|Part of a series on|
|Criticism of religion|
Sikhism has been criticized for various reasons by non-Sikhs and some scholars, but Sikhs and other scholars find these criticism to be flawed and based on poor understanding or common to all religions. The colonial-era missionary Ernest Trumpp criticized Sikhism for its incoherent scripture that its followers do not understand. Hew McLeod has criticized the Sikh popular historical literature such as the Janamsakhis as ahistorical and legendary fiction that misinforms with miracles. The rituals within major Sikh gurdwaras have been criticized as a form of ritualized idolatry (bibliolatry) where the Sikh scripture is bowed to, put to bed every night and woken up every morning. The Sikh community has been criticized as one that historically conflated its spiritual practices with a militant brotherhood. Recent attacks by some radical Sikhs on Ravidasi and Nirankari traditions, have attracted critical commentaries within and from outside. In 2009, the Ravidasi tradition split and left Sikhism and founded their own Ravidassia religion after criticizing Sikhs for intolerance and social discrimination.
Ernest Trumpp – a colonial-era Christian missionary in Sindh, asked in 1869 by the Secretary of state for India on behalf of the British government to translate the Adi Granth and Dasam Granth, enthusiastically started studying and translating them. However, after his initial effort, he stated that they were not worth translating in full, because "the same few ideas, he thought, being endlessly repeated". He found that the Sikh granthis who recited the text in the early 1870s lacked comprehension and its sense of meaning. He stated that "Sikhs had lost all learning" and the granthis were misleading. Even for Sikhs the language of the Guru Granth Sahib is considered archaic and hard to understand without an interpreter. According to Tony Ballantyne, Ernest Trumpp's insensitive approach such as treating the Sikh scripture as a mere book and blowing cigar smoke over its pages while studying the text, did not endear him to the Sikh granthis who worshipped it as an embodiment of the Guru.
Trumpp, after eight years of study and research of the Sikh scriptures, described them as "incoherent and shallow in the extreme, and couched at the same time in dark and perplexing language, in order to cover these defects. It is for us Occidentals a most painful and almost stupefying task, to read only a single Rag". Trumpp criticized Adi Granth to be lacking systematic unity, according to Arvind Pal Singh Mandair – a Sikhism scholar.
Trumpp said that Sikhism was "a reform movement in spirit", but "completely failed to achieve anything of real religious significance". He concluded that the most Sikhs do not understand what their scripture's verses mean and any metaphysical speculations therein. The Sikh intelligensia he met during his years of study, stated Trumpp, only had a "partial understanding" of their own scripture. Most Sikhs neither observe the rahit-nama – the Sikh code of conduct, nor were the popular notions of the Sikhs guided by the teachings in the Adi Granth. It was more of a military brotherhood with a martial spirit, inspired by a "deep fanatical hatred" for the Muslims given the Sikh sense of their history and identity.
According to the Sikh historian Trilochan Singh, Trumpp's colonial era study and remarks were "extremely vulgar attacks" on Sikhism that did not appreciate the Sikh history, culture and religion and it reflected the arrogance of scientific-analytical method. His criticism reflected the bias of his missionary agenda, which assumed that ancient Christian scriptures were coherent, had the right answers, and that all other religions must be held in contempt. According to Indologist Mark Juergensmeyer, setting aside Ernest Trumpp's nasty remarks, he was a German linguistic and his years of scholarship, translations, as well as field notes and discussions with Sikhs at the Golden Temple remain valuable reference works for contemporary scholars.
W H McLeod, called the most influential modern era historian of Sikhism by Tony Ballantyne, has criticized Sikh texts such as the hagiographic Janamsakhis of the Sikh gurus. These texts are cherished and popular among the Sikhs but they are not factual. These are inventions of myths and miracles that are highly inconsistent. They distort reality with claims such as "Nanak as a boy miraculously restored a field of wheat after the crop had been ruined by buffaloes". McLeod dismissed the vast majority of these popular Janamsakhis as legends of faith, less interested in facts and theological inspiration, and more interested in creating popular piety for someone capable of miracles. According to McLeod, the vast compilations of Sikh Janamsakhis, after a critical scholarship, can be reduced to three short paragraphs of information about the real Guru Nanak, for example. McLeod's textual criticism, his empirical examination of genealogical and geographical evidence, examination of the consistency between the Sikh texts and their versions, philological analysis of historic Sikh literature, search for corroborating evidence in external sources and other critical studies have been influential popular among the Western academics and Indian scholars working outside India, but highly controversial within the Sikh community.
