The Parliament Blog

Archive for the ‘sikhism’ tag

Contextualizing Anti-Semitism in Modern America

By Simran Jeet Singh,
Ph.D. Candidate in Religion, Columbia University
Sr. Fellow at Sikh Coalition, Truman Fellow
Parliament of the World’s Religions Ambassador

Via Simran Jeet Singh’s Blog on The Huffington Post 

The gates of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. / Via Flickr User Pausian.

Earlier this year, I received a special invitation to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with a group of distinguished young scholars. I was thrilled by the prospect of receiving a guided tour from Dr. Victoria Barnett, director of the Museum’s Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust, and I immediately accepted the invitation.

A couple days before our program in early April, I received a message from our event coordinator who raised the possibility that the weapons policies might prohibit me from entering the premises with my kirpan, an article of faith that I carry with me. I was recently denied entry to the United Nations headquarters for the same reason, which caused me to miss an event where I was scheduled to speak, and I presumed dealing with the Museum’s security would be an equally frustrating process. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to learn that this would not be an issue and that I would be allowed to attend the program.

During my train ride from New York City to Washington, D.C., I reflected on the fact that the Holocaust Museum retained hired security at on their premises. I thought about how, like the Jewish community, my own community has long been targeted in hateful violence, both in our homeland of Punjab and in America. I reflected on how shameful it is that religious, cultural, and educational institutions such as the Holocaust Museum feel the need to maintain security personnel and policies.

I am embarrassed to admit this — especially since much of my recent research has focused on hate violence and xenophobia in modern America — but the question actually did cross my mind: “Is all this security really necessary?”

Suffice it to say, my question has been answered. As I write, our nation mourns the bigoted and targeted murder of three Americans at a Jewish community center and an assisted care facility in Kansas City, Kansas. Police authorities have yet to officially identify it as a hate-crime, but all signs are pointing in that direction. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the shooter, Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr., served as a founder and grand dragon for the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in South Carolina and later founded another KKK group, the White Patriot Party. Witnesses have testified that Cross was explicitly targeting Jews and was shouting neo-Nazi slogans while being detained by police officers.

We are mistaken when we try to make this a story of the past. No matter how much we wish it wasn’t true, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and domestic terrorism are all realities in modern America.

This is precisely why visiting the Holocaust Museum has meant so much to me.

As I traversed the exhibition floors, I learned about the conditions and processes that led to the marginalization of entire communities. I observed the ways in which those in power manipulated and coerced the masses to think of one another as less or more human. I found myself fixating on every little artifact and image in the museum, trying to make sense of the senseless.

The most difficult moment for me was watching original footage of a public shaming, in which members of a small town tied up two adolescents, led them in a public procession to the town square, and then took turns publicly cutting their hair. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, yet it took everything I had to not look away.

After the guided tours and panel discussions, I walked through an exhibit on the bottom floor of the Museum that focused on contemporary anti-Semitic violence in America. I was surprised to find myself a bit unprepared for what I observed. It was not news to me that neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups exist in our nation, yet somehow I had never connected the dots on how the dark history of anti-Semitism has translated into and informs our experiences in modern America.

I had walked into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with the intention of thinking about how the Holocaust might relate to other instances of historical violence targeting marginalized communities around the globe. However, the structure and design of the museum compelled me to think of the here and now. Better understanding the conditions leading up to the Holocaust has helped me contextualize anti-Semitic violence in modern America, and this context has provided me a critical perspective for viewing acts of domestic terrorism like the horrific shooting in Kansas City this past weekend.

The moment I heard about the murders in Kansas, I had flashbacks to an eerily similar hate crime that targeted my own community, and these memories blurred into everything I learned during my visit to the Holocaust Museum.

