Sikhism – A Feminist Religion?

// 13 April 2010

As you may have gathered from my name, I am a Sikh. A principle of Sikhism not to engage in missionary work and by writing this blog post I would like to make it clear from the outset that I am not trying to convert anyone, but simply want to explore the situation of women who belong to the Sikh religion.

One of the most important festivals in the Sikh calendar will be celebrated this week by the 336, 000 Sikhs who live in Britain. Vasakhi marks the New Year and the creation of the Khalsa, one of the most important institutions in Sikhism which stands for equality for all. As proud as I am of my religion and its principals of equality, there are times when I feel that women are not always as equal as men when practising Sikhism.

There are ten Gurus, or teachers, who shaped Sikhism into the religion that is practised today. They all thought women should be equal to men. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Gurus said:

“In a woman man is conceived, from a woman he is born … why denounce her, the one from whom even kings are born. From a woman, women are born. None may exist without woman”

Considering he lived in the 15th century, this is quite progressive. He also decided that women should be given full access to the religion. They were free to preach, lead services and to pray without needing to consult a man first.

Guru Amar Das, the second Guru, condemned polygamy and the act of sati, the ritual burning a widow on her husband‘s funeral pyre. He thought that all women should be educated and have the same access to education as men. He also thought that women should wear what they want and refused to meet with women who kept purdah.

The last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh gave all Sikh females regardless of their age or marital status the name of Kaur meaning that they would not have to take their husband’s name if they married. He also forbade female infanticide or contact with those that did this. Guru Gobind Singh encouraged women to be warrior-like and to fight against those who persecuted them because of their faith. There are stories in Sikh history of women drawing swords to defend themselves and others.

Despite all the examples of equality in Sikhism, I am in the strange position where I should be able to reconcile my feminist beliefs with my religion, but cannot always do so. Ancient cultural traditions sometimes take precedence over the principles of feminism in Sikhism.

Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, one of the most famous Sikh Kings in Moghul India often considered a model Sikh, had seven wives. Not only does polygamy go against Sikh beliefs but half of his wives committed sati when he died in 1839. In Britain all Sikh females are educated until at least 16, but in India, school attendance of girls is lower than that of boys. My great-grandfather laughed at the school teacher when he suggested that my grandmother should be allowed to go to school.

There are also contemporary examples. As a Sikh woman, I am encouraged to dress “modestly” and show as little leg/arm/cleavage as possible outside the house. I have an entirely separate wardrobe for visiting my conservative relatives. The Asian Network has reported in the rise of British-Asian couples travelling to India to abort female foetuses and no sweets are shared among relatives to celebrate the birth of a girl, as usually happens when a boy is born. In all the years that I have attended services in England I can only ever recall seeing two women reading the scriptures and leading prayer. Today the ideal Sikh woman is supposed to be meek rather than warrior-like, obey her husband/father and is considered trouble if she does not do so.

I know many feminists are atheists or agnostics and consider religion to be an outdated patriarchal institution. I fully respect their opinion and would never attempt to convert anyone. But I myself have had too many “moments” which have proved to me that God exists and if I stopped going to the Gurdwara, I would lose my links to my community, as it acts as a cultural centre and not just a place of worship. What I would like is change from the inside and recognition from the Sikh community that sexism still occurs openly. Only then will I be able to state with confidence that Sikhism is a feminist religion.

Comments From You

Jyot // Posted 13 April 2010 at 5:55 pm

There are still many instances where Sikh women are not seen as equal to men. Unfortunately I think that is more associated with practice of society and culture (mainly Punjabi culture) rather than Sikhism alone.

I unfortunately see alot of male youth and young adults continue to engage in the same misogynstic and sexist behaviors. As much as people like to talk about how their are not many strong Sikh male figures for young boys to look up to, their are even less for Sikh females, let alone all Indian females and females in general.

I think Sikhism in its ideal form serves to be religion bound to equality for all however in practice it isn’t, in India or its diaspora.

gadgetgal // Posted 13 April 2010 at 6:05 pm

Really interesting article – I think it sounds like a few religions I’ve read about, that the practice lets down the original principles somewhat!

Is some of it cultural, as in specific to the areas of origin? I’ve learned from one of my friends who is originally from Pakistan and a practising Muslim that a lot of the things that are common in his extended family (like massive weddings with henna parties, certain types of clothing, even types of gifts) are actually more from the region and family groups rather than from the religion itself. Maybe it’s a similar thing – I know from living in a very Christian country (the US) with lots of different sects that practices varied a lot depending upon the origins of the people. There’s everything from the Amish to the Southern Baptists, and all practice Christianity very differently, and not necessarily by the book (so to speak).

For what it’s worth I think you’re doing a good thing – reform of any institution can be difficult, but it sounds like the building blocks are already there, people might just need a bit of a push to get it back to what was intended. Seems like you’ve already made a start just by writing this, I wish you luck!