According to McLeod, states Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Sikhism was predominantly a Nanak's religious path (Panth) dedicated to theology till Guru Arjan was tortured and executed by the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Thereafter, the Sikh theology, as well as its orientation as a religious militia and resistance movement, began to change. Nanak's originality lay in combining mystical experience with the historical foundations of introspection, interiorization, detachment, meditation and spirituality found in the Indian religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. After Guru Arjan's persecution and death during the Muslim rule period, the theology of Sikhism became less about spiritual upliftment and more about the politics, statecraft and the use of violence in the defense of religious freedoms of Sikhs and non-Muslims. In the colonial era, the Singh Sabha continued this theme by their attempts to distinguish themselves from the Hindus, rather than any serious theological and philosophical study of ancient Hindu and early Sikh texts, on concepts such as nirguna and saguna aspects of the divine, and how Nanak's theological thought that God can and does communicate to every human being regularly, and how this communication can be "recognized, accepted and followed". Sikhism has been criticized as failing to provide a satisfactory, coherent answer about "how" this ongoing divine communication happens or can happen.
Since early 20th-century, Farquhar and other scholars state that the matha tekna (bowing down and touching one's head to the floor) by Sikhs at the door of Gurdwara or before the Guru Granth Sahib, and other daily rituals such as putting the scripture to bed (sukhasan) in a bedroom (sachkhand), waking it up every morning, carrying it in a procession and re-opening it (prakash) in major Sikh Gurdwaras is a form of idolatry. Late 20th-century comments acknowledge that modern Sikh temples lack idols, but the widespread devotional worship of the Guru Granth Sahib in these temples has drawn questions that the Sikh scripture is being ritually treated like an idol. According to them, idolatry is any form of bowing or worship of any object, paying homage to any icon, any ritualized direction or house of worship. It is a form of bibliolatry, where the Guru Granth Sahib is the eternal living guru treated with rituals of respect similar to how people of other faiths treat an idol or statue or image. According to Kristina Myrvold, every Sikh scripture copy is treated like a person and venerated with elaborate ceremonies. In major Sikh temples, these rituals are devotional worship and are a daily means of "merit bestowing ministrations". These daily ritual ministrations and paying of homage for the scripture by Sikhs, states Myrvold, is not unique to Sikhism. It moulds "meanings, values and ideologies" and creates a framework for congregational worship, states Myrvold, that is found in all major faiths.
Dayanand Saraswati – the founder of the missionary Arya Samaj movement who interpreted Hinduism as originally a non-idolatrous monotheistic religion, considered Sikhism as one of the cults of Hinduism. Like Hindus who he called as "degenerate, idolatrous", he criticized the Sikhs for worshipping the Guru Granth scripture as an idol like a mithya (false icon). Just like foolish Hindus who visit, bow, sing and make offerings in Hindu temples to symbols of goddess, said Saraswati, foolish Sikhs visit, bow, sing and make gifts in Sikh gurdwaras to the symbolic Sikh scripture. He condemned both the Hindus and the Sikhs as idolators. According to Kenneth Jones, in late 19th-century a few Hindus and Sikhs agreed with Saraswati, but many found his commentary as infuriating.
Scholars such as Eleanor Nesbitt state the Nanaksar Gurdwaras practice of offering food cooked by Sikh devotees to the Guru Granth Sahib, as well as curtaining the scripture during this ritual, as a form of idolatry. Baba Ishar Singh of this international network of Sikh temples has defended this practice because he states that the Sikh scripture is more than paper and ink.
