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Teachings From My Faith - Why Does a Sikh Need to Engage in Interfaith Dialogue?

By Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, IACO Council Member

The Sikh religion is the one of the youngest of the major religions of the world. Sikhs number about 25 million worldwide. Sikhs now constitute visible minorities in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Many Sikhs in these countries have achieved distinction in various professions, in business and farming, as well as in public service.

As a Sikh, I have to love all creation as God's own manifestation. Acceptance of all faiths, and interreligious understanding and respect are basic to my faith. The history of the Sikhs shows remarkable consistency in the pursuit of these ideals and in the defense of the right to free worship of people of all faiths. Although the Sikh religion shares some beliefs with Islam, Christianity, Judaism as well as some schools of Hindu thought, it is distinct from them and is an independent divinely revealed religion.

God created all people and all faiths. All worship the same God. The apparent differences in form are indicative of God's glory in revealing God to people in language, idiom, and metaphor appropriate for them. For a Sikh, there are no bad people. All are created by God. They may appear to be different but all are God's creation and part of God.

Sikh Gurdwaras have always been open to everyone regardless of religion, race, color or caste. Gurdwaras have free kitchens that are open to all and everyone is treated as equal. Siri Harmandar Sahib in Amritsar has doors on all four sides signifying acceptance of visitors from all the four corners of the world. The Sikh Gurus spoke against hypocrisy and false emphasis on outer formalisms and practices of every religion but respected the right of all to profess their faith and serve humankind in their own ways.

In essence, if all creation is a part of the divine, then all humanity is equal. Seeing God in all persons, there is no concept of the ‘other’. By definition, all humankind is related and part of the same whole.

As a Sikh, I believe that God pervades the entire creation including the hearts and minds of every human being irrespective of faith, caste, race, gender, etc. All are equal is the eyes of Vaheguru (God - the Glorious Guru). Sikhs believe that one can achieve mukti (salvation) while living (jeevan mukt) when one recognizes and honors God’s light in everyone and rises above the influence of lust, anger, greed, attachment, and sense of individuality apart from God. The Guru tells us:

“No one is an enemy, none a stranger. I get along with all.”

Human life is an opportunity to meet with God and one can merge with God’s light while still living (jeevan mukt) if one can honor the holiness of all, including the religious other. For a Sikh to achieve mukti (salvation), it is imperative to honor God’s light present in everyone. To do so, one has to more than tolerate. One has to engage with, work with, and understand people of all faiths across religious boundaries.

Siri Guru Nanak Sahib, the first Guru, engaged in an interfaith dialogue with the Siddhs (Hindu ascetics who had renounced the world) even though he disagreed with how they practiced their faith. It is recorded in Siri Guru Granth Sahib as Siddh Gosht (dialogue with ascetics).

Furthermore, Sikh history provides a shining example for a Sikh to promote religious freedom even when one disagrees with the practice of a faith. Siri Guru Tegh Bahaadar Sahib, the Ninth Sikh Guru, was executed by the Mughal authorities for advocating the right of the Hindus to free worship even though he did not agree with the Hindu rituals. This example provides inspiration to Sikhs today to stand up for the rights of others to practice their faith even though we may disagree with those practices.

Increasingly, Sikh young adults in addition to the faith imperative are expressing a civic imperative for participating in interreligious dialogue but are also keen to promote interreligious cooperation. This revolves around our duty as Americans and our loyalty to and love of our country - to work towards "a more perfect union." Many Sikh young adults believe it is our duty as people of faith to step into the current void of leadership and lead with love not hate – build bridges not walls. This involves outreach and community building with members of the majority and minority communities for promotion of positive societal change. A fundamental question many young adult Sikhs are asking is “What would the Sikh Gurus do”?

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