Being a Sikh Vl – Amarjit Singh
by Misha Kapany Schwarz
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in a village in Punjab, and I was raised there too. The village was called Sahnewal.
What made you become a Sikh?
I was born as a Sikh, so everything that comes to me comes through my family.
What are the core ideals of the religion or what do you like about Sikhism?
There’s a lot, but the main thing is the three messages of Guru Nanak. 1) Naam Japna-meditation of God and remembering the One Eternal God. 2) Kirat Karni- to honestly earn ones living by physical and mental effort, and to stay truthful. 3) Vand Chakna- Share wealth within the community
How does being Sikh affect your everyday life?
Basically it depends on the individual. Any belief that a person keeps in high regard will direct their life. Whatever beliefs they have will affect their lives accordingly.
What does it mean to you to be a Sikh?
You always learn through your life. Being a Sikh is about understanding in advance. Due to changing technology and migrating communities, we must be clear in our message, and show on the outside what we feel on the inside. It is my duty to spread that message, and keep that message alive.
Have you ever had to deal with racial profiling and/or prejudice?
Yes, but this is a good thing, and the reason for that is, it spreads the message about who Sikhs are. Sikhs are always patted down at airports, but now Sikhs requested for the TSA to have a private area to be pat down in their turbans. I haven’t felt anything like that since I’ve been in America for the last 3.5 years.
Is it difficult being a Sikh and living in America?
No, because after 9/11 Sikhs have faced many problems in America and throughout the world, and people are trying to understand about the Sikh faith. I think that it’s not difficult here, you have freedom of speech and right to practice religion and faith, so I don’t think there is any problem in that.
After 9/11 have there been any mistaken accusations of Sikhs?
Yes, there were many mistaken accusations after 9/11. In those days I was teaching in England. I heard many comments and I heard about shootings of Sikhs in New York. All of this was because of a mistake in identity of the Sikh faith. President Bush has done a lot for the Sikh community by doing research about the Sikh faith, and that makes a big difference. Now people understand that Sikhs are a different culture and a different faith.
How do you practice Sikhism in America?
I do it in the same way they do in India. In India we have gurdwaras, and we have gurdwaras here too. We have freedom of practice here too. We celebrate festivals, gurus birthdays, and have other religious and cultural programs. The other benefit of practicing in America is we have included the white community, so now they have an idea of who Sikhs are. So it actually makes more sense practicing Sikhism here, because we have a multicultural community.
Are there many events in the Sikh community in America? Can you tell us about these events and/or festivals?
There are always events held in India that are also celebrated here. The birthdays of the Sikh Gurus, Vaisakhi, and there are also some Hindu festivals which Sikhs have been celebrating too, like Lori in the month of January. Vaisakhi is the main Sikh festival though. It is the time for the harvest season in India, and people celebrate it in full charm, and also on this day Guru Gobind Singh baptized the Sikhs for the first time in 1669.
Do you visit gurudwaras often? Why or why not?
Yes, there are many reasons for visiting gurdwaras. The first is when you go to gurdwara you get to know the congregation. You can’t get the congregation everyday at your home. It starts at 5:30 in the morning and lasts until 8:30 in the evening. If you go to page 94 of the Guru Granth Sahib, it tells you more about the importance of going to the gurdwara. Without seeing the guru, sleep doesn’t come, or at least that’s the belief of the 4th guru. Everyone is welcome to the gurdwara. That’s how the adults perceive the importance of the gurdwara. But the kids, we need to show them etiquette. They sweep the floors; clean the walls, wash the dishes, and serve in the kitchen area. It’s the parent’s duty to teach them the importance of gurdwara. That’s why I visit too.
How can Sikhs educate Americans about Sikhism, and/or prevent discrimination against Sikhs?
The main thing is the attittude of gurdwaras, and involving other communities. We invite American and white communities to our program, and we visit their programs as well. I always to go the Thanksgiving and Easter celebration at the church, and then I invite them to our celebrations at the gurdwaras. With this education, discrimination will be washed away automatically.
Is there a problem with the Sikh youth today?
Fremont, San Jose, Fresno we have a lot of Sikh population. But in the remote population, such as Redding, not a lot of people know about Sikhism. The problem with Sikh youth here is that there isn’t a lot of them, and they tend to feel out of place.
How can we educate the youth about Sikhism?
The parents must teach them etiquettes at home, and the community (the people that run the gurdwaras) must do their job as well. Every gurdwara started giving free Punjabi learning classes and free Sikh faith classes in the evening. So in the evening and weekends after regular school, the kids can come here and delve into their culture. We can organize camps for them, and take them out for a tour, and use types of leisure activities to teach Sikhism, so they don’t get bored.
How does Sikhism affect your profession?
I am a Head Priest for the Sikh Center, and I also coordinate outreach. The main thing in that is I have a good knowledge of both Punjabi and English, so I reach out to schools in the local areas. If I am doing a sewa in the langar halls, its giving me refinement and eliminate any bad thing in my mind separating rich and poor, low and high. We must always recognize the human ways as one. It makes me want to change the community in a different way, and make us one. Whatever beliefs you have will affect your life accordingly.
Do you think the dress code is still prevalent here in America compared to Punjab?
There are many religious places in the world which have turbans, but for Sikhs tying turbans has a different meaning. It comes from Guru Nanak’s time. No Sikhs cut their hair, so to keep their style they have a nicely tied turban to keep their hair contained. It’s like a crown for a Sikh. Removing a Sikhs turban is disgraceful and disregarding their beliefs, so that’s the importance of turban, and people should respect that.