Lessons for Sikhs from the Muslim-only Muar laundry

Bigotry and narrow-mindedness are the prime contributors to the minds that conjure the Muar-type ideas.

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Opinion | Malaysia | 1 Oct 2017Asia Samachar |

OUT OF BOUNDS: A laundry owner in Muar, in the Malaysian state of Johor, came up with the idea of a Muslim-only business. ‘Mesra Muslim’ means Muslim friendly. This photo became viral on the local social media network, inviting sharp rebuke from various quarters

By Hb Singh

The infamous Muslim-only laundry in Muar has now been roundly condemned, with no less than an angry rebuke from the Johor state royalty.

In an interview with a Malaysian newspaper, Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar made his displeasure loud and clear when he said: “This is not a Taliban state and as the Head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature.”

The issue raises serious questions. How did the Muslim operator come to such a decision? What prompted him to do such an act? What is the source of the bigotry? What drives such narrow-mindedness?

The laundry incident has a lesson for Sikhs, as well. We, too, in our midst, have such people. They may not have gone out to opening up Sikh-only capathi stalls or anything silly like that, but rest assured, we have them in our midst.

When I was growing up, I used to mix with a particular group of Sikhs. They had all the external Sikh labels on them: colourful baanas, huge turbans encircled with chakars, and heavy karas making clinking sounds that could be heard a mile away.

They looked super Sikhs to me. It made quite an impact on my impressionable young mind, fully taken up by their external labels. I wanted to be just like them. “Now, they are true-blue Sikhs of Guru Gobind Singh,” I declared.

Different groups had different peculiar habits. I draw attention to one of them. They decline to eat take food cooked by a person who is not an amritdhari (someone who has taken the khandey-da-pahul amrit). They even decline the delicious helping of degh in the gurdwara. Why? The person preparing it may not be an amritdhari, or so it seems. Another one of such a ‘true-blue’ Sikh group would even bring along their own cooking utensils.

We understand if one declines to eat food from a restaurant that fails your cleanliness test. Health is a good, legitimate, reason. We also understand if you don’t like people digging into your food for hygiene purposes.

But what is really driving the dietary needs of these ‘super’ Sikhs is more to do with the idea of purity of food. They justify with words like their personal rehat (discipline) or something else. But the underlying reason is suchamtaa (purity). It boils down to wanting to eat food that is ‘pure’, not polluted. You may have also heard terms like juth – supposedly referring to food that had been ‘soiled’ because, among others, someone may have taken a bite from it. (Here, the operating reason is purity, not hygiene).

Guru Nanak addresses this matter. In Japji, the Guru invokes a discussion on precisely this topic in the line on sochhai. Traditionally, many of us have learnt it to mean thinking. Actually, it’s not about thinking. It refers to suchamtaa – bathing to purify oneself.

soochai soch na hovey, je sochi lakh vaar.

A thousand baths will not purify the body.

While outwardly they look like ‘super’ Sikhs – as it was to my eager mind back then – they carry a fundamental flaw within. They are seeking for something not attainable – the so-called suchamtaa or purity.

When you decline food because it is cooked by someone with a ‘suspect’ religious standing, you are walking into a quicksand. On the surface, it seems fine. But deeper inspection will unravel its hollowness. You are trying to argue your way on the grounds of spirituality in food. It does not exist.

So, what about the degh, then? Isn’t the sweet pudding supposed to be special? No. It’s just a dish prepared and distributed in the gurdwaras and other Sikh events. That’s all it is. It is not some magic pudding. And we should not make it out to be one, or we will not be able to explain it to the present day logic-driven generation.

You may then ask: What about Guru Ka Langgar? Is it not special? Unique, as a tradition, yes. However, it does not carry any special ‘spiritual’ powers over and above the food that you cook at home or at the restaurant. Again, let’s not turn it to some ‘sanctified parshaad’.

Some may take issue with this argument. I’m open to listening to their position. But let’s be clear. The deghs and the Guru Ka Langgars are wonderful traditions of the House of the Guru Nanak.They play an important role in our religious traditions. The Gurus started them, so we hold them precious. But they are not ‘spiritual’ in themselves. They are communal in nature. They bring and bind the community together.

Let us not turn it into some of God-approved food that, somehow, spiritually, is superior to the food cooked by your mum or your cousin. Don’t stick the ‘spiritual’ badge on it. It does not belong there.

When people start sticking religious and spiritual badges on such stuff, it is then that the mind can conjure the Muar type preposterous plans. Bigotry and narrow-mindedness are the prime contributors to the minds that conjure the Muar-type ideas.

