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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sikhism Compared to Islam

(Below: Sikh woman. Right. Muslim women.)


i) Sikhs Embrace Diversity: Muslims Don't
ii) God and Man
iii) Women in Sikhism
iv) Sikh Militarism
v) Ritual
vi) Sikh-Muslim Relations in the UK

Sikhs Embrace Diversity: Muslims Don’t

The most obvious distinction to make between Islam and Sikhism is that the latter recognises all human beings as equal, regardless of colour, caste or creed. More specifically, Guru Nanak aimed his religious teachings and beliefs at all human beings, not just Sikhs (or his followers). In fact, he preached against all forms of communalism. So much so that we have this well-known quote:

‘There is no Hindu and no Muslim.’

That clearly means that what should be emphasised is man’s common humanity, not his religion or his religious allegiances. Thus it is no surprise that Guru Nanak happily and freely borrowed and reworked ideas and concepts from all the other religions he was aware of (as Mohammed did, but less honestly and openly).

Now from everything just written, it will be clear that although Guru Nanak himself stressed common humanity, and thus what all religions shared, Sikhism, if only to non-Muslim Westerners like me, is very different to Islam and it is so in important and relevant ways. That is, relevant to Westerners and indeed members of the EDL.

For a start, whereas Sikhism emphasises man’s equality and common humanity, Islam stresses the difference of all Muslims from the rest of non-Muslim mankind. It emphasises the superiority of Islam over all other religions. It emphasises the superiority of every Muslim over every non-Muslim, even over the ‘peoples of the Book’. Like Guru Nanak, Mohammed aimed his religion and teaching at all men. However, whereas Mohammed did this in order to convert all non-Muslims to Islam, Guru Nanak was not a proselytiser, as such. The message of Sikhism could be learnt and respected by those who still did not want to convert to Sikhism in total.

There is also a well-known story in which the Sikh Bhikan Shah used to stress Sikhism’s regard for all religions and its stress on man’s common humanity. Bhikan made a visit to Patna in India. On that journey he came across many Hindus and Muslims. His disciples, and others, wanted to know what his attitude towards Hindus and Muslims was. In order to do this, he placed two small pots in front on the infant Gobind Rai, one representing Hindus and the other Muslims. As the child covered both the pots simultaneously with his small hands, this showed Bhikan Shah that the young child would grow up to treat both Hindus and Muslims alike and with equal respect.

God and Man

Theologically, Sikhs, or at least many Sikhs, have stressed union with God, or the unity of God and man. Guru Nanak talked of the ‘transformation’ of man ‘to a permanent union with God’. Guru Nanak's anti-communalist position flows directly from this theological stance on God and man. More specifically, Sikhs are instructed to transcend and merge their souls directly with God. This is done specifically to allow themselves to rise above their egos in order to escape from vanity and ‘repetitive reincarnation’. However, there is never a complete identity between God and the individual Sikh. The soul of the Sikh is thought to retain its identity. That is, the Sikh and God are never ‘ontologically identical’.

Muslims, on the other hand, seem to spend much time stressing man’s difference and inferiority to Allah, or God. Indeed such a distinction or difference is absolutely essential to Islam and therefore to the lives and beliefs of all Muslims (except, perhaps, the Sufis, etc.).

To Sikhs, God has no gender. He is neither male nor female. Furthermore, Sikhism teaches that God is Nirankar (‘Niran’ meaning without and ‘kar’ meaning form). Of course, to most non-Muslims, and also to most Muslims, Allah has a very male character – or, at the least, his manly and masculine characteristics are stressed and also seen as important. His is a being of rage, anger, jealousy, aggression; and he demands absolute and total obedience. Of course, theological Islam also teaches that Allah is without form and cannot be fully known.

Women in Sikhism

One very big difference between Islam and Sikhism with regards to men and women is that Sikhs respect women, whereas Muslims, as Muslims, seem despise them (or at least Islam does). Even as a teenager, being brought up in Bradford Moor, Bradford, I noticed that Sikh women were well-respected by Sikh men and were ‘allowed’ to look attractive.

