Posts Tagged ‘ Sikhism ’

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

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Baisakhi Festival: Sikhs Pray For World Peace, Porous Borders

By Maha Mussadaq for The Express Tribune

Tears gushed down Supreet Kaur’s face as she stared at the shrine of Punja Sahib and prayed for less stringent border controls so she can visit Hassan Abdal every year for Baisakhi. The three-day festival ended on Friday.

Wiping her tears with her veil Kaur said that her ‘mannat’ — a prayer that she hopes will be answered by visiting the shrine this year — is that people around the world live as one and all borders become porous. “I want the world to live in harmony and peace. So far all my prayers have come true and I am sure this one will as well”

Supreet was not the only one to wish for easier access to the shrine. Thousands of pilgrims who came for Baisakhi prayed for a change in visa policy for Sikhs so that they are able to visit the shrine any time of the year. Some pilgrims complained about acquiring a letter of invitation from either family or friends in Pakistan for their visa.

Rajpal Singh said that it was unfortunate that many Sikhs could not visit Pakistan because of the restrictions. “Both governments should devise a verification system so that Sikhs can cross the border for religious rituals. Even a permit would be fine,” Rajpal added. “I want these restrictions to come to an end so we can visit other shrines in Pakistan, such as Baba Buleh Shah’s,” Supreet said.

Baisakhi is an annual event which holds a very special place in the lives of Sikhs. The day marks the beginning of the new solar year. It also marks the formation of Khalsa (the pure one). Sikhs believe that it was on this day in 1699 when the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh declared all human beings as equal.

On Baisakhi, traditions of Gurus were compiled by Sikhs. Guru Granth Sahib was established as their eternal guide and the holy book. Punja Sahib is one of the three holiest shrines for Sikhs because of a large rock bearing an imprint of Guru Nanak’s hand or punja, founder of the Sikh religion. Sikhs swim across the stream, making a wish as they touch the imprint.

Security

Due to security fears, Sikhs could not leave Punja Sahib without permission. Some 3,000 Rangers had been deployed by the Punjab government in and around the premises.

Arrangements

Approximately 8,000 Sikhs came to Punja Sahib this year for the annual Baisakhi festival. Singh said that he was extremely satisfied with the arrangements and was happy to see the hospitality of the Pakistani government. However, Major Singh, 67, said both governments should improve facilities offered to pilgrims, including operational bathrooms and lights in trains.

Thousands of pilgrims were accommodated inside the gurdawara like every year. A huge portion of Punja Sahib is still under construction but most pilgrims were satisfied with the rooms provided.

Approximately, 2,300 Sikhs travelling from India have been accommodated in more than 400 rooms in Punja Sahib. Paramjeet Singh laughingly said just sleeping under a shade at Punja Sahib is more relaxing than any other place in the world. “It’s not about my physical needs; I am spiritually satisfied.”

Business opportunities
A large number of men and women had set up their stalls at the back of the gurdwara. Hindu vendor, Inder Kaur had come from Sindh to sell jewellery made in Mumbai. He said merchants make approximately Rs25,000 in three days. “I love shopping here because they sell items such as clothes or even bindia that we do not get in Pakistan,” said Kalvinder Kaur, who was buying bangles from Inder.

Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney General Works Off Taliban’s Sins at Gurdwaras and Shrines

By Rakhi Chakrabarty for Aman Ki Asha

A man in a maroon kurta sits hunched on the floor on Sunday afternoon,polishing the shoes of devotees at a room in Delhi’s Gurdwara Rakabganj.
It’s a common sight in gurdwaras, except that this man is Pakistan’s deputy attorney general, Muhammad Khurshid Khan, who had requested he be allowed to perform seva (community service) at the shrine.

Khan, 62, is an eminent lawyer and a devout Muslim from Pakistan’s Peshawar province. He was recently in Delhi for a judicial conference. “I have been very keen to visit various places of worship here to promote harmony between India and Pakistan,” says Khan.
Khan’s tryst with temples and gurdwaras began in 2010 to “heal the wounds of minorities in Pakistan by becoming their sevadar (performer of service)”.

For him, it was a “penance” for crimes committed by the Taliban. In February that year, the Taliban had kidnapped three Sikhs from Peshawar and demanded a $235,000 ransom. Pakistan army rescued two of them, but the third, Jaspal Singh, was beheaded by the captors. It was after the killing, that Khan first performed service at a gurdwara in Peshawar. “I seek harmony among all religions,” says Khan, citing Pakistan’s pluralistic heritage.

“I am a Muslim, not a terrorist; I am a Khan, not a terrorist; I am from Pakistan, but not a terrorist.” This is Pakistani deputy attorney general Muhammad Khurshid Khan’s humble submission as he visits gurdwaras across New Delhi and performs seva (community service).
The Taliban, he says, has plundered Pakistan’s pluralistic heritage. “But I want to tell the world it’s unfair to tarnish a whole community for the sins of a few,” says the Pakhtoon who ran for Pakistan’s National Assembly twice.