Feminist Avatar // Posted 13 April 2010 at 6:07 pm

Please excuse my ignorance, but I have a question about the Gurus and their relationship to change. In Christianity, we effectively have one ‘phrophet’- Jesus-, whose teachings are held as a truth (although theology and theologians are more complex than this). This means that despite the fact the Christian belief has changed quite dramatically over the centuries, we have an invested interest in claiming it hasn’t. So, whenever we want to justify bigotry, we hark back to Jesus and say we can’t change things now (despite the fact this is patently untrue in practice and again theologians do recognise change). When we do have to acknowledge something has changed, we argue that people in the past weren’t interpreting things correctly.

On other hand, when you have Gurus that live in subsequent periods to each other, you have more room for ideas to change with the time- as each brings new truths that presumably have some relationship with the beliefs of the age (as well as tying into longer traditions). So (finally my question), do you think that Sikhs are more open to change and more happy to acknowledge social context than Christianity (which could equally reinforce social consevatism and radicalism)? And, because you have multiple gurus, do you think this allows for a multiplicity of voices? Does is offer a different way to view the world?

Jennifer Drew // Posted 13 April 2010 at 6:35 pm

Yet another example of how male-centered ideas concerning religion supercede theological doctrine wherein men were declared to be women’s equals – not superior and certainly not the only human beings supposedly fully human.

Sikhism is not alone in declaring women are inferior to men because most religions specifically proclaim misogynistic views wherein only men are supposedly ‘human’ and all women are supposedly inferior because we are not male.

Misogyny has existed for thousands of years and shows no sign of decreasing, so no ‘sexism’ is not the issue – it is men’s contempt and hatred for women which is the issue.

Institutionalising women-hatred and contempt for women goes further than just a religious issue because it directly feeds into widespread societal belief that women are indeed supposedly innately inferior to men. All lies of course but challenging ingrained centuries old male contempt for women is vital and until women’s human status is finally recognised, acknowledged and respected, most mainstream religions will continue to be male-dominant and male-centered.

Elb // Posted 13 April 2010 at 6:44 pm

I went to school just opposite the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha Gurdwara in Birmingham, so despite being a Catholic, Sikhism was part of my everyday life – I have fond memories of langar with my friends in the Gurdwara. Of all the religions I have studied, I find the original precepts of Sikhism to be possibly the most beautiful and just to women, but like every religion the original precepts can often be ignored and disregarded – I find this, sadly, particularly in my own religion, so I also really connect with your final paragraph. So thank for you this post which so eloquently illuminates both the beauty of Sikhism, and the problems Sikh women face.

Jazz // Posted 13 April 2010 at 7:51 pm


This post is great, as a sikh myself, i encounter the cultural and religious clashes quite frequently. however i am always proud when i can say my religion is in no way oppressive of women and enjoy linking it with my feminist thoughts. I do my best to ignore the culture which tries to repress women, but sometimes it is quite difficult.

Charlotte // Posted 13 April 2010 at 7:52 pm

This article is really interesting, thank you for writing it!

I had no idea that sikhism had such pro-woman principles – it’s a great shame if those principles aren’t being stuck to, but a great deal better than most religions and their anti-woman principles and literature!

I have been religious in the past but I suppose I am an atheist now, and tbh, I’m not sure what I think.

On one side, people should be able to believe what they want to – but what about when religions influence people towards anti-woman principles, such as restricting women’s reproductive rights, etc?

Rumbold // Posted 13 April 2010 at 8:13 pm

Great piece. It reflects many of the experiences of some of our readers on Pickled Politics.

A quick correction though: Amar Das was the third Guru, not the second. Guru Angad was the second one.

Alex T // Posted 13 April 2010 at 10:49 pm

Fascinating, thank you. It takes courage to write in defence of religion, well done. And good point about culture versus religion, too!

Kate // Posted 13 April 2010 at 11:31 pm

This is a really interesting article!

Dana // Posted 13 April 2010 at 11:35 pm

I agree that in many ways these different religions have more respect for women than our largely atheistic/ western culture. I just don’t agree with ‘we respect women, men come from women after all!’

that’s like ‘ positive sexism.’

one girl at a religious Judaism meeting for instance, asked does your religion respect women.. They responded ‘yeah we allow women to own property’

says more about a lack of respect for women.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 14 April 2010 at 2:16 am

I’m not sure that any religion can be a feminist religion. The men always twist it back around. (And don’t even get me started on that Wiccan stuff.)

Siah // Posted 14 April 2010 at 6:31 am


Great post! It is immensely frustrating how deeply intertwined religion and misogynistic traditional practices have become. In a region like South Asia, this has often led to messy results, due to centuries of colonization from so many different cultural groups, who wasted no time in imposing their own values and laws on the people they invaded.

