My name is Guru Amrit Khalsa, and I self-identify as a Sikh. I am ethnically Jewish, but my parents (who were hippies at the time) converted to the Eastern religion of Sikhism in the 1970s, before I was born. I was raised in an American Sikh ashram near Washington D.C. During middle school, I spent three years at a boarding school in Amritsar, India, where many American Sikh parents send their children in order to receive an authentic experience in the Sikh religion and to study yoga and meditation. The great spiritual passion and liveliness I witnessed in the Sikhs of India had a profound effect on me; it was unlike anything I had witnessed in the U.S. I had many intense and beautiful spiritual experiences while I was in India, through meditation and other spiritual practices. Visiting the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, led to a deep peacefulness within me, and I often felt a direct connection with God throughout this time in my life.
As countless people tell me, it is rare to meet a “white” Sikh. Growing up, my parents required me to wear a turban when attending religious services and at other activities. The turban, plus my unconventional name, was more than enough to separate me from my peers in ways that I could not overcome at the time. The isolation I felt because of this caused me to feel two contradictory emotions at once: to rip off the turban and have the look of “fitting in” with my peers, and to express a dogmatic version of my faith to affirm my religious identity and my intense connection with God in an environment where no one else seemed to understand. This personal experience caused me to become interested in examining the link between feelings of isolation from the rest of society and leanings toward extremism in religious young people of all faiths who commit violent acts in the name of God. I believe that interfaith cooperation may be just the answer here, in its capacity to allow those of all and no faith backgrounds to come together to promote positive change in their communities and on a global scale, making youth feel part of something as opposed to fringed out, and strengthening their connection with their faith through service to others, as opposed to violence to outsiders.
There are countless examples of theology, scripture and personal leadership among Sikhs actively encouraging interfaith cooperation. Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was the first recognized leader of the Sikh religion. His followers included both Muslims and Hindus, and Guru Nanak is famous for beginning his mission by stating, “There is no Hindu. There is no Muslim.” The primary scripture of Sikhism, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, incorporates the writing of famous Sufi Islamic authors, such as Kabir. To this day Sikhism recognizes the validity of other paths, and acknowledges that there is more than one path to God. The Siri Singh Sahib (Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, 1929-2004) followed in Guru Nanak’s footsteps, spreading the teachings of Sikh Dharma to people living in the United States. The Siri Singh Sahib met with major leaders of every religious faith throughout his lifetime. He served on the religious panels of many inter-religious councils and forums, and met with Pope Paul VI, urging him to create a gathering for leaders of all world religions to come together in understanding. It is the noble precedent set by Guru Nanak and other Sikh leaders following him that remains in my mind’s eye, and in my heart as the example I wish to follow in the work I do.
I believe that in order to combat complex and daunting issues on the global horizon such as overpopulation, scarcity of resources, global warming and massive poverty, cooperation and coordination among the world’s religious communities will be absolutely essential. It will be impossible for any one group to solve these problems on their own, and a common thread throughout various traditions is the call to serve others. Though there is severe conflict throughout the world today where religion plays a major role, from the Middle East to central Asia, from North Africa to the Balkans, I believe that it is only a matter of time before cooperation among members of different faiths as opposed to vicious conflict becomes the social norm. We can demonstrate this for others to follow, at Ohio University and at universities across the country, proving to the world that it is indeed possible. The time is now. Join the movement, and prove that we’re Better Together.
Guru Amrit Khalsa is a senior at Ohio University majoring in journalism, with a concentration in world religions and global leadership. She is the treasurer of Interfaith Impact, and is completing a fellowship with the Interfaith Youth Core this year, where she will organize large-scale interfaith events and service projects at Ohio University, and promote a climate of religious pluralism via social media outreach.