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Christianity Unwrapping Sikhism (from SikhChic)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Tuesday, October 5, 2010, was the second annual Turban Night in Phillips Hall, at the Michigan State University, East Lansing (Michigan, U.S.A.). The stated goal was to inform the student body about Sikhism.

I heard about the event through my editor, who sent me there on an assignment. I'll admit this now: If he hadn't sent me, I probably would not have gone. I wasn't opposed to going.

It was just something for which I would not have made time. But after talking with my editor, I realized I didn't know a thing about Sikhism. Nothing at all.

This acknowledgement of my ignorance was a little embarrassing for me. I am of the belief that ignorance, especially about a subject as volatile as religion, can only lead to problems.

Many prejudices start with ignorance, and those prejudices can turn into blatant hatred. And hatred all too often leads to violence.

Religion's been a key player in thousands of years of history. It's spurred people to greatness, but it also has spurred people to do awful things.

So, no longer wanting to be ignorant - and because I had an article to write - I went.

I was under the impression that the idea of the event was to start a dialogue with students while making sure they still felt comfortable. Snacks were laid out on a table next to a pile of pamphlets titled "Who are the Sikhs?"

As more people showed up, participants did little more than lounge around and chat casually with each other.

Amongst the chatter, people were taking turns being adorned with turbans. Amrik Singh, a mentor who helped organize the event, let each person choose his or her preferred color, and then skillfully folded the thick bands into a turban.

"People ask me all the time, ‘What does it feel like to wear a turban?'" he said. "‘Does your head get hot?' So, instead of explaining, I figured I'd just let you try it," he explained later to the group.

After about an hour of general conversation, the group participants sat for a question-and-answer panel. About half the group now was wearing the colorful turbans, ranging from pink ("for weddings") to dark muted blacks and reds.

There's much to like about Sikhism. For one, it recognizes that women are completely equal to men in all spheres of life: religious, political and social. For another, it rejects "earthly distinctions" such as race, class and social caste.

Furthermore, Sikhs are enjoined to lead their lives with the same holistic approach to their religion. They're encouraged to be moral, hard-working and honest as well as share the fruits of their labor with others.

My Presbyterian background doesn't allow women the same rights as men; in that sense, Sikhism is a pleasant change. And when it comes to secular equality, one scarcely can argue that American capitalism - when it comes to social class - is fair and equal.

Plus, anyone who has been the victim of racism might be interested in a religion that rejects racial distinction.

What strikes me, however, is that Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world, yet few Americans know a thing about it. I certainly didn't. Some might be inclined even to believe Sikhs are a sect of Islam or Hinduism, which is false.

Religion is an especially sensitive subject in our post-9/11 culture. But no matter your beliefs, is there really any excuse to be ignorant of the vast multitude of other religions sharing the world with us?

We are lucky to be part of such a diverse student population. I see event notifications for cultural and religious informational events on nearly a daily basis. There are thousands of opportunities. We should all be taking advantage of them to learn about different cultures.

And for people like Amrik Singh who take the time and effort to organize these events and make them so welcoming to students, I commend you.



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