[The following response, to some of the statements made about Dr McLeod in tributes paid to him after his death, has been made using Dr McLeod’s own methodology of a “skeptic” — that we believe the statements in question are hagiographical in nature rather than objective. I am sure those who worship Dr McLeod would not begrudge us this step — as we believe using his own methodology to dissect his own life’s account may be the biggest tribute to him. If what we write does not read like a tribute and makes you angry, please do keep in mind that all the arguments applied to those Sikhs who felt angered by Dr McLeod’s methodology and the statements stemming from it, are applicable to you too. Peace & love — Sikh Centre.]


SikhChic / I J Singh


Sikh Centre


Hew McLeod Passes Away: The End of an Era in Sikh Scholarship

I am somewhat doubtful about the term “Sikh scholarship” being applied to Dr McLeod. I think applying this term to Dr McLeod reveals confusion in the minds of those who are doing the application (as also those who accept it). To illustrate, going by the accepted definition of “Christian scholarship” its usage for a non-Christian will be out of place. So will be using “Muslim scholarship” for a non-Muslim. If the user is redefining the accepted rule, they must clearly state how they are doing the redefining. To give another example of this confusion, SikhChic does not use this term for Dr Noel Q King [http://www.sikhchic.com/our_best_friends/noel_q_king_scholar_teacher_friend] And rather uses the term in its accepted form: “I have never seen any scholar who, in an instant, using his vast knowledge of world history and comparative religious studies, could bring out historical gems related to Sikh history which are even unknown to most Sikh scholars. Yet, he was always humble and respectful of others. He never forced his ideas on anyone.”

I think a more appropriate term to describe Dr McLeod’s work would be “Janamsakhi historian” as Dr McLeod did not write on Sikh philosophy with Guru Granth Sahib as his reference point – and to describe someone even as a “historian of Sikhism” or “an authority on Sikhism” the least one would expect from a person thus described is a thorough knowledge of Gurbani and understanding of Sikh worldview. I do not think anyone can lay claim to Dr McLeod having either – hence the more appropriate term being “Janamsakhi historian”.


EDITOR:  World renowned Sikh historian, W. Hew McLeod, passed away peacefully at 11.00 pm, Monday, July 20, 2009 – (New Zealand time) – in Dunedin, New Zealand, after a lengthy illness.

Again there is a problem with the usage of term “Sikh historian”. One fails to find an equivalent usage w.r.t. Christianity or Islam or Judaism. What one does find is “a Jewish historian of Christianity” or “a Biblical scholar” or “a scholar of Sharia Law”. To take another example, has anyone ever described, say, Max Muller (or Mueller) as a “Hindu historian”? As stated earlier, at best Dr McLeod may be described as “Janamsakhi historian”. For reasons listed at number (2) he cannot be described as an “authority on Sikhism” – however, looking at the focus of his work, he may be described as an “authority on Sikh schismatic literature” (which also includes Janamsakhis, as neither Puratan Janamsakhi nor Bhai Bala Janamsakhi was written by a Sikh). Then again, an “authority” needs to understand the historical significance of the subject matter being studied – Dr McLeod, unfortunately, spent a lifetime creating misunderstanding about his subject matter of Sikh schismatic literature (like Chaupa Singh Rehatnama, Janamsakhis, etc.) by not enlightening his readers (and, more seriously, his students) about the context in which the literature he was citing to support his arguments, was written.


We join Sikhs around the globe in mourning his passing, and in celebrating an extraordinary life, rich in scholarship and wisdom and lived to the highest ideals of Sikhi.

Pray, what is the highest ideal of Sikhi? I thought it was honesty and integrity.


Our deepest condolences to Margaret, his wife of 54 years, and his loving family.

Our deepest condolences to Margaret (I have met her twice in Dunedin and found her charming) and Dr McLeod’s children.


We are grateful for the blessings he brought to Sikhdom and pray for his eternal peace.