I feel like my eyes and heart are more open than ever, and I find myself haunted by the beautiful words of Elie Wiesel, which are posted on the wall of the Museum: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

Follow Simran Jeet Singh on Twitter:

April 29th, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Diwali Festivities Light Up November 3

One of the biggest festivals in India, Diwali, begins November 3. Similarly important as Christmas in the United States, celebrations will be held by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains in and outside of India. Globally, Diwali is observed by both religious and nonreligious, as well as by other religious communities celebrating the joyous season in secular ways.Observing the official holiday in India falls this year on November third because it is the fifteenth day of the Katrina month on the Hindu calendar.

Happy Diwali, the Festival of Light

Diwali means the “Festival of Lights,” and each religion tells its own Diwali story.

  • Hinduism – One of India’s major religious groups, Hindus, celebrate a story beginning approximately 900,000 years ago. Shri Rama, who was to become the king, was sent away to a forest so that his brother could become king. Shri Rama’s wife, Seta, and brother, Layman, followed him. But during this time, the demon Ravan abducts Seta. After winning at battle with Ravan, Shri Rama returns to Ayodhya with Seta after fourteen years. The people of Ayodhya welcomed him by decorating their homes, and lighting lamps and fire crackers by night. They also distributed sweets and bought gold ornaments to show their happiness. Since then, Diwali is observed by Hindus on this day.
  • Sikhism – Two percent of Indians, Sikhs, honor the sixth Sikh Guru Hargobind Sahib, along with 52 kings, who was released from prison on Diwali by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. When Guru Hargobind Sahib arrived at the Golden temple in Amritsar, his devotees lit lamps celebrating his release.
  • Jainism – A minority Indian religious group, Jains comprise approximately 0.4% of the India’s population. Their observance dates some 2,539 years ago, when Lord Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankar (who established the rituals of Jainism as practiced today_ attained Moksha, the liberation from the endless cycle of life and death. There is no more birth to experience; one enjoys bliss forever in Siddhalok, the place at the top of the universe. Jains celebrate this day by lighting lamps to dispel inner darkness. They also observe a fast from Sunrise to next day’s Sunrise. Jains drink only boiled water from sunrise to sunset during their fast without taking any solid or liquid food. Jains do not light fire crackers because that will kill many insects and could take the lives of birds or other creatures, since Jains believe in nonviolence.

Diwali is a joyous moment for everyone. Observers often buy gold and gold jewelry to show signs of prosperity and to welcome Laxmi, the Goddess of money, to their homes. Bonuses and sweets are distributed by businesses to workers and agents. Everyone gathers to share sweets. Banks, government offices and schools take longer holidays. The day after Diwali begins a new Calendar year for Hindus and Jains. For Hindus the new year will be Vikram Samvat 2070, the calendar established by emperor Vikramaditya. For Jains the new year will be Veer Samvat 2540, based on the Nirvana anniversary of the Lord Mahavir.

In the United States, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains go to temple to worship and celebrate Diwali. Also, they gather at homes and create a party atmosphere. As many Indians string lights in decoration around their homes, it leads many people think early Christmas decorations are in progress. Neighbors should feel free to knock on the door of an Indian neighbor and wish them “Happy Diwali”. They will appreciate the sincerity and treat visitors to delicious Indian snacks and sweets. “Happy Diwali”

Kirit C. Daftary is a resident of Waco and practices Jainism. He is trustee of the Council of Parliament of World Religions, Board member of Greater Waco interfaith Council and the past president of JAINA, (Federation of Jain Associations in North America) There are about 150,000 Jains in North America and about 65 Jain Temples in North America.

Chardhi Kala One Year After Oak Creek: Sikh Faith Healing Community (VIDEO)

“Turning Tragedy Into Triumph”
Oak Creek, Wisconsin
August 3, 2013
In memory of those lost August 5, 2012

One year after a hate-motivated gun massacre  August 5, 2012, at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, WI., took the lives of six and critically wounded four more, a profound faith is working in mysterious ways. Devastating is a word falling short to fully describe that assault on the dignity of life. Through heartache and victimization of the worst kind, the Sikh community survives, heals, and empathizes with unity through their sacred practice of Chardhi Khala, maintaining  eternal optimism no matter what strikes. In that spirit, the community invites all to act on their solidarity and join a 6k  walk and run on August 3, 2013, to practice Chardhi Kala in memorial.

