525.Man in Blue – The Turban and the 5 Ks

Another of my columns that did not make it to the blog. As it is about Gurmat it is still relevant although it goes back to 2010.

I have earlier written about the notion propagated by the SGPC that you are a Sikh when you have uncut-hair (keshdhari), and that you are not if you have not. This division of Sikhs ignores the Sikh way of life as taught by the Guru Granth Sahib.

Guru Gobind Singh told us to be different, to behave different and to look different, to follow the Sikh way of life and to wear the Khalsa uniform of the turban and the 5 Ks. Amritdhari is a valid category in Sikhí, keshdhari not. Wearing the Khalsa uniform without having Khalsa behaviour is meaningless.

A Sikh is somebody who seriously tries to live according to the teachings of our eternal Guru, a Khalsa is somebody who does the same and has offered her/his head through the amrit ceremony.

I am at the moment reading ‘Guru’s Wisdom’, a book written by Madan Singh of Birmingham (UK). I found some useful information in the book, but when writing about hair he creatively interprets Guru Granth Sahib.

He writes that Sheikh Faríd must have uncut hair as the sheikh writes in a slok on pana 1380 : ‘your hair has turned grey, your beard has turned grey and your moustache has turned grey’. This indeed suggests that Sheikh Faríd had a moustache and a beard, but does not prove that he was ‘keshdhari’.

Guru Arjan writes on pana 749 in rág sohi : ‘I make my hair into a fan’. This is of course a poetic image, and does not prove that Guru had uncut hair. It is likely that he did, but this verse does not prove it. The same applies to : ‘with my hair I dust the feet of the Guru’ (pana 387, rág ásá, M 5).

In a different vein Guru Arjan writes in rág maru (solhé) on pana 1084 : ‘Let your total awareness be the turban on your head’. I have earlier discussed the full verse and its context in Man in Blue column 468, which can be found on the ‘Maninblue1947’ blog (search 468.).

When you read the sixteen verses of this shabad you will discover that a) the shabad addresses Muslims, not Sikhs and b) that the Guru is not suggesting in this shabad that either Muslims or Sikhs should have uncut hair or wear a dastar.

Madan Singh also thinks that the description of God as ‘He/She with the beautiful hair’ means that Sikhs should have uncut hair. Does describing God as ‘She/He with the dark skin’ mean that Sikhs should have a dark skin ?

The Guru Granth Sahib does not tell us to wear the Guru’s uniform. The Guru Granth Sahib teaches us the ethical values that are the core of the Sikh or the Khalsa way of life.

Guru Gobind Singh fully supported the Gurmat teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib. The Sant-Sipahi is practising seva, selfless service to all. Additionally the Sant-Sipahi follows the discipline of wearing the Guru’s uniform as a sign of her/his commitment to the teachings of our eternal Guru.

531.Man in Blue – Pheasants, Rabbits, Hares, Buzzards, Falcons, Lapwings

This column for some reason did not make it to the blog. It was written before June 2013, when I returned to the UK

The south of Belgian Limburg is not any kind of wilderness. Most of the landscape is taken up by fields where farmers grow fruit and other crops. There are also many towns and villages dotting the landscape.

But the farming is mostly relatively small-scale and there are many narrow roads in between the fields which make cycling in this area so enjoyable. Most of the ‘woodlands’ are parks belonging to manor houses, of which there are quite a few.

As far as wild life is concerned I have seen no foxes or badgers, and the only deer were the ones on the road signs that warn you that they might cross the road.

The animal I see most (not counting insects, smaller birds or mice etc) when walking or cycling are pheasants. These are not native birds and were introduced to give the huntsmen some ‘sport’. They are therefore quite keen to run away as fast as possible when they spot a walking or cycling human.

I have enjoyed the rabbits and hares crossing the roads and fields. Both of these are of course also targets for the hunters. The hares run fast and jump high in order to get away. Rabbits move at a steadier pace, but are good at disappearing in the undergrowth or into their rabbit warrens.

In the autumn and winter there are usually a good few birds of prey about, both falcons and bigger birds like buzzards. My theory is that as the mice and other smaller folk feast on the fruit that falls of the trees, the birds of prey feast on the mice in their turn.

In spring and early summer I enjoy the lapwings, which dance quite artistically in the air, showing the white nether side of their wings and the dark top sides.

I am busy preparing for my departure to Southall. In Southall you do come across rats and there are the usual moorhens, coots, ducks and swans in the Grand Union Canal. There might even be some rabbits about although I have never seen them.

There are many more Gurdwaras with daily programmes in Southall, and they are part of my reason for wanting to return there.

There are also many human birds of passage in Southall. The Sikhs still have a prominent presence, but there are now also Poles, Somalians, Tamils, Afghans (Sikh, Hindu and Muslim) and of course also our brothers and sisters from the other side of the Ravi, the Pakistan Panjabis.

I like the variety, I like the busy streets, the many small shops, the Gurdwaras, the churches for South Asians and others, the Mosques (Masjid) and the Mandirs.

I will take my cycle with me, and I will still go on tours like I did here, and there are also some nice walking routes. But we cannot have both the country lanes of Limburg and the eight Gurdwaras of Southall. You have to make a choice, and I made mine !

539. Man in Blue – Religious Symbols, Clothing and Headwear

In the public space (e.g. the street): There are rarely problems about religious symbols, clothing and headwear worn in public spaces, with the exception of the niqab and the burka. A general ban on niqab or burka is not the right way of tackling the issue of identification of people wearing face covering clothing.

There should be regulations on how people wearing face covering items of clothing can be identified, both taking into account the security aspect and the respect for the persons who have to be identified. Security checks based on face recognition should only happen when there is a real security issue and should take place inside an enclosed space, eg a police van, and in the presence of female officers only.

I do not understand why some Muslim woman feel that they have to wear a niqab or a burka, but it is not down to us to decide what others do.

When discussing wearing of religious symbols, clothing and headgear we should start from ‘first principles’: why ban anything if there is no harm to others, why ban if there is no negative effect on the service given/work done. Banning does not make the affected person ‘neutral’. Health and safety issues can be solved with some flexibility and creativity.

In employment (business, factories): Declaring a business or factory ‘neutral’ should not be used as an excuse for discrimination of people who wear religious symbols, headwear or clothing. General bans should be declared to be against any kind of liberal equalities law.

In public institutions (eg schools, hospitals, municipal offices): The laws on disability allow discrimination based on the ability/inability of a person to do a particular job, not on the basis of the fact that they have ‘a disability’.

The same principle should apply to employing a person wearing religious symbols, headwear or clothing. The public institution does not become Islamic, Sikh, Christian or Jewish by having employees of these faith traditions on the staff, and these staff members are Islamic, Sikh, Christian or Jewish, symbols or not.

The criterion should be: are they doing a good job, do they give a good service? The judge wearing a hijab, yarmulke or turban should deliver justice to all. In most European countries it would be very unequal if people who wear religious symbols, headwear or clothing were not part of the police, the army or the judiciary.

We want the people of different backgrounds to fully take part in society, but at the same time put up barriers that excludes people of minorities. This is counterproductive. Young Sikhs and Muslims in Belgium often feel that whatever they do, the country does not want them.

I do not claim that the above addresses all aspects of the religious symbols issue, but my piece contains arguments that are based on the principles underlying the EU directives on the various strands of diversity. Those that oppose the wearing of symbols often believe that being equal means that we should all be the same.

The article was written after discussions between people of faiths and humanists from different European Countries