A lot of what you mentioned resonates with me because I have been questioning the contemporary practices and beliefs within my family’s religion (Hinduism), as well.

I was wondering, what do modern Sikhs think of LGBT issues? I am sure opinions are as varied within the Sikh community as in any other religion; however, I understand that a fundamental premise of Sikhism is equality regardless of race, caste, creed etc. Does this apply to people who identify as GLBT? Do the scriptures mention anything with regards to non-heteronormative sexualities or relationships? I plan to look this up myself, but I just wanted to know what you thought.

Again, great article :)

Debi // Posted 14 April 2010 at 8:27 am

With very little knowledge of Sikhism beyond this post, I would echo Jyot’s view that the prevalent inequality appears to be more about culture than religious doctrine itself. This observation doesn’t help a whole lot, I realise, because culture and religion are so tightly linked, especially for minority religions (I don’t *think* Sikhism is a majority religion in any part of the world, but feel free to correct me!)

From the outside of the Sikh community, I feel I can offer nothing but support for your wishes to see change from the inside, and the hope that – as this appears to be a cultural change rather than a reassessment of teachings – the changes come within a timescale that you’ll be able to see them happening.

Thank you for the post.

Pat // Posted 14 April 2010 at 8:52 am

I have a few questions about your post.

1. You freely admit some prevailing Sikh customs appear sexist from the outside, but that these are a result of culture, not religion. Is religion anything more than a codification of societal and cultural norms, carried through generations by familial obligations and inertia?

2. Are Sikh men expected to dress modestly as Sikh women are, and have any of your gurus been women? Why/why not?

3. The “moments” you speak of are subjective at best, and anecdotal at worst. A hundred people could have similar experience, and there would be a hundred explanations. To say “God did it” just replaces one unknown with an even bigger one. (You might have guessed that I’m an atheist, and yes, I do “consider religion to be an outdated patriarchal institution”, perhaps the most patriarchal and parochial of all institutions!)

4. You talk about changing an organisation from the inside. Would it not be easier to join an organisation whose tenets you already agree with? I would not join UKIP in the hope that, one day, I might convince the other members that the Euro is a good thing.

Kiri // Posted 14 April 2010 at 11:00 am

This is such a fascinating article!! Thank you. As a Christian, I sometimes struggle to reconcile my spiritual beliefs with my feminist ideals. But my faith is central to my life, and as I explore both my faith and feminism, I am learning how to negotiate this conflict. @FeministAvatar I think there’s more to the Jesus question. Though Christianity has one prophet, I think a lot of the tradition has been interpreted through male-dominated culture, hence some of the rigidity you’ve highlighted. Jesus was quite anti-establishment, and questioned the religious order of his time. I personally don’t think he would be onboard with a lot of the dogma and nonsense perpetrated in his name. Same for Mohammed in the Islamic faith, or the Gurus, as the author of this post points out. But as with all religions, it’s not the religion that’s the problem, it’s the people, with all their prejudices and fallibilities.

Naomi // Posted 14 April 2010 at 11:37 am

“why denounce her, the one from whom even kings are born.”

It is a perfect example of the misogynist principle of women being valued not for what they are but for what comes out of them. “A woman can produce men, even important men, so she is therefore valued” is how I see it.

Sorry but I don’t see anything at all feminist about this, nor “progressive”. Perhaps I’m missing something, as I am very surprised at the article and at other comments that suggest that it is.

Perhaps someone could explain to me what is feminist about it?

Elb // Posted 14 April 2010 at 12:38 pm

The idea that a person can just up and leave a religion if they disagree with some of its tenets is an extremely Western, Protestant, post-Enlightenment view – to expect everyone in the world to hold it is extremely Western-centric and narrow-minded.

As to changing Sikhism from the inside, I too wish to change Catholicism from the inside – God knows it needs changing. Academia is extremely sexist, but anyone without the necessary academic qualifications is deemed unfit to comment – one must enter academia before you can change it. The same is true of religion.

@ Pat – evidence of God can be entirely subjective, because spirituality is a subjective thing. If Shiha was trying to convert you, then I think that demanding objective proof would be quite within your rights, but as it is, she is talking about her own experiences. She has stated that she respects your opinions, as an atheist – perhaps you should do her the same courtesy?

Pat // Posted 14 April 2010 at 12:57 pm

Well said Dana and Naomi!

I agree: I actually think that valuing woman purely for their ability to produce men is quite degrading.

One thing, though. I feel I should speak up for “atheistic/western” cultures that you mention, Dana. Surely western culture is based on Christian morals, not atheistic morals? In fact, a lot of western law is based on the silly idea of sin.

Cycleboy // Posted 14 April 2010 at 1:36 pm

In recent years, I’ve seen and heard many programmes strongly suggesting that women had a very important position in the early Christian church. Unfortunately, this has been steadily eroded over the centuries.