In Delhi for a conference (along with some 200 members of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan), Khan, accompanied by Surinder Singh, a Delhi-based businessman whose father was a comrade of Subhas Chandra Bose, polished shoes at Gurdwara Sisganj and visited Birla Temple and Hanuman Mandir.

Khan told TOI that he turned to other faiths after the Taliban beheaded Jaspal Singh in Peshawar in February 2010. “When I visited the house of Jaspal, I was filled with remorse.” The killing weighed on his conscience.

He was perturbed that violence in the name of Islam brought a bad name not only to Muslims and Pakistan but also to his people, the Pakhtoons.
The next day, he went to Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh in Peshawar and sat on the steps. He could hear the chants wafting out of the shrine. “I felt peace,” he says.The lawyer started reading about Guru Nanak and approached a member of the gurdwara management committee to allow him the opportunity for seva. After discussions, the gurdwara management committee allowed to perform seva.

“For two months, I went to the gurdwara daily before the maghrib azaan (call to prayer at sunset) and polished shoes of devotees. Sevadari is ibaadat (worship),” he says.In Delhi, Khan also went to Jantar Mantar in the hope of meeting Anna. He sent his visiting card and waited for close to an hour but could not meet Anna. But he left the place “charmed”. “It is amazing. This is democracy,” he said.
On his way back to Pakistan, he will visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar for the ‘Jora Ghar Seva (polishing shoes of devotees). He had written to PM Manmohan Singh last year to allow him a chance to perform seva at Amritsar.

“I am yet to get a reply,” he said.He has performed similar service at Hindu temples and joins church prayers every Sunday in Pakistan. “I live in a rigid society. But the ulema have never criticised me. The Hadees says anything good must be spread all around,” said Khan.
His gesture has been appreciated by Muslims and as well as religious minorities in Pakistan.

India Link in US: Nikki Haley Creates History as First Woman Governor

As Reported by The Hindustan Times

Parents of both Nikki Randhawa Haley, who on Tuesday won the governor’s election in South Carolina, and Bobby Jindal, the other Indian American governor of Lousiana, were born to immigrants from Punjab. Nikki Haley is the first woman and the second person of Indian origin after Bobby Jindal to become governor in the US. Jindal won the top job in Louisiana state in 2007.

While Nikki’s father Ajit Singh came to the US from Amritsar, Bobby Jindal’s (who name before his conversion to Christianity was Piyush Amrit Jindal) father Amar Jindal came from Malerkotla, not far from Amritsar.

Nikki’s victory is another sweet moment for Amritsar because the first Indian American Congressman Dalip Singh Saund, who served three terms (1957-1963) in the US Congress from California, also came from that city, the home of the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s most famous shrine.

Nikki, whose family is running a garment showroom called Exotica International in West Columbia since 1976, has been serving as a legislator in the South Carolina state assembly since 2004.

“I don’t do anything halfway – I’m in this race to win,” Nikki had told IANS in July taking time off her busy campaign for raising money.

“I am confident that come November, the people of South Carolina will send me to the Governor’s Mansion.

“When they (voters) do, I will immediately get to work to give them progress that makes them proud.”

Asked whether her Sikh background will matter in the race, she had said,”What matters most in South Carolina – and I imagine elsewhere in the country – is not the personalities of the candidates but the message they carry.

“Our message of bringing good government back to the people of this state, creating jobs by reforming our tax code so it’s flatter and fairer, and reminding government of the value of a dollar resonates with all the people of this state.

“I am very proud of my background and how I was raised. Just as in 2004 (when her opponents had raised the issue of background) I will hold my head up high and focus on what I can do for the people of this state.”

Nikki beat Democrat Vincent Sheheen who tried to steal her conservative agenda by projecting himself as “pro-life, pro-gun rights and pro-jobs”.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s  Note 11/03/2010We at Pakistanis for Peace want to congratulate Nikki Haley for winning the governorship of South Carolina in a very tough and hard fought race. Both as an American as well as ethnically being a person from the Indian subcontinent aka Desi, we are proud to see her elected to serve as governor, despite disagreeing with her party on many issues.

Her rise as well as that of Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana to the top of American politics is a source of pride for all Desis, be they Indian, Pakistani, Bengali, etc. We invite people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds to join our Facebook group at Pakistanis for Peace and strengthen those who support peace between India and Pakistan and around the world. To join, clik  http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=37793413510&v=wall

A Muslim’s Prayer for Peace and Religious Tolerance

Merciful God, You made all of the people of the world in Your own image and placed before us the pathway of salvation through different Preachers who claimed to have been Your Saints and Prophets. But, the contradictions in their teachings and interpretations of them have resulted in creating divisions, hatreds and bloodshed in the world community. Millions of innocent men, women and children have so far been brutally killed by the militants of several religions who have been committing horrifying crimes against humanity, and millions more would be butchered by them in the future, if You do not help us find ways to reunite peacefully.