Trying to grasp this in text might be difficult.  This isn’t easy either, but important, to honor those lost and those still healing, to watch the short film “One Year Later” and understand the social consequences when hate running rampant meets a violence-plagued country. Join the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in identifying what interfaith can do to empower us all to transform hate into loving neighborly relationships  From online to on the ground: Chicago,  Long Island, New York, and soon to this very gurdwara.

In honor of the six lives lost on August 5, 2012, and the millions of “others” who died for their differences. 

Watch Sikhs One Year Later on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

‘US Has Much to Learn from Sikhs’: Harvard professor Diana Eck

“The dignity and generosity of the Sikh community in the wake of this violence remind us just how much we have to learn from these neighbors,” Eck added. Photo from


As the Sikh community in the US makes efforts to recover from the tragedy of the Gurudwara shooting, a Harvard professor has said Sikhs have emerged as a role model for Americans who can learn from the dignity and generosity the community.

“Most Americans still know little of the Sikh Americans whose history in the United States, dating to the early 20th century, is now firmly part of our common history.”

“While we catch up on our basic education, however, it is important to know that Sikhs share three distinctly and deeply American values — the importance of hard work, a commitment to human equality, and the practice of neighbourly hospitality,” Harvard University professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies Diana Eck said in an editorial in the Dallas Morning News.
Click here to read the full article

September 2nd, 2012 at 11:55 am

Reflecting on Oak Creek

No one is an enemy, no one is a stranger. We befriend all. We Believe in the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of mankind. We are one family. One becomes inferior or superior only by one’s deeds, and not by what caste, class, creed, or tribe one is born into.

All of the above are the core beliefs of Sikhism, but the Sikh American community which so proudly calls America home is hurting today. And in the midst of that pain, the outpouring of profound love and support the community has received from our fellow Americans following the shootings in Wisconsin is unbelievable.

Loss of any innocent life is sad, but when it happens at a house of worship where men, women, and children come together to celebrate their open, all inclusive faith by praying and offering gratitude to “One Universal Ultimate Supreme Being,” asking for the well-being of all humanity, then it has to be heart wrenching.

The shooting in the Oak Creek Wisconsin Sikh Gurudwara (place of worship) on August 5th that took so many lives was such an enigma and senseless act of violence that has shattered many innocent lives. No one expected it.  No one would have thought it possible that such a tragedy could occur on a peaceful summer Sunday, in a place where members of all faiths are welcome to share in the community and develop their bond with God and their neighbors. But it did not define America for Sikhs. Perhaps it can lead to better understanding of Sikhs for America.

Oak Creek Wisconsin police officers did a commendable job, and likely saved many more lives by confronting the attacker.

The entire country is baffled, and President Obama stated, “As we mourn this loss, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.”

There is no doubt the Sikh American community feels a great sense of unease resulting from this incident.  Feeling both that we are mistakenly associated with people of other faiths  and that neither we nor any other innocent people should be singled out for abuse or ridicule because of our faith. Such unease has been there, not only since the Iran Hostage Crisis of the late seventies, but also from the backlash of 9/11 when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American wearing the traditional articles of faith of a beard and turban was shot and killed in Mesa Arizona on September 15, 2001, by a gunman who ignorantly declared, “I stand for America all the way.” The Sikh American community, and other similar minorities, have long lived under an unfair burden of vulnerability from baseless attacks and threats by individuals who cannot rationally justify their hatred.


Incidents directed at Sikh Americans may appear at first glance to be random and isolated, but when they are viewed collectively over a period of time, a troubling pattern emerges that requires enhanced actions by policymakers and law enforcement. It is crucial that the Department of Justice, through the FBI, collect and provide more detailed statistics on such incidents, so that local and federal law enforcement are better equipped to combat hate crimes.  It is also crucial that members of the Sikh American community, and other minority groups, continue reporting these incidents, pushing for prosecution, and working with law enforcement to be heard.

