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Non-Punjabi experience of Sikhs-criticisms and suggestions.

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Taken from the sikh Philosophy forum.

Some very good points are made here, many of which I have personally not done anything about.... I think there is something we could all take from here and help to improve our local Gur-Ghar and make it more accessible to the wider community.

"I am an African-American who accidentally found out about the Sikh religion last year by putting in the correct request on a google search. I tried for months to find a religion that really worship only the One True God and women had an equal voice and standing. Finally, in May 2002, one selection was listed of sikhwomen.com. Now, a year later, my husband (Anglo), son (bi-racial), and I are Amritdhari Sikhs. Just to take amrit was a heartache, because our gurudwara was not forthcoming at all. Finally, the Sikh granthis at the Nanaksar Gurudwara contacted us and told us they would give us amrit since our regular gurudwara would not. Another non-Indian woman recently recived amrit at the same gurudwara, because ours would not give her amrit either. It was very sad to have to go to another gurudwara just to get baptised. And, when we got baptised, no one seemed happy for us or even cared as in Christianity and the Bahai Faith.

There's talk of building another gurudwara in town; and, I requested that the gurudwara should probably be built on the North side of the metro because there are none there. I told them all the gurudwaras are within a few miles of each other in the same area. The gurudwara secretary said, "Well, there aren't many Indian people over on that side of the city." I explained that it doesn't matter, because if there is a new religious facility people tend to go to it or visit it out of curiosity, because they are seeking God.

I told him there are not only some Indians there, but there are whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and others. Then, I finally said, "Wait a minute, my family and I aren't Indian either; and, we had to accidentally find out about Sikhs and Sikhism." We wasted a long time (years); and, probably would not even be here now had I not put in the right wording for a google search. I said "It is not right to be so hidden regarding the Truth that people can't find the religion or take years searching."

He told me that Sikhs did not convert. And, that's understandable. But, for God's sake, that is an excuse to keep other cultures (ethnic and racial) out. There is nothing wrong in talking to people about our religion and if they are curious with questions, inviting them to the gurudwara. Many people invite friends and acquaintances to their synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, etc. ---This is not wrong to do at all, especially with those who are seeking the truth. It's best to let God do the rest from there, at least you answered their questions and invited them (by meeting them at a location) to visit and share in the worship and hospitality of the gurudwara.

If Guru Nanak and the other Gurus never traveled and said anything about the religion to others, the Sikh religion would have died out centuries ago in Punjab. Guru Nanak and the other Gurus traveled from region to region and country to country talking to people and creating congregations. He most likely spoke in their language or with translators; and, made the information accessible to others who were not from Punjab or India. Now, when non-Indians visit the gurudwaras, the granthi speaks only in Punjabi with no translation or translators provided. People do not even come up to the door to welcome you either when you go to a gurudwara. When you ask that a translator sit with the granthi and translate what is being said not only to you but also to others in the congregation who do not understand Punjabi, they say they cannot do it for religious reasons (which makes little sense considering Guru Nanak probably spoke to people in their own language with or without translators). When they sing raags (hymns), they won't put the transliteration and English translation on a screen so that non-Punjabi speakers can sing and know what they are singing as other religious organizations have done for years. Plus, this has been available for quite sometime just by downloading from the internet and/or buying an inexpensive CD with all the raags, Banis, etc, on it and/or providing copies of a notebook (remains on the premises) that has the entire service with prayers and songs in it.

Your're always asked to learn Punjabi if you want to know what is going on from day one. I found this discouraging considering that was our first visit to any gurudwara. It's almost like you're being told by the Sikhs at the gurudwara "Go away - You're not wanted here - We're tolerate you for just a short period of time - Then, we want you to leave and not come back - Thank's for visiting."