Sadly, it looks as though the conservative forces are tring to repress women in Sikh society, as they have done on most other religions. Christ, sadly, did not write down his beliefs and the second hand narative we’ve got means that interpretation has undermined much of the original ideas. Where Sikhism wins out over Christianity, is that the original gurus wrote down their thoughts. Also, Sikhism is still relatively young, so there’s still time to stem the tide. I hope that women, and those men of egalitarian bent, will continue to point out the truths in the original writings to confound those who continue to undermine the position of women in both the religion and in society in general.

Pat // Posted 14 April 2010 at 1:53 pm

@Elb: “The idea that a person can just up and leave a religion if they disagree with some of its tenets is an extremely Western, Protestant, post-Enlightenment view – to expect everyone in the world to hold it is extremely Western-centric and narrow-minded.”

I’m sorry, I can’t even begin to make sense of that! And I’m not quite sure what I said that prompted you to accuse me of narrow-mindedness and Western-centrism.

I’ll just quote Ophelia Benson’s Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense, and be done with it.

“POSITIVISM: The insane, harmful, elitist idea that one should have some evidence before deciding something is true (see EMPIRICISM).”

@Elb (again): “[E]vidence of God can be entirely subjective, because spirituality is a subjective thing. If Shiha was trying to convert you, then I think that demanding objective proof would be quite within your rights, but as it is, she is talking about her own experiences. She has stated that she respects your opinions, as an atheist – perhaps you should do her the same courtesy?”

Whether or not there exist a god or gods is the opposite of subjective. It’s either true or not. There is nothing inherently inexplicable or transcendant about a particular psychological experience. We just don’t fully understand the human brain. Yet.

Were you to have a “personal experience” or whatever in which a voice told you that women were inferior to men, would you respect the relevation and its provenance?

As Seven of Nine might say, courtesy is irrelevant, unless I’ve said something offensive or aggressive (which I haven’t!). And believe me, I’m not demanding anything. I could never expect to de-convert anyone. That is a long, difficult and very personal journey you have to choose to take by yourself.

I doubt very much that Shiha respects my opinions any more than I respect hers, since we both think the other to be factually incorrect. I do, of course, respect her right to hold them.

Jessica // Posted 14 April 2010 at 2:21 pm

Good article.

I’m a Quaker, and I find it difficult when people claim that feminist religions are impossible. One of our testimonies is to equality. (

I completely support your suggestion of changing things from the inside. And I’m confused by those who naysay religion because it’s subjective. Of course it’s subjective, but that doesn’t make it meaningless.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 14 April 2010 at 2:37 pm

I agree with Pat- western culture is not truly secular- it is innately tied to Christianity, even if people don’t talk about God anymore. The concept of ‘truth’ within mainstream science is based on the conception of a single God, for example.

Ally // Posted 14 April 2010 at 2:51 pm

@ Pat “in fact a lot of western law is based on the silly idea of sin.” I confess I only know about UK law, but having spent 3 years doing a law degree, I can’t think of a single thing that’s based on the idea of sin. So please enlighten me as to what I’ve missed.

Ally // Posted 14 April 2010 at 3:07 pm

Positivism is an epistemology which holds that knowledge must be based on experience by the senses. There are some reasons to support holding it, like the fact that it has thus far in human history been the only way we have obtained a kind of knowledge which can both accurately predict future events and explain causes. That does not mean that our senses give us accurate information, that the things we hold to be true actually are or the things for which there is no observable evidence do not exist. Nor does it mean that the senses are the only means through which we can access truth. Even if we could explain the chemical, physical reason behind every single thought or experience a person has we still would not be able to know whether there was another cause communicating through nature, which could not be known through the rational.

I am an atheist and a positivist, but your argument demonstrates intellectual poverty and a lack of understanding or engagement with the position of those you are arguing against.

Pat // Posted 14 April 2010 at 3:13 pm

@Ally: “I confess I only know about UK law, but having spent 3 years doing a law degree, I can’t think of a single thing that’s based on the idea of sin. So please enlighten me as to what I’ve missed.”

I’d be more than happy! How about homosexuality before 1967? A crime without a victim that was wrong only in the legal sense. More generally, the idea of retribution is very Old Testament (although I realise that’s not the only purpose of the judicial system).

Elb // Posted 14 April 2010 at 3:19 pm

@ Pat

Very well: you say to Shiha that “Would it not be easier to join an organisation whose tenets you already agree with?”, and compare a religion to a political party. I have seen that this is often a point raised by British and American feminists, but in many countries, the idea of leaving your religion is a very different concept. It is not just a political ideology – it is your family, your language, you culture, your community, you identity, your spirituality, your way of looking at the world. Shiha said in the article that she has no intention of leaving Sikhism, yet you through this question at her, either in an attempt to gain understanding for yourself, which I would applaud, or to try to persuade her to your point of view – in essence, was that question a rhetorical one?