This time it was Sikhs who were targeted; tomorrow, it could be any other faith or ethnic community. The cognizable fear associated with such directed acts of domestic terrorism is very disturbing to Sikh Americans, as well as to an overwhelming majority of peace loving, caring, and charitable Americans.  We are solaced only by the outpouring of profound love and support the Sikh American community has received from our fellow Americans, and appreciate that we all stand together in times like this.

We hope that this tragedy will compel Americans to unite as a single community, working together to counter this culture of intolerance, bigotry, hatred, and senseless violence.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”  We must take a firm stand of supporting organizations that build bridges of understanding with one another rather than walls of separation and fear.

Maybe the civil war isn’t over yet. Maybe the attacker here was motivated by additional factors, such as the economy. We will never know the entire truth, but we must seek ways of resolving the ultimate root causes of frustration, anger, and hate that lead to violence. It may not happen overnight, but it needs to be done – and we can do it!

Acting on hate is on the rise. But how can law enforcement protect every shopping mall, every school, every movie theater, and every place of worship at all times? They need our help, as a community.

Education alone can dispel ignorance. The mediating forces of faith and interfaith must become stronger through mutual, open dialogues about ways to establish peaceful and productive relationships of co-existence among diverse groups.

We all need to educate ourselves about the people who live here and make up our nation, starting with the Native Americans. How can we learn about people’s faith and culture? And how can they learn about us? That is a significant step in promoting a sense of camaraderie and reduced fear of the unknown; about someone who is unfamiliar, looks different, or has an accent.

We are proud of our men and women in uniform because of their gallant service to our nation. Soldiers are our defenders and protectors, but when a former Soldier – one who fought for the same freedoms we as a Sikh American community also fight for – massacres his own innocent, unarmed countrymen, there is something seriously wrong. Such issues must be dealt with – they must be addressed and fixed.

Let us work together in solidarity to ensure that love prevails over hatred, and such tragedies never happen again.

We must stand up for each other, no community should be made to feel isolated and vulnerable in a society that values diversity and was founded by immigrants.

Haven’t we always been global and importing and exporting our products and knowledge overseas? Haven’t we received goods and knowledge from other countries and people of all faiths?  We are a global society, and all interdependent on each other.  May we learn sooner rather than later that we are all one… and each other’s keeper.

Rajinder Singh Mago

Trustee Emeritus, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

Member,  Sikh Religious Society (Palatine, IL, USA)

Co-Founder Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago

Experiencing the Hospitality of Sikhs

At the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, Sikhs served food to all who were hungry, a service called langar. Photo by Rowan Fairgrove.

by Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard
from Huffington Post

Twenty-five years ago, I worked in Walsall, England, in the West Midlands, near Birmingham. Birmingham is a city known for many things, including having the largest Sikh gudwara outside of India.

In Walsall, in Caldmore (called “Karma”), I worked with countless Sikh families and experienced incredible hospitality from all of them. I was moved by the family cohesiveness and equality expressed within the Sikh families with whom I worked. I had never known any Sikh families before I met those in Walsall.

In 2004, while attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain, the Sikh community at the Parliament hosted langar for thousands of us daily. We would enter a tent at lunch time, remove our shoes, put a covering on our heads and sit down with thousands of others to have a vegetarian meal. As a Presbyterian minister, I was struck by this hospitality to strangers. The Christian tradition speaks a great deal about hospitality, because Jesus was all about it: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Click here to read the full article

As A Sikh-American I Refuse To Live In Fear And Negativity

Photography credit to State of Formation

Simran Jeet Singh

by Simran Jeet Singh
from State of Formation

As a Sikh-American, I am absolutely heart-broken.

As soon as news broke about the massacre in Wisconsin, my parents called me to make sure I was safe. Our conversation was eerily similar to the moments immediately after 9/11.