However, the practice is a common source of criticism and questioning of Sikhism, including the belief that not cutting ones hair will cause it to grow to unacceptably long lengths. Non-amritdhari young women, especially, often express criticism of the forbiddance to cut hair as being too demanding and restrictive.
Sikhism's ban on hair grooming has been criticized as limiting a woman's freedom to follow healthy or cosmetic grooming practices.
Sikhism has been accused of being an ideology that supports a militancy and violence. Many of the Sikh groups were banned in numerous countries, some convicted of terrorist activities. Due to such negative impact, the support for Khalistan Movement has been commonly regarded as act of terrorism, many have been arrested for affirming support for the movement.
Sikhism (and its adherents) has been accused of violence, or the glorification thereof, through its history (such as the militarisation of the Khalsa), symbols (such as the Khanda), art and legend. and that weapons are sacred as they are seen as means to fight any persecution against any innocent regardless of colour or creed.
According to Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, Sikh Gurus attempted to "create a window of opportunity" to promote gender equality, liberty and sorority", but instead of understanding the Gurus' message, the "oppressive feudal values over women have dominated Sikh society". It is ironic, states Kaur, that in 1699, just a few years after Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa tradition, the Sikh leadership barred women from joining it. Kaur criticizes the codes of conduct that developed within Sikhism over time, such as the Chaupa Singh Rahit Nama, which declared the "Sikh woman's primary mode of religiosity as the worship of her husband" and "know him as her god". These early Sikh texts recommended that she fast and conduct rituals for the sake of her husband, rather than seek her own spiritual liberation.
According to Eleanor Nesbitt – a Sikhism scholar, some verses from the Guru Granth Sahib such as AG 473 are cited as championing women in Sikh apologetics. However, a read of this verse suggests that it merely hails woman as instrumentally necessary for humankind's continuity. The one text that does unequivocally celebrate the power and glory of woman are the verses on Durga in Dasam Granth. However states Nesbitt, in modern Sikhism, "the unmistakably Hindu character of this celebration of the Goddess" has led some Sikhs to refrain from celebrating the Dasam Granth.
In 2003, the media highlighted the gender discriminatory practices within the Golden Temple dawn and dusk rituals. Sikh women were denied the equal opportunity to lead or physically participate in the Sukhasan procession when the Sikh scripture is taken out of the sanctum and carried in a palanquin to a bedroom to rest. The Sikh officials stated that the reason for banning women was their physical safety and respect for intimate space as many Sikh men tend to rush and jostle for a chance to carry the palanquin in a relay pattern.
Dalits (formerly untouchables) who had previously converted to Sikhism have accused Sikhs of insensitivity to their beliefs, of social discrimination and targeted violence against them by Sikh radicals. In 2009, they carved out a new religion called Ravidassia religion, while retaining many of historical Sikh symbols such as the nishan, sabhas and langar.
Ravidassias believe that Ravidas is their Guru (saint) whereas the Sikhs have traditionally considered him as one of many bhagats (holy person). Further, Ravidassias accept living sants of Ravidass Deras as Guru whereas the Sikhs do not, states Ronki Ram. The Sikh subtradition decisively split from Sikhism following an assassination attack on their visiting living Guru Sant Niranjan Dass and his deputy Ramanand Dass in 2009 in Vienna by Sikh radicals. Ramanand Dass died from the attack, Niranjan Dass survived his injuries, while over a dozen attendees at the temple were also injured.
In the 1970s, Western heritage people – mainly North Americans and Europeans – led by Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, also known as Yogi Bhajan, began converting to Sikhism. They started as Yoga exercise enthusiasts who became interested in their founder's religious background. They called their movement Sikh Dharma Brotherhood or 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization). They accepted the Guru Granth Sahib as their scripture, underwent the rituals of Khalsa initiation, visited Amritsar, and adopted the dress (turban) and codes of Sikhs. Many in the Sikh community in India have, however, not accepted them as true Sikhs. The Punjab-based Sikh historian Trilochan Singh, for example, has criticized them a "sacrilegious sect", anti-Sikh because they practice Hindu yoga, and alleged that the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood practices were "repulsive to the mind of every knowledgeable Sikh".