Some people believe in the transcendent, others do not. I am not interested in an argument about the existence of God with you. But this blog is meant to be a safe place for all feminists, regardless of religious belief.

“Were you to have a “personal experience” or whatever in which a voice told you that women were inferior to men, would you respect the relevation and its provenance?”

No, because one identifying of a religious experience is whether or not it is a moral event. I believe the idea that women are not equal to men to be immoral. A true religious experience is not marked by immorality, so in that event, I would doubt the revelation.

“That is a long, difficult and very personal journey you have to choose to take by yourself.”

Or it is one that you not have to take at all.

Debi Linton // Posted 14 April 2010 at 3:30 pm

Pat, I’m having trouble following your logic.

Shiha outright states that she not just believes in God but has strong cultural links for her and her community.

You reply by insisting her belief is irrational (point 3) and inform her that if her religious community doesn’t fully adhere to her idealogy, she should just leave it (point 4). If you were trying to say anything constructive that wasn’t “Sikhism isn’t 100% perfect, so you should denounce it”, I missed it.

I don’t believe in any God, but I find the Western atheist/skeptic community to be a very patriarchal (and ethnocentric) culture. Should I give up my disbelief in God just because I have a few problems with the atheist community?

IF NOT, what is the difference between that and the point you tried to make?

Politicalguineapig // Posted 14 April 2010 at 3:31 pm

Ally: We have “sin” taxes on alchohol and cigarettes. And there’s vice squads as well which are organized to deal with the “problems” of prostitution, drug use and illegal gambling.

Shiha Kaur // Posted 14 April 2010 at 3:44 pm

@Jyot – I agree about the role models you have to look really hard for them and the ones that are in the public eye are journalists or film makers eg. Sonia Deol, Gurinda Chadha and Parminder Nagra

@gadgetgirl – Sikhism started off in the Punjab part of India / Pakistan so “cultural” could mean “place of origin”. Some traditions are because of the region, eg, before Sikhism, Vasakhi was just a harvest festival and not a religious one. A bit like the Pagan winter Solstice and Christmas

@Feminist Avatar – The first Guru was born in 1469 and the last died in 1708 so they spanned quite a large period. Each subsequent Guru built on what the last had taught culminating in the last Guru putting together all the teachings into the Guru Grant Sahib, or holy book, which is treated as a living Guru. They did make the religion change with the times eg. the later Gurus recognised the importance of defending oneself against persecution. I would like to say that Sikhs are open to change – in England the practice of wearing the ceremonial sword is rarely seen outside a Gurdwara – but change always takes time.

@Rumbold – Thanks for the correction. I always mix up the Gurus whose names start with A. I do occasionally read pickled politics, but I’m mostly an Asians In Media reader.

@Siah – Opinion on LGBT issues is divided in Sikhism. My personal opinion is that under the principle of equality, there is nothing wrong with being LGBT. However, other Sikhs have interpreted the scriptures to mean that only marriage between a man and a woman is allowed. I think there was an internet forum set up to support LGBT Sikhs, but I can’t remember what it is called at the moment.

@Debi – Sikhs make up 59.91% of the population in the Punjab state of India according to Wikipedia. I wouldnt be surprised if they make up the majority population in some areas of Southall, Birmingham and Leicester. Sikhs live all over the world, mainly as a minority. There is a joke Sikhs get everywhere and I personally have found Sikhs everywhere from Russia to Hong Kong!

Jessica (the same one who commented above) // Posted 14 April 2010 at 3:54 pm


I don’t agree with logical positivism. Instead, I suggest that it is impossible to hold a completely objective point of view.

This is because life is lived by a particular person, through a Mood (Heidegger) or from a perspective (Cox). In political thought this is nicely encapsulated in the assertion that “where you stand depends on where you sit”. In mid 20th century philosophical thought it’s better described as seeing the meaning in objects around you (known as phenomenology).

I’m not anti-science, but I am anti-positivist in that I think that the strongly objective positivist view is mistaken. In my opinion, reality resides not at the smallest possible level, but is a compound of objective fact and subjective perception. Our subjective perception of the objects around us endows the world with meaning.

Let me give you an example of how I think individual perception alters personal realities. If you and I go for a picnic, then we might take a tablecloth to sit on. We won’t really notice it once it’s laid out. But if there’s a landslide, and you fall off a cliff, then I will suddenly perceive the tablecloth to be a rope. As I’m dangling it off the edge for you to grab on to, I’ll become very aware of where it is and how strong it is. As soon as I start using it to pull you up, I’ll start to think of it as an extension of myself. And once you’re back on solid ground, it will turn back into a tablecloth. Of course, the actual bit of cloth hasn’t changed, but my perception of it has gone through a number of transformations.

Following this understanding it’s not so much the physical objects but the meaning I place upon them which is important.