After making sure I was safe, they asked me to be careful walking around the streets of New York City. They pointed out that: “You never know what someone might do.”

While I accepted their advice, their words crushed me.

As a Sikh, I believe that people are inherently good. Our faith instills a sense of perpetual optimism, and our traditions teach us to always make the best of a tough situation.

Fear and negativity are foreign to our vocabulary. Sikhs are not a God-fearing people; we are God-loving.

The commitment to love and optimism shapes the way that Sikhs interact with their societies, and I’m concerned that becoming cynical and negative might lead us down a slippery slope.

So I am making a conscious decision. I am refusing to accept that human beings are malicious and hateful, and I am rejecting the notion that we need to live in fear.

Click here to read full article

In Solidarity with the Sikh Community

All those associated with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions offer our deepest condolences for the members of the Sikh gurdwara of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and our heartfelt concern for the sense of anguish and loss being experienced throughout the Sikh community worldwide, in the wake of the senseless shooting on Sunday, August 5th.

Any act of violence is abhorrent. When it targets a religious community—in their sacred space, engaged in worship—it is especially difficult to fathom.

The Council joins the worldwide interreligious movement in recognizing all that the Sikh tradition engenders in its followers: the deep devotion, the ethical clarity, the sense of communal solidarity, and the unwavering belief that all human beings are equal in the sight of the divine. The origins of Sikhism had an interreligious dimension—in the founding mission of Guru Nanak—giving it a unique relevance and poignancy for the challenge of promoting harmony and understanding across diverse communities and traditions.

The fact that, in the first hours after the shooting, the news media struggled to describe Sikhism accurately speaks to the work that needs to be done by the interreligious movement in acquainting the wider public with the diversity of communities and traditions in their midst. Though such knowledge may not have deterred this gunman in his rampage, it can only help reduce the number of incidents of harassment and violence in the future.

The world should know that any person, Sikh or non-Sikh, is welcome at a gurdwara anywhere, to be received with graciousness, offered a meal, and shelter, if necessary. This sense of hospitality that the Sikh community embodies has had a profound impact on the mission and work of the Council. The generous offering of langar—a sacred, blessed meal central to its communal practice—by the Sikh community at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona is still remembered and cherished by all those who gathered for that event.

—Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions


“It is not an act of ‘random, senseless’ violence.  Sikhs, Muslims, Latinos and Africans are increasingly targets of rising hate in the United States. These attacks are sanctioned by a political culture that tolerates hate speech and promotes xenophobia. As hate is rising in the nation, it is critical that the forces of faith mediate anger into the positive energy of relationships. We must build a stronger interfaith movement for our children and the planet.   I stand in solidarity with our Sikh neighbors.”

—Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair, CPWR Board of Trustees


“My wholehearted sympathies and ardent prayers are with the innocent victims of senseless violence in the Sikh community in Wisconsin.”

—Dr. Robert Henderson, Vice Chair


“My heart and prayers go out to the families and the Sikh community. This hate and violence upon a peace loving community makes the work of the Parliament towards interreligious understanding and helping our country towards inclusive and caring community all the more urgent and important. I pledge my support.”

—Dr. Mary Nelson, Vice Chair


“Yesterday was a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but for all Americans. We need to re-double our efforts to promote mutual respect and understanding. In the midst of this anguish and pain, we must also pray for the family of the assailant.”

—Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Secretary







Including Ourselves: A Lesson from an Elevator-Ride

Photo Credit to State of Formation by Simran Jeet Singh
from State of Formation

It’s not uncommon for kids to ask their parents about “that thing” on my head.

In most instances, the parents look at me uncomfortably, embarrassed that I might be offended in some way. I’ll usually acknowledge their discomfort with an awkward smile before looking away and pretending not to notice as they try to discretely shush their kids.

But recently I had the most amazing experience. I walked into the elevator of my apartment building in Manhattan and — despite knowing New York etiquette — I couldn’t help but smile at the two little girls standing with their young mother. The girls were wearing matching, polka-dotted raincoats, and they were fully focused on not dropping their popsicles.

