What is the Sikh attitude to inter-faith marriages?

Marriage is about two bodies walking ‘one path’, not ‘two paths’.

In recent years, the incidences of interfaith marriages (i.e. Sikh and non-Sikh) have been increasing in Gurdwaras across the world despite the Panthic Sikh Rehat Maryada clearly stating that “a Sikh should marry only a Sikh.”

Rehitnamas further say:

(ੳ) ਨਾਤਾ ਗੁਰੂ ਕੇ ਸਿਖ ਨਾਲ ਕਰੇ। (ਰਹਿਤਨਾਮਾ ਭਾਈ ਚੌਂਪਾ ਸਿੰਘ)
1. Have relations with a Sikh of the Guru. (Rehatnama Bhai Chaupa Singh)

(ਅ) ਕੰਨਯਾ ਕੋ ਮਾਰੇ, ਮੋਨੇ ਕੋ ਕੰਨਯਾ ਦੇਵੇ, ਸੋ ਤਨਖਾਹੀਆ ਹੈ।
ਸਿੱਖ ਕੋ ਸਿੱਖ ਪੁਤ੍ਰੀ ਦਈ, ਸੁਧਾ ਸੁਧਾ ਮਿਲ ਜਾਇ।
ਦਈ ਭਾਦਣੀ ਕੋ ਸੁਤਾ, ਅਹਿ ਮੁਖ ਅਮੀ ਚੁਆਇ। (ਰਹਿਤਨਾਮਾ ਭਾਈ ਦੇਸਾ ਸਿੰਘ)
2. Killing a daughter or to give a daughter (in marriage) to a non-Sikh, such a person commits great offence. Sikh should give his daughter (in marriage) to a Sikh. Thus Gurmukh meets a Gurmukh. Giving a daughter to a Bhadni (non-Sikh) is like giving nectar to a snake. (Rehatnama Bhai Desa Singh)

(ੲ) ਕੰਨਯਾ ਦੇਵੈ ਸਿਖ ਕੋ, ਲੇਵੈ ਨਹਿ ਕੁਛ ਦਾਮ।
ਸੋਈ ਮੇਰਾ ਸਿਖ ਹੈ, ਪਹੁੰਚੇਗੋ ਮਮ ਧਾਮ। (ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਤਾਪ ਸੂਰਜ)
3. A Sikh gives (in marriage) his daughter to a Sikh and does not accept any money in exchange. He is my Sikh and will reach in my presence. (Guru Pratap Surya)

In response to the growing trend of Gurdwaras relaxing Gur Maryada to accommodate the wishes of individuals rather than respect the Guru’s teachings and Sikh Rehat Maryada, the Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib – the Supreme seat of authority of the Sikhs – has issued a Hukumnama (decree) regarding this matter on the 16-8-2007.

The original letter (along with a translation) can be seen on the link below:

If a Sikh wants to marry a man or woman who is not a Sikh and does not believe in the 10 Gurus and their teachings, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and believe in the Amrit given by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, then he or she should first become a Sikh and change his/her name legally and own sole allegiance of faith to Sikhism and no other belief.

The person should become a Sikh both in letter and spirit. The Hukamnama issued in 2007 by Sri Akaal Takht Sahib has simply made this clear. Ideally every Sikh should be an Amritdhari, or at least faithfully believe and strive towards taking Amrit. The Hukamnama does not say that a Sikh should marry only an Amritdhari. The message is that a Sikh should marry within the Sikh community and if he/she wants to marry someone who is not yet a Sikh (not born in a Sikh family and does not have Singh or Kaur as part of their name), that person should really “become a Sikh” and change his/her name legally. The couple’s future children should be raised in accordance to the Sikh religion and their hair should not be cut.

All Sikhs should use the name “Singh” or “Kaur” with their name. Every Sikh child should have Singh or Kaur as part of their name even if the family name/surname is used for some legal reasons.

Extract from Teaching Sikh Heritage by Dr. Gurbaksh Singh

My opinion regarding interracial and interfaith marriage is different from it.  What, I tell the youth at the camps is briefly mentioned below.