Or how about a more modern political view? Allison coined the phrase (or possibly stole it, sources disagree) “where you stand is where you sit” in acknowledgment that a person’s views are shaped by their background, their culture, their position and their beliefs. One cannot be objective because one cannot look out from anyone else’s eyes. There is no place where I can put a lever to move the world — because I cannot step outside the world in order to do so. Everything I do is coloured by who I am, by my own subjective views.

Following this understanding I cannot think objectively because it is always my thought — and because it’s my thought it has a subjective quality.

Personally I’m concerned about the rise of new positivists. It’s really not a very sound ontology. Taken to the logical conclusion, it disregards anything which cannot be proved (out goes music and art) and everything which is tautological (say goodbye to maths and language).

Shiha Kaur // Posted 14 April 2010 at 4:13 pm

@ Pat – I’ll reply to your questions by their numbers:

1. When Sikhism came along it was to challenge cultural norms, not preserve them in religion. Eg. As well as giving women equal status, it also maintainted that Hindus are equal to Muslims, which wasn’t the case in Mohgul India at the time.

2. There are dress codes for Sikh men, for example shorts are discouraged in a Gurdwara, but yes they do get away with showing more flesh, But it is also cultural – the reason for covering the arms and legs in India is to protect the body from the sun as well as modesty. Even with my brown skin I can get burnt in India if I don’t put on sun cream and don’t cover up. None of the Gurus were women, and I’m afraid I can’t give you a concrete answer as to why, but women were involved with lots of important milestones in Sikhism.

3. Yes my “moments” are subjective and could be considered as coincidences, but I personally think they prove to me the existence of God.

4. The UKIP example you have given isnt quite right. Imagine joining UKIP because they have promised to take England out of the EU. Say they win the election and then decide that it is better for the country to stay in the EU. Members of UKIP would want to campaign for them to change their minds back again if they wanted England out of the EU and had joined that party specifically because of that reason.

I respect both your opinion and your right to hold it. Under the Sikh principle of equality you would be treated no differently to a Sikh.You would be welcomed into a Gurdwara regardless of the fact that you are an atheist, as it welcomes those from any religion or social group even if they don’t believe in God. I have many atheist friends, a few of whom have been to the Gurdwara with me out of curiosity.

Ally // Posted 14 April 2010 at 4:13 pm

@Pat. The thing is, it’s 2010,not 1967.

@Politicalguineapig. the point of taxes on cigarettes and alcohol problems is to raise money to cover the additional pressure that they put on the NHS. The reason we crack down on illegal gambling is because it is associated with violence and often animal cruelty Paternalistic, yes. Biblical, not really.

I can see why vice squads might be based on an innate revulsion resulting from centuries of a religious culture that makes sex taboo, but it is also mixed up with a lot of modern worries about people trafficking, coercion and devaluing women relative to men.

In short, the laws that we’ve kept that have a religious basis are there either because there is a secular reason to keep them, or because they don’t present enough of a problem to bother repealing.

Jessica (the same one who commented above) // Posted 14 April 2010 at 4:29 pm

Pat said: “Whether or not there exist god or gods is the opposite of subjective. It’s either true or not.”

In Pat’s statement I would question the definitions of the words “exist”, “god” and “true”.

Sometimes I believe in god as much as I believe in the square root of 27. Sometimes I believe in god as much as I believe in the square root of -27.

Does the square root of 27 exist? It’s a number, so has no corporeal or physical status. Can it be ascribed a true or false value?

And what about an impossible number? It is impossible to get a square root of a minus number, yet much of maths would be undiscovered without them. (They cancel each other out in the end.) Does that have even less of a physical form? Is it even more false than a whole number?

Louise // Posted 14 April 2010 at 6:39 pm

@Politicalguineapig “And don’t even get me started on the Wiccan stuff”

Why ? I’ve been a practicing pagan for 15 years now, and even though some male witches get aggravated by the militant feminism of some of us, paganism truly respects women and actively encourages gender equality.

Brilliant article by the way, that makes me want to find out more about sikhism ! I was raised in France where we have no RE lessons in school. Believe it or not, when I moved to the UK 10 years ago, I had no idea sikhs even existed !

polly // Posted 14 April 2010 at 9:35 pm

At the risk of causing chronic thread drift (sorry) I have to disagree with Feminist Avatar that Christians (or some christians at least) refer to Jesus to justify bigotry. They usually refer either to the old testament (eg Exodus for stuff on homosexuality) or conservative followers of Jesus such as Paul. Jesus was actually quite a soppy liberal! Plus christianity is such a varied faith in the way it is practiced (ranging from the extremes of the homophobic Westboro baptist church to things like the actively pro LGBT Metropolitan Community church) that there certainly have been huge developments/variations in the way its practiced. And the same applies to other faiths such as Judaism or Islam. I don’t know enough about Sikhism to comment on it specifically, but is seems to me most religious faiths change to reflect the prevailing social climate as well. And personally as an atheist I’d say they’re frequently manipulated by those who seek power.