According to the Sikhism scholar Jugdeep Chima, a similar conflict between the Khalsa tradition and Nirankari tradition has historically and again since 1970s led to accusations by some Khalsa Sikhs that the Nirankari Sikhs were heretical and sacrilegious, while Nirankaris accuse the Khalsa of not respecting their freedom of beliefs and religion. Both have traditionally accepted the rituals and symbols found in Sikhism, states Chima, but Nirankari Sikhs accept living gurus, while Khalsa Sikhs do not. The Khalsa Sikhs also accuse the Nirankaris of criticizing their proper interpretation of Sikhism and refusing to conform to the rules of conduct.
The rahitnama promulgated by the Khalsa Sikhs has been criticized for its rhetoric of exclusion of those Sikhs who do not subscribe to its preferred code of conduct. For example, states the Sikhism scholar Jeevan Deol, while listing the daily duties of a Khalsa Sikh, early rahitnamas in Sikhism warned that they must shun panj mel (five reprobate groups). These include the Ramraiyas, the Minas, the Masands, the Dhirmalias, the Sir-gums (those Sikhs who accept Amrit baptism but subsequently cut their hair). In contemporary Sikhism, similar exclusionary rhetoric has "problematized" the divisions and self-perceptions between the initiated Amritdhari Sikhs and the Sahajdhari Sikhs who do not wish to undertake the formal initiation.
Sikh groups have put pressure on universities, and there has been a movement among some Sikhs to stifle academic criticism of popular Sikh literature, prior theories of Sikh history and Sikhism. For example, conservative Sikhs and activists have campaigned against Pashaura Singh – a professor of Religious Studies and Sikhism, for allegedly questioning the "authenticity of Guru Granth Sahib" and treating the "Travels of Guru Nanak" in Janamsakhis as fake. He was pursued with hostility and pressured to withdraw sections of his thesis at University of Toronto supervised by W.H. McLeod in early 1990s. In 2019, some Sikh advocacy groups such as United Sikh Party objected to an invitation to Pashaura Singh by Punjabi University for an International History Conference for his scholarship on Sikh scriptures and literature. They threatened to protest if Singh is allowed to speak at the conference. Another example of targeting the freedom of the academia by Sikh activists has been Harjot Oberoi – another professor of Sikhism. The activists campaigned for his removal and denounced his scientific methodology towards the study of Sikhism. It must be noted that Pashaura Singh was afforded due opportunity by the akal rakhta and other Sikh scholars on his comparative method borrowed from Trumpp and his hypothesis of the draft theory was rejected as forcibly injecting undated texts dated much beyond the timeline of the adi Granth to which he failed to bring credible response by his academic peers who might have pressurised the community to act against him. Other scholars and editors have criticized such trends within Sikhism, while praising the work of Oberoi.
According to the Indologist Mark Juergensmeyer, rational, objective and critical studies on Sikhism have been limited so far. The largest group of scholars dedicated to Sikh Studies are based in and near Punjab (India), but these scholars project themselves as proud Sikhs and predominantly focus on showing distinctiveness of their faith by stereotypical criticism of other religions such as Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. There is a dearth of studies by Sikh scholars that examine the connections and similarities of Sikhism to other religious traditions based on comparative studies of actual texts and manuscripts. The Sikh writers detest and criticize any serious attempts to "coldly dissect" their personal faith and Sikh history by "methods of social science" and by critical comparative textual or literary analysis. This, critiques Juergensmeyer, has set the stage for an "unhappy confrontation" between the academic scholars versus those motivated in defending the dignity of their faith. Illustration of hostility to critical studies on Sikhism include the numerous articles published by Sikh institutions that are hostile to W. H. McLeod and other scholars who are based outside India.[note 1]
The turban, hair and beard date from the 17th century, when the last living Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, decided that followers should allow their hair to grow as a sign of respect for God, known as Kesh.