“Why should a Sikh be prevented from participating in a ceremony that is important to them because of who they fall in love with?”
On 11 September, police in the United Kingdom arrested 55 people who were protesting at a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) against an interfaith wedding that was taking place there. The protest and subsequent arrests reignited a debate among the Sikh community about mixed marriages in Gurdwaras, with many presenting their views on both sides of the debate.
Most presume that it is the older generations who are most likely to oppose interfaith marriages. However, the protests on 11 September were organised by a group called the Sikh Youth UK and the protesters were made up almost entirely of young people who believed they were standing up for their religion’s values.
To find out more about the issue of interfaith marriages in the Sikh community, the IPF decided to speak to young Sikhs to see if their views were similar to the protesters. Navjot Sawhney is a 26-year-old British Sikh blogger based in London. He has inspired hundreds of people across the globe with his positive messages and his educational content about the Sikh faith. Here, Navjot writes for the IPF about the Leamington Spa Gurdwara protests, how these interfaith marriage protests reflect on his community, and his hopes for his own wedding.
I am a British Indian Sikh. My girlfriend is a white, non-Sikh. I would like to have the option to marry her in the Gurdwara. So the spate of demonstrations against interfaith marriages at Sikh temples – like the recent protest at Leamington Spa Gurdwara – have left me worried.
I understand the sensitivities around allowing interfaith marriage ceremonies in the temple. After all, both people getting married must accept the concept of one God and renounce any other beliefs they hold which are contrary to that. But I believe it is up to the couple to decide whether they are comfortable with that commitment.
As Sikhs, we are bound to respect every individual’s religious sentiment and freedom to choose their own pathway to God.
I don’t understand how we can claim to uphold that teaching, while simultaneously refusing to allow Sikhs who wish to marry someone from another religion – or no religion – to marry in the temple. Why should a Sikh be prevented from participating in a ceremony that is important to them because of who they fall in love with?I also cannot reconcile the claims of the Leamington Spa Gurdwara demonstrators, who say they are proud Sikhs who only want to defend and protect their faith, with the reality of the footage I’ve seen: a gang of men, dressed all in black, hoods up – some in balaclavas.
These men do not look like proud Sikhs. They look like a dangerous mob.
Even worse, they have associated the Kirpan – a ceremonial dagger which is one of the five symbols of our faith – with a bladed weapon. Our right to wear the Kirpan is protected by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, but it is based on an understanding with the authorities that the Kirpan is not a weapon but a necessary part of our religious uniform. These men just placed that understanding at risk, and undermined a hard-won right.
Even those who are sympathetic to the protesters point of view must object to their methods.
These men have brought negative attention to our community at a time when racial tensions are high.
They have reinforced the perception that a turban and beard equate to dangerous fundamentalism. They have given the racists and the bigots justifications for their ignorant hatred.
As a community, we must stand against those whose actions bring our religion into disrepute. In its place, we should encourage dialogue and debate. We should come together to find common ground.Navjot is giving up his job for a year and moving to India with Engineers Without Borders UK, working to design cookstoves that are 80% more fuel efficient and produce 80% less smoke. To follow Navjot’s work and words on his project “Nav’s Project 365”, like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.
NB: The IPF’s Comment section is a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily endorsed by the IPF.