- Feb 25, 2005
Life liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
This famous quote from the Declaration of Independence is meaningful to many Americans, but people who practice the Sikh religion
also take those words to heart.
Sandeep Bajwa, who came to the United States from India in 1986 when he was 17 years old, he began to research his Sikh religion and noticed many parallels between the values of the religion and those highlighted in the American Constitution.
Bajwa, who practices his religion at the Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara in Monroeville, says America is the perfect place for Sikhs. "Reading about the American Constitution and the religion, they sound so close," he said. "Equality, justice and freedom are the buzzwords in both. Reciting the pledge of allegiance at school every day and studying at the Gurdwara, the priest would tell us we have to do the right things, and whichever country you're in, that's your motherland. I just thought the values were the same."
Sikh means "student" and guru means "teacher." The first Sikh Guru, Nanak Dev, who was born in 1469, declared that all humans are equal and are born free. His beliefs of equality, justice and freedom were put into practice by his succeeding nine gurus, who encouraged people to sit, cook and eat together; forbade women to wear veils because veils restricted their freedom; and told people to resist tyranny and fight for their rights.
The Sikh philosophy consists of practical living in rendering service to humanity and engendering tolerance and brotherly love towards all. The Sikh gurus did not advocate retirement from the world in order to attain salvation. Anyone who earns an honest living, leads a normal life and shares his or her earnings with the needy can achieve it.
Priest Sucha Singh of the Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara says the Sikh religion was created to protect human rights.
"We're much safer here than in India," he says. "We were suppressed in India and had to fight for our survival. There is no such conflict in the United States."
Inside the temple, women and men sit on the ground. Because everyone is on the same level, class, race or gender doesn't classify them, Singh says.
After worship services, everyone receives free food from the community kitchen, says Chitratan Singh Sethi, secretary of the temple.
"It's symbolic for equality," he says. "No one is put on a pedestal."
About 175 families from the tri-state area visit the temple, Singh says. Of those, 150 visit on a regular basis.
Bajwa also hopes to teach his daughter and son, ages 12 and 9--both born in the United States--the values of the Sikh faith and those of America.
"I want to teach my kids the core values," he says. "My son wears a turban, and he argues with me all the time saying, 'I'm an American, why should I wear this?' I say it doesn't matter. I think it teaches him the values of the Sikh life. When he's 18, he can decide to do whatever he wants.
"I have an American Constitution at home and I show it to my kids all the time."
However, while military participation is an important aspect of the Sikh history, those who live in America typically can't achieve it because they wear a turban and do not cut their hair, Bajwa says.
He says he has hope people who observe the Sikh faith will easily be able to join the military in the future.
"It's traditional," he says. "It's changing, and it will change."
Some Sikhs have faced problems after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, and others--Sethi included--almost were forbidden to wear their turbans for driver's license photos in 2004 across the state of Alabama.
The issue was resolved, Sethi says, but he wants to educate the public about the religion.
"I don't think it's a prejudice or racist issue; it's more about communicating what you are," he says. "We've realized we need to educate and reach out to people.
"America is definitely a place that believes in the foundation of rights. The Constitution calls for it."
Blessings of Liberty: Constitutional similarities make U.S. comfortable home for Sikhs | YourMonroeville.com