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Sikhism 101 by Nirinjan Singh Khalsa at Pacifica Institute, Los Angeles (October 2, 2012)

As a part of its embracing approach to interfaith issues, Pacifica Institute Los Angeles proudly hosted an enlightening interfaith conversation over Sikhism, on October 2nd. The event started with a remembrance and condolence on the tragic Wisconsin Sikh temple attack by Ozgur Koca, Adjunct Professor at Claremont Lincoln University. Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, effervescent representative of Sikh community for over 30 years now, took the stage to present not only a reflection on the current issues pertaining to his faith but an introduction to “the mystery of Sikhism”. To refer the faith as a mystery wouldn’t be an exaggeration as the speech also proved it right. The truth is that: American community, be they American citizens or immigrants, is not really acquainted with their next-door neighbors.

Much to everyone’s surprise, with 600.000 Sikhs nationwide and approximately 180.000 in Califoria, the States has a considerable number of Sikh populations for decades. However, as Khalsa put it, not until 9/11 attack did the States come to know the presence and foundations of this faith. His claims were confirmed by the audience admitting that he assumed Sikhism was a mere denomination of Islam until the attack and following chaos. Referring to 9/11 as a turning point in Sikh history in the States and in his journey as an active representative of his faith, Khalsa underlined that he took the initiative upon realization how little was known about his faith among his fellow citizens. “Sadly realizing the ignorance, I took the path to educate people as mocking people for their ignorance will take you nowhere. Now I and my friends take any door open to reach out and touch the people since 9/11".

Next, Khalsa briefly covered the basics and philosophy, which people generally conflate with Islam simply due to the attire, stressing Sikhism’s perspective on equality of all humankind, peaceful coexistence and monotheism with accepting of “the other.” To exemplify their readiness and appreciation to harmonize with an interfaith spirit, he called out his Christian friend’s name, Steve, and with the contribution by Steve, he portrayed how they collaborated in a humanitarian aid project and what they achieved in Golden Temple for human’s good. Khalsa’s statement as “It was amazing to see my interfaith brothers and sisters doing this” and the expression on his face explained the deep pleasure and contentment they had and will always have in engaging in interfaith missions.

Later, when elaborating on the basics and pillars of Sikhism, another surprisingly little know, fact was revealed when Khalsa mentioned their consultation between different faiths’ scripture. Besides, revered teachings and writings of saints of the time including Hindu, Sufi and Buddhist’s can be found in their scriptures. “Why? Because Sikhs do not believe that we have an exclusive license on God. We believe God created all humanity, all religions as different ways to relate and worship God. So, I have a way relating to God but it might not work for you. You have to decide on yours. Freedom to choose is the core value of Sikhism, for everyone regardless of their belief” continued Khalsa.

To sum up the event, Pacifica Institute seemed to have realized its mission of bringing people of interfaith together around the table of understanding. It was obvious from the atmosphere created by the bias free inquiries and reflections along speech and warmly expressed follow-up remarks. Moreover, it was a delight to witness the interaction between the speaker and the audience through inquisitively directed questions back and forth thereby giving the sense of a transformation the mindsets.

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