I doubt the writer (listed as “Editor”) can cite these blessings. At the risk of violating a social convention of “not speaking ill of the dead” by all yardsticks Dr McLeod cannot be put in the same category as, say, Dr Noel Q King when it comes to the “blessings to Sikhdom”.


What are the defining landmarks of a well-lived life?

To me, a minimal but universal definition, devoid of any religious overtones, would be a purpose-driven existence that transcends the self, a cause greater than the person, along with transparent honesty of
effort in its pursuit.

To the short list of those that I have met and dealt with that I believe fill that bill, I would add without an iota of reservation another – Hew McLeod.

Here starts Dr I J Singh’s eulogy to Dr McLeod. Unfortunately, he stumbles at the very first step. If we accept his definition of a “well-lived life” then Hitler and Stalin had lived their lives pretty well. They were purpose-driven, and thought they were fighting for the greater good of their respective countries and were completely honest about what they sought to achieve – Hitler wanted Aryan supremacy while Stalin wanted to rid the world of bourgeoisie. Both sought absolute power and did not want any opposition to rise against them. Anyone who opposed their view was killed, or if that was not possible, derided as not worth answering to. Thus, one finds it hard to find an essay (or a statement) from Stalin or Hitler wherein they engage in debate on any aspect of their respective worldview.


Hew McLeod went to Punjab almost fifty years ago as a
Christian missionary, to do what missionaries do best – convert others to their truth.

“Their truth”? I thought truth is truth. It is, however, important to note that Dr McLeod had the courage of his conviction to leave his hometown with his young wife to go to a country that did not probably have electricity supply at that time in the areas he went to. It is equally important to remember that he came to Punjab with the purpose of converting the Punjabis (mainly Sikhs) to Christianity. The first Christian mission was established in Ludhiana in 1846 in the immediate aftermath of the first Anglo-Sikh war. Everyone who tried to convert Sikhs, met with failure, most prominent failure being Dr Ernest Trumpp, a German Missionary. Dr McLeod was to become another name in this long list of failures.


Apparently, he fell in love with Punjab and Sikhs and lost his missionary zeal and purpose.

From his life it is not at all “apparent” that Dr McLeod was motivated by any love for Punjab or Sikhs. By his own admission, it was a huge shock when he landed in Punjab. All the time he and Margaret spent there before going to England was spent facing one hardship after another.

However, he did love a particular type of Sikhs – the Sikhs who are still not able to differentiate between where a blessing comes from and who should they thank for it. He quickly realized that if one speaks nicely to a Sikh, we find it hard to challenge anything one might say that would usually be unpalatable. If one obliges a Sikh, one may be sure of eternal indebtedness of a Sikh. That is what Dr McLeod used to silence people like Dr Harbans Singh (perhaps Nikki Guninder can tell us some more about her father’s relationship with Dr McLeod and her own indebtedness to Dr McLeod in finding placement in Western academia).


By his own admission, he became agnostic, if not an atheist.

Dr McLeod was very very intelligent and he used his words in a way which communicated another meaning to an average person and a completely different meaning to those with some intelligence. His description of himself as “agnostic” falls in the same category. Agnostic has two meanings:

1. somebody denying God’s existence is provable: somebody who believes that it is impossible to know whether or not God exists

2. somebody denying something is knowable: somebody who doubts that a particular question has a single correct answer or that a complete understanding of something can be attained: I’m an agnostic concerning space aliens.

Dr McLeod’s Sikh apologists argue that he meant the word in its first meaning, whereas his whole life seems to argue that he meant the second meaning, which fits nicely with his argument that he was “a skeptic” in his approach to Sikh history. “I’m an agnostic concerning Sikhs” would be an apt paraphrasing of Dr McLeod’s oft repeated statement. That he did not mean to use the term “agnostic” in its first usage may also be clear from the fact that he headed the History Board of Presbyterian Church of NZ till cancer of the bone made him give up his position in 2004.

It is a measure of general lack of awareness amongst the Sikhs that his apologists keep on arguing that Dr McLeod “lost faith in God”.

………….to be continued.


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