polly // Posted 15 April 2010 at 6:53 am

Ally, 26 Bishops still sit in the house of Lords. Our head of state (that’s the monarch, not the prime minister) has to be of a particular religion, and undergoes a religious coronation. Our state funds religious schools. We still have a blasphemy law, and the rights of the religious have been added to by the new equality bill (though this now includes atheists though). Though laws may be not be explicitly based on Christian ideology, Judaeo-Christianity influences a huge majority of western though.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 15 April 2010 at 3:46 pm

Louise: Wiccan is a fine religion for some. I’m not a pacifist at all, and some of the nature stuff just irritates the heck out of me. Mother Nature is not kind or loving, and any attempt to prove otherwise seems like navel-gazing to me.

I regard pacificism as something women need to renounce. It just gives other people a licence to walk all over the pacifists.

Rose // Posted 15 April 2010 at 4:27 pm

Another religion thats nice in (some) theory.

When I was in Amaritsar, I went to the Golden Temple, and it was a total santuary.

(As a westerner I still felt a huge pressure of sexism, from the gender of all power holders in the temple, to only men being able to opening step into the pool, etc).

But I found that on stepping out through the gate to the street, some of the men who had been respectful of women inside the temple, turned back to active sexism and sexual street harassment.

It was like they lived by a different moral code the moment they were outside of their temple.

To me, this behaviour suggests weak faith, (if they were stronger believers, they would always act as they do when in the temples).

I personally do not think that worship of the male and female/male equality can coinside cohesively. I choose to live by the later.

KJB // Posted 15 April 2010 at 11:27 pm

Shiha – really glad to see you posting on this! I’m a Sikh feminist; although I am kind of agnostic/atheist now, I still feel very much that I am culturally Sikh, I don’t rule out becoming religious again someday.

Sikhi is not a feminist religion – none of the major religions are, really, but it does at least not condemn the notion of gender equality. The reason I make this distinction is because although the Gurus ‘allowed’ female participation in Sikhi (Mai Bhago being the classic example…), neither they nor Indian society has ever allowed for a vision of gender where the roles are flexible.

I highly recommend PP – I am a regular there, and of ‘the readers’ that Rumbold refers to above. I recently got totally shouted down on a thread by supposedly-progressive Sikh men; this post of yours and that experience of mine are making me think, maybe I should blog about it.

Cycleboy // Posted 16 April 2010 at 10:09 pm

Politicalguineapig – this is a bit off the topic, but I’m troubled by your conflation of pacifism with being a doormat. Ghandi was a pacifist, as was Martin Luther-King, but I don’t think anyone considered them to be walk-overs. They fought and struggled, it’s just that they chose to do it non-violently. No one ‘walked over’ them.

sandeep // Posted 21 April 2010 at 9:46 am

the situation with women and sikhism is interesting. go to a gurudwara and you see the divide. women on one side men on the other. children sometimes sit with the women. sometimes they sit with the men. in our dayton ohio gurudwara mostly women prepare the food. when the gurudwara had a shortlived sunday school it was mostly manned by women.

sikhism has rules on hair, sometimes which feel more lax on the women, as far as what is currently accepted. a woman can trim her hair and it wont affect her standing in the community. only if rubbing shoulders with the most religious of the community would any such criticism arise, and when i was younger, pointing out hypocrisies, i never once heard anyone beside myself point out this fact. similarly with leg shaving.

i ended up cutting my hair six years ago. i had many issues with the community. i felt that the hair was a ritual in common day use much like many of the other sikh tenants none of which were meant to be used in such a way. when action is taught without meaning ritual forms.

women don’t really seem free in INDIAN communities which Sikhs are apart of. In my old town of Dayton, many of the sikhs are invited and encouraged to participate in larger further reaching cultural organizations of Indian alliance. Festivals, dances, speaches. Dinners. If you’ve ever brushed shoulders in the community you know what i’m talking about. alot of rules of social decorum from these sorts of gatherings, expatriots, first and second generation immigrants, as Indians have immigrated worldwide only recently in bulk. basically people want to maintain ties with their fellow excountrymen. and sometimes that puts them at odds with their own cultural beliefs. survival as an immigrant and a minority in a host country can sometimes depend on whom you know and how well you network. so while we stand upon this frontier despite perhaps having been born in the country certain people probably wouldn’t dream of making themselves social pariahs in the larger Indian community. the modesty of women is one of those tenants.

