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Project Naad Faces a Hairy Problem

The following was an exiguous reply from Paramdeep Bhatia, a member of Project Naad, to our article, Horror of Hirsutism.

When confronted with the reality that Sikhism is in actual fact antipodal to a balanced way of life; and certainly not the alleged heir to “post-modernism”, Sikh’s tend to adopt a sophomoric strategy viz. Paramdeep Bhatia. He attempts to hoodwink us into believing that Sikhism’s prohibition of removing hair is only restricted to the hair on one’s head.

We have rejected this on the basis that a plausible difference of opinion exists over this issue.

Kesh in Punjabi language means hair on head. Roamm in Punjabi language means hair on body. The commandment given by the master was for Kesh not Roamm.

Religion has always been plagued by the existence of revisionists. Today, they are euphemistically called modernists. These revisionists are the antithesis of conservatism and have always tended to airbrush tradition and history to suit their own ends. Usually, the end has always been directly opposed to established theology. Islaam has had its fair share of revisionists who, at one time or another, have attempted to bastardise the pristine religion of Allah. This is not to say that Islaam is so rigidly set that it does not accommodate differences of opinion, a misconception often repeated by Orientalists et al. and prevalent amongst the ignorant masses. On the contrary, Islaam allows for ikhtilaaf (differences of opinion); but, only where it is legitimate. Thus, there are two types of differences of opinion:

  1. Opinions extracted from source proofs that are open to interpretation.
  2. Opinions that are either devoid of any proofs or the proofs used are not open to interpretation.

The former is the correct approach whilst the latter is exclusively revisionism; and thus rejected.

As to whether Paramdeep Bhatia’s proposition is revisionist or conservative is not the important issue here; what is important is whether he, and Sikhs like him who uphold a similar opinion, believe this opinion is open to interpretation.

The reason we ask is that if the prohibition of removing hair is only restricted to the “hair on head” as opposed to “hair on body”, as Project Naad has interpreted, then this conflicts with Sikh scholars who hold a broader interpretation. As we briefly delineated in the article Horror of Hirsutism, [1] some prominent Sikh scholars and authorities do not restrict this prohibition only to “hair on head”, but also include body hair as part of the four bujjar kurahit (cardinal sins). Let us reinforce this alternative stance with further proofs from various Sikh scholars and academics.

PROHIBITION OF HAIR REMOVAL INCLUDES ALL TYPES OF HAIR

In a collection of essays titled: ‘The Fundamental Issues of Sikh Studies’, compiled by the Institute of Sikh Studies in Chandigarh, India, Harnam Singh Shan [2] states:

In addition to these five emblems, the converts were to observe four rules of conduct (rehat): not to cut any hair on any part of their body. [3] (underline, capitalisation ours)

R.S. Wahiwala declares in the same compilation:

During the Amrit Sanskar (Initiation) ceremony the ones being initiated are “reminded of injunctions against removing hair by any means, from any part of the body, eating Kuthha meat, committing adultery and smoking tobacco or using any intoxicants. These are the four major taboos. A Sikh who violates these injunctions becomes ‘Patit’ (apostate).” [4] (bold ours)

Justice Mewa Singh writes:

Four violations-kuraihats, were also prescribed, the first being to prohibit the cutting of hairs on any part of the body. It is also contained in the 5 emblems. The defiance or breach of these obligations, may ex-communicate the defaulter from Sikh panth, till the re-baptism after apology, and promise not to repeat the fault. Such is the strict discipline for Sikhs to observe the Sikh code of conduct. The tenth Guru had made it clear in his Divine declarations, that there can be, no exemption to it. There is thus no scope for any doubt. [5] (bold, underline ours)

Some Sikhs who do not get the Sikh initiation and do not follow Sikh code of conduct in that respect, for their own convenience or due to some other problems …. [6]

However the basic requirement of Sikh code of conduct of keeping unshorn hairs finds support from the very first Divine declaration of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikh religion, at page one of Guru Granth Sahib, that, one must live under the Divine Will of God the Almighty. The hairs on the body are under the Will of God and if shorn, it would obviously be the defiance of Will of God, which is not permitted in Sikh religion. All Sikh Gurus and their devoted followers kept their hairs unshorn from the very beginning. [7] (bold, underline ours)

