Gurudwara Visit

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center in Plainview. As one of three gurudwaras in Nassau county, the center serves as a worship center for many of the Sikhs on Long Island. I, and my daughter Mari, joined members of the Long Island Council of Churches on a trip to learn more about Sikhism and to show our support for them after the horrific shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, this past August.

It is a cruel irony that many Sikhs are discriminated against due to their distinctive looks, yet their religion is founded on the principles of equality and respect for all.  The most distinctive aspect of Sikhs, their turbans, are an expression of a loving faith that was born out of dismay for the Indian caste system. It is a faith that seeks to serve others and to show the equality of all people. Sikhs wear turbans, or head scarves, because they believe that hair is a gift from God that should never be cut. They also wear a bracelet that is made of iron or steel, not gold that the poor could not afford. Many Sikhs even take the same last names, Singh or Kaur, so as to show the equality of all before God.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Sikhism that I observe each time I go to a gurudwara is their hospitality. Every Sikh temple will always have food available to serve anyone who walks in the door. Their delicious vegetarian food is served out of simple food buckets to guests who sit on the floor, “the prince and the pauper eating side by side.”An essential part of Sikh worship is to be given a serving of Karah Parshad, a sweet wheat paste made of semolina, butter and sugar—in equal proportions to symbolize the equality of men and women.

Another aspect of historical Sikhism is that they have traditionally been renowned as warriors. Many Sikhs still carry a very small ceremonial sword to remind them that they are warriors for justice and equality. Their founding Guru taught that their swords should only be used in defense. Tom Goodhue, of the Long Island Council of Churches observes, “Many of them became disciplined practitioners of nonviolence, which is why Gandhi trusted them enough to put them on the front lines during the Salt March, knowing that they had the strength and courage to accept blows from British colonial police without responding in kind.”

Sikhs are a wonderful addition to our American mosaic and we all could learn from their humble spirituality, hospitality and non-violence. I know I have learned a lot from my work with Sikh members of the Long Island Multi-Faith Forum.

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