Nikki Haley was born Nimrata Randhawa in South Carolina to immigrants from Punjab India, the center of the Sikh religion. Raised in a religious Sikh home, Haley converted to Christianity in 1997 at the age of 24 after marrying her Methodist husband in both Sikh and Christian ceremonies.
Haley identifies herself today as a Christian but attends both Sikh and Methodist services. In an interview with the New York Times in 2012, Haley said she and her husband “chose Christianity because of the way we wanted to live our life and raise our children.”
One of her brothers converted to Christianity as an adult but her parents and two other siblings are practicing Sikhs.
As a woman and a Sikh, Haley is a trailblazer in politics. When she was elected governor of South Carolina in 2009, she was the first female governor of South Carolina and only the second Indian American to be elected as a state governor in the US. Haley’s victory marked the first gubernatorial victory for a Sikh in US history.
She has also been an outspoken advocate for Israel, passing some of the first anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) legislation in the US and standing up firmly for the Jewish State at the United Nations.
Rabbi Yakov Nagen, a yeshiva teacher in the South Hebron Hills active in “Yisrael VeHaamim” (Israel and the Nations) interfaith movements and organizations, believes that Haley’s Sikh identity has had a significant influence on her Israel advocacy, giving her an affinity for a religion that the rabbi claims is similar to Sikhism.
Rabbi Nagen first became familiar with Sikhism when he visited the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar. He developed a great respect for the Sikh faith, which he called the “closest to the vision that Judaism has for a monotheistic world religion for humanity as spelled out by the Talmud”.
“Like Biblical Abraham, Sikhism rejects the idol worship that is prevalent in Hindu Indian society,” Rabbi Nagen told Breaking Israel News. “Like Judaism, Sikhism is strongly monotheistic, believing in an unperceivable infinite God.
“This parallel with Judaism is embodied in the Golden Temple,” Rabbi Nagen explained. “The Golden Temple is comparable to the Beit Hamikdash (the Jewish Temple) insofar as it gives insight to the meaning of a concrete physical temple for an infinite God.”
The rabbi pointed out that Sikhism rejects claims that no particular religious tradition has a monopoly on absolute truth.
“As such, the Golden Temple, like the Jewish Temple, is a House of Prayer for All Nations,” the rabbi said. “Devoid of pictures and statues, the heart of the Golden Temple is a book, the original copy of the central book of the Sikh religion, as is in the Beit HaMikdash whose heart is the Torah and Tablets given to Moshe (Moses) by God and contained in the Ark in the inner sanctuary.”
Despite the similarities, Rabbi Nagen believes it is Haley’s Sikh identity as an outsider that has led her to take a stand in the UN.
“Christians and Muslims have complicated relationships with Jews, involving a lot of history and baggage,” Rabbi Nagen told Breaking Israel News. “They are children religions, offshoots of Judaism. Eastern religions like Sikhism have no common roots with Abrahamic religions and are able to have a healthier perspective.
“There is something not natural in this obsession with Israel by Christianity and Islam. As a Sikh, Nikki Haley has a much more objective perception of Israel than a Christian or Muslim. She sees the Muslim and Christian attitudes as an unreasonable and baseless prejudice, something that the involved parties are too close to see.”
This position as an outsider of ambiguous status played a major role in Haley’s childhood. In her memoir, “Can’t Is Not An Option”, Haley stated that her parents and their ethnic background played a major role in her sense of social justice. She wrote that her parents had left behind “a culture and political system that judges people by the family or the caste or the religion they come from…They might succeed and they might fail. But they wouldn’t have the game rigged against them because of who they were.”