History records that over twenty thousands of Sikhs got the Sikh initiation of Amrit on that day who all had their keshas and hairs intact and unshorn and that over eighty thousands of Sikhs got Sikh initiation of Amrit in that week. It is more than sufficient to establish that Sikh initiation of Amrit was meant for all the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh issued Hukam Nama to all the Sikhs in the very next month of Jeth to get the Sikh initiation of Amrit and to keep the five Sikh emblems and to strictly follow Sikh code of conduct as prescribed by him. He made it very clear in his divine proclamations that there can be no exemption to it, being mandatory for all the Sikhs and they must maintain their separate Sikh identity. Recorded Max Arthur Macauliff, the eminent British scholar of Sikh religion, that Guru Gobind Singh instructed his Sikhs: “He who wearth long hair, without receiving baptism is a hypocritical and ignorant Sikh. I will not show myself to him. It is best to adopt one religion and not distract one’s mind with others. They who call themselves my Sikhs and stray to other creeds are sinners.’ And: ‘Let him who calleth himself a true Sikh of mine, accept baptism and do good acts, so shall his previous sins all depart on his seeking the Guru’s protection.” (The Sikh Religion, M.A. Macauliff, vol-5, pages, 157 and 159) [8] (bold, underline ours)

In fact it was mandatory from the very beginning under the dictums of the founder of Sikh religion itself. It was recognized in law, in Punjab Sikh Gurdawaras act 1925, that a Sikh who shorns his hair is, patit, and can not be the voter for SGPC elections. [9] (bold ours)

Dr Darshan Singh [10] maintains:

Sikhism, since the days of Guru Nanak, insists upon keeping the soul and body intact and interdependent. First it has to be kept as natural and pure as is given by the nature. Therefore, Sikhism preaches, as a fundamental principle, not to remove (or colour) any hair from any part of the body. [11] (bold, underline ours)

The first Sikhs who assembled around Guru Nanak and were called Sachiar by Guru Ram Das, were actually Sahjdhari [12] and Kesadhari both. Guru Nanak wanted his Sikhs to live according to the original laws of God enshrined in nature. Therefore, he advised them not to cut hair from any part of their body. Thus they became Kesadhari who kept their hair unshorn. This Kesadhari phenomenon was added to the fundamental principles of Sikhis, Now [sic] a Sikh had to be faithful to the above said principles and keep his/her hair uncut. [13] (bold ours)

Hence, the prohibition of not cutting one’s hair from any part of the body was, according to Darshan Singh, enacted by Guru Nanak himself. He continues:

It is true that a Sahjdhari may not keep hair unshorn and like an Amritdhari, he is not under obligation to wear five Ks. But, his identity as a Sikh manifests through adherence to the above said fundamental principles, resulting into a firm belief and conviction that his final goal is that of being a [sic] Amritdhari Sikh. [14]

While Jasbir Singh Mann [15] and Harbans Singh Saron recognise an overall prohibition of cutting the Kes and Kesh without making a distinction between the hair on the head and body hair:

Khalsa Symbols…

1. Kes: Reference to Kes or Keshas (uncut hair) is to be found in many places in the Guru Granth Sahib. Hair is not only regarded as a symbol of saintliness or holiness, but also a proof of one’s living in harmony with the will of God. All the Sikh Gurus and most of the saints of India left all their hair intact. God was described by Guru Arjan as under: ‘Teray bankay loian dant reesala, Sohne nuk jin lambray vala’ (GGS, p.567).

(You have adoring eyes and sparkling teeth, You have a beautiful nose and long hair.)

While speaking to the Muslims about their faith, Guru Nanak stressed the need to maintain their natural hair by covering it with the turban.

‘Napak pak kar hadon hadeesa, sabit soorat dastar sira’ (GGS, p.1084).

The Guru was not introducing something new. In India, hair was kept naturally by all sorts of persons …. The Sikhs believe if hair is provided by God, with its peculiar distribution over our bodies, then we should respect this. Trimming or shaving only emphasises the futility of human effort; it is regarded as the seal of the Guru. The head of a devout Sikh is also an offering to the Guru as a proof of his devotion. In the past, Sikhs have made tremendous sacrifices to safeguard the sanctity of their hair. [16] (bold, underline ours)

Kurahit: ‘Kurahits are prohibitions to be obeyed by Amrit-dhari Sikhs. There are 4 Kurahits (major lapses) as under: (1) Not to cut one’s hair/s: This is both a positive command, also injunction. Chaupa Singh states: ‘Guru ka Sikh badhan na kare.’

