Should Sikh gurdwaras be open to mixed marriages?

Should Sikhs be able to marry whoever they like? Course they can – like anybody of any other faith.

But can they marry anybody in a gurdwara (Sikh temple)..? That’s not a simple answer.

Most religions dictate that you should marry somebody of the same faith. Of course that isn’t always taken as gospel – no matter which religion you identify with. After all – love is blind. Your heart doesn’t look at race, colour or creed before it sets on somebody.

But major world faiths take the view that marriage with somebody of the same belief is more practical and effective. And to some extent I agree that it’s easier to be with somebody who has the same/similar principles as you. It would be easier to raise a family if you have a joint understanding of faith too.

But it’s not impossible to have a successful marriage and family if you both follow different religious paths.

In a progressive society we come across people from all backgrounds. It’s only a fact of probability that people of different views will be attracted to each other. Enter – mixed marriages.

In recent years there have been public protests over mixed marriages in gurdwaras. The Akal Takht (the Sikh governing body) passed guidance that a Sikh should only marry a Sikh.

But who do you class as Sikh? This is a much more complicated question than it looks at face value. Being born into a Sikh family surely doesn’t define you as a Sikh, does it?

Taking different perspectives and religious doctrine in to consideration, last year Sikh Council UK made an agreement with all UK gurdwaras that a Sikh can have an Anand Karaj (Sikh marriage) with anybody who believes in, or adopts, Sikh values.

There are many Sikh principles and to avoid a religious studies lecture; some of the basics are – believe in one God, make an honest living, believe in and exercise equality and take God’s name (pray).

These principles mean different things to different people. Hence, every religion has sub-sects of groups who practice in different ways.

For a Sikh to marry somebody not born/baptised a Sikh; the partner has to agree they believe in Sikh principles and prove this by adopting Singh (male) or Kaur (female) in their name.

I spoke to Gurmail Singh from Sikh Council UK who gave several examples of this marriage policy working. He pointed out that Sikhism believes in equality – it doesn’t discriminate against race, ethnicity, caste or any other social standing (at least you’re not meant to). But to honour the Anand Karaj – where you’re taking vows based on Sikhism – you have to demonstrate you respect/believe in that very faith.

Otherwise – why would you be so precious to have an Anand Karaj?

However, not all gurdwaras have been practicing this policy.

And some Sikhs who don’t agree with this policy, have protested at a Sikh marrying a non-Sikh in a gurdwara. Incidents have occurred where the couple’s big day has been disrupted and they may not even be aware of the marriage policy passed by Sikh Council UK.

There was controversy at the recent protests by Sikh Youth UK at Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington Spa, where 55 people were arrested, many of whom were in possession of a ceremonial dagger (kirpan).

Although they claim this was a peaceful protest – I can only go by what I have seen of mobile footage circulated online – there is no doubt if it was your wedding, you would feel intimidated by dozens of men wanting to put a stop to your celebration.

No doubt I am going to offend many Sikhs who do not agree with me – and everybody is entitled to an opinion – but surely what should be taken from this is that young Sikhs want to have an Anand Karaj.

If their faith meant nothing to them they could just have a registry marriage and disregard their religion altogether. In order for a faith to survive, it needs to embrace modernity and adapt to changing times.

This is a challenge faced by all religions and the answers are not always clear because faith and practice are so unique to individuals.

Having said that, I respect tradition and customs. But not all religious customs are set in stone. The Sikh Gurus promoted equality.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji said we are human before Hindu or Muslim – so if a human wants to take the Guru Granth Sahib Ji’s blessings for marriage, the living Guru, who are we mere mortals to be an obstacle in a person’s dreams?

I’m anticipating a backlash to these words. Even people in my own friends and family circle will not like what they’re reading. But I’m saying this with pride and confidence as a Sikh who is part of a progressive faith that sees every person as equal.

If there was more love in the world, there would not be so many boundaries.