of Sikh migrants arrived into Malaya before the 2nd World War, we’ve pride ourselves in how well we’ve adapted culturally while maintaining our distinct personality and character.
The local Muslim Malays here have embraced us over the decades as steadfast people, proud of their heritage, just and fair, aggressive in nature be it physical or emotional. Of course, like any other culture, there will be nuances and tweaks to it stemming from the local environment and influences from our neighbours over a long period of adjustment. That’s just natural, but over and all, Sikhs in Malaysia are distinct enough to garner recognition at all levels of the melting pot that is our Malaysian society.
Muslims can identify with our reverence to our Holy Guide that is the Guru Granth Sahib, it being in a form of a book very much like their Al Quran, compared to their other neighbours of Hindu and Buddhist descendants.
Like any other culture, we’ve also got our taboos that can take hold of our judgment and make us maintain certain biasness within our very own fabric of society.
It is indeed unfortunate that these taboos passed down to us from our elders, as we were molding our beliefs from a very young age, weren’t fully justified nor explained to great lengths as to why they were formed to be taboos in the first place. Rather we accepted them as wisdom that had never failed our elders in their times, good or bad.
One such taboo, which was always discussed in hush manners, was of inter-faith marriages, especially marriages with our Muslim friends and neighbours. Horror stories of forced conversions, body snatching from morgues to appease Muslim burial rites, fierce destructive divorce cases and broken families were fed down, with hopes of instilling fear onto the younger generation into not making ‘the mistake’.
From my limited understandings of these fears, it was very clear in my mind, when the time was ripe for me to start a family that marrying a Muslim girl would be of great detriment to my relationships with my parents and extended family. In short, this very taboo took the driving seat for us when it came to making life impacting decisions.
It was a typical family dinner, as I nonchalantly remarked to my dear wife at the dinner table about a WhatsApp rumour going around regarding a recently converted Muslim boy of Sikh lineage. The details of this rumour isn’t wholly relevant to my thoughts here but suffice to say, the topic of the rumour piqued great interests from my two daughters. They immediately picked up on the gist of our very short conversation as our biased disapproving tone in voice and body language gave away too much.
The same disapproving tone derived from the fear factor that we were entrusted upon from our elders I mentioned above. The very same raised eyebrows were evident.
“Why is it so bad to fall in love and marry a Muslim, Papa?”
The reflex reaction from both me and my wife was to repeat and rinse what was told to us by our parents and wise elders before, which remarkably was universal even though our backgrounds differ quite a bit. I’m half Chinese from a relatively small family compared to my wife, a thorough bred Punjabi from a family of six.
“Just don’t do it and don’t ask us why again,” was the answer given in a plea like manner. We tried to explain to them that the lifestyle choices to be made after marrying a Muslim would be very much different from what we’ve tried to teach them in life so far. It got a little bit tricky as we now had to explain the mechanics of religious conversion, which was the biggest factor to these altering life decisions to be made.
But their inquisitive minds, and strong willed argumentative nature of which we’ve tried hard to instill since young, got the better of us.
“So, it’s alright for someone to convert into being a Sikh but not good if we were to convert into being a Muslim. Why is there a difference?”
They had good grounds to ask this question as they were now preparing for a wedding soon of which their uncle will be marrying a Caucasian lady from US. This new auntie of theirs has gladly chosen Sikh practices albeit not entirely. Not to mention they had just lost their dear grandmother of Chinese descend who had adopted much of the Sikh way of life and abandoned her earlier beliefs altogether.
Consciously, my wife and I have been trying very hard to embed some core principles integral to the fundamentals of Sikhi for our children to hold steadfastly to.
One of these principles were for them to recognise that each human being that they meet and grow with would have uniqueness that cannot be judged upon, rather this uniqueness was to be embraced and celebrated for its very nature.
For example, meeting another person of another faith and race shouldn’t matter much in their acceptance of this person. Action speaks louder than words, and we’ve not been successfully practicing what we had preached to them, especially in this conversation at the dinner table.
We were bereft of ideas for maneuvering through this tricky conversation while trying to avoid being contradictory on the lessons we had tried to impart before. We retired the discussion when the clatter of utensils on our plates got louder while promising them we would continue this discussion and satisfy their needs to understand at a later day in the week.
We apologised meekly and told them we weren’t prepared with adequate ‘homework’. This jargon they understood, being in Primary School, and they shrugged the unfinished dialogue off as they had pressing matters to attend – the dishes and cleaning up of the kitchen.
FRAMING THE DISCOURSE
As I write this, I’m framing my points of discourse, very careful as to not sweep it under the rug, (metaphorically speaking, of course) for my approach with my daughters.
First, we would try to explain to them that finding a partner suitable for marriage would be their own duty. Whatever decision that they make, they take the consequences upon themselves, while we will still be present with open arms and love them as much as when they were entrusted to us.
Our job is to equip them with the tools, skills and knowledge for them to be able to ascertain their best options that would be laid in front of them when the question arises.
This includes further increasing their exposure to the beauties of our way of life as Sikhs. This cannot be the rules, the dogma, and the double standards of our own interpretation of what we hear and do not reflect upon. We would rather share with them the spirituality of the way of life rather than the more structured religious aspects of it.
Mind you, sharing the beauties of Sikhism doesn’t translate to sharing our own perceived ugliness of others unlike us. In a nutshell, we should not demonise others and their beliefs, rather we elevate the beauty and majesty of ourselves, our heritage and our history.
This cannot be done as an island of ourselves, we would need to rely on the Sanggat of the same passion and understanding. Would it be so bad if they eventually did marry a Muslim and convert?
I’m not so sure now because if they continue to uphold their principles that make them God loving humans that do not practice prejudice and harm, perhaps that is their path as willed by God herself, another principle that we would need to teach them soon.
Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother – ASIA SAMACHAR (5 March 2015)
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