The older of the two girls must have sensed me enter the elevator, because she slowly shifted her neck to look up at me and gawked for a few seconds. She then turned to her mom and unabashedly shouted: “Hey Mom! What’s that thing on his head?!”

The young mother made eye contact with me and quickly checked to see if I was planning to respond. I flashed my standard awkward smile, and she returned an awkward smile of her own before totally catching me by surprise.

“That’s a turban.”

“Why does he wear it?”

“It’s part of his religion. Do you remember the boy in your class who wore a turban?”

“Yeah, he doesn’t cut his hair. He has really long hair. ”

I was shocked. I wanted to give everyone in the elevator a high-five, but remembering I was in New York, I tried to play it cool. I put on my Denzel Washington face (the coolest person I could think of on the spot), and as I walked out of the elevator, I turned to the mother and whispered a soft “thank you.”

Click here to read full article

My Neighbor’s Faith: Double-Edged Daggers

Valarie Kaur

Valarie Kaur

by Valarie Kaur
from Huffington Post

This essay is based on an excerpt from the author’s journal when she was sixteen years old.

Usually on Sunday mornings, my father’s outside on a tractor, my mother’s making aloo pronthas, my brother’s watching cartoons, and I’m sleeping in. Sometimes, my mother crams the whole family into Baba Ji’s room to sing shabads and recite Scripture together. But on this Sunday morning, my grandfather has asked me to come with him to the gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship some miles away. At sixteen years old, I dutifully follow.

I’m still rubbing the sleep from my eyes as I slip off my shoes. Wrapped in a long head scarf, I follow my grandfather inside. One step takes us from our small farming town in California’s Central Valley into an entire world transported from India.

Inside, the congregation sits on the floor. On the right, a sea of men in turbans of black, saffron, blue and red cloth; on the left, women in silk and cotton, solid-colored, tie-dyed and embroidered chunnis of all different colors draped over long braids and jooras. Children sit next to their mothers and fidgeted. A little boy runs around islands of praying people before escorted out to the jungle gym. The elderly lean against the walls, eyes closed; while the younger folks listen to the prayers, the older ones seem to reside within the prayers.

The whole room revolves around the sacred space that holds the “living Guru”: the 1,400 pages of Sikh verse known as Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The sacred book sits on a table draped in fine silvery blue cloths folded back to reveal the sacred lines of Gurmuki script whose poetry is read, sung and contemplated. Hanging from the ceiling over the sacred book is a magnificent blue canopy embroidered with a single brilliant character in Punjabi script, the first mysterious and profound word of our holy text. Ek Onkar: God is One. As ever, its two linked circles dropped from a top line, the stem connected those shoots up and umbrellas over in a long elegant stroke.

As I wait in line to bow my head before the Book, my eyes fall on the swords and daggers displayed at its base. Sikhs wielded these kirpans to defend the faith for hundreds of years in India, and I grew up hearing epic tales of battle and torture and martyrdom: Guru Arjan Ji tortured in a red hot caldron, Guru Gobind Ji’s young sons bricked in alive, Baba Deep Singh holding his own severed head in hand as he fought in battle. These blood-soaked legends of Sikhs resisting the Moghul empire came down to us as stories of resilience and sacrifice — our ancestors died so that we might live. The kirpans represent an enduring commitment to fight injustice and stand tall for faith and community. But it’s hard for me to eye the sharp edge. Sikh girls aren’t taught to fight like that. I drop my dollar on the pile of donations, close my eyes, bow my head to the floor and whisper the only words I can summon: Ek Onkar.

I follow my grandfather and sit with him on the men’s side — my modest act of defiance in a culture that too often divides women from men despite the Scripture’s teachings on equality. We listen to the granthis, singers flown from India to sing shabads from the Scriptures accompanied by the tabla and harmonium; their voices — sad, meditative and beseeching — rise, dip and waver. As the voices soar, I close my eyes and move into deep reflection.

Click here to read the full article