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Sikhism is the original Interfaith

by Darshan Singh Bagga
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First, God created the Light; then, by His Creative Power, He made all mortal beings. From the One Light, the entire universe welled up. So, who is good, and who is bad? The Creation is in the Creator, and the Creator is in the Creation, totally pervading and permeating all places. 

–Shabad from Guru Granth Sahib

Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469‐1539) is revered as the founder of Sikhism. But he is the first one to propound Interfaith, which has increasingly become a buzzword and a movement in our time. He preached to both Hindus and Muslims, the two main religions extant in his time in India, bringing them to a common ground ‐ meditating on one God and eschewing rituals. His humanism shines bright in his emphasis on equality of all humans as originating from the one godly light. He himself set an example of selfless service as a young man by feeding the poor and needy with the 20 rupees his father gave to do profitable deals.  

Guru Nanak started to teach Sanjhi Walta, Interfaith as understood today. His followers came to be known as Sikhs (literally students or learners).  

Sikh teachings include nuggets such as: ‘We are the children of one and same Father.  Recognize all of mankind as a single caste of humanity.’ Then there is the popular Sikh verse, ‘Koi bole Ram Ram, koi Khudaye’. God is remembered by different names by different people.  So, if God is one, and we all are his children, then where is the scope for any feud? There is even  a contemporary message about women’s equality originating from Sikhism 500 years ago:  ‘How can you malign the one who gives birth to kings.’

Sikhism is a philosophical and practical religion. All 10 Sikh gurus were householders. There are 3 practical and practicable teachings of Guru Nanak: Kirat karo, vand chhako and naam japo. The first means, don’t just vegetate, work to earn a living. The second says, share the fruits of what you have justly earned with the poor and needy. The third teaching is, pray to God. If we are the children of God, then don’t forget him. Contemplate on him. Meditate. 

The job of compiling the teachings of the growing faith fell on the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev. The compilation, Adi Granth (the first rendition) includes compositions of, besides the Gurus,  36 Bhagats (saints) of diverse backgrounds, such as RavidasRamanandKabir and Namdev, and two Muslim Sufi saints Bhagat Bhikan and Sheikh Farid

The final expanded version of the Sikhs’ primary holy scripture was compiled by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th guru. He added one verse and all 115 hymns of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, but none his own.  The text finally consists of 1,430 angs (pages) and 6,000 śhabads. This second rendition came to be known as Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Gobind also declared that henceforth the Holy Book will be considered Guru of the faith.

Besides completing the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh, a divine messenger, warrior, poet and  philosopher, also molded the Sikh religion into its present shape with the institution of the Khalsa fraternity. After initiating the five “beloved ones” (called Panj Pyare) into the new order of the Khalsa, the Guru knelt before them and requested that they initiate him with specially prepared amrit (ambrosia). In the annals of human history, such a transformation into a distinct and solidified community, culminating in the baptism of the leader by his followers, remains a unique and defining moment.

He also revitalized the Sikh identity by initiating the Five K’s tradition:

  • Kesh: unshorn hair
  • Kangha: a wooden comb
  • Kara: an iron or steel bracelet worn on the wrist
  • Kirpan: a sword or dagger
  • Kacchera: short breeches

In our time, Sikhism has become the 5th largest religion in the world. Though Sikhs are concentrated in the Punjab state of India, the Sikh diaspora has made its mark all over the world included in America. 