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Three Leaders -
Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee

FATEHPAL SINGH TARNEY

 

 

 





The Sikh Khalsa Raj, formed under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, existed intact for about fifty years. It extended from the Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east; and from Kashmir in the north to what is now south central Pakistan.

Punjab was still predominantly Muslim in population. The origin of the rise of the Sikh Raj coincided with the decline of the Mughal Empire. The Khalsa forces were able to do battle and defeat both the Mughal forces as well as the Afghans. To their credit, Sikh authorities not only allowed freedom of worship, but offered opportunities for Muslims, Hindus, Christians and others to participate in government as equals to the Sikhs.

After Maharaja Ranjit Singh's death in 1839, the empire was severely weakened by British machinations and the betrayal of the Hindu Dogra brothers in the employ of the Sikhs, internal divisions and political corruption.

This enabled the British patiently waiting across the Sutlej to concoct the ‘Anglo-Sikh Wars‘ as an excuse to annex Punjab. The population of the Sikh Empire was then estimated at around 3.5 million. It was the final area of the subcontinent to be taken over by the British.

When I read about the internal turmoil and dissension within our Khalsa Panth, I relate to it and process all of it in light of my own experience as an American. Sikhs are highly self-critical as are many Americans.

There have only been two times in American history when the country has been united. The first time was after December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The second time was after September 11, 2001 after the series of four coordinated terrorist attacks on the US by the al-Qaeda.

Let us go back to the American Revolution to appreciate the divisions in what became the United States. Roughly one-third of the colonists remained loyal to Britain and opposed independence. After the Battle of Yorktown, the final military defeat of the British, most of the loyalists returned to England, or went to Jamaica, the Bahamas, or Canada. After independence, there were regional tensions between those advocating states rights and those in favor of a powerful federal government.

Slavery was a key issue here culminating in the Civil War. After the Civil War, race relations remained tense and complicated. The current polarization between Democrats and Republicans; between Trump-lovers and Trump-haters, should not surprise anyone! This is not anything unique, although its severity is unprecedented. Nativism, the political policy of promoting the interests of so-called true Americans over immigrants, has a long history in the United States.

The central idea of the nativists is that immigrants contaminate core American values. Of course, nativists do not like this label and prefer being referred to as “patriots.” Related to this position is the use of derogatory stereotypes for immigrants.

White evangelicals, white right-wing extremists, and conservative senior citizens are steadily becoming minorities in the United States. The demographics in terms of both birth rates and immigration favor people of color - be they home-grown or people from non-European areas. Donald Trump can yell and scream and attract these white minorities and temporarily gain momentum and power, but this will end.

There is an old Eastern proverb, perhaps of Afghan origin: “The lead jackal barks, but the caravan passes.”

I have always found it curious and a bit amusing when Christians criticize the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims and conveniently overlook their own history, littered with hundreds of warring denominations.

I reiterate an experience from my childhood when in a Christian Sunday school class, the teacher proceeded to pummel a new student with a pointer because she thought he had a Protestant name – not a Catholic name!

Then, there was the Spanish Inquisition where Jews, Muslims, and Protestants were persecuted with equal enthusiasm. There was also the infamous Thirty Years War in the early 17th century in central Europe. This was basically a struggle between Catholic and Protestant states and was one of the most destructive conflicts in human history. Warfare, famine and disease were widespread. It is estimated that there were over eight million deaths.

More recently, there were the conflicts in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. So we don't have to go back centuries to find religious conflict between sects in Christianity. All religions seem to differentiate into distinct denominations, but I think that history suggests that no religion has done this more than Christianity. This is not a criticism, but merely an observation. The French Jesuit theologian, Teilhard de Chardin, once wrote:

“Religion is not just one, there are hundreds. Spirituality is one. Religion is human, it is an organization with men's rules. Spirituality is Divine, without human rules. Religion is the cause of divisions. Spirituality unites.”

I contend that these insights echo the teachings of Guru Baba Nanak.

History is filled with examples of opposing groups engaging in terrible violence. What is striking is not how different they are, but how similar. All Muslims believe in Allah and read the same holy text, The Quran. All Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus and read basically the same Bible.

Sigmund Freud wrote about this and used the term “the narcissism of small differences.” If we see some other group as too much like ourselves, we can lose our unique personal identity. The ego is enhanced when we play down our similarities and emphasize our differences. There seems to be great satisfaction in defining oneself by what one is not!

Historically, for example, this has manifested itself in Sunni Muslims defining themselves as not Shia and vice versa. Likewise for Protestants to assert, first and foremost, that they are not Catholics.

Devout Christians have abiding support for Donald Trump despite his history of womanizing and other moral indiscretions. Many of them think back to King David of the Bible who had many wives and mistresses. These Christians focus on Trump policies consistent with their beliefs.

Likewise, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had many wives and mistresses. Ranjit Singh drank intoxicating liquors, but did not smoke. What is key here is that both King David and Ranjit Singh acknowledged wrongdoing, expressed regret and sought forgiveness from their people and God. In Ranjit Singh's case, the last straw was his marriage to a nautch girl.

The current president of the United States denies any and all wrongdoing, despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary.

Therein lies the difference … and it is an important one!


January 28, 2018

 

Conversation about this article

1: Sukhvinder Singh (Unite Kingdom), February 06, 2018, 10:06 AM.

Great article. Indeed, we should not fall into the trap of focusing on the fact that we are not Muslims, otherwise we fuel Islamophobia.

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Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee"









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