Would you ever, in a million years, expect to find the following in the Koran or in any Islamic text? –

‘It is in a woman that man’s body is formed, and it is of a woman that he is born, it is to a woman that he pledges his word, it is a woman who is his companion, with a woman he shares his roof, and it is through her that his life is lived out. When a wife dies, one looks for another. Society can only exist through her since it is through her that kings are born. All creatures are born of the female of the species; without her none can exist.’

- Adi Granth, ki Var Mahala I

This quote almost seems to veer towards matriarchy. However, perhaps some religions don’t accept the matriarchy/patriarchy division in the first place.

Sikh Militarism

Many commentators have stressed the militarist nature of Sikhism. Sikhs would not disagree with this. Thus these commentators also stress this as a similarity with Islam, which seems fair. But the nature of Sikh’s warlike spirit must be understood historically. And that history brings in Muslims and Islam.

Many have stressed the fact that the fighting spirit of Sikhs was largely a response to Muslim aggression and persecution. From the 15th century onwards, Sikhs were always in conflict with Muslims and Islamic empires. For example, Sikhs and Sikh gurus were often in conflict with the Mughal (Muslim) authorities. In one case, Guru Arjan Sahib was captured by the Mughal authorities and was persecuted and later killed. This directly led his Sikh successors to promote the military and political organisation of Sikh communities to defend themselves against the attacks of Mughal forces.

Later, under the 10th Guru, the Sikhs organised a trained fighting force to defend their independence from the Muslims. Still later, the guru, Tegh Bahadur, was executed in 1675 for refusing to convert to Islam. Then Gobind Singh formed the Khalsa Sikh community in 1699. This was a disciplined community which combined Sikhism with military and political organisation.

After Gobind Singh died, Banda Singh Bahadur became the leader of the Sikh army and carried out several attacks on the Mughal Empire. He too was executed after refusing to convert to Islam.


One thing that is an extremely strong feature of Islam is its emphasis on rites, rituals and other examples of ‘outward observation’. The Sikh, Guru Nanak, on the other hand, emphasised the irrelevance of rites, pilgrimages and even of asceticism (as certain forms of Protestantism, etc. did/do). Muslims even have rites for wiping the arse. Indeed some Muslim men sleep on their left sides in imitation of Mohammed, though I am not sure this is an official Islamic commandment.

Following on from this, it will be clear why Sikhs are prohibited from eating halal food or any other ritually slaughtered meat and fish. Indeed many Sikhs are lacto-vegetarians, though, unlike Muslims, they respect the diets of people of other religions.

None of this is a surprise if one knows how Islam ‘follows you into the bathroom and then into the bedroom’, as someone once put it. Because of all this we can say that Muslims, on the whole, are far more religiously ostentatious than Sikhs.

It can also be said that Islam has a very negative view of life, whereas Sikhism is optimistic. Many Muslims talk of the 'shallowness and tawdryness of life'. Sikhs are also advised to defend the rights of all creatures, including their fellow human beings. Muslims are told to despise all non-Muslims, let alone animals. They are only expected to ‘defend the rights’ of their fellow Muslims. Similarly, Sikhs are encouraged to share with all men. Muslims are told to share only with their fellow Muslims. All these points also apply to charitable donations, the distribution of free food, working for the good of the community, etc. In each case, all these things are only applied to fellow Muslims in the Islamic case.

Sikh-Muslim Relations in the UK and the World

One commentator on Sikhism and Islam interestingly claims that relations between Sikhs and Muslims are worse in the UK than in India and Pakistan. He tells us that many Indian Sikhs visit historical gurudwaras in the Punjab, Pakistan. Likewise, many Pakistani Muslims visit Indian Islamic shrines or sports events in India. However, he also says that there are ‘tensions’ in the UK between Sikhs and Muslims. Specifically, there are many cases of Sikhs being ‘forced to convert to Islam’ here in the UK. From my own knowledge, there is the problem of Muslim men ‘grooming’ Sikh girls in order to have sexual relations with them or turn them into virtual or actual prostitutes.

Outside of the UK, in 2009 in Pakistan, the Taliban forced many Sikhs to pay them the Islamic Jizya or poll tax, which is levied by Muslims on all non-Muslim minorities. As recently as this year, 2010, the Taliban, again, attacked Sikhs and even beheaded many of them.

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