Opinion Columns & Blogs

Sikhing to learn

A hate monger entered a Sikh temple and started shooting; he was finally killed by the police. He didn’t know he gave his life for his own stupidity.

I’ve heard it many times: “towelheads.” With derogatory intent, an intolerant word meaning “Arab.” Ignorance won the day; the killer didn’t know Sikh’s wear a turban, though it looks nothing like Arab headwear. It’s a perfect example of the thoughtless fear underlying racist attitudes.

We’ve seen it before when our Chinese immigrants became targets after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Vigilantes not only confused Chinese for Japanese, they didn’t know the Chinese held little love for their neighbors to the East. For centuries animosity existed between China and Japan.

Since the 9/11 attack, hate crimes against Sikhs have risen significantly. Here in America, most citizens know little about Sikhs though they have walked among us for more than a century. Knowledge can defeat fear and hatred. Sikhs are from the Punjab region of India and are the fifth-largest religious tradition in the world. “Sikh” means “disciple” or “He wishes to learn.” Education is important to Sikhs, as the word “Sikh” affirms.

Five hundred years ago a guru named Nanak taught followers values to live proper, successful lives. Later gurus added more teachings and principles for faithful, godly living. Gurus teach there is only one God who, with his will, created the universe. God dwells within everyone, offering hope that the most evil among us is capable of change.

There are no rules or laws, only scriptures showing people how to make right and ethical choices in life. There is no fasting or asceticism with Sikhs. They remain solidly involved with struggles of daily living. They will not shun the rewards of success or the comforts of life. Salvation is not incompatible with any joy or financial reward for a successful life. It is, however, a vice to be attached to things of this world.

Excelling at everything they do testifies to the worthiness of the principles they believe; accomplishment is the goal. They should be an example; be a better mechanic, a better businessman, a better social worker. A faithful Sikh has a charge to work for his living and to maintain a very high work ethic. He must never be a burden to society.

They are dedicated to helping the needy and are asked to offer 10 percent of their income as a tithe. They preach democracy and freedom of religion. Virtually every value, principle and ethic that most Christians and Jews hold are found in the Sikh belief system and even in their understanding of God. Sikhs promote the equality of men and women. Guru Nanak asks, “Why call her inferior, who gives birth to kings?”

To remind every Sikh of their teachings, the gurus have given them five symbols of their faith to keep with them -- the five “k’s.” The Kesh, uncut hair, is a symbol of holiness and strength in many cultures. The Kara is a bracelet; its circle testifies God has no beginning or end. A wooden comb called Kanga symbolizes a clean mind and body. The Kachha, special underwear, is a symbol of chastity. The Kirpan is a ceremonial sword.

Since carrying a sword would not be appropriate in most societies today, Sikhs may wear a smaller sword pin to remind them their charge to protect their neighbors and all victims of tyranny.

Sikhs attempt to accommodate, while limiting their assimilation into the region or country where they live. They identify with their country, but not to the point of sacrificing their values, morals or heritage. An Australian Sikh considers himself Australian.

Should you see a man adorning the Sikh turban, greet him “Hello Mr. Singh.” Nearly every Sikh bears the surname “Singh.” Every time I have done so, and he discovers we have never met, he cheerfully grinned, delighted I knew something of his culture and religion.

Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. He writes every other week for The Telegraph.