My father has taken me to some of the more famous Sikh settlements in America and if you go out west you see many more Sikh leaders interestingly enough with white skin. For those who maybe don’t know, Sikhism doesn’t really try to convert so the majority of members tend to be descendants from India, and more often then not from the state of Punjab, where Sikhs are most prevalent. (sortof an israel contained within another country) But it seems like the western notions of women filter in to the religion there and the entire “Indian” influece is confined to that of the text of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Essentially, the culture of India is in effect contaminating the water for Sikhs and has them inadvertedly facing opposite many Sikh beliefs as a default position. This obviously will change over time as the Sikh diaspora comes less to be defined with a tie to India and moreso on the shoulders of it’s own religious tenants. At least these are my thoughts on the matter.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 21 April 2010 at 5:01 pm

Cycleboy: The only reason Ghandhi and Martin Luther King jr. managed to succeed was because they got attention from the media. Otherwise they’d have been stomped down hard.

I despise pacifism because it goes against human nature and it enables oppression.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 22 April 2010 at 5:37 am

Ghandhi and MLK attracted media attention, and that’s the only reason they succeeded. Pacifism is not natural to people, and in women, it shouldn’t be encouraged.

aimee // Posted 23 April 2010 at 1:17 pm

Pacifism goes against human nature? That sounds a lot like the ‘human nature’ arguments the people use to justify sexism, homophobia, extreme capitalism etc.

Suraya // Posted 24 April 2010 at 11:53 am

My father is a Sikh, but although I wasn’t raised in the religion as such, I feel like he brought a lot of Sikh values into our family life, including women being considered men’s equals.

Although I see a lot of sexism in Sikhism as well (for example, in a Sikh wedding ceremony the wife holds the end of her husband’s turban and follows him in a figure of 8 around the building, to show her obedience) and British Sikhism is considered to be practised, on average, many times more conservatively than it generally is in India and other countries, it can be a great fundament for a lot of young women.

Cycleboy // Posted 24 April 2010 at 3:32 pm

Politicalguineapig, I think we’ll just have to agree to differ on this one. Although I can see your line of reasoning – peaceful protest wouldn’t do much if no one saw it and you were quietly ‘removed’ from the scene – but I think that actually reinforces the examples of Ghandi and MLK. They were masters at getting wide support and media interest BEFORE they staged a demonstration, thereby ensuring that their protest would NOT (could not) be ignored.

Whether or not you think pacifism is natural or not (and I can’t argue either way) I think Ghandi and MLK would have argued that their pacifism was a non-negotiable principle.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 25 April 2010 at 5:07 pm

Aimee: Humans are nasty, brutal animals. People don’t want to acknowledge the truth and pretty it up with religion and “morals.” I decided early on that I’d rather do the stomping than be stomped upon.

bell Bajao-fight domestic Violence // Posted 5 May 2010 at 10:06 am

Being a Hindu I never read much of Sikh scriptures, but your article gives a good insight about the place of women in Sikhism. I never knew why married Sikh women were commonly addressed as Kaur but now I understand how deeply the identity of a girl impacted Shikhism that they were not dependent on their husbands for their identity.

Bell Bajao Fighting Domestic Violence // Posted 7 May 2010 at 6:56 am

Shiha, you are right. Change has to come from the inside and by realization, Your trying to bring change and staying faithful to your religion which is remarkable. Alot of religious texts has been misinterpreted by males, but this has to come to an end

Malwinder Singh // Posted 1 October 2010 at 11:47 am

Well, talking about practical Sikhism, in India, at least, Sikh women have considerable social and financial independence as compared to other communities, say Hindus or Muslims.I am certainly not painting an idealistic picture of the Sikh community. For example, Sikh women are not barred from Sikh religious places or ceremonies, and not only that, women even serve freely in the Langar (community kitchen), Kirtan(religious chantings) and there are certain Gurudwaras where women are even given special responsibilities. I understand why Shiha is told to show less of her body cleavages because Indian custom does not encourage unnecessary body exposure, but that is even extended to boys, they may not be allowed by certain households to wear low waist jeans or breast exposing T-shirts. But, I must say, the purdah system has no place in Sikh faith, either theoretically or practically and Sikhism, if not feminist, is surely not the oppressor of the fair sex.

Summerdayz // Posted 10 March 2016 at 2:33 pm

After reading this post and the comments I am by far the most naive person on this blog.

I am a white female from a town in Yorkshire where in my school we had 1,000 children and only one Asian person, one! Religious education for us was Christian and never touched other religions at the time.

What brought me here? well I now live in the centre of Birmingham (quite a change from where I grew up), I cannot say as a white woman I do not get abuse from ‘Asian’ men and therefore since living here have always been very hands off/avoiding in even engaging with anyone that could cause me issues (aside of course from professional relationships).

I am an atheist and a feminist, however after recently engaging professionally with a Sikh man, I am starting to learn more about Sikhism. I must say it may not be perfect and society plays a huge role in interpretation but its basis appears centred in equality and as you say in your post a really quite progressive religion (Kaur and ‘warrior like’ women). I would feel fortunate to be part of this community and feel if you wish to make changes to how women are perceived by your peers maybe consider bringing out the “warrior” in you and drive through that change.

Thank you for this blog post.

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