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Uncovering Bigotry Felt By Sikhs


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Anne Elizabeth Wynn, Your Words

Nine pairs of shoes were neatly arranged beside the front door. A single voice was quietly chanting inside. That wasn't what we were expecting. The website for Gurdwara Sahib Austin, a small Sikh temple off of Hamilton Pool Road, had said that kirtan began each Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Kirtan literally means "to praise what is exalted," to sing together in adoration of God, and it is an elemental aspect of Sikh devotional practice.

Then again, I don't think that the bearded man wearing a turban and sitting on a low platform in the middle of the simple and spotless new hall before us was expecting the three of us, either. While Sikhism is an avowedly open and egalitarian creed as well as the fifth largest religion on Earth, it is still mysterious to and largely misunderstood by Americans.

My girls and I hovered at the entrance, unsure and a little nervous. Kuldeep Saini, one of the ladies sitting on the floor inside, came to our aid. After the briefest of introductions, she helped Larkin, Kyrie and I to cover our heads with small ceremonial scarves and showed us how to walk up to the platform, bow and take a seat. We later learned that we weren't bowing to the leader of the service (Sikhism doesn't have priests), but to the holy book in front of him, the Guru Granth Sahib.

Given its geographic provenance in 16th-century Mughal India and its blending of concepts like reincarnation with monotheism, Sikhism is often mistaken for a combination of Hinduism and Islam, but Sikhs consistently explain that Sikhism is founded upon unique, direct and very progressive revelations from God experienced by founder Guru Nanak. Nanak's fundamental teaching is that God is One, "Ik Onkar," and that the light of God is in everyone. Therefore, everyone is also One with God. At that time, this also meant that Nanak was calling for equality of women and the rejection of the caste system while calling for all Sikhs, or "seekers of truth," to turn away from traditional religious forms and seek union with God directly.

If that weren't radical enough, 200 years later, the 10th and last human Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, announced that rather than appoint another successor, the collected holy texts of all of the Gurus — including the enlightened words of many "Bhagats," or holy teachers, from other religious faiths — would now be called the Guru Granth Sahib and would be the final and infinite Guru for all Sikhs forevermore. We all had spontaneously laughed at how impressively un-religiony this religion was. It espouses enough with that old human desire for priests and rituals and religious exclusivity! We've provided more than 1,400 pages of ecumenical guidance already! God calls to everyone! Go seek him yourself!

As kirtan began, Kuldeep kindly translated for us.

"We are chanting, ‘If you have faith in God, He will never let you down.' "

Kuldeep paused thoughtfully, then smiled and winked and added for emphasis, "If you have faith!"

This small group of Sikhs in Austin has an unfortunate reason to test their faith. While waiting in the foyer, we noticed a newspaper article taped to the wall underneath a handwritten poster imploring, "Save Our Gurdwara!" The article detailed a long and lamentable legal case. After purchasing their land in 2003 and worshipping in a modest mobile home for two years, Gurdwara Sahib Austin applied to the City of Bee Cave to build a slightly larger hall. They presented their plans to their neighborhood association and all relevant commissions and received all proper building permits.

Almost two years into construction, however, a new neighbor found buried in the subdivision's restricting covenants a specification, that only single-family housing be built. The Sikhs halted construction while the suit went to court, resuming when they prevailed. However, the plaintiffs appealed and the Third Court of Appeals not only reversed the decision, but also ordered that the now completed temple be torn down.

My girls were aghast. All the way home, they quietly shook with the shock of perceived injustice. While the issue is one of property rights, my girls intuitively grasped a more serious civil rights issue. And, after a long telephone conversation with a longtime member of the temple, we learned of acts of overt intimidation in the community and bigotry that moved us to tears. But, they also are moving my girls to action.

Seeing a child's face contort the first time they come face to face with religious prejudice is heartbreaking. Still, the ache of empathy is the substrate of all compassion. Seeing Kyrie's face as she regained her composure and called her father's girlfriend, state Sen. Wendy Davis, to ask for help was heartwarming.

We are calling friends at the Anti-Defamation League, and others, as well. As these Sikhs consider their legal options, two young non-Sikhs are figuring out how best to stand up for someone else. Compassion is the substrate of all spiritual engagement in this world. It is also the reason my girls and I are on this journey together.

Austin writer Anne Elizabeth Wynn and her daughters, Larkin and Kyrie, are spending 2011 studying the world's religions, large and small. Their experiences and discoveries appear monthly in this column and at www.thethoughtfulspot.wordpress.com



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Nov 7, 2010
Therefore, everyone is also One with God. At that time, this also meant that Nanak was calling for equality of women and the rejection of the caste system while calling for all Sikhs, or "seekers of truth," to turn away from traditional religious forms and seek union with God directly.

as you said lady....hard to do and inspiration when we do:tablakudi:



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