The delicate balance between religious pride and religious hate

There exists a delicate line between genuine faith pride to build self esteem and the harmful effects of religious supremacy and bigotry, argues Gurnam Singh


By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

In today’s diverse world, where secularism is on the rise, for many, perhaps most people, faith and religion still play pivotal roles in shaping identities and fostering a sense of community. Commitments to one’s identity can be displayed in many ways, from simply adopting a particular lifestyle to outward expressions of solidarity. One such expression, which can be found in public processions and sometimes on tea shirts, is slogans like “Proud to be a Sikh”, which can seem harmless or even empowering.

However, there exists a delicate line between genuine faith pride to build self esteem and the harmful effects of religious supremacy and bigotry. These proclamations of religious pride, when stripped of context, can transform from affirmations of identity into divisive sentiments with the potential to justify violence and in extreme cases, genocide. This phenomenon has historical precedent, from the Christian crusaders’ battle cry, “Deus vult!” (God wills it!), to the Mughals’ colonization of India.

The significance of such statements varies depending on the context and the speaker’s intent. Imagine Hindu Sadhus at an RSS rally in India holding banners that say “Proud to be Hindu” alongside a trishool, a weapon associated with the god Shiva. Or ISIS fighters racing in jeeps displaying banners that read “Proud to be Muslim.” The sentiments conveyed in these contexts diverge dramatically from those, for example, of a young Hindu child joyfully carrying a similar banner through the streets of Leicester during Diwali, a young Muslim girl expressing her pride in Islam at an Eid party or a Sikh person chanting ‘Raj Karega Khalsa’ (The Pure will rule) at a Nagar Kirtan.

In a world that has witnessed the dangers of racial nationalism, the idea of “white pride” immediately evokes images of divisive ideologies championed by right-wing white supremacists, often sparking revulsion among sensible individuals. Yet, we seem to apply different standards to equally divisive and assertive declarations of faith superiority. This leads one to ask, what distinguishes the expression of absolute faith supremacy from racial pride in terms of moral acceptance?

One explanation could be the historical association between the concept of “race” and racism, predominantly propagated by white Europeans against non-white populations worldwide to justify unimaginable violence and oppression. Consequently, it may be argued that “white pride” carries connotations of racial hatred that religious pride typically lacks.

Though we typically associate religion and faith with harmless rituals and acts of piety, a closer examination of expressions of religious belief and identity reveals a darker malevolent side. The seeds of religious hate or supremacy are sown when a community of believers firmly believe in their inherent superior position regarding matters related to ethics, or divine favour, often couched in references to ‘God’s law’, or ‘divine will’. This itself is often a result of a complete misreading of scripture, either through malicious intent or by taking things out of context or both.

Like most other forms of identification-based on race, ethnicity and nation, religion can be a powerful force for good, particularly in relation to fostering unity around a shared beliefs and values. However, a sense that one’s faith is superior, or the best/only path can ignite conflicts and tensions between different religious factions. We can see, for example, of how the Bible presented one of the earliest literary references to religious supremacy, with the Israelites seeing themselves as God’s chosen people. In more recent times, the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the large scale persecution and ‘ethnic cleanising’ of non Muslims, in particular, indigenous Sikhs and Hindus, is another such example.

The claim to be the ‘chosen people’ with a special connection to the divine is something that can be found in most religious communities. Whilst one might argue such sentiments merely reflect the intensity of belief in one’s faith, tragically, taken to the extreme, it can result in justifying all kinds of violence.

In today’s world, while nationalism remains a potent driver of violence and conflict among different groups, it is important to acknowledge that religious pride and intolerance, continue to exert an significant influence in and between faith communities. This can range from internal disputes within faith groups stemming from doctrinal differences, which in extreme cases can result in schism, through to inter-religious conflict on a local, regional and global scale. Indeed, many of current ongoing conflicts within the Indian sub-continent, Middle East and Africa are centred around the toxic mix of religion, ethnicity and nationalism.

Though Sikhs have historically been the victims of religious hate and persecution, it is also true that we are not immune from a superiority complex. This sense superiority can be expressed towards members of different faiths, no faith, or often, other members of the community deemed not to be ‘proper’ Sikhs! It is precisely because of the inherent dangers associated with self-pride that Guru Nanak spoke of the need to transcend religious boundaries by foregrounding universal values and a sense of common humanity, which is perfectly captured in the notion of ‘Ik Oankaar’ or ‘all is one’. And at the personal level, Guru Nanak emphasises the need to focus on self-improvement rather than denigration of others. And let’s not forget that in the daily Sikh Ardaas (Prayer), we ask for the gift of humility and virtuous living (maan neeva, mat uchee) and the welfare of all (Sarbat da Bhalla)

Religious pride remains an intricate and multifaceted emotion that continues to shape the course of human history. While it possesses the capacity to kindle noble acts of selflessness and dedication in the service of humanity, it is also susceptible to being deployed as a force for intolerance and violence. As we navigate the intricate interplay of faith and identity, it is essential to reflect on the dual nature of religious pride. In seeking to harness its positive potential, we must be alert to the darker impulses it can provoke.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at

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


Miracles and Godmen (Asia Samachar, 31 July 2020)

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  1. Hate is a two way street. British news writers record Sikh Sirdars massacring enclaves of Sadhus at Kumbh for burning SGGS; Maharajah Ranjit Singh banning Azan and weaponizing Akali Phula Singh against caste Hindus and Muslim Sharia that are integral aspects of those faiths.

    We have Baba Banda Singh refusing to control peasants in Sadhura; Dal Khalsa precipitating what might be called a genocide in Jalandhar after the Muslim destruction of Gurudwara Tham Sahib.

    Of course these were reactionary, but they happened. Baba Baghel Singh demolished 13 mosques to build Gurudwaras. Hard to digest, but the thing is these actions have been undertaken by Sikhs as defensive measures. This is the reality of conflict. Islam believes in a divine genocide of Kafirs. Christians believe the same. The incentive needs to be on them to reform. Not Sikhs. Our back is already against the wall.

    Forgive me but insularity is our best approach here. There is anger among our Sikh youth and justifiably so. Others can threaten them with genocide, but they can’t even defend back without having some “bhaichara” criticism leveraged at them.

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