Apostasy is a crisis looming in the Sikh faith.
Apostasy is a problem affecting all religions in the modern world,
yet for a multitude of reasons, Sikhs need to worry about it more than
all others. A simplistic excuse is to blame western society and the
modern world. Yet, there is nothing to be gained by blaming the modern
world. Modernity is not the problem. Thousands of years ago, in ancient
Greece Ciccro predicted that the youth of the nation would surely be
its downfall because they did not conform to established norms and
traditions. The Jewish Bible has many accounts of man's greed and search
for wealth. Our own Janam Sakkis (oral history) has many accounts of man's
greed and search for wealth. These have a story of Guru Nanak preferring
the bread of a poor man to that of a rich man, becausc the bread of
the rich man was made with the blood and sweat of the disadvantaged.
Even a cursory look at history will reveal that man has always searched
for happiness in material comforts. Yet throughout history we
have seen that happiness is never achieved by wealth alone.
Man continues to search for more. Man is made of body and soul.
Both need to be satisfied. sikhism is in crisis, not because Sikhs
are looking for material wealth, but because Sikhs are not able
to find direction.
It is naive to expect our children to remain Sikhs simply
by osmosis. We need to teach them who they are and where they came from.
Education is sorely lacking. The teaching of religion, its ideals
and ethics is absolutely essential The teaching of Sikh history
will also help to establish a feeling of identity. Who will do this?
Parents are unable, because for the most part they themselves have
not been taught even the basic essentials. There is a lack of qualified
teachers who can take up the challenge. There is also a lack of
appropriate literature. The fact that Sikhs are dispersed over
the entire globe complicates matters enormously. The universality
of Sikhism comes from thc fact that the basic teaching of Sikhism
touches the human soul, no matter who you are or where on earth
you happen to be living. Language and culture vary from one place
to another, but thc belief in one God, search for knowledge and
truth, equality of man, honest living and sharing with others, has
universal appeal. The challenge, therefore, comes in interpreting
these teachings in such a manner as to be understood by one and all.
Gurmukhi is esscntial to those who want an in-depth understanding
of the Sikh religion. Because Gurmukhi is the language of the
Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib. Scholars must master Gurmukhi. Before
one becomes a scholar, one must understand in an intellectual
manner all that Sikhism stands for. Translating Guru Granth Sahib
into a multitude of languages is a step in the right direction.
Howevers it is only a small step. Religion and history must be
taught in the language of the people. Guru Angad made that very
clear, when he spent a lifetime promoting Punjabi. That was the
language of the people at that time in that place. Today, for
many Sikhs, living in the U.K., Canada, U.S. or Australia,
English is the first language. Others living in Singapore,
Africa, Germanyb Switzerland and elsewhere may have other languages
as their first language It is important to teach religion and
history in the language understood by all. A thirst for knowledge
may well be created, and some individuals may go on to study
Punjabi and Gurmukhi. But basics must be first taught in one's
mother tongue. Without understanding, thcrc can be no thirst
for more knowledge.
As stated before, man has a body and a soul. Man's need
for religion demonstrates his spirituality. However, for a religion
to succeed over the test of time, spirituality alone is not enough.
There is the physical side. one has physical needs which affect
one's moral values. One must know what the rules are. To know
the rules, you have to seek direction. Modern technological
sciences are evolving at a rapid rate. We cannot stop progress.
But progress brings changes; in that, the questions that were
not necessary before, must be answered today. These are
vital questions that affect our everyday lives.
Does Sikhism teach the sanctity of marriage ?
Is divorce permitted among Sikhs ?
remarriage of divorcees ?
Does Sikhism approve of inter-faith marriages ?
is abortion ever alright ? Selective abortion of females ?
Genetic engineering ? —Test tube babies ?, etc., etc.
Must langar be eaten sitting on the floor. What's wrong with tables?
Must langar always be vegetarian ?
Must it be day rots ?
What's wrong with ham and cheese sandwiches or pizza ? What has food preferense got to do with religion ?
