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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