The Faiths of 500,000 British Citizens – Part 1: The Sikh People

As you might know already, this month has been totally dedicated to the study of religious history. So far everything that has been covered, was closely linked with the Christian traditions and belief throughout time. This made me think about the situation of religious belief in general in the UK, and so I did some research on census and polls on religious practices of the British people. It was interesting though to  find out that the second largest group of the population of the Uk  according to the survey results is the one corresponding to those that consider to not have a religious affiliation whatsoever. Interesting, yes, but not surprising. What did surprise me and interested my, due to my own ignorance, is that almost 500,000 people in the British Isles are part of religions that most of the people have not even heard about, and yet they are quite significant and outstanding in the rest of the world,  especially in the Middle East. For this reason today, I am introducing you to these four faiths: Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism and the Baha’i Faith. In this brief introduction I will present you some of the basic details about their beliefs and practices, places of worship, rituals and their place in the modern world.

Sikhism

This religion had its origins about 500 years ago in the Punjab region, India. Its founder is known as Guru Nanak Dev. It has influences from other religions, especially Hinduism and Islam, and it send a universal message of love and peace.

The Sikhs belief that there is only one God and that Truth is its name (Ikk oan kar sat nam), and this being has no physical form therefore, there are no representations of it. The Gurus are inspired by God and they teach the rest of the community, but they are not worshipped. Their holy scriptures are compiled in what is called the Guru Grant, which include the daily prayers. The ideal that Sikhism follows is the union of all religions, races, no matter what backgrounds these would have.

Despite of the individual factor being a very important part of the practice of this faith, the Sikh have very strong family and community values. They are hard-workers that belief in the dignity of labour, equality of all people, and the importance of service: providing for each other. The also refuse the use of any type of toxins or drugs (unless recommended by doctors), as well as the performance of any sort of ritual sacrifice. In addition, a very curios characteristic of these people is that, unlike many other Indians, they are active eaters of any kind of meat. Finally, there is a common element to all the Sikh which is their surname. For the males is Singh, meaning lion or lion-hearted, while for the females is Kaur (princess), and it is ment to resemble their courage and hard-working values. Also, it is a common practice to wear a steel bracelet, not cut your hair,  and in the case of males to wear turbans and beards.

Their preferred place of worship is called the Golden Temple, located in Amritsar (Punjab). Nonetheless, their meeting can take place in any gurudwara (anywhere were there is a Guru Grant). The five Takhts are also important as they are the seats of temporal authority. About their festivities, we know that just like in the Christian Faith, they perform initiation rituals (Amrit), marriage celebrations (Anand Karaj) and funerals. In addition, they have a religious calendar which include the following feasts. Baisakhi is their version of the New Year, which takes place some time in April and is usually celebrated as a mass congregation in the Golden Temple. They also celebrate the day in which Guru Hargobund was released from prison with a group of fifty-two Hindu princes. This event is commemorated about the same time than Christmas and it is called Bandi Chhor. In addition, they also celebrate the birthdays of their ten gurus.

What is the place of the Sikh in the Modern World?

Nowadays there are about twelve million of Sikh in the world, most of them living in India. It has to be highlighted the remarkable number of Sikh related with the military. This is likely connected with the long persecution that the Islamic population of the area launched against these people. As a result they armed themselves for self-defence. Their military tradition carried on under British government, as the Sikh fought in both the First and Second World War. Nonetheless, repression of the faith’s followers carried on during and after the British occupation of India. The massacre of 1919 after the prohibition of the celebration of the Sikh new Year serves as an example, in the same way that the violent violation of the Golden Temple in 1984 by the Indian armed forces as a result of what is known as the Operation Blue Star, ordered by Indira Gandhi who was the ruler of the state of India at the time.

As a result of the many political tensions between the Hindus, Muslims and Sikh people in the area of Punjab, many Sikh had no other choice but to leave their homeland and find refuge elsewhere, mainly in the states that where once part of the British Empire. This obviously helped to spread the faith to other parts of the world, becoming more and more popular. It is surprising how despite of being a faith very attached to its homeland and origins, it is at the same time a stable religion, and not only stable but a growing one. This might be due to the fact that, indeed, the values of the Sikh are flexible, and tolerant. Their beliefs and practices have positive views linked with many current issues such as racism, sexism and religious intolerance, which perhaps provide people with hope for a change in mankind’s attitude.

To Know more about the Sikh take a look to the following sources:

Kaur Singh, N-G., Sikhism: World Religions, (1993, New York)

http://www.sikhs.org/– website of the Sikh people and their beliefs

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/ – BBC section on this faith.

ANDDDD TO KNOW ABOUT THE ZOROASTRIANS, JAINS AND FOLLOWERS OF THE BAHA’I FAITH KEEP AN EYE ON THE FOLLOWING UPDATES! and for a heads up here is the link about the census and polls:

http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-surveys-statistics

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