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Overcoming Exclusionary Practices and Obstacle in the Sikhi

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pls discuss.. this is a serious problem we are facing...

Overcoming Exclusionary Practices and Obstacle in the Sikh Religion

Yogi Kaur


First, I want to state clearly, my family and I are thankful to be Amritdhari Sikhs. We have no problems with Sikhism, except for the exclusionary behavior that has been witnessed worldwide. So, as you read, please don't think, we dislike Sikhism --- because that is far from the truth.

I was a Bahai, who grew up in the Christian religion. My husband was a Bahai when we met. There is much racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity in the Bahai Faith, which was founded by Persians from Iran. When I started studying Sikhism, I researched to find out if the Bab had met any of the Sikh Gurus or their followers, but they were centuries apart. You see Sikhism and Bahaism are quite similar.

Being introduced to a non-Persian and Persian Bahai is easier than being introduced to a Sikh. I just find it odd that Sikhism was out there all along. A hello, or accessible information lying around, would have ended more than 2 decades of searching, with me becoming a Sikh in the 1980s. I worshipped at the Hindu temples, Buddhist temples, Sathya Sia Baba Center, Suma Ching Hai Center, God Realization Center, and non-denominational Christian and Unity churches.

During the 1980s, I remember weekly going to the alternative bookstores looking at their places of worship boards in hopes of ending my search. At many of the bookstores I visited (regarding other religions), I was either approached by an individual, saw information on the boards, saw a booklet or pamphlet lying around, and/or just saw information on bookshelves.

No one ever tried to convert me. They demonstrated kindness and made me feel welcomed. At a Sathya Sia Baba service, some Indian females gave me Indian saris and dresses; and, showed me how to wear them. I never requested these items, they just gave them to me, even though my western clothing was suitable. Plus, they presented translated and transliterated notebooks of prayers and songs to the visitors and seekers. As a repeated seeker, I was given a notebook.

Even up to May 2002, not one Sikh had approached me. I never saw Sikhs or books about Sikhism in bookstores, on university campuses, posted information about the local gurudwaras, or pamphlets/booklets about Sikhism. A friend found out about the Sikh religion from me; and, when I described how Sikhs dress, she remembered a classmate in Chiropractic College who dressed that way. I asked her if he shared information about his religion during those years? She told me she spoke to him regularly, but he never talked about Sikhism.

Even now if we are out and see other Sikhs, we are the first to approach them and say hello. They never approach us. Now really, we have all our 5 Ks on, including turban. I just don't get it. Our friends, including strangers, from other religions tend to walk up and speak if we don't see them first. Even our Jehovah Witnesses friends knowing good and well we have decided to be Sikhs still speak to us.

When strangers ask me about my dress style, I tell them about the Sikh religion; and, where they can find information. For those interested, I hand them a pamphlet. I don't want others ending up the way I did with decades of searching for an invisible religion that has been here all along. Time would be saved for seekers if time was taken by members of the Sikh religion to present information on boards and shelves in schools and bookstores, set up tables on school campuses like the secular and religious students, and place books in major bookstores.

When one finds out about the Bahai Faith and demonstrates curiosity, people answer their questions. They tell others where their place of worship is located. They invite non-Bahais to their social gatherings for activities and fun. Guests and seekers are not ignored when they visit the Bahai place of worship. They do not mind picking up or finding a ride for the guests. They tend to speak the language of the country they visit, or live in, along with their Farsi. People don't go to a service and hear only Farsi spoken, prayed, and sung. They tend to do both out of respect for everyone present.

There is no other religion, I can think of, that has their guests, seekers, and members experiencing a 1-3 h worship service not understanding what is said, prayed, and sung. And, telling them, "No, we can't speak your language through translators or find translated books. That's against our religion and shows disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib and members. It is wrong to translate the Bani prayers and Guru Granth. Just try to learn Punjabi? It's easy.

It is not easy to learn, especially since most seekers and new Sikhs have very little contact with other Sikhs, except when they go to the gurudwaras for worship services and activities. It is not easy if you are of a certain age and/or have little to no daily contact with Punjabi speaking Sikhs. It is agreed that it is positive for people to learn other languages; yet, there are many factors involved in learning another language. And, these need to be considered when asking others to learn a particular language.

It is a given that the original language is the best way to see every nuance of a writing, whether it be ancient writings centuries and centuries old or current writings. Yet, inhibiting, stifling, excluding, and preventing others from locating, learning, researching, utilizing, discussing, and absorbing the information in their own written and spoken language due to their not being able to read, write, and/or speak the original language centuries old is appalling, exclusionary, and demonstrating intolerance for others.

