The Sikhs of Kenya have been around for over a century now, but they still remain as much a mystery for many as they were when the pioneers Sikhs first stepped into British East Africa. Their unique turbans and flowing beards have earned them respect, nevertheless, but their faith and practice is a matter of much curiosity for non-Sikhs around the world. The few who do know a little about the Sikhs cannot seem to tell why some of them wear Kirpans (holy swords) and sport unshorn hair, while the others choose to simply be the Sikh they define for themselves (cutting their hair, not wearing turbans, following fake godmen etc). The confusion and argument is an issue of great concern for not only non-Sikhs, but for Sikhs alike. Many erroneously draw differences between the founder Guru, Guru Nanak Sahib and the last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, especially in issues on keeping long, unshorn hair, wearing of the turbans and even wearing kirpans as part of the Sikh faith. But the difference is in their lack of knowledge of Sikh history, principles and in the Scriptures of their faith – the Guru Granth Sahib. It is impossible to judge the depth of the ocean just from the surface, for one has to dive into it and experience the true essence of it. Faith, and Sikhi, is like that ocean, where one cannot even begin to pass his own opinions about it without first delving into it, studying it and practicing it. To make matters a little easier to understand, this article will touch on the basic facts that will help eliminate the misconceptions people have about Sikhs and this needs to become an inspiration to learning more through further study of the Sikh history, faith and principles.
Guru Nanak’s principles and teachings were not only revolutionary, but they were designed in such a way that they were a part of the picture that was to be completed in the over 240 years of the founding of the Sikh faith, which was, is and will ever remain, a distinct and unique faith amongst the others in the world. Sikhs are neither Hindus, nor Muslims, they are simply Sikhs, and the fact is proved through the very Word of the Sikh Scriptures, if one sincerely studies its depths, rather than its surface. The image that the Sikhs have today – that of the warrior-saint – was conceptualised by Guru Nanak Sahib and finalised into its final form by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. Nothing that the two Gurus taught and instructed was in conflict, they tallied with each other, just as the teachings of the other 8 Gurus (and of the additional interfaith co-authors that contribute to the compilation of Guru Granth Sahib) were all part of a process that led into the creation of the Khalsa (the complete, pure Sikh). The Khalsa (baptised Sikhs who wear the 5Ks – Kanga (wooden comb), Kachhera (short underpants), Kirpan (holy sword), Kesh (long, unshorn hair) and Kara (steel bracelet) is the final form of Guru Nanak’s Sikh who had visualised its identity from the early days of the Sikhi (Sikh faith, principles and practice). If one was to look into the hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib in their entirety, they would realise that the word of Guru Nanak transformed into the Sword of Guru Gobind Singh – and that many of Guru Nanak’s revolutionary ideas were swords in the form of words, and Guru Gobind Singh’s sword was indeed a form of the Word.
One has to studiously search into the Scriptures, History and Lives of the Sikh Gurus that indeed, there is no difference between the Sikh of Guru Nanak and of the Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh (they are one and the same). All the Gurus built Sikhi as they lived along, passing down the light of wisdom and vision to the succeeding Guru, each one introducing a new and improved ideology, leading to the final form of the Khalsa. Through the Word, the Gurus sought to enlighten and dispel the darkness of ignorance from the midst of man, while through the Sword, the Gurus (3 of the Sikh Gurus bore arms) sought to challenge the tyrants of their time who had been hell-bent for centuries in taking away the faith of the land and forcibly converting them into Islam. Together, the image of Guru Nanak (man of the WORD) and of Guru Gobind Singh (man of the SWORD) formed the complete image of the Khalsa – that of the Warrior-Saint which are inseparable. The idea behind this concept was that as much as the Sikh is a man of God , meditation and peace, he is also a warrior that is ready to defend his faith, and of others, from the hands of oppressors who seek to impose their might on the men of God. Sikh history is replete with unparalleled examples where Sikh Gurus and their Sikhs arose to fight off the Mughals who were terrorising the Hindus into conversion. Had the Word of Guru Nanak not taken the form of the SWORD in those particular times, one can only imagine what the spiritual fate of that land would have been today.
There is no contradiction between any Sikh Guru, least of all between Guru Nanak Sahib and Guru Gobind Singh Sahib – for they were one and the same in spirit and soul – word for word. Over the years, guru after guru (of the Sikhs), the form transformed, answering the need of the time. Today, the Khalsa continue that legacy of the warrior-saint identity of the Sikh, for the wars with the soul and with the world are far from over, and this very identity was not merely a call of the times, but an image for the rest of time. The very intention of the Sikh Gurus was to teach the soul to live in freedom from the inner and outer enemies, defend the weak and oppressed and challenge the mights of the tyrants that have even the slightest inclination of taking away the freedoms of the peoples that inhabit our earth. And that is why the WORD is entitled to the throne of GURU by the Sikhs (Guru Granth Sahib) where the Sikhs are now entrusted to the Living Guru in the form of eternal, infallible WORD, and not in the form of the fallible humans. Any Sikh or non-Sikh that continues to argue over what the Gurus taught and practiced, cannot even claim to know what Sikhi (way of the Sikh) is, for their ignorance separates them from the Truth. Truly, to understand Sikhi, one has to come into Sikhi, there is no other way to rightly judge or comprehend it. The Sikhi of Guru Nanak was never an easy concept to understand and adopt, and it still is not any easier, without becoming a complete sacrifice to its principles and teachings.