What it means to be a Sikh

Dear Editor,

This one question arises in my mind regarding the shooting spree at the Sikh Gurdwara (congregation place of worship) of Wisconsin in Oak Creek on Aug. 5 that left six dead.

Why did this happen and why are only Sikhs being targeted? I think there is a lack of communication or interaction with other communities about expressing our faith.

We must use media as well as other modern resources to explain who Sikhs are and what their identity is. Sikh faith is the fifth largest in the world with more than 30 million followers spread over 165 countries. It includes belief in one God and that the goal of life is to lead an exemplary existence.

The Sikh faith originated in Pakistan and North India, about 500 years ago. Sikhism is sometimes confused with Islam, Hinduis, and Buddhism because of geographical proximity and cultural similarities.

Sikhs live according to a code of honour in service of all humanity. Sikh ethics advocate equality for men and women of every race and religion. Sikhs have a history of being the defenders of the defenceless. Sikhs are known for acting against the terror of forced conversion. Many Sikhs throughout history are respected for having sacrificed their own lives, so that people of other religions may have freedom to worship in the manner of their choice.

A Sikh believes in one God and follows teachings of the ten Gurus. Guru Nanak was the first Guru and was born in 1469 AD in Punjab, Pakistan, and founded a new religion Sikhism. Sikhism is a progressive religion well ahead of its time. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality of mankind and denounces superstitions and blind rituals and seeks the welfare of all the human beings of the globe and promotes peace, integration, co-existence and emphasizes the importance of human values.

Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, that is, Word Divine.

Sikhism is a modern, scientific, and practical religious way of life. The philosophy of Sikhism therefore values air as a Guru, the water as a father and earth occupies the holy place of a mother. Days and nights are the nurses in whose laps the whole creation fondles. Let this superb system function uninterruptedly as designed by God. Natural resources are the bounties of nature for humanity and these invaluable boons should be utilized wisely.

Sikhism abhors asceticism and advocates an active life of a married householder in a classless and casteless society. Considering wealth as essential for our maintenance, we are not to abandon all patience and contentment for its achievement. The unending pursuit of wealth destroys our peace of mind and our craving for it increases and thus a well-balanced life is disturbed.

Sikhism does not accept the ideology of pessimism, rather it advocates optimism and hope, Chardi Kala, that is, high spirits or dynamic power. Indulgence is considered to be an entrapment of ego. Sikhs believe meditation is a means of moderation to guard against excess pride, desire, greed and attachment, which can result in anger and diminish the soul's connection with God. It commands its followers to:1. Earn their living by doing honest and productive work;2. Share the fruit of their honest labour with the needy and those unable to help themselves; and3. Remember the Lord, the Creator, at all times.

Any Sikh is free to read the Guru Granth Sahib in the Gurdwara or in their home. People of all religions are welcome to the Gurdwara. A free community kitchen can be found at every Gurdwara which serves meals to everyone without any distinction of caste, creed, colour, religion and would be the same whether one is rich or poor and all sit in the same row.

Guru Nanak first started this institution which outlines the basic Sikh principles of selfless service, sharing food with one another in a sense of humility, oneness and equality of mankind. The word Gurdwara means an abode of the Guru (the spiritual teacher), the Holy Guru Granth.

Outside every Gurdwara there is a high flag post covered with saffron- or orange-colour cloth, surmounted with a double-edged sword. This symbolizes the combination of temporal and spiritual aspects of Sikh life. Also the flag post shows the presence of a Gurdwara for the people to know, where they can come to pay their respects, without distinction or fear.

The word Sikh means constant learner, a disciple and a follower of Sikhism. A Sikh loves all, he is characterized as a broad-minded, enterprising, energetic and industrious human being. A Sikh has a unique and distinctive personality and is represented by five symbols know as five Ks, which caution a Sikh to introspect and wash out all impurities for qualitative living. Ksh (long unshorn hair) - representing holiness, naturalness, saintliness, spirituality, commitment and masculinity. Kanga (comb) - signifying cleanliness, orderliness and spiritual discipline. Kara (a steel bracelet) - reminding unity with God, universal brotherhood, self-restraint, strength of steel, victory over superstitions. Kachhera (pair of shorts) - observing moral restraint, continence, chastity and sexual discipline; and finally the Kirpan (a curved sword) - symbolizing courage, dignity, grace and emblem of power.

This is a Sikh's uniform along with a turban. The turban is a sound indication to others that a Sikh lives in the image of infinity and is dedicated to serving all. This unique identity conveys royalty, grace and uniqueness. A turban of a Sikh does not represent anything except complete commitment to his Guru and utmost reverence to God. Sikhs are meant to keep hair in its natural unaltered state. In addition to maintaining long hair themselves, Sikh parents are to keep their children's hair intact from birth onwards.

According to the Sikh Code of Conduct, all intoxications, such as alcohol, tobacco and all its derivations and trimming of the hair from any part of the body are forbidden. Adultery is considered as a sin. A Sikh should regard another man's wife as his sister or mother and another man's daughter as his own daughter. The same rule is applicable to the Sikh women also.

All Sikhs share the surname Singh, which means a lion. All Sikhs women use the name Kaur, which means a princess. In Sikhism these titles eliminate discrimination based on "family name" (which denotes a specific caste) and reinforces that all humans are sovereigns and equal under God. So at a distance with their beards and turbans, Sikhs may look a bit different, yet as one grows to know more about them, one finds in them kindred spirits and true friends.

American writer and historian H. L. Bradshaw in Sikhism - A Faith Of New Age: "This religion befits the inquest of science. Therefore, for the man of tomorrow, Sikh religion will be his last hope and refuge. Sikhism is a universal world faith with a message to humanity."Sir Winston Churchill: "British people are highly indebted and obliged to Sikhs for a long time. I know that within this century we needed their help twice [in two world wars] and they did help us very well. As a result of their timely help, we are today able to live with honour, dignity and independence. In the war, they fought and died for us, wearing the turbans."

General Sir Frank Messervy: "In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world, and during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith."

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the victims, the wounded officer and a community which is still in shock. There is no doubt in my mind that the heroic actions of the American police officers prevented a greater tragedy.

In the end, the Sikh nation is very large-hearted and in spite of racial differences and visual identity, we co-exist with others happily and remain kind-hearted.


Amrinder Singh Ghangas

Garibaldi Highlands, B.C.

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