from Signs of the Times No. 73 - April 2019
It is ironic that a religion with such a strong commitment to peace and universalism should have had its history so marred in violence. The religion was founded by Guru Nanak, developed by a further nine Gurus and established at the beginning of the seventeenth century with the sacred manuscript known as the Guru Granth Sahib. This sacred manuscript, the writing of which had begun in around 1550 and finalised in 1604, was housed in the Golden Temple at Amritsar (built in 1601) at a ceremony on 16 August, 1604.
In this concise book of 120 pages, Braybrooke has set out a very short introduction to the history, development and theology of Sikhism concluding with a description of the place of Sikhism in the world today.
The lives of each of the founding gurus are described enumerating the many areas of tension and battles with the established religions of Islam and Hinduism as well as with the secular governments. In spite of all these battles, the Sikh Empire was established covering much of the Punjab which was then gradually dismantled during the ten years following the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839. There then followed a relatively quiet period during the British occupation, at the end of which in 1947 the whole of India erupted into violence. The second part of the book describes the Sikh diaspora concluding with a more detailed description of the Sikhs in Britain. There then follows a section on Sikh theology which deals with the relationship between the religion and Christianity in some detail, thus justifying the subtitle of the book, which does actually form part of a series which includes Christian approaches to Islam and Hinduism. The book concludes with a description of current Sikh devotions and ceremonies ending with a chapter on Sikhism’s message for today. In today’s much divided world that message of peace, of universalism is so badly needed – ‘that there is only one God whom people worship by different names – that speaks to the wider world.’
There can be no one better qualified to write this book and the other two in the series than Marcus Braybrooke. He is an Anglican priest who became secretary of the World Congress of Faiths in 1967, having been inspired by the founder of that organisation, Sir Francis Younghusband who wrote ‘I had visions of a far greater religious faith yet to be, and of a God as much greater than our English God as a Himalayan giant is greater than an English hill’.
Interfaith dialogue has been a lifelong passion of Braybrooke and I have no hesitation in recommending this paperback to any who may be seeking a cogent description of the Sikh religion. There are just one or two minor criticisms – a glossary of Sikh terms would be very helpful for ready reference and there are a few typos which perhaps could be corrected for the next edition. Overall Sikhism is a miniature masterpiece of concise writing.
David Greenwood is Vice-Chair and Treasurer of the Alister Hardy Trust, Reader in the Diocese and author of Art and Spiritual Experience.