The room was downstairs in the basement. The stairs leading downstairs were very NARROW and had to carefully walk down. Waheguru. I introduced myself to everyone and sat down. I noticed that not all the religions were represented. There was a girl from China who worked with the Church of England as youth worker, the Somali Youth Forum - a group of young Somali Muslims, an Arab Muslim student, young people from Unification Church and Daas representing Sikhs (later on Raghbir Singh and Ravjeet Singh joined us).
All the people at the meeting were somehow involved in YOUTH PROJECTS and striving for WORLD-PEACE or better understanding. It was the first time I have actually met Somali youth (I see many Somali people in Southall but never been in a situation where I have talked to them and discussed things). I was pleasantly taken aback that the Somali Youth Forum were very friendly, open, and warm to others.
The day began with short presentations on living in society and practicing your religion from each of the represented religions. First of all the Chinese Christian girl from the Church of England began by sharing her story of how she became a Christian. It was very interesting and heart-moving to see her pyaar (love) for Waheguru. China is a communist country, so she said that in school they were taught that God does not exist and that religion is bad. The communists would teach the world is NOT CREATED and that the highest thing in this world is COMMUNISM (- it sounded very depressing!).
As I was sitting there it reminded me of the story of HARNAAKASH, a story of a king who believed he was higher than God, which is mentioned in Gurbaani. However, she had doubts. She would look deep within herself and she looked around her and she said that she knew that a Divine Being, a Divine Creator dwelled in the world and was the Creator of Everything. She was also influenced by Buddhist teachings which taught about Karma (the value of actions) and the Cycle of Life. Eventually she met some Christians whom she felt comfortable with and liked their views. So she became involved with them and ended up becoming a Christian and moving to England as part of a Youth Project scheme. She was very happy and throughout the whole talk and day, she had a BIG SMILE on her face and looked very happy.
Afterwards I spoke. As I stood up I noticed that everyone was staring at my Kirpaan and the organiser and the Somali Youth Forum people looked DAZED and from their faces looked bit scared. Poor people. Realizing that people are feeling uncomfortable with my Kirpaan, I thought I would try to break the ice and keep the talk simple and try to address why Sikhs wear the Kirpaan. Below is a brief summary of the short-talk I gave:
I am a Sikh. A Sikh is a follower of the Sikh religion. The founder and our Guru, Master, is Guru Nanak Sahib jee. We have Ten Masters and after the Tenth, Sri Guru Granth Sahib jee, the Divine Sacred Scripture is the Guru. Our Guru teaches a simple message of living in harmony with the Will of God, remembering the God and recognising that God is within all and everything - "See God IN ALL, or not at all all."
A Sikh lives by three main principles: (1) KIRAT KARNAA - living and working honestly (2) VANDD CHHAKNAA - sharing with others, whether it be time, money, love, or food, and (3) NAAM JAPNAA - constantly living in the divine remembrance of God and being conscious of God throughout our day and life.
After September 11th the Sikhs were mistaken to be part of the TALIBAN and became victims of hate crimes. You may be sitting here and thinking why we wear turbans and why a minority of ignorant people may mistake us for terrorists. There are some similarities between the Taliban and Sikhs. (1) Both Sikh men and the Taliban have BEARDS, (2) both Sikhs and the Taliban wear TURBANS, and (3) both Sikhs and the Taliban are willing to DIE for their BELIEFS and PRINCIPLES. However, there is a fundamental difference. That is that a Sikh is also willing to die for ANOTHER's right of beliefs, a Sikh is willing to lay down his or her life for a non-Sikh.
Sikh's wear the 5K's uniform. A Sikh lives in the GRACE and GLORY of God. For this reason in following the Laws of Nature a Sikh maintains his or her hair. The hair is tied at the top of the head for alertness and tidiness. To protect the hair and head a TURBAN is donned by a Sikh. (1) It maintains dignity of the hair, (2) protects the head, and (3) is a SPIRITUAL CROWN reminding a Sikh that he or she sits on the throne of consciousness, committed to higher principles. Furthermore, to keep the hair groomed and healthy we keep a SMALL WOODEN COMB always with us, placed in the hair knot.