This is a prohibition against cutting or destroying body hair. On the positive side, the Guru wants his Sikhs to come to him, in a way that he approves; Sukhs Singh wrote: ‘Ihe mor agia suno he piare, Bina tegh Kesan di vo na deedare’ (Gur Bilas, Patshahi Dasvin)

Chaupa Sigh emphasises the prohibition against the cutting of hair: ‘Guru da Sikh dehi de rom na luhae’ (54) (Rahatnama Chaupa Singh)

Sukhs Singh also warns the Sikhs against shaving their hair: ‘Bikhia Kirya bhadan tiagah, jata rahbo anuragh’. (Gur Bilas)” [17] (bold, underline ours)

The above scholastic writers show that Paramdeep Bhatia’s attempt to restrict the prohibition of cutting hair to the Kesh, which he sees as “hair on head”, and not Roamm, which he interprets as “hair on body”, is not a hard and fast rule. The least one could say is that there exists a plausible difference of opinion in this issue. This leads to three possible outcomes:

  1. Paramdeep’s opinion is wrong and the conflicting opinion right.
  2. Vice-versa.
  3. Both opinions are equally valid.

We leave the head-scratching for the Sikhs.

God in Sikhi is considered perfect and his creation is also perfect. So the natural form of God is also considered perfect

This is precisely what Randhir Singh (1878-1961), “a revolutionary as well as a saintly personage much revered among the Sikhs” [18], famously argued when debating the prison Superintendent at Nagpur Prison. During the course of the debate, he draws the analogical deduction of the heads necessary connection to the body as an argument against the cutting of not just the hair on one’s head, but also body hair:

It is very important that each hair on the human head and on the ENTIRE BODY be kept intact, because these are created there by God – our Creator. The hair on our head and body grow to such length as is needed by the physiology and biology of each individual body according to God’s plan. The hair grows to certain length and then stops growing further naturally. Any attempt to undo the Creator’s work by either trying to artificially make hair grow thicker and longer or get rid of it is our folly and also against the Law of God. Women do not have hair on the face. Any human attempt to grow it there would not succeed.  (bold, underline, capitals ours)

Of course, this sets up the big fall: What does a woman do if hair does grow naturally on the face? Applying this “revolutionary” man’s logic, it must “be kept intact” and any attempt to remove it would be “sheer folly” since it is “against the Law of God”. This is consistent with the beliefs of many Sikhs.

Randhir Singh continues:

Similarly, to cut hair from the head is also sheer folly. God – the Creator, has given beards to men but they shave them every day and try to look like women. But Nature does not let them do so. They shave but Nature administers a snub to them every morning by letting it grow again. The shavers receive double blow, one from the shaving blade and the other from Nature when every morning new beard comes out in defiance of their intentions. But they do not wake up to the ultimate Reality. Women as well suffer humility when they try to cut their hair and look like men by imitating them in this mad pursuit. Both male and female have gained absolutely nothing from this pursuit. (bold, underline ours)

Randhir Singh’s understanding that imitating the opposite sex constitutes a “mad pursuit” is completely in line with the Shari’ah (Divine Islamic Law), which prohibits the imitation of the opposite sex. However, this compounds the situation for a Sikh who holds that all hair on the body is sacred and cannot be cut.
Singh continues:

The question should have been ‘Why Nature’s gift (Hair) should not be left intact on the head and elsewhere and why should it be cropped?’ But, surprisingly, questions are asked the other way. The stark reality is that there is an overwhelming majority of people who defy the Divine because of this habit inherited from others through centuries and have mistaken the shaven face and shorn hair as a natural form. The reason is that, in the world, there are so few and so rare people who stick to and are consistent with the Eternal Law of Nature. When any person from powerful  nations of the world chances to have a glance at a Sikh in natural form, he wonders at the latter’s completely natural face and asks the question: “Is it necessary to keep hair intact?” In his ignorance he forgets that hair like other limbs of the body is part and parcel of the human body. (bold, underline ours)

Although unrelated, we wish to note here that this entire line of reasoning only gives credence to the oft-repeated argument against those Sikhs who are quick to point out the fallacy of equating the cutting of nails with the cutting of hair.

He continues:

A Sikh would NEVER allow a SINGLE HAIR to be removed from his body because he bows to God’s Law, he understands that hair growth has a purpose behind it and believes it a SIN to do otherwise; just as a doctor would not advise to close a pore on the body. [19] (bold, underline, capitals ours)

Hair is not the highest importance in the Sikh Way of Life. It is Naam.

This is neither here nor there.

The psuedo [sic] science around the functions and purpose of hair have neither been proven or unproven. This is insignificant to a Sikh whether you accept these or not. Either way the creation is considered perfect.

What do you mean: “proven or unproven”? It is well-known that the burden of proof lies with the claimant. We categorically reject this line of argumentation on the basis that the so-called proofs forwarded are mumbo-jumbo pseudo-science.

