Sikhs do not need to compromise their faith by removing facial hair in NHS ‘Fit Tests’

It has come to our attention, that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, NHS Trusts around the United Kingdom will be carrying out ‘fit tests’ in which certain medical staff could be asked to remove facial  hair. We understand the scientific and safety basis to this.

Whilst wearing a beard for many non-Sikhs may be due to choice or fashion, it is a pre-requisite to have a beard (and uncut hair) in an Amritdhari (“baptized”) Sikh. In the Sikh religion, assuming the orthodox route in life means you have made a solemn promise (in a formal religious ceremony akin to a wedding) to your Guru to maintain a strict code of conduct, one being uncut hair. This promise cannot be broken and is the overriding priority for a Sikh.

Hence, we are concerned that Sikh staff members (both male and female) being asked to remove their beard or facial hair will be negatively affected by the NHS “Fit Test” as such.

We have been in liaison with the Sikh Doctors Association who have informed us that the use of FFP3 masks is recommended to control the transmission of aerosolised pathogens, primarily as a prevention for the staff member. We understand that these are only effective with a clean seal between mask and face, rendering them ineffective in protecting Sikh healthcare staff with beards. Advice has been sought from the Director of Public Health in Birmingham, Dr Justin Varney, who appreciates the dilemma facing Sikhs.

For Sikhs, their duty of care is intrinsically interlinked with their faith. Therefore, we ask that no Sikh healthcare professional is forcibly made to choose between breaking their faith or breaking their frontline NHS role. Instead, NHS Trusts nationally should present them with the choice of being deployed in other settings, where the FFP3 mask IS NOT required. This will maintain NHS staff numbers, but solve the problem by re-distribution of carer tasks

We continue to be thankful and fully supportive of our NHS. We abide by Government law. We have continuously urged Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations to support the NHS by the provision of meals to hospitals and healthcare staff on duty.For any further clarification please contact Sukhvinder Singh  (07973439227) who is our specialist advisor on issues relating to Equality and Human Rights.

Sikh Council UK advises all Gurdwara Management Committees and the entire Sikh community of the United Kingdom to act in accordance of the directive (sandesh) issued by Sri Akal Takth Sahib.

Sri Akal Takth Sahib is the highest spiritual and temporal authority of the Sikh faith. Today, a directive has been issued by the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takth Sahib: Singh Sahib Giani Harpreet Singh Jee.

We ask that every Gurdwara Management Committee and and every Sikh living in the United Kingdom adheres to the directives of Sri Akal Takth Sahib.

For media purposes and general ease of communication below is a translation of the Sandesh:

“Currently, the entire human race is affected badly by the global pandemic of Corona Virus. Whether the spread of this virus is natural or not, it has lead to a high number of deaths in many nations. While much of the world is living in fear, Sikhs are hoping for the wellness of humanity as per the teachings of Sikh philosophy. For this reason, it is the fundamental duty of the Sikh Nation to help humanity during this dangerous time. For this reason, every Sikh should obey the following edicts:

  1. All Sikh organisations and Gurdwara Management committees should come forward to help those in need. This help may be through food, medical or other essential aid. Sikh organisations and Gurdwara Management Committees should act in accordance of the Sikh teaching of ‘Gareeb Da Mooh, Guru Di Golak’ which teaches us that contributing towards the needy and less privileged is akin to making direct offers to the Guru. Gurdwaras should make full use of their funds for this, especially in helping Sikh students that have travelled abroad for education.

  2. If Gurdwaras have any residential facilities for visitors (such as sarais in India and Pakistan) these should transform into to quarantine zones for Corona Virus patients, should the need arise.

  3. In every country around the world, the advice and guidelines of government and the health department should be fully adhered to. Except for the daily Maryada of the Gurdwara, all large religious events should be postponed temporarily for two weeks.

  4. Every Sikh should stay at home, read Gurbani and perform ardhaas for the well-being of humanity. Every Sikh should practice self-isolation/quarantine.

  5. There is no room for superstition in the Sikh faith. Therefore every Sikh should abstain from superstition and safeguard themselves against rumours and misinformation.

    Servant of the Guru-Panth,
    Harpreet Singh
    (Acting Jathedar, Sri Akal Takth Sahib) (Jathedar Takth Sri Damdama Sahib)”