The Bab, Baha'u'llah, and Abdul'Baha, founders of the Bahai religion, also wrote their own writings and plans for the religion used by the Bahai Faith today. They experienced horrible persecution from early Muslim leaders. Like Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, they did not refuse to help others understand, learn, and practice. Many of their writings and prayers are translated and placed in an orderly manner (with table of contents at the beginning). It is not difficult to find the writings or contact the Bahai headquarters in each country to order the books, magazines, pamphlets, videotapes, music, etc. One does not have to even buy them, because of the generosity of the Bahais.

Though, I do remember a negative incident as a new Bahai in a new city. At my first service, no one spoke to me; and, the entire service was in Farsi. No effort was made to translate for the non-Farsi speaking people. I knew nothing of what was going on or said during the service; and, I felt bad because I was stared at as well. I called my former Bahai community to speak to one of the Persian committee members and his wife. The first question they asked, "The majority of the people were Persian, right?" I said, "Yes." They heard my story and asked questions. Unbeknownst to me, they called the committee of the other community, because that week, the secretary, who was out of town during the incident, called, apologized, and asked me to return, because it was not going to be the same. He told me he was furious when he heard what happened, stating that the committee had a meeting and things were to change immediately.

Sure enough, that very month, young people translated, so that everyone could understand the service. And, when I walked in, I was welcomed and treated nicely along with the other non-Persians in the congregation. After that, I noticed the same in the other surrounding communities. Persian families opened their doors to non-Persians for social gatherings. One Persian family, living in a mansion, have Friday night discussions, music, food, and fun for new Bahais, non-Bahais, and non-Persians. Professional musicians are invited to sing as well as Bahai speakers and writers. Without anyone talking to them, guests privately ask the hosts what they needed to do to become Bahais.

There was no converting, harassing, intimidating, scaring, etc. This is called sharing, by example, with interested people and those still learning. And, this is how members of the Sikh religion can share.

Just like other religions, there were study guidebooks and groups. When I showed interest in Sikhism and asked about the study groups and Guru Granth Sahib study guidebook, I was told there were none or the group was conducted only in Punjabi. I love reading the Guru Granth Sahib (translated and transliterated). It is difficult, though, when you are new and there are no table of contents or study guidebooks for searching, researching, and learning. Plus, it is quite expensive to purchase and hard to find as well as the Banis that offer translations and transliterations. Where I live, none of the bookstores had ever heard of it; and, when they conducted a search, I was blown away by the price. The people at the bookstores said they were sorry and as a substitute, they had the Bible, Koran, Torah, etc. and asked, "Will these work?" Thank God, I found sikhnet.com and their Guru Granth Sahib online along with the Banis.

A Sikh seeker is really on their own, because very few people are willing to help. It is quite a difficult and lonely road to travel. The journey isn't easy because the resources and materials aren't accessible. Other religions do not do this to seekers. This is just not right and conducive towards helping others understand, show interest in, and/or even become a Sikh.

Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh laid the foundation and built the Sikh religion on behalf of God. It is a religion designed to draw people to God in order to live their lives as God wants. The founders of Sikhism just happened to be Punjabi. Being culturally Punjabi is not the same as being Sikhs. Sikhism is for God's purpose to draw others closer; and, give guidelines on following and serving God. It is not for becoming Punjabi.

The religion was created for humanity through humans on behalf of God to benefit all of humanity on the planet.

Members of the Sikh religion, just like the Bahai religion, Muslim religion, Buddhist religion, Christian religion, etc. live in every country for a reason and purpose. Members of the Sikh religion definitely should not convert and harass people. Yet, they definitely should not hide the teachings, writings, songs, and amrit baptism of God, inside their own culture, castes, and ethnicity. Thereby, preventing others from seeing it (Sikh religion), hearing it (Sikh religion), speaking it (Sikh religion), learning it (Sikh religion), becoming it (Sikhs), and practicing it (Sikh religion).

This means Sikhs residing in every country can readily do the same. It doesn't take months and years to change easily changeable ways of doing things inside and outside of the gurudwaras due to cultural, ethnic, and caste ideologies, considering Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh clearly wrote the Sikh religion guidelines on behalf of God. It is important to remember that the changes made on behalf of God, and out of respect for the Gurus, are for the benefit of the visitors, seekers, and new Sikhs to Sikhism.