As Muslims you are confused about Karma affecting the body Vs God’s natural design (free from Karma effects). Hirsutism is a karmic effect on the body. It is not the typical design of the woman and so there is no compulsion to keep hair which is otherwise unnatural for a woman and would cause her unnecessary stress. This is highlighted better if a child is born with some kind of physical deformity which can be fixed with surgery (e.g. cleft lip). The hukam is simply the divine law of karma taking effect. Everything works within Hukam. But where karma is affecting someone, there is no harm in correcting a deformity or something like hirsutism. One muslim [sic] scholar mentions similar logic regarding eyebrows.

As we have seen, your interpretation is not a hard and fast rule. The reality is that prominent Sikh scholars, and thus numerous followers, believe, support and practice a view in opposition to yours.

As for the Islamic prohibition of not cutting and plucking one’s eyebrows (we have explained this in detail in the related article: The Horror of Hirsutism [20]); then, again this has no bearing on the above point.

You trying to link Hirtuism [sic] with the natural hair of a woman is the dirty game that muslims [sic] love to play. There is nothing wrong with the fine hair on womens [sic] legs or eyebrows.

Well, that is an arbitrary claim. One’s personal opinion has no bearing on the permissibility or prohibition of a divinely instantiated law; at least not for those Sikhs who consider cutting any hair from the body, be it fine or coarse, to be a Kurahit.

You wrote: ” Although this call to strict observance is admirable, the more pertinent question is: Is this not taking things to an extreme?”

Ans: No it is not. People CHOOSE to follow the path of Sikhi. They are not “born” into this path unlike Islam.

[We have deleted the red herrings asserted here since they have nothing to do with the debate]

In summary Sikhism does allow ABNORMAL hair removal due to Karmic reasons in the same way it allows correction of deformities such as Cleft Lip. The following quote from Guru Granth Sahib makes it very clear:
Kabeer, when you are in love with the One Lord, duality and alienation depart.
You may have long hair, or you may shave your head bald. ||25||
Kabeer, the world is a room filled with black soot; the blind fall into its trap.
I am a sacrifice to those who are thrown in, and still escape. ||26||

We have shown that there is at least a difference of opinion in what Paramdeep otherwise believes to be a black and white issue; thus, the horror of hirsutism will continue to haunt many Sikh women.

cheers

Allah yahdeeka!

[1] Horror of Hirsutism
[2] Dr Harnam Singh Shan is an eminent Sikh scholar formerly Professor and Chairman, Guru Nanak Chair, and Head of the Departments of Punjabi Studies and Sikh Studies at Panjab University, Chandigarh. He has been conferred with a rare honour by The Sikh Review, Calcutta. This oldest and globally recognised literary monthly journal in English of the Sikhs, re-established in 1953 by the Sikh Cultural Centre, Calcutta, has published its 578th issue (vol. 50:2) under the caption “Special issue celebrating scholarship honouring Dr Harnam Singh Shan, D.Litt.”
[3] H.S. Shan, Sikhism: An Original Distinct Revealed and Complete Religion, (Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh), p. 36.
[4] Ibid., R. S. Wahiwala, The Sikh Code of Conduct, p. 235.
[5] Justice M. Singh (Retd), Sikh Religion Initiation-Amrit and Sikh code of conduct, (Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh), p. 3.
[6] Ibid., p. 13.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., pp. 14-15.
[9] Ibid., p. 22.
[10] Dr Darshan Singh, former Professor and Chairman, department of Guru Nanak Studies, Punjab University Chandigarh; author of several books and articles on Sikhism.
[11] D. Singh, Sikhism: Issues and Institutions, (Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh), p. 7.
[12] According to ‘The Sikh Encyclopedia’: Sahajdharis – gradualists who profess faith in Sikhism but have not yet complied with the injunction about unshorn hair.
[13] Ibid., p. 15
[14] Ibid., p. 78
[15] Dr. Jasbir Singh Mann is a California-based orthopaedic surgeon and a very well known writer on Sikhism related issues. His articles have appeared in many journals like Nishaan, The Sikh Review and Abstracts of Sikh Studies and also in various books. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Punjabi University for his contribution to Sikh Studies By Punjabi Universty Patiala, India (2002)
[16] J.S. Mann, H.S. Saron, Advanced Studies in Sikhism, (Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh), p. 181.
[17] Ibid., pp. 184-5.
[18] http://www.thesikhencyclopedia.com/biographical/randhir-singh-bhai.html
[19] http://www.panthic.org/news/130/ARTICLE/2817/2006-10-18.html
[20] Horror of Hirsutism

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