I was always reluctant to comment on this topic until a notorious, much-maligned ‘journalist’ with a penchant for misrepresentation and sensationalism recently penned an article which touched briefly on the subject of Sikh-Muslim relations. Even with only a few sentences discussing the matter, he still managed to get it spectacularly wrong. So here goes:
“The implication is that racists should harass Muslims, not them (Sikhs).”
This statement seems to be the writer’s own inference. He fails to comprehend that most Sikhs have always strived to establish themselves as an independent religious community, regardless of the political climate. Also, to allege that a significant minority of Sikhs actually wish for innocent Muslims to be subject to gratuitous attacks is downright outrageous. Still, anything goes when you need to slander the Sikh community as reactionary bigots, right? J
Saying that “Sikhs are not Muslims” is not necessarily racist or symptomatic of an effort to distance ourselves from Muslims. Ultimately, however, it depends on the context in which it is being said. If it is said in a purely informative context in order to highlight the theological differences between adherents of the two respective faiths, then there is nothing morally wrong with such a statement. Unlike some, I believe that Sikhs are entitled to autonomous recognition, politically and socially. Therefore making such a distinction is important to affirming our own identity at a time where Sikhs are increasingly becoming conflated with Muslims or falsely assumed to be a Hindu denomination. Contrary to popular belief, Sikhism is not an offshoot or Hinduism nor is it a syncretism (theological reconciliation between two faiths) of Dharmic and Abrahamic philosophies. Sikhism is a unique, distinct religion and I really hope that people will take their time to research Sikhism and understand this point. Incidentally, the superlative work from the educational organisation ‘Basics-Of-Sikhi’ in this regard is hugely commendable; their aim is primarily to raise awareness about Sikhism as a separate religion, as opposed to persuading people to convert. Generally, aggressive missionary work or proselytism is discouraged in Sikh tradition. Check out their YouTube channel, (www.youtube.com/basicsofsikhi) if you have time.
Emphasising the differences between Muslims and Sikhs is bad IF it is indicative of an attempt by Sikhs to criticise or denigrate Muslims, or to indiscriminately anathematise Muslim people as the “bad guys” who are deserving of attacks. But overall I don’t think that is the case. The fact remains that Sikhs are not Muslims and there are significant differences in theology, practices and traditions; this is not say that Islam is bad or that Muslims are bad. There are also connections, friendships and positive relationships as well as differences. Sufi mystical works influenced Sikh scriptures, and many fakirs in addition to the comparatively tolerant Mughal emperor Akbar maintained cordial relationships with Guru-Sahibs. Furthermore, reminding people of our differences isn’t always a bad thing. Diversity is to be welcomed, surely, it brings colour to humanity and the world.
Having said that, there are a plethora of intercommunal issues — such as grooming (where there is disproportionate overrepresentation of Pakistani Muslims among the perpetrators) and allegations of forced conversions — and it is imperative that these are comprehensively addressed instead of being continually swept under the carpet by the politically-correct, wishy-washy brigade.
Dismissing or disregarding these concerns causes many disaffected Sikhs (and Hindus) to sympathise with far-right nationalist organisations and become susceptible to their vociferous anti-Muslim rhetoric.
There are also longstanding tensions between subcontinental Muslims and Sikhs/Hindus that irrefragably predate the colonial era, such as the persecution by foreign invaders (various Turkic dynasties) and the carnage in the Punjab region that immediately followed the partition of India and Pakistan and the displacement of millions. Moreover, certain theological differences are considered by some to be irreconcilable to the point where there is interpersonal hatred. Although religion is subjective and interpretative, some Sikhs and Hindus have a conception of Islam as being a particularly violent, supremacist and belligerent religion. Correspondingly, some conservative-minded Muslims believe it is impossible to love or befriend a ‘disbeliever’, and that ‘disbelievers’ are subhuman degenerates worthy of contempt or disdain.
Therefore to suggest that any contemporary animosity between Sikhs and Muslims is caused entirely by the legacy of colonial subterfuge, is demonstrative of profound historical illiteracy and ignorance. But that’s to be expected from someone as talentless and misinformed as Sunny Hundal.