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USA Plymouth Gurdwara Sahib Opens Its Doors To The Community


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Although only about 15 people attended Sunday’s open house at Gurdwara Sahib of Plymouth, those that did said they learned a lot about the Sikh faith.

“It was wonderful," said Mary Heid of Plymouth. “The more I learn about different religions, the more I believe they are similar.”

Heid belongs to the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Plymouth.

“I love that (Sikhs) say it doesn’t matter which religion you are as long as you have a path to God,” she said.

Other visitors came from Northville, Canton and Livonia. Attendance may have been smaller for a number of reasons including two previous events.

“A lot of people had said it was a great thing to have that community forum and they learned a lot, but they felt it was important to continue that dialogue," said Raman Singh, an organizer of the Gurdwara Sahib open house. “We thought actually inviting them to the gurdwara, the place of worship, they can meet a larger number of people in a casual setting.”

A community forum called Sikhism 101 was held the Jan. 6 at a Canton church, St. Thomas a’Becket. On Jan. 30, the Sahib Singh Sabha of Michigan in Canton hosted a well-attended open house. All the events are part of Sikh efforts to educate the community after an incident in which a kirpan fell from the clothes of aPlymouth-Canton Sikh fourth grader. A kirpan is one of five religious items worn by Sikhs who undergo a ritual similar to baptism. The kirpan, while shaped like a dagger, is considered a sword of peace; it is dull-bladed, kept in a sheath and intended to be worn under the clothes at all times as a reminder for the Sikh to be peaceful but to stand up for the defenseless.

The Plymouth-Canton School District announced that beginning Monday, Jan. 31, Sikh students would be allowed to wear their kirpans to school with certain conditions:

* Any kirpan worn at school must be sewn inside a sheath in such a way that the blade would not be removable from the sheath.
* The blade of the kirpan would be restricted in length to no more than two and one-fourth inches.
* The blade of the kirpan must be dull.
* The kirpan cannot be worn outside clothing and cannot be visible in any way.
* Staff members will not conduct random searches; however, students who violate any of the conditions will be subject to discipline including prohibition of wearing the kirpan to school in the future.

“We met with representatives with the gurdwara in Canton several times. They really helped us try to understand their religion and their five articles of faith and, at baptism, they are expected to wear those articles on their person at all times,” said Frank Ruggirello, spokesman for the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools.

“Our lawyers have researched it, and because the United States government recognizes the kirpan as an article of faith, we believed that we had to make accommodations," he said. "It’s not just that, though. Sikhs are a large part of our community, and we felt it was important to come to an agreement that made sense to everybody, where we can keep children safe but also help them keep their religious commitments.”

Ruggirello said that the district’s plan for kirpan enforcement is similar to the cell phone policy. Students are allowed to carry cell phones, but if a teacher sees one, students are disciplined.

Amarjeet Kaur, 47, of Northville, said she was glad to see non-Sikh people attend the open house. She said the more people know about the Sikh religion the better, because people fear what they do not understand.

Kaur and her family went through an incident last April with her son, a middle school student and a baptized Sikh. His kirpan was exposed after his shirt shifted while the boy was carrying a trombone and a large book bag, Kaur said. The janitor who saw it asked about it and brought the boy to the principal’s office, she said.

“He wrote out an explanation of the five items he wears and why,” Kaur said. “Everyone was very respectful.”

Northville school officials asked police to examine the kirpan and her son was out of school for three days, Kaur said. By the end of the week, officials made a decision similar to the one that Plymouth-Canton Schools just made, she said. Her son was allowed to return to school wearing his kirpan, but it must be sewn into his clothing and be inaccessible.

During Sunday’s open house, people were able to witness a typical Sunday in the gurdwara. Services last about 90 minutes, but for the first half of services, some Sikhs enter and leave the worship area multiple times, according to Singh’s husband Herminder.

All gurdwara visitors are required to remove their shoes. Men and women cover their heads with scarves and those who do not have a covering are loaned one when entering the gurdwara.

The Singhs gave a tour of the gurdwara and answered questions from the group. They then escorted people inside of the prayer hall to witness Sikh prayer hymns sung in Punjabi, the language of northwestern India, where the Sikh faith originated.

The Gurdwara Sahib is what Raman Singh calls atypical, meaning it is not what gurdwaras normally look like.

“It used to be a spa,” Herminder Singh said. “We’re probably the only temple in the world with a couple of saunas built in.”

The Sikhs had to renovate the building for their needs. The Canton gurdwara is a more traditional example, according to Raman Singh.

The Gurdwara Sahib has a congregation of about 400 to 500 people with an average of 250 people attending services each Sunday, Herminder Singh said.

After services, the vegetarian meal known as langar, or community kitchen, is served. Families take turns preparing the meal.

Ed and Velma Thornhill of Livonia attended Sunday’s open house after hearing about it through a friend who lives in Plymouth.

“It was very different from ours,” Velma Thornhill said of Sikh services. “Partly because we can’t understand (the language). It was interesting, but a very big difference. Sometime, they should come visit us and attend our services.”

The Thornhills attend church at Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Northville.

“I found it very interesting,” Ed Thornhill said. “It gave me an understanding of what they’re about. I was glad to see women treated as equals.”

Sikh Facts

The Sikh religion was founded more than 400 years ago and is the fifth largest religion in the world, with nearly 20 million followers. Sikh means "student." Two important beliefs Sikhs have is that there is one God and that all people are created equal.

Sikhs practice daily prayer and use the five kakars, sometimes simply called the five Ks, articles worn on the body, as a constant reminder of fidelity to God.

The five kakars are:
  • Kesh: Uncut hair. Sikhs view all parts of the body as a gift from God and do not alter them.
  • Kanga: A comb worn in the hair symbolizing a clean mind and body.
  • Kirpan: Ceremonial knife presented as part of a baptismal rite called indoctrination. Such Sikhs agree to abstain from drinking, smoking, using drugs and eating meat. The kirpan symbolizes living a life of integrity and protecting the weak and defenseless, and is referred to by some Sikhs as similar to the cross worn by Christians.
  • Kachera: White undergarments tied with a string, a symbol of chastity or monogamy and a reminder to avoid lust.
  • Kara: A steel bracelet worn on the right wrist as a reminder of God’s unending being – its movement on the wrist is a reminder to make choices consistent with God’s will



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