Criticism of Sikhism

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Sikhism has been criticized in one way or another by proponents of other theories; these critics include both Sikhs and non-Sikhs under different motives. These criticisms extend across a large portion of the beliefs and practices of Sikhism and even question the authenticity of the origin of the faith; as a result, Sikhs continue to face discrimination due to their presence and past activities. Many believe that these criticisms lack the depth of understanding of the underlying teachings of Sikhism, which requires time and education to fully appreciate and put into context with other religions and beliefs.


Scholar William Hewat McLeod cited the tension between the doctrine of God's transcendence in Sikhism and a supposed ability of God to communicate with people. McLeod says Sikh thinkers have been unable to give a convincing account of how God can communicate with people at all if this being is indeed transcendent.[1] Although, this is what makes Sikh teachings different from other schools of thought i.e., that God is transcendental, formless and infinite but still can communicate to people as if a physical being.

Hindu leader Dayanand Saraswati, in his book Satyarth Prakash, criticized Sikhism, describing Guru Nanak as a "rogue",[2] the hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib as falsehood, and Sikhism as a snare to rob and cheat simple folk of their wealth and property. A Sikh wrote a response, to which Dayanand Saraswati answered that his opinion had undergone a change when he visited Punjab, and the remarks about Sikhism would be deleted in the subsequent edition of his work. However, these remarks were never removed after the untimely death of Dayanand Saraswati, and later editions of Satyarth Prakash were even more critical of Sikhism.[3]

Religious text[edit]

Guru Granth Sahib being read.

Ernest Trumpp had concluded that Adi Granth was not worth translating in full--"the same few ideas, he thought, being endlessly repeated," and referring to the heterogeneous language (mostly Sadhukkadi or Saint's tongue, a mixture of Indian dialects, used by saints to preach in North India)[4] that consisted of various dialects, he described the text 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."[5] Even for Sikhs the language of the Guru Granth Sahib is considered archaic and hard to understand without an interpreter.[6] Trumpp viewed Adi Granth to be lacking theological transcendence and lacking systematic unity,[7] he also stated that the injunctions of the Rehit-nama, authored by Prahlad Singh (a close associate of Guru Gobind Singh), regarding Sikh relations with Muslims, showed "a narrow-minded bigotry and a deep fanatical hatred."[8]

Regarding the Dasam Granth, the second scripture of Sikhs written by the 10th Guru Gobind Singh, there is much controversy among Sikh scholars regarding its authorship.[9][10] There are also references in the text to multiple gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Govind and Chandi, included in such compositions as the Chandi di Var of the 5th chapter of the text;[11] this has led to the text being described as having "fluid boundaries between polytheism and monotheism."[12][13] s.[14]


Sikhism defines the concept of one God as Ek Onkar.[15][16] While the concept of monotheism was already taught in the Vedas,[17] other later scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita,[18] Torah,[19] Quran,[20] that came about long before the religion of Sikhism. However, it has been suggested that Sikhism's monotheism differs from other religions.[21] According to Ernest Trumpp, the Sikh theology of God is "far closer in conception to the pantheistic traditions of Hinduism than the monotheistic perspective of Christianity."[22]

Guru Nanak opposed polytheistic practices. According to a legend, Nanak during his trip to Mecca had debate with mullahs of Mecca, in his debate, Nanak had asserted that Kaaba was only a black stone, which is Lingam, of Lord Shiva;[23] however it has been alleged that later gurus of Sikhism added the practices that can be linked with polytheism,[24] most notably waving fan over Guru Granth Sahib, during worship.[25][26] Sikhism also permits the veneration and Intercession of saints (such as to the Sikh martyr Bhai Maharaj Singh) and views its Gurus as the "embodiment of Divine Light" and "Divine in Spirit",[27] which are seen by some puritanical religious groups as forms of polytheism.[28][29]


One view of Sikhism is that it is a syncretism of Hinduism (particularly the Bhakti movement) and Islam (particularly Sufism[30][31][32]), having evolved from Hinduism in the context of a multiplicity of syncretic movements in Medieval India, while taking the idea of monotheism from Islam,[33][34][35][36] as well as the incorporation of selected hymns from Hindu and Muslim saints (such as Kabir, Fariduddin Ganjshakar and other Bhagat) into the Guru Granth Sahib;[31] this view was commonly believed, but is outdated within scholarship.[37]

According to Harjot Oberoi, until the 19th century the Sikhs had shown "little collective interest in distinguishing themselves from the Hindus" and "Sikh notions of time, space, corporality, holiness, kinship, social distinctions, purity and pollution and commensality were hardly different from those of the Hindus."[38] The Sikh belief in Reincarnation is also often used as proof of the syncretic influence of Hinduism on Sikhism,[39][40][41][42] although that belief in reincarnation also existed in other Indian religions, including Buddhism and Jainism before the conception of Sikhism.[43]

Ban on hair removal[edit]