If members of the Bahai Faith, the youngest religion (5/23/1844), and the other religions can open their homes and services to others from diverse backgrounds when they live in, or move to, other countries, then surely the members of the Sikh religion can do the same.

For God's sake, even the African-American leader of the "Nation of Islam", Minister Louis Farrakhan, overcame exclusionary practices and obstacles, allowing every racial, ethnic, and cultural group to join. He speaks and has writings many languages; thereby, allowing others in. This definitely opened the door to new seekers.

If Minister Louis Farrakhan can transform the "Nation of Islam" members to change and open their doors to every group no matter what their race, ethnicity, and culture, then surely members of Sikhism on behalf of God and the Gurus can do the same in every country they live in.

In summary, the main obstacles members of the Sikh religion worldwide must overcome are:

i. Excuses for rudeness and ignoring the curious, guests, and seekers.

ii. Believing or behaving as if the Sikh religion belongs only to and is exclusively for those who are of a particular caste and/or culturally and ethnically Indian and from Punjab.

iii. Not opening their doors and homes to non-Indian and non-Punjabi seekers and Sikhs.

iv. Telling non-Punjabi speakers that the only way to understand, learn, research, discuss, absorb, and receive God's blessings, guidance, and enlightenment in the Sikh religion is through reading the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and Bani prayers in their original languages. God enlightens, blesses, guides, and transforms people as God sees fit.

v. Having their non-Punjabi speaking guests, seekers, and Sikh members sit through 1-3 h of a worship service not understanding what is said, prayed, and sung; thereby, preventing learning and participation in worshipping God.

vi. Ignoring seekers and new Sikhs requests and concerns by taking months, years, or decades to handle solvable issues and problems that are easily resolved within a week or month, because the guidelines for Sikhism were clearly written by the Gurus centuries ago.

vii. Showing lack of joy and happiness when seekers of the Sikh religion move forward towards behaving as true Sikhs and receiving amrit baptism.

viii. Not establishing, by just asking for volunteers to sign-up and join, rotational sewa subcommittees in the gurudwaras of:

* Volunteer translators made up of teens, youth, and/or adults.

* Volunteer welcomers (ushers) to greet guests and seekers.

* Volunteer information attendants to assist guests, seekers, and new Sikhs.

* Adult Punjabi school for only seekers and new Sikhs unfamiliar with the verbal and written language.

* Children Punjabi school for only children of seekers and new Sikhs unfamiliar with the verbal and written language, because Punjabi is not spoken in their households and among their family friends and members.

* Sri Guru Granth Sahib (translated and transliterated) study groups with study guidebooks for non-Punjabi speaking seekers and new Sikhs conducted in their own language.

* Volunteers of amritdhari Sikhs willing to administer amrit baptism, as well as the preparation and maintenance involved in doing so.

* Volunteers of teens and youth to oversee technical, audio, and visual matters relating to the gurudwara services. One example would consist of downloading onto a large viewing screen translated and transliterated raags/songs with page numbers, lectures by the granthic, prayers, Guru Granth Sabib readings with page and section numbers, and announcements for everyone in the congregation.

* Volunteers that oversee all types of matters that may arise in the gurudwara; thereby, freeing the gurudwara committee to focus on other important matters.

ix. Making the Sikh religion inaccessible, invisible, and hidden by not:

* Providing major and other bookstores with books about Sikhism and the translated Sri Guru Granth Sahib (which can easily be placed on shelves behind glass).

* Posting Sikhism with gurdwara information and locations on boards in alternative bookstores, on campuses, and other locations.

* Setting up information tables on campuses as other secular and religious student groups.

* Just being friendly, saying hello to non-Indian and non-Punjabi people (seekers and the curious), and allowing them to ask questions.

* Just saying hello to other Sikhs, especially the new, non-Indian, and non-Punjabi Sikhs, and providing them with assistance and guidance.

* Inviting and/or finding a ride for interested persons and seekers of the Sikh religion.

* Publicly appearing as a Sikh with both the men and women wearing their 5 Ks and turbans (men and women).

In conclusion, I am an African-American married to a Euro-American and we have a young son who is biracial. This is important to share because the journey leading to my family and I becoming Amritdhari Sikhs could have been less bumpy, but God has kept us on the path. We truly believe our race, ethnicity, and cultural backgrounds have contributed to our bumpy ride towards becoming accepted members of the Sikh religion.

I look forward to presenting more in my next article. In the meantime, look around and see if there are any exclusionary practices and obstacles that can be easily changed on behalf of God.

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