There should be no racial bias according to Sikh faith, hence, there is no racial bar against a marriage. Regarding interfaith marriages, it should be well understood that they may be performed by two or more ceremonies but such marriages will not be happy ones.  Religion is not just a collection of beliefs to be understood but a path of life one decides to follow. Two spouses cannot simultaneously walk on two different paths, i.e. practice two faiths and still remain together as a couple.  Otherwise, it is literally a marriage of convenience and not a marriage of minds and hearts.  It is not a true marriage where both partners cannot jointly practice their faith, the mission of their life.  Without practicing faith, we are no better than animals.

In case the two belong to different faiths, before they marry they must decide which faith they are going to follow.  It may be remembered that conversion for marriage does not mean a change of belief, but it is for a worldly advantage.  Such a wedding may soon create problems.  Here are two case histories from a dozen interfaith marriages that I know.  Each has its own lesson for us to learn.

1. I was invited by the New Jersey sangat for a week long seminar there.  My host was a white lady married to a Sikh.  During informal conversation at her house, she narrated her experience of their marriage.  It is rare to find such honest and sincere people.  What she shared with me is retold below in her words.

“My husband is a great human being.  While working for him as his secretary, I liked him.  We got married, even though my British parents did not agree with it.  Later, when they found my husband to be a nice and noble man and also financially well off, they reconciled with our marriage.  They now visit us regularly.  Before our relations became normal with them, we started facing other problems.

The problem of naming our children was easy to overcome.  We agreed to give them both Punjabi and Christian names. The other problems, however, continue.  When we go to the church, none of us really benefit from it.  He does not believe in Christianity and he just sits there to be with me.  My mind remains constantly occupied with the idea that I am forcing one gentleman to sit there for nothing.  The same thing is experienced at the gurdwara where our roles are switched.  I do not understand Sikh sermons recited in Punjabi. He knows that I am there waiting for the function to be over.

The third problem is regarding the faith of our children.  Should we raise them as Christians or as Sikhs?  It bothers me most and it also seems to have no solution. He says, “I can raise them as Christians.  However, as a true Christian, I feel it is sin to raise the children of a Sikh as Christians. If we do not teach them any faith that also is a sin. I am really under great stress.”

We discussed the topic of interfaith marriages quite often during the days I stayed with them. When, I asked her what I should tell the youth about it, she summarized her experience in two sentences. “If you love a person of a different faith, be a sincere friend but do not marry that person.  By marriage, you will ruin the true meaning of life for both.”

2. There is a different experience of interfaith marriage as well.

A European lady is married to a Sikh who cuts his hair.  She studied Sikh faith and had observed the Sikh culture before her marriage to him.  She not only accepted the Sikh philosophy and culture, but also practiced it sincerely.  She even taught Sikh heritage to the youth at the camps, of course, with some Christian element.  One day, when I visited them for a Sikh youth camp, she gave a pleasant surprise to me by asking, “I want to become an Amritdhari Sikh.  I wish my husband joins me.  Please convince him to stop cutting his hair and also take Amrit.”

The conclusion I draw from these two case histories is that one must marry within one’s faith.  In case of an interfaith marriage, they must, before their wedding, join one faith and sincerely live that faith to have peace and achieve the mission of human life.

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One Response to “What is the Sikh attitude to inter-faith marriages?”

  1. J Gill says:

    I am a white lady in the USA married to a Sikh man originally from Malaysia. I was raised Christian, but over time have come to just believe in God and that no one religion is correct. I also have rejected the idea that Jesus is the son of god (basic Christian fundamental). Both my husband and I have similiar beliefs and he is not a extremely religious Sikh. He cuts his hair and where we live there is not currently a Gurdwara. We did live in another city where there was a Gurdwara and would sometimes go, but I don’t understand the Punjabi ceremony. We have a 7 year old daughter and have been married for 10 years. I think there is not a problem with any interfaith or interracial marriage as long as you have the same core beliefs and fundamentals. I do agree that it does become difficult if you wish to raise children in a household with two religions. I think any marriage should establish up front before marriage some key ideals or you will have strife within the marriage. Such things do include whether or not to have children, faith, and family. I actually came across this site as I was searching for participation of a non-sikh in gurdwara activities as our niece is getting married next year.

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