The Kara is a steel bangle worn by male and female Sikhs. It is one of the five external articles of faith that identify Sikhs to the outside world. It is in the shape of a circle because, like the eternal Lord, it has no beginning or end. The Kara is a constant reminder to me to do God’s work as a Sikh disciple, and it keeps the mission of performing righteous actions as advocated by the Guru (spiritual teacher/saint) in the forefront of my mind each day.
On the way home from the Interfaith Youth Core winter training I attended for fellows alliance members, I lost my Kara in the airport. Though it may sound silly, this got me thinking about one of the main ‘fears’ I have encountered doing my interfaith work: is my commitment to interfaith action chipping away at my faith identity and watering it down?
I contemplated this on the plane ride home. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in fact the opposite is occurring: my commitment to interfaith work has greatly strengthened my relationship to my own faith of Sikhism. I thought back to the times this year when I served others, and how much more inspired I was to serve others after thinking of service as an interfaith experience. One of the central tenets of Sikhism is the importance of serving others, and Sikhs throughout the world are famous for hosting frequent and generous free meal programs (langar). Interacting with members of other faiths and acting as spokesperson for the interfaith movement on my campus, has forced me to become more familiar with aspects of my faith I had forgotten or lost touch with in the course of my college years, as others have inquired about my personal faith beliefs constantly since I began my fellowship.
Anxiety slowly turned into a deep contentment. A smile came to my face as my thoughts turned to interfaith Sikh leaders such as Guru Nanak and the Siri Singh Sahib. Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh religion, was famous for building bridges between Hindus and Muslims in India. He incorporated the writings of famous Muslim and Hindu theologians in the primary scripture of Sikhism, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The Siri Singh Sahib (1929-2004) was the first to spread Sikh teachings to the West, and my parents were some of his many followers during the counterculture movement in the 1960s. He served on countless interfaith panels throughout his lifetime, and even met with Pope Paul VI and urged him to take the lead in creating an intentionally interfaith space where leaders of the major faiths could meet to convene on important issues. At that moment, I felt the peaceful and beautiful presence of these saints smiling down upon me.
Interfaith action does not necessitate compromising one’s values. It does not mean that we must become a “melting pot” of religious watered-down religious values in order to reach a consensus. Instead, we can maintain the beautiful diversity of our unique faith traditions, while engaging with members of all and no faith backgrounds over common values of service to others, greatly enhancing our global impact for good and lessening violence and conflict between adherents of different faith communities.
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 organizes large-scale interfaith events and service projects at Ohio University, and promotes a climate of religious pluralism via social media outreach and engagement with the press.