Learning From the Sikhs: Self-Defense For the Spiritually Inclined.

As the debate over gun regulation rages on, the issue of senseless shootings and religious freedom crossed paths when, in early August, ex-military and white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on worshipers at a Sikh temple in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My first thought about the shooting was one of utter shock that someone could think to harm a place of worship of one of the most peace-loving, peace-defending strictly monotheist religions on Earth. My second thought was: Why didn’t the Sikhs attempt to use their kirpans in defense? 

The kirpan is the dagger that all practicing baptized Sikhs carry on their bodies at all times. It’s typically 6″-9″ long with a curved blade; though many have opted for carrying smaller blades that are purposely dull because of the controversy surrounding carrying knives in public. The carrying of a kirpan was originally instituted by one of the early gurus of Sikhism as Sikhs were frequently becoming victims of attacks as they traveled. These days, the kirpan is mainly used as a symbol of the faith in the same way a crucifix is worn by Christians. In fact, many kirpans are about as dangerous as a crucifix; though some very traditional Sikhs opt for carrying larger and sharper kirpans so they can be properly used when it is absolutely necessary. Still, the kirpan is only to be used in self-defense or in defense of the defenseless when all other means of diplomacy have failed. 

In studying some Sikh texts, I was surprised to find that many of the English translations read much like the English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Here are a few passages concerning the kirpan in comparison with some of the New Testament: 

“When all means to keep peace fail, it’s righteous to rise the sword…when today’s time is moved by inappropriate tyranny. With great fortune you are afforded, the sword (of the) just!” –  Guru Gobind Singh

“He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.” For what is written about me has its fulfillment.’ And they said, ‘Look, lord, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough.'” – Luke 22:36-38 

In this modern age, carrying a sword or dagger has largely been replaced by concealed carry weapons permits that allow firearms to be worn under the jacket or under a shirt. In most religions, carrying a concealed weapon for the purpose of defending the defenseless is a righteous act. 

The Children of Israel were also called to be people of peace as well as those who defend the defenseless as well as themselves. King David and his son, King Solomon, both taught extensively on the virtues of upholding justice for the innocent. 

“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked. Selah. Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:2-4

“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” – Proverbs 24:11

Even the carrying of weapons was not uncommon among the Children of Israel. In the Book of Nehemiah in the fourth chapter, there are reports of workers carrying swords on their sides as they worked to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. They even took their swords with them as they went down to wash. Thinking of this made me think of the Sikhs who soak in the Amritsar River with their kirpans strapped on their heads as a symbol of preparedness: 

Though the ancient tradition of carrying a sword or dagger at one’s side has been largely replaced by those carrying firearms, for those who wish to have some means of defending themselves without the great responsibility and strict laws surrounding carrying firearms, there are modern methods of carrying a simple knife on one’s person. From a neck knife to a simple folding knife with a quick-open blade (not button-activated or balisong “butterfly” knives, which are typically illegal), carrying a knife for utilitarian or self-defense purposes is a largely unregulated sphere. It is recommended that one checks local laws about what length of blade and style of knife can be legally carried, but even a very short-bladed knife can be enough to ward off an assailant when all methods of diplomacy have failed. 
Knife worn around the neck; possibly under clothes.
The “kirpan” I carry everyday. About $10 online.
I am now embarrassed by my original question of “Why didn’t they attempt to use their their kirpans?” The Sikhs at that temple, though not out-manned, were certainly out-gunned. Had one of them been given the opportunity, I’m sure one of the “warrior priests” (as Sikhs are frequently referred to as) would have attempted to subdue Wade Michael Page. Later, I found out that even armed police were having tremendous difficulty subduing the shooter once they had arrived on the scene.  
Sikhs around the world have been forced to give up their kirpans in certain scenarios for the sake of safety. This not only does not make anyone safer, but also violates their faith as well decreases their ability to be righteous warrior priests who are dedicated to defending all peoples; regardless of race, creed, or any other mitigating factor. In general, removing weapons from the righteous does not make the world a better place, but rather makes it easier for the evil to take advantage of the innocent. The more peace-lovers take up arms, no matter how small, the safer the world will be from those who do not love peace. 

My prayer is that there come a time when none of these weapons will ever need to be used. Anyone carrying any form of weapon should practice diplomacy first and foremost. Weapons should only be used in self defense will all other methods of defusing a potentially violent situation have been attempted. 

Shalom.