Should we not be told clearly Sikhism's position on mercy killing ? assisted suicide ?
What is the position on homosexuality ? —same sex marriages ?
The inability to get consistent answers to the above and similar
questions is a most scrious problem. Over the years, I have written to
the Akal Takht and the S.G P.C. socking answers. Not only were my questions
left unanswered, hut not once did I receive acknowledgement of them
having received my letters. Locally, Sikhs have tried to rationalize
that my letters were in English, and no one in Punjab could read
them. Valid point ? I had my questions translated to Punjabi and
again sent them to the above stated institutions Again,
no answer . . not even an acknowledgement of my existence.
Just this week, a supposedly educated gentleman told me
that if I meditate on the Name of God, there will be no need to
ask such questions. I am not sure if it is because I am a woman,
I should not ask questions, or because more broadly speaking, he
does not acknowledge that God gave us a brain with the intent that
it be used. None-the-less, these question need to be pursued.
Our Youth needs to know what the rules are before they can decide if
they can live within this framework. To say that rules cannot be
established because no one will follow them, is foolish. Roman Catholics
are not permitted contraception or abortion. When they break the rules,
they know that rules are broken. By knowing the teaching, they know who
Education is important, but more specifically, who can Sikh Youth
turn to for direction? There seems to be no institution in place that
can provide much needed guidance. Gurdwaras today are not filling the
needs of the people. Sikhs living outside India are being asked more
and more often to participate in inter-faith meetings and social
gatherings of all kinds. Thcy are expected to explain the teachings
and philosophy of their faith. In our increasingly multicultural
society in Canada, we need this type of interaction to help promote
understanding and harmony. How can we adequately meet the challenge
when our own education is lacking and there scorns to be no place and
no way to get quick answers. We need a governing body that will:
- respond to and answer questions regardless of where they come from or from whom.
- guide the quality of education and training of granthis.
- encourage writers to produce more quality material.
- evaluate books before they become accepted as teaching aids in our schools.
- put a healthy stress on communication.
- take care of finances, making sure that money collected in
gurdwaras is used wisely for the religious and moral good of the
community in general and children in particular.
- standardise and provide guidelines for the awarding of saropas.
As the highest award in Sikhism, it should come from one central
This governing body must be transparent and accountable to the
people it serves. There can be no lifetime appointments. Every member
must be a working member. This should not be a place for self-promoting
Rather than blaming modernity, we should study the administrative
structures of modern corporations and governments. How are they
successful? How do they cope with policy setting and communications?
Guru Amar Das copied the Mughal system of administration when he
set up his 22 manjis for Sikhism. We too can learn from others in
setting up a more efficient way of dealing with life in the modern
world. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, but we must find solutions
to our problems as soon as possible.
Another important factor which contributes to apostasy and must not
be glossed over is the inability of most Sikhs to differentiate
between religion and culture. They have allowed Hindu culture to
permeate their lives even though it often overrides Sikh religious
tenets. Many of the customs practised in the name of culture are
completely opposed to the teachings of the Gurus: caste, rituals
related to food, the adulation of sants, inequality of women,
etc.,etc. How can one forget that Sikh culture can only go back to
the days of Guru Nanak ? Before then, there were no Sikhs.
In 1893, in his book The Sikh Religion, Max Arthur MacAuliffe
made this observation:
"Hinduism... is like the boa constrictor of the Indian forests." ....
"it winds itself around its opponent, crushes it in its folds,
and finally causes it to disappear." ...
"In this way, it disposed off Buddhism," ...
"it absorbed the religion of the Scythian invaders off
Northern India," ...
"it has converted uneducated Islam in India into a semi-paganism;
and in this way it is disposing off the once hopeful religion
of Baba Nanak. Hinduism has embraced Sikhism in its folds," ...
Its ultimate destruction is, it is apprehended,
inevitable without state support
Over 100 years later, MacAuliffe's prediction still rings with truth.