We wear an IRON BANGLE on our arm which is a physical reminder of our duty to our Master and to the Almighty. If someone commits theft, one uses their HANDS. If someone feeds the poor, it is with one's hands. So with these hands we can do good or bad. Some Christians wear a bracelet which says "W.W.J.D.", which stands for "WHAT WOULD JESUS DO". Our bracelet is a physical reminder that we are BOUND to our PRINCIPLES, bound to God who is forever with us and bound to the Truth.
Underneath we wear LONG SHORTS which is practical clothing and also represents SELF-CONTROL and DIGNITY.The SWORD you see I am wearing is part of our religious uniform, it is an Article of Faith. It is NOT an offensive weapon. If anyone has visited the High Court building you will see the statue of LADY JUSTICE. She has her arm up holding a SWORD and the other arm is down holding a WEIGHING SCALE. The sword represents TRUTH & JUSTICE and the weighing scale represents IMPARTIALITY of the law. Similarly the Kirpaan, represents Truth & Justice and is a PROTECTIVE TOOL. A Sikh is a Guardian of the Truth, Defender of Righteousness and is a SPIRITUAL WARRIOR whose mission is to SERVE GOD through serving His Creation and stand up for the Truth.
As you can see the Sikh Articles of Faith are physical manifestations of the Sikh message of living in the Grace of God, being alert, standing up for Truth & Justice, doing the right actions and living in dignity.
Amnesty International (non-govt. international body for human rights) recognises Guru Tegh Bahadar Sahib jee, the Ninth Master of the Sikhs as the FIRST PERSON in the known history who gave his life for ANOTHER'S freedom and rights. This is the foundation of world peace. To recognise we are different and NOT the same. However, to respect our differences, to give each and everyone DIGNITY and to recognise the Divine Light within all.
To end with I would like to share that recently I was walking through Paddington Train Station and a man who was slightly tipsy (slightly drunk) came up to me. He was eating KFC fries and was wearing a suit. I am usually weary of strangers who approach me however he looked smart and dressed in a suit. He put out his arm and wanted to handshake me. I shook his hand and then he said, "GOOD LUCK." I looked puzzled but he again smiled and said "Good luck". I asked him "Good luck for what?" He replied, "I saw you and wanted to come and say GOOD LUCK IN YOUR MISSION. Aren't you part of those People who want to make the world A BETTER PLACE and strive to make the world happier." I was taken back. He warmly smiled and said, "I wanted to wish you all the best in this mission."
This was a nice reminder and inspiration which reminded me of what a Sikh means, as everyday a Sikh prays: Naanak naam chaRdikala, Tere bhaaNe sarbat da bhallaa - "O Nanak! May the Name of the Lord flourish, and may the whole humanity benefit and prosper within Your Will."
The response to the talk was good. In between the talk people asked questions and shared their comments. From the frightened faces (at the start) they were now all SMILING and looking HAPPY. Afterwards a girl from the Unification Church shared her religious experiences, followed by a boy from the Somali Youth Forum who shared his experiences (which were sadly mostly negative) about being Somali and Muslim in Britain.
We broke up into small groups and had discussions on our religious experiences of following a religion and living in this society. In these smaller groups the Somalis asked me further about Kesh, wearing a Dastaar, intoxicants, arranged marriages, meaning of Kirpaan, gender-equality, and prayer. It was good to see everyone LISTENING to one another's viewpoints and really APPRECIATING each other. The Somalis talked about their lack of representation in this country, their struggle to wear the hijaab amongst racism, pressures of society to drink alcohol etc. The Christians talked about marriage, relationships, peer pressure to fit in with society's norms and culture at school etc. The conclusion from all of our discussions was: "If one RESPECTS THEMSELVES and respect their own beliefs, then OTHERS WILL LEARN to respect you and your way of life."
After lunch, in small groups we conducted a survey on spirituality on Tottenham Court road. We didn't get many people wanting to participate. Only ONE PERSON volunteered to answer the questions in our group, however the other groups were bit more successful. The day ended with a GROUP PRAYER for world peace. However, unfortunately Raghbir Singh, Ravjeet Singh and I had to leave early so someone read a short English translation of a Shabad from Gurbaani on our behalf.