In the name of God, The Compassionate, The Merciful, look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the controversial teachings of arrogance, divisions and hatreds which have badly infected our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; reunite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish Your purposes on earth; that, in Your good time, all nations and races may jointly serve You in justice, peace and harmony. (Amen)

-Pakistanis for Peace, September 11, 2010

Pakistan and India- The Love-Hate Relationship of Two Brothers

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Since the bitter partition that resulted in the creation of Pakistan and India in 1947, and three subsequent wars with each other, not to mention countless near incidents, the two neighbors have not had an easy relationship, to say the least.

However, mixed in with fear and hatred towards each other is a fascination and affinity to the arch rival on the other side of the Line of Control. In fact, one could say that the two have a love-hate relationship with each other. The recent wedding of Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik to Indian tennis sensation Sania Mirza is an indication to the amount of interest and hype given to the couple in media from both sides of the border, making them instantly one of the hottest and most talked about young couples in this Bollywood and glamour obsessed culture.

In Pakistani schools, children are taught very little if anything at all about Pakistan’s pre-Islamic history. Instead the children are told of the glories of the Muslim Caliphate from the time of the prophet Mohammed and then the grand rule of the Moguls of India with the construction of immortal buildings like the Taj Mahal in Agra, or the Badshahi Masjid and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, all three built on the Islamic style of architecture. Not very much emphasis is given to the great contributions that the people of present day Pakistan made as Hindus for centuries prior to the arrival of Islam in the subcontinent.

Criticisms abound by Muslims that in India, Muslim contributions to modern India are down played or not explored in the manner they are deserved. However, In Pakistan it is well documented those Pakistani textbooks not only do not teach about Hindu history and achievements, they actually teach hatred against India and Hindus. There is an underlying culture of hate and inequality based on religious grounds that permeates in the society despite Islam teaching respect for all religions and faiths. It’s as if thinking of someone as a polytheist makes them less equal as a human.

The mindset becomes that these non believers are infidels and this somehow makes it easy to dehumanize them or in some way think them to be inferior to you as a human being. Even the current terrorism situation in Pakistan has its roots in this culture of hate and to some level a dehumanization of people of other faiths, especially non-Abrahamic like Hinduism or Buddhism. To not recognize that ancient Indian/Hindu history is also the history of Pakistan does a great injustice to the shared history of one of the most ancient of cultures.

The natural history of this region shows that the origins of the Indian/Pakistani civilization go back to the end of the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago, making this one of the oldest civilizations of the ancient world. This area of the world is a place which gave the world not only Hinduism, but also Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and other religions and has been a source of spiritual inspiration since the earliest of times. But maybe even more important than the contributions in the field of religion are the ancient civilization’s gifts to science and medicine.

Albert Einstein once said “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.” Indeed, Indian civilization is credited with the creation of the decimal number system, the binary numbering system, negative number, the origins of algebra, and even the all important concept mathematically of zero came from ancient Indian mathematicians.

Archaeologically, India has the most extensive and continuous record of all ancient civilizations, much more than Egypt, Sumeria or Mesopotamia of the same time periods. The ruins in Mohenjo-Daro and Taxila in modern day Pakistan point to the fact that there was a very advanced civilization present here and even the beginnings of one of the early urban settlements of the ancient world as they were remarkably constructed, considering its antiquity. Taxila is also the site of what is believed to be the first university or school of higher learning in the ancient world.

Also the ancient Vedic literature is the largest in the ancient world and contains thousands upon thousands of pages dwarfing what little has been successfully preserved by the rest of the world. This literature contains profound spiritual concepts, skills in mathematics, astronomy and medicine. Sanskrit is the mother of all European languages and Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine known to man.

Indian culture not only gave the world the game of chess, but was also was a place where some of the earliest innovations in the fields of surgery and advanced dentistry were developed as there is evidence of complex dental procedures being performed in the Indus valley some 8,000 years ago!

The celebrated American author Mark Twain once famously said of India that “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most constructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.” And not so long ago, in a statement made by China’s former ambassador to the US, Hu Shih stated that “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.” This is further validated by the fact that the Indian civilization is considered unique in that it never invaded any country in the last 10,000 years of its history!

By denying its centuries old Hindu/Indian ancestry and history, modern day Pakistan is willfully abandoning its participation and hand in some of the greatest contributions made by one civilization to mankind. Not teaching children the importance of the pre-Islamic history and beginnings of what is now Pakistan is actually a disservice to its people. Also, since the ancestors of all Pakistanis were at some point or another Indian Hindus, disrespecting Hinduism and pre-Islamic Indian culture in essence disrespects one’s own ancestors!

Pakistan can learn a great deal from its ancient brother in the fields of democracy, constitutional freedoms, economic empowerment and technological advancements. A culture of hate has only bred more hate that has now begun to consume internally a nation that has for too long wearily looked outside to its larger neighbor as its chief enemy, instead of as a brother.

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