Hb Singh is a volunteer editor at Asia Samachar who had some years of active involvement with Sikh organisations in Malaysia

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. 1) Food cooked at Gurdwara is sacred, it is definitely not the same as cooked by your mother or cousin otherwise we would be cooking bakra, morga and mashi in the gurdwara kitchen as well. After cooking langgar, it is presented to Waheguru in ardas and only then served to sangat.
    2) Degh is sacred, because when the Giani sahib is making Degh he is uttering Japji Sahib. It is more than just sweets.
    3) You are what you eat, guess that’s why there is a difference between a squirrel and a rat, one chooses its foods wisely and the other is just a dump truck.

  2. Amritpal Singh,
    This is a generalized article which I find some truth in it. There are things like this happening in the Sikh community. I have experienced it 1st hand myself. But what you are asking is specific details like who, when, which Gurdwara. You are being un-necessarily defensive. You have actually missed the whole point of this article.

  3. COMMENTS SHARED AT ASIA SAMACHAR FACEBOOK PAGE:

    Amritpal Singh: is this a major issue with the sikhs in malaysia ? i have never seen or heard any sikh in malaysia refusing degh in a gurudwara . if there are people refusing degh then have the courage to name them since the author of this article claim to know that person. otherwise your article may just be deemed an imaginary one published with reasons best known to the author l

    Ja Gin Der: You see the tree but you miss the forest.

    Amritpal Singh: i see both the tree and the forest and also the undergrowth , thus my comment above

    Raman Hundal-Simpson: You appear to suffer from a case of near-sightedness. You have missed the bigger picture here, in spite of your assertions. Now please don’t tell us that you see the worms too!

    Amritpal Singh Raman: Hundal-Simpson u seem know me so well to judge me . this article serves no purpose other than divide the community . it offers no evidence of their claim . where is the evidence that sikhs in malaysia rejected dheg for whatever reason including because he is an amritdhari . i have seen sikhs without turban and clean shaven doing seva of dheg, doing chor , serving langar , participating in every aspect of sewa . why not write an article that anyone irrespective of their practice participating in sewa . sikhs have in the past fought fanatism is every form , if ever a sikh adopts fanatical practice he will be shunned and abandoned . but because he is an amritdhari and stands on his or her principles as laid down by sri guru Gobind Singh does not make any sikh a fanatic but a principled one. i find no value in this article and thus my comments above . and yes i see worms too

    Raman Hundal-Simpson: Are your triggered, dude? How ironic that you point out I do not know you well enough, but you presume to know that there aren’t any people who would refuse dheg.

    The article aims to shed light on the division that is already present within the community. Pretending that it isn’t there doesn’t address fanaticism. Likewise, highlighting the issue only makes those guilty of such thoughts uncomfortable. It doesn’t affect those who are open minded. No one says that clean-shaven Sikhs have been prevented from performing Seva. So once again, you have totally missed the mark with the intent of the article.

    Jassa Singh: No need to point ut any special group or jatha or person since it’s the behaviour not the persons the article is about. Once you name people or groups the discussion takes a whole other direction and the original question is lost.

    Amritpal Singh: Raman Hundal-Simpson u made my point , this article is divisive . since u say divisions are present provide evidence , name names , name the gurudwara that practice such divisive practices. by just saying this is prevalent in the community without any reference to any event , occurrence and or evidence is as i first said would be perceived to be imaginary. i am not blinded to the fact that there are those who are of the strong view that sikhs should take amrit , i have no problems with their strong views but that does not make them close minded because that is their personal view . there are also those who are strong in their views on other issues like dinking alcohol is okay eating meat is fine , having a cut hair is all right etc that is also their personal view . the problem is always one of imposition and i have again repeating myself that i have not seen heard or experienced one party imposing their will on the other but have been living side by side for so many years and if the article suggest that is happening then name them especially those who are refusing dheg . i personally want to know which sikh has refused degh

    Raman Hundal-Simpson: Amritpal Singh read the comment above by Jassa. Point made.

    Amritpal Singh: Jassa Singh with respect i beg to differ you can’t disassociate the person and his behaviour since the behaviour is intrinsic in a person . i had only asked for evidence of such behaviour which would then highlight the people who say as the article alleges . we live in a modern world and there are so many tools that we can employ to extract evidence . i get your point about the discussion taking a different direction but it will still be on that very issue if the evidence is un-rebuttable . if an article is published in a online news portal at least some degree of evidence must be provided to back up its claim . if it was written by an obscure facebook post i would have not bothered to even comment .

  4. COMMENTS SHARED AT ASIA SAMACHAR FACEBOOK PAGE:

    Raman Hundal-Simpson: This. A tough pill to swallow for many Sikh men and women. This attitude is prevalent to varying degrees within the Sikh society, and in the fevered search of achieving purity, many people with much simpler lives are made to feel inferior and somewhat inadequate. Such puritan behavior achieves frank division within families and the community. In the name of humility and enlightenment. Go figure. Glad someone finally penned this down. Bravo.

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