So, you take the Punjabi classes only to find out that when they ask you to write the Punjabi word that corresponds with the picture, they are not referring to the spoken English (or your spoken language) word for the picture, but the Punjabi spoken word that everyone else has heard spoken in their homes --- Yet, since you do not know Punjabi and have grown-up saying those viewed pictures in English (or another language), you mess-up on the tests. Eveyone living in a Punjabi speaking household has the advantage of socialization. For example, the Punjabi spoken word for farm and house is not "farm" or "house" (in the English spoken language or even another language) When spoken in Punjabi, those words are something else.

Guess what? The classes are not for the average non-Indian person who just goes to the gurudwara and read their Banis and then go back home to their own language (whether it be Spanish, French, Chinese, African, Russian, English, etc.) --- That's why many people years later cannot still speak, write, or read Punjabi. People learn languages from active interactions in the homes and world of others speaking, writing, and reading the language, not only in a classroom situation.

And, what makes it worse, you're renegaded to a classroom of children, who are not there of their own accord. So, the teacher have to be a teacher to the children, which comes with disciplining as well when the kids get out of hand. They are not there as quiet and attentive adults with adult-like questions and needs.

I am definitely not surprised that Sikhs in Africa did not talk to the Africans about their religion. I don't think non-Indian Sikhs are welcomed, liked, tolerated, or wanted. For God sake, a few months after going to gurudwaras, I heard Sikhs in the gurudwara talk about 'white' Sikhs like they were another denomination --- When I asked who were 'white' Sikhs, I was told; and, I was not too happy considering they were Sikhs too. When we went to Sikh camp in December, they would not help my 7 y. o. son learn a raag or the tapas or harmonium or even gatka (I know, because I was there and observed what happened) --- Which left him lacking a learned skill for show-and-tell for the last day of camp. Other people children had something to present, but mine was left out. They said he was too hyperactive, but he behaves no diferently than many of the other overactive boys. Also, he really looks like the rest of the people, because he is bi-racial, which leaves me baffled as to why he is treated differently and left out of activities or sometimes attacked by the boys. Plus, my husband and I noticed there were no 'white' Sikhs there and asked why --- It appears they were not invited and considered a cult, which I disagree with. Though I was told the many non-Indian Sikhs become so dismayed they started going to the 3HO Ashram, but I really don't blame them considering how many of us non-Indians are treated and ignored.

So, to conclude, it's not about avoiding conversion (Guru Nanak and the others shared the religion with others outside of Punjab in the language of that region or country) and tolerance of other religions, it's about keeping interested and God-seeking non-Indian/non-Punjab people out of the gurudwaras, because they are not tolerated due to their cultural, racial, and ethnic differences and the differences/newness they might bring to the gurudwara's music, food, language, topics, etc.


Part# 2

First, I want to state clearly, my family and I are very thankful to be baptised followers of the Sikh religion. We have no problems with Sikhism at all, except for the exclusionary behavior of the majority of congregations all over the world. So, as you read what I write, please don't think, well they dislike the religion --- Because that is far from the truth.

And, I want you to know that:

Retxab is right about this, because I was a Bahai (who grew up as a Christian and became a Bahai later). My husband was a Bahai when we met too. There is alot of racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity in the Bahai Faith, which was founded by Persians and began in Iran. When I first started studying Sikhism, I searched high and low to find out if the Bab had met the Sikh gurus or followers of the Gurus along the way, but too many centuries were between them for that to have happened. You see Sikhism and Bahaism have some similarities that caused me to think this had occurred.

Being introduced to a non-Persian and Persian Bahai is alot easier also than being introduced to a Sikh. I just find it odd that Sikhism was out there all along; and, if someone had just walked up, or left information laying around, while I was searching for a religion that incorporated what I was looking for during those decades, I would have been a Sikh in the 1980s. I went to the Hindu temples, Buddhist temples, Sathya Sia Baba services, Suma Ching Hai services, God Realization Center, and in between all these the non-denominational Christian and Unity churches. (I did these over 2 decades --- All along still searching and not finding)

I remember weekly going to the New Age Bookstore and other Alternative Bookstores to look at their boards with listings of all the religious places of worship in hopes of finding what I was looking for in the 1980s. Many of the places I went to for worship, I was approached by an individual, saw it on the board, saw a booklet or pamphlet laying around, and/or just saw information about it on bookshelves (in bookstores).

