Monday, August 6, 2012

Sikhs: They Enshrined Self-Defense in Their Religion

Kirpan (photo: Hari Singh)
The tragedy at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin over the weekend that left six innocent people and the shooter dead was an opportunity for the media to educate Americans about Sikhism. They've failed to do so. This is the second time in two days that I've read this background paragraph about Sikhism. It's appalling in what it omits:
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide. Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair; male followers often cover their heads with turbans — which are considered sacred — and refrain from shaving their beards. There are roughly 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S., according to estimates. The majority worldwide live in India.
Baptized Sikhs are expected to wear five things at all times. These are commonly called the five Kakars and include: Kesh (uncut hair which is usually wrapped in a turban), Kangha (a comb often worn under their turban), Kachera (cotton underwear symbolic of the Sikh's commitment to sexual purity), Kara (an iron bracelet), and Kirpan (a curved sword). Sikhism is a warrior religion. As Wikipedia notes [emphasis added]:
Sikhs embody the qualities of a "Sant-Sipahie"—a saint-soldier. One must have control over one's internal vices and be able to be constantly immersed in virtues clarified in the Guru Granth Sahib. A Sikh must also have the courage to defend the rights of all who are wrongfully oppressed or persecuted irrespective of their colour, caste or creed.
On March 30, 1699, the Tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, founded Khalsa which enshrined not just self-defense as a religious tenant, but also eliminated the caste system and established gender equality for Sikhs. Gobind Singh was a civil rights pioneer as his words on that day make plainly clear:
From now on, you have become casteless. No ritual, either Hindu or Muslim, will you perform nor will you believe in superstition of any kind, but only in one God who is the master and protector of all, the only creator and destroyer. In your new order, the lowest will rank with the highest and each will be to the other a bhai (brother). No pilgrimages for you any more, nor austerities but the pure life of the household, which you should be ready to sacrifice at the call of Dharma. Women shall be equal of men in every way. No purdah (veil) for them anymore, nor the burning alive of a widow on the pyre of her spouse (sati). He who kills his daughter, the Khalsa shall not deal with him.
Mourn the Sikhs who lost their lives in Wisconsin this past weekend and pray that their brethren will recommit themselves to their core beliefs, so that they will not learn again that when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.

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