Criticism of Sikhism

Criticism of Sikhism

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.


  • Theology 1
    • Religious text 1.1
    • Monotheism 1.2
    • Syncretism 1.3
    • Ban on hair removal 1.4
    • Ethnoreligious group 1.5
    • Violence 1.6
  • In academia 2
  • Attitude to women 3
  • Relations with other religions and communities 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7


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]

Dayanand Saraswati, (who criticized all the religions except Hinduism) 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

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 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.”[4] Trumpp viewed Adi Granth to be lacking theological transcendence and lacking systematic unity.[5] 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.”[6]

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.[7][8] 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.[9] This has led to the text being described as having "fluid boundaries between polytheism and monotheism."[10][11] Some Sikhs also believe the text promotes sexual promiscuity (including multiple references to group sex), degrades women and also encourages use of intoxicants.[12]


Sikhism cites that the concept of Ek Onkar (One God) was created by the Gurus[13] while this concept was already taught in the Vedas,[14] other later scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita,[15] Torah,[16] Quran,[17] that came about long before the religion of Sikhism, said the same. Although, it has been suggested by some that Sikhism's monotheism differs from other religions.[18] 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."[19]

Guru Nanak opposed polytheistic practices. 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.[20] Along with Islam, others such as Jainism, Hinduism,[21] were also targeted by Nanak. However it has been alleged that later gurus of Sikhism added the practices that can be linked with polytheism,[22] most notably waving fan over Guru Granth Sahib, during worship.[23][24] 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",[25] which are seen by some puritanical religious groups as forms of polytheism.[26][27]


One view of Sikhism is that it is a syncretism of Hinduism (particularly the Bhakti movement) and Islam (particularly Sufism[28][29]), having evolved from Hinduism in the context of a multiplicity of syncretic movements in Medieval India, while taking the idea of monotheism from Islam, 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.[30] This view is commonly believed, but is outdated within scholarship.[31]

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."[32] The Sikh belief in Reincarnation is also often used as proof of the syncretic influence of Hinduism on Sikhism.[33][34][35][36]

Ban on hair removal

The cutting or removal of hair from any body part is strictly forbidden for Sikhs. This growing of ones hair is known as Kesh.[37] 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.[38][39]

Ethnoreligious group

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[40][1] and Sikh Khatris.[42] South Asia alone accounts for up to 90% of the total Sikh population and approximately 75% of all Sikhs live in Punjab, India. However it should be noted that Sikhism does not actively proselytize, and discourages it, perhaps explaining the homogeneous nature of the religion. [43]


Similar to other religions, Sikhism (and its adherents) has been accused of violence, or the glorification thereof,[44] through its history (such as the militarisation of the Khalsa),[45] symbols (such as the Khanda),[46] art and legend.[47] Sikhs believe that violence is acceptable as a last resort[48] and that weapons are sacred as they are seen as means to fight so called evil forces or tyrants.[49]

In academia

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.[50]

Attitude to women

Sikhism is commonly held to promote gender equality compared to other religions.[51] However, some cultural traditions still lead to male children being prized more highly than girls, and to beliefs in traditional gender roles.[52][53]

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.[54]

Relations with other religions and communities

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.[55]

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 atrocities occurring in Operation Blue Star 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 retaliatory-terrorism, the most well-known incident being Air India Flight 182, in which 268 Canadian citizens died. 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.[56]

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

On 2004, France had passed a law 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.[57] 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 lead to Sikhs protesting against the law across Europe,[58] India,[59] 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 on January 2012, citing that turbans do not pose a threat to ground security.

In Canada, a 2013 poll revealed that 39% of Canadians have a negative view of Sikhism, second after Islam, which is negatively viewed by 54%.[60]

See also


  1. ^ Jat Sikhs have been described as "the backbone of the Sikh movement under the leadership of the Sikh Gurus."[41]


  1. ^ Mandair, A.-P. S., Religion and the Specter of the West (Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 261.
  2. ^ "Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab ..., Volume 1", p.16
  3. ^ Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh
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  5. ^ "Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed", by Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, p. 87
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  14. ^ "Divine Message Of God To Mankind Vedas" by J.M. Mehta, Chapter '12. Worship of God'.
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  16. ^ "Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah", p.165, by Shalom Carmy
  17. ^ "One God in One Man" By C. T. Benedict, page.179
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  21. ^ (Guru Granth Sahib, Ang, 556)
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  23. ^ "The Guru Granth Sahib and Sikhism", p. 28, by Anita Ganeri
  24. ^ "Hindu Religion: Customs and Manners; Describing the Customs and Manners, Religious, Social and Domestic Life, Arts and Sciences of the Hindus", p. 78, by Paul Thomas
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  31. ^ Dhanjal, B., "Sikhism" in Holm & Bowker (eds.), Picturing God (Continuum, 1994), p. 192.
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  50. ^ Hawley & Mann, "Introduction" in Studying the Sikhs (SUNY Press, 1993), p. 3.
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  56. ^ "Congressional Record, V. 152, PT. 17, November 9, 2006 to December 6, 2006", p. 606
  57. ^ UN human rights body backs French Sikhs on turbans
  58. ^ Sikhs protest against French ban
  59. ^ Sikhs stage protest in Delhi over French turban ban
  60. ^ Canadian Public Opinion Poll, 2nd October 2013