No one ever tried to convert me though, but they were kind enough to make me feel welcomed. The Sathys SIa Baba females at the services I attended weekly came one week with Indian saris and dresses; and, took me to a room to show me how to wear them. I never ever requested these items, they just gave them to me. And, I definitely was not dressing in an indecent manner, I was respectfully dressed. Plus, they offered a notebook, with English translations and transliterations, so that visitors could do the prayers and sing the songs. As a repeated visitor, I was allowed to keep the notebook (which were just copies of the aforementioned items).

But, even up to May of 2002, not one Sikh had approached me and I had not met any Sikhs --- I now know they were in the city I lived in too. And, I never saw books about Sikhism in bookstores or university campuses or posted information about the local gurudwaras or pamphlets/booklets about Sikhism. A Nigerian of mine recently found out about the Sikh religion from me; and, when I described how Sikhs dress, she remembered a classmate of hers in Chiropractic College who dressed that way. I asked her if he let others know what his religion was during those years; and, she told me she spoke to him regularly, because their class was small and he never told anyone in the class about the Sikh religion.

Even now if I am out; and, I see Sikhs, I have to approach them --- They never approach my family or I. Now really, I am dressed with all 5 Ks on, including my turban; and, both my husband and son are obviously Sikhs too. Yet, we always have to walk up and speak to other Sikhs first. I just don't get it.

Our other friends, and even strangers, from other faiths and 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 instead of Jehovah Witnesses still speak to us outside our home --- They don't even give us goodies unless we request or set up time for study. They just see us as people who have accepted God in our lives and worship accordingly.

When strangers ask me about what I am wearing, I tell them about the Sikh religion; and, I even tell them where they can find out information on the web. For those very interested, I hand them a pamphlet. I don't want others ending up the way I did with years (decades) of searching for something that is unseen and unheard of on this planet, at least I thought so, because time was not taken by the followers of the Sikh religion to post pamphlets on boards in schools (colleges and universities) and alternative bookstores-etc., set up tables on the college campuses and universities as secular and religious groups (who are students) do, and place books in bookstores, such as Borders, etc. and on-and-on.

When one finds out about the Bahai Faith and demonstrates curiosity, people answer their questions. They tell where their place of worship is being held so that if they decide to know more, they can go to the Bahai place of worship. They invite interested people to their socials and gatherings for activities and fun. No one ignores them when they visit the Bahai place of worship; and, willingly meet the guests at a location and take them to the place or pick them up. When visitors/guests visit, the people are very welcoming and nice. They tend to speak the language of the country they visit, or live in, along with their Farsi language. People don't go to a service and hear only Farsi language spoken, prayed (chanted) and song --- They tend to do both, because there are still the elderly who cannot speak or understand English (or, whatever the other countries' languages are) very well.

No one, not even other religions, tell guests, seekers, and visitors ---> "No, we can't speak your language through translators or find the books. That's against our religion and shows disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib and congregation. It is wrong to translate the Bani prayers and Guru Granth. Just try to learn Punjabi? It's easy." Other religions don't have visitor and guests sit through 1 to 2 hrs. of service not understanding what is being said, prayed, or song.

Baha'u'llah and Abdul'Baha (the founders of the Bahai religion along with the Bab) wrote their own writings and plans for the religion used by the Bahai Faith today; and, they too were horribly persecuted by the Islamic leaders and like Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh 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); and, it is not difficult to find the writings or contact the Bahai headquarters in each country in order to obtain the books, magazines, pamphlets, vidotapes, music, etc. One does not have to even buy them, because of the generosity of the Bahais to those seeking and finally finding.

