How Kirpans Can Travel on Airplanes

Can a religious knife be confiscated at airport security?

Two Inch Kirpan
Two Inch Kirpan. Khalsa Panth

A kirpan is a ceremonial knife that serves as part of the traditional daily garb of Sikhs around the world. In the United States, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), knives of any kind with blades that are longer than 2.5 inches and that are fixed, are not allowed to be carried on a flight. That means that kirpans are out.

Many Sikhs prefer not to fly due to this reason, according to Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, former secretary general of the World Sikh Council, American Region.

The TSA allows for passengers to travel with knives as part of their checked baggage, but not in carry-on luggage or on you.

What Is a Kirpan?

Kirpans have a fixed, non-retractable curved blade that may be either blunt or sharp. They are often between 3 inches and 9 inches long and are made of steel or iron.

The word kirpan comes from Persian and literally means “bringer of mercy.” It represents the Sikh commitment to resist oppression and injustice, but only in a defensive posture and never to initiate a confrontation. The Sikh Rehit Maryada, which are the guidelines for Sikhism, declares that “no limit can be placed on the length of a kirpan.” Hence the length of a kirpan can vary from a few inches to a few feet as in case of a dagger or sword. It is not a symbol but an article of the Sikh faith.

Religious Guidelines about the Kirpan

The Sikh Rehit Maryada prescribes that the kirpan must be worn in a gaatra, which is a sash across the chest.

This personal kirpan is placed inside a metal or wooden sheath that hangs from the left waist at one end of the gaatra while the other end of the gaatra is slung over the right shoulder.

Sikhs in western countries most commonly wear the kirpan in gaatra under their shirt although some wear it over the shirt.

The Sikh Rehit Maryada prescribes the ceremonial use of the kirpan during the formal initiation ceremony, marriage ceremony and for touching karah parshaad, which is a sweet pudding, that is distributed towards the end of Sikh ceremonies and prayer meetings.

TSA Rule Change

In 2013, the TSA amended its rules to allow small knives during flights. The regulation stated the following: Knives with blades that are 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) or shorter, and less than a 1/2 inch wide, will be permitted on U.S. airline flights as long as the blade is not fixed or does not lock into place. This rule change does not include a Leatherman, box cutters or razor blades. This change in TSA regulations brought the U.S. to be in sync with international security standards.

More About Sikhism

Sikhism is a panentheistic religion that formed in 15th century India. It is the ninth largest world religion. Panentheism is the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond time and space. God is perceived as the soul of the universe. Other religions that include an aspect of panentheism, include Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Gnosticism and aspects are found in the Kabbalah, some sects of Christianity and Islam.

Members of the Sikh faith are required to wear a head covering or turban. TSA turban regulations do allow for a member of the Sikh faith to keep their head covering on, however, they may be subject to additional scanning procedures. It is considered a great dishonor in Sikhism for anyone to violate another's turban by removing It.