The cutting or removal of hair from any body part (including nose hair, ear hair, facial hair and pubic hair)[44] is strictly forbidden for Sikhs;[45] this growing of ones hair is known as Kesh.[46] 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.[47] Non-amritdhari young women, especially, often express criticism of the forbiddance to cut hair as being too demanding and restrictive.[48]

Ethnoreligious group[edit]

Sikhism has been criticised for the perception that it is an ethnoreligious group, which has seemingly very limited appeal and following beyond those claiming ancestry from the Indian subcontinent — especially the Punjab region and its surrounds, such as among the Jat Sikh[49][a] and Sikh Khatris.[51] South Asia alone accounts for up to 90% of the total Sikh population and approximately 75% of all Sikhs live in Punjab, India. Sikhism does not actively proselytize, and discourages it, perhaps explaining the homogeneous nature of the religion.[52]


Khanda emblem of Sikhism

Similar to other religions, Sikhism (and its adherents) has been accused of violence, or the glorification thereof,[53] through its history (such as the militarisation of the Khalsa),[54] symbols (such as the Khanda),[55] art and legend;[56] however this has been rejected by David C. Rapoport: "It would be convenient to say that the prestige of violent symbols in the Sikh religion has increased Sikhs' propensity for violent action, or that the Sikh religion is violent because Sikhs as a people are violent, but I do not think either of these arguments can be made very convincingly."[57] Sikhs believe that violence is acceptable as a last resort[58] and that weapons are sacred as they are seen as means to fight so called evil forces or tyrants.[59]

The tenth Guru was an avid hunter, noting in his autobiography his success in killing antelope, elk, bears, and lions.[citation needed] He is often portrayed with his hunting hawk and hunting dogs, and regarded as a huntsman. Louis E. French conjectures that Guru Gobind Singh may have hunted, as was common among Mughal rulers, "to demonstrate his own physical and tactical prowess, to familiarize himself with the lay of the land, and to gather intelligence through networks of his own equivalent of the famous harkāre"[60]

In academia[edit]

Sikh groups have put pressure on universities, and there has been a movement among some Sikhs to stifle academic criticism of Sikhism in North America.[61]

Attitude toward women[edit]

Sikhism is commonly held to promote gender equality compared to other religions.[62] However, some cultural traditions still lead to male children being prized more highly than girls, and to beliefs in traditional gender roles.[63][64]

There have also been claims that Sikhism's ban on hair removal interferes with women's freedom to follow modern fashions for grooming, however the ban also affects males as hair in the pubic, chest, and armpit region is considered part of male grooming. On the other hand, this ban is not applied equally to men and women, with women policed less rigidly, for example removing facial hair (for those that have it) and having eyebrows plucked.[65]

Relations with other religions and communities[edit]

A ban on religious symbols that included Sikh signs was introduced in France under the presidency of Jacques Chirac.

There is a history of tension between Sikhism and Islam; this goes back to the persecution of Sikhs by the Mughal emperors in India, but has manifested in more recent distrust between the communities in the UK, including hostility to inter-community romantic relationships.[66]

Prior to the 1947 Partition of India promises of a Sikh majority state were outlined, however following the divide of India and the creation of Pakistan, renegation on such promises was the approach taken by the Indian government of the time. Following this, the actions occurring in and after Operation Blue Star which was seen as genocidal by some Sikhs, led to worldwide protests and renewed demands for a separate nation as was previously promised, they called it "Khalistan movement", during this movement, some Sikhs had been involved in terrorism, the most well-known incident being Air India Flight 182, in which 268 innocent Canadian citizens were killed. Many of the Sikh groups were banned from the numerous countries, who had been convicted with 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.[67]

The present situation in Punjab is usually regarded as a cautionary tension with elements of peace; and the militant movement (Khalistan) has been weakened.

In 2004, France had passed the law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, which banned many religious signs in schools; this ban most notably included turbans, a religious garment and central characteristic of Sikh religious code and practice.[68] Since the number of Sikhs in France is a small minority, the French education minister claimed ignorance of the consequences such an act would have for the Sikh population residing in France; this law led to Sikhs protesting against the law across Europe,[69] India,[70] as well as other regions; this issue is heatedly debated as exploitation of secularism appears to infringe on the universal right and principal - freedom of expression. European Court of Human Rights dismissed the petition. Although UN's human right body supported the petition in January 2012, citing that turbans do not pose a threat to ground security.

In Canada, a 2013 poll concluded that 39% of Canadians had a negative view of Sikhism, second after Islam, which was negatively viewed by 54%.[71]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jat Sikhs have been described as "the backbone of the Sikh movement under the leadership of the Sikh Gurus."[50]


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  11. ^ Dev, Nanak. Gurū Granth Sāhib Ji. p. 1036. Retrieved 15 June 2006. When He so willed, He created the world. Without any supporting power, He sustained the universe, he created Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; He fostered enticement and attachment to Maya.
  12. ^ Pashaura Singh; Norman Gerald Barrier (1 July 1996). The transmission of Sikh heritage in the diaspora. Manohar Publishers & Distributors. p. 60. ISBN 9788173041556.
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