By Ranvir Singh | Opinion |
As Sikhs work towards making a global civilisation it is important that they bring their distinctive worldview to the enterprise. This unique ingredient will only enhance the final stew. The Guru Granth Sahib teaches us, “Ignoramus, follow gurmat; without this, even the smartest have drowned in the ocean of worldliness.” (Guru Granth Sahib: 288) Sikhs commonly distinguish between gurmat and manmat, following the Guru versus following one’s own mind.
When the British encountered the empire of the Sikhs, Sikhs were described as people of a rival great power. Once they had conquered the Sikhs they began to consider the religion of these people. They simply added -ism to a narrative of their belief system, in the same way as ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Buddhism’, which are also colonial creations.
While physical decolonisation ended in 1947 Sikhs are still in need of a mental decolonisation, to be able to contribute fully to the emerging global civilisation Guru Nanak had introduced.
If Sikhism is to go, what about ‘Sikhi’? We should reject this as hapless and hopeless. The argument for it is that it is a halfway house. It is like using Sikh temple, a halfway house that is justified as it allows a non-Sikh audience to understand that here is a religious building and it is connected to Sikhs. Of course, the problem is that a gurdwara is more than a religious building and it is not strictly speaking a temple at all. A temple is the house of a statue of the divine. Gurmat teaches us that the body is the temple of the divine and therefore that each person is a sacred space. By failing to apply our own term, ‘gurdwara’, we deprive others of understanding our unique perspective.
We should look at Hindus who are unashamedly promoting ‘Sanatana dharma’ as the decolonised term, or Muslims who replaced Mohammedanism (that I myself read in British textbooks in the 1970s) with the respectful and correct term, ‘Islam’. In some ways this debate reminds of 1947 when the Sikh leadership did not propose a separate homeland as they had not realised that Switzerland was landlocked. Gurmat is a possibility and we should not betray our principles because of an imagined fear that it is a step too far.
Gurmat, the wisdom of the Guru is our unique and distinctive concept that the world deserves to know about. Who are the Sikhs? Followers of the Guru. Sikhi tells us that we are followers, but not what we follow. If we are not about following and promoting the Guru’s Way, what exactly is our purpose? We should not be ashamed of the Guru and should put it front and centre in explaining to others who we are and what we believe.
Ranvir Singh is a UK-based human rights activist and member of Akaal Purkh Ki Fauj.
We must stop using the term ‘Sikhism’ and assert uniqueness of ‘Sikhi’! (Asia Samachar, 25 July 2021)
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