What does this mean in practice?

A guiding principle for Sikhs is guardianship. They have a duty to look after the created world, to protect it from destruction. They have been given greater understanding and reason and are able to improve their life and the environment but this is no excuse for mistreating animals. Sikhs apply this principle to the question of animal rights in a variety of ways.

Slaughter of animals

Sikhs follow the Jhatka method of slaughter. This means that the animal must be killed as quickly as possible so that the animal experiences as little suffering as possible. The Rahit Maryada forbids Sikhs to eat meat prepared as part of a ritual, eg by sacrificing an animal to please God or by killing the animal slowly to drain out the blood. Halal meat is therefore forbidden.

Diet

Many Sikhs are vegetarian but Sikhs believe that the decision to eat meat is an individual choice. All food served in the langar is vegetarian. In this way Sikhs can offer hospitality to anyone and no one will be offended by being given food they cannot eat.

Some Sikhs interpret the following quotation to mean that Sikhs should be vegetarian. Others would say that this refers to the Sikh view that animal sacrifice or ritual slaughter is wrong, as highlighted in the Guru Granth Sahib:

quote
Kabeer, the dinner of beans and rice is excellent, if it is flavoured with salt. Who would cut his throat, to have meat with his bread?Guru Granth Sahib 1375

Sikhs believe that seeking God and living a spiritual life is more important than one's diet.

Hunting

Some of the Sikh Gurus took part in hunting, but many Sikhs do not support hunting for sport. They believe God will judge them for how they treat animals and that all individuals must decide according to their conscience:

quote
It is for this reason that in Sikhism those who kill for lust of hunting, eating or to make sacrifices are condemned. In Sikh hymns, the words often reveal God as the provider for all life. God loves every living thing and is loved in return. God as both father and mother guarantees equality to man and woman in faith and compassion towards all beings and nature.Sikh Faith Statement 2003

Animal experiments

Many Sikhs accept animal experiments if they are to advance medical science and if suffering is minimised. Most believe using animals in experiments for the purpose of developing cosmetics is wrong because Sikhs are expected to use God's creation wisely and with respect.

Many Sikhs are also concerned about genetic engineering involving animals. They believe that trying to improve on God's creation is insulting to God and that humans should not get involved in this. Although humans are superior, they have no right to misuse, alter or cause suffering to animals.

The role of a guardian means that Sikhs should avoid:

  • abuse, neglect or ill treatment of animals
  • allowing or encouraging the fighting of animals as sport
  • factory farming which goes against the principle of compassion
  • putting animals in cages unless to help them when suffering or to protect endangered species
  • genetic engineering, eg cloning of animals
  • damage to the environment leading to the extinction of some species