Though, I do remember a negative incident where I was a new Bahai in a new city; and, I went to my first service there. I was excited. When I went there, no one spoke to me and the entire service was in Farsi --- No effort was made to translate for the non-Farsi speakers. 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 city and Bahai community and spoke to the Persians who sat on the committee and his wife. The first thing they ask me was, "The majority of the people were Persian, right?" I said, "Yes." They heard my story and asked questions. Unbeknowst to me they called the committee members of the city immediate, because that week, the secretary (in the new city) who was out of town during that incident, called and 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 from my former community. He told me the committee had a meeting and things were to change.

Sure enough, that month, there were translators (of the Bahai teenagers and youth) so that everyone could understand the service. And, when I walked in, I was welcomed and treated nicely along with the other non-Farsi speaking non-Persians in the congregation. After that, I noticed the same in the other surrounding communities, because doors opened where many people were inviting non-Persians more to their homes during the time I was there. Even one Persian family, who lived in a mansion, had friday night discussions and music --- Many people came from all over mostly new Bahais, non-Persians, and non-Bahais. There was food and fun. She invited professional musicians to come and sing; as well as Bahai speakers and writers. And, each month, without anyone really talking to individuals, people walked up to the hosts of the weekly gatherings and privately said they wanted to become a Bahai and what needed to be done.

There was not converting, harassing, intimidating, scaring, etc. This is called sharing with interested people and those still learning. And, this is an example of how followers of the Sikh religion can share with others about their religion.

Just like other religions, there were study guidebooks or gatherings for just reading and studying the Holy Books. When I, as a seeking and learning Sikh, asked about the study groups and study guidebooks for reading and studying the Guru Granth Sahib, I was told there were none or the group was conducted only in Punjabi. Though I love reading the Guru Granth Sahib (translation and transliteration), it is a hard read when you are new and there is no table of contents or study guide 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 --- None of the local bookstores 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. "Will these work?" They would ask. 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 no one helps even when one calls and asks. It is quite a difficult, sad, and lonely road to travel --- The journey is not easy because nobody helps seekers and new Sikhs find the resources, etc. Other religions do not do this to the seekers of their religion. This is just not right and conducive for helping others understand, show interest in, and/or even become a Sikh.

The Sikh religion is the religion Guru Nanak founded and the other Gurus built upon to make it solid and firm --- It is a religion to help people to become closer to God and live as God wants. The founders of the religion just happened to be Indian and from Punjab. Being culturally Indian and/or Punjabi is not the same as being of the Sikh religion and being Sikh --- The Religion is for God's purpose to draw others closer and give guidelines on following and being with and of God, not becoming an Indian and/or Punjabi.

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

Those who follow the Sikh religion, just like the Bahai religon, Muslim religion, Buddhist religion, Christian religion, etc. are spread all over the planet for a reason and for a purpose. Followers of the Sikh religion definitely should not convert and harass people, but they definitely should not hide the teachings, writings, songs, study, and amrit baptism of Guru Nanak's and the other Gurus on behalf of God inside their own culture, castes, and ethnicity 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 the Indian and/or Punjabi Sikhs the world over can readily do the same --- It doesn't take months and years to change easily changeable ways of doing things from cultural, ethnic, and castes (considering Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh have already set out the guidelines clearly) if the followers of the Sikh religion really want to change things for the benefit of God, the religion, visitors/guests, and new Sikhs on behalf of God and out of respect for the founders. It maybe difficult, but it is not extremely hard at all.

If the Bahai Faith, which is the youngest newly founded religion; and, the other religions can open their doors to others from diverse backgrounds when they move to and live in other countries, then surely the Sikh religion can do the same.

For God's sake, even the American born African-American founder of the Nation of Islam that is currently overseen by Louis Farrakhan overcame exclusionary practices along with obstacles; and, now allow every racial, ethnic, and cultural group to join. He speaks many languages; and, doesn't let that keep others out either. This definitely opened the door for other diverse groups who were seeking too.

Now, if Louis Farrakhan can change his ways and ideas; and, open the door to every group no matter what their race, ethnicity, and culture, then surely the caretakers (congregation) of the Sikh religion on behalf of God and the founders 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. http://www.sikhspectrum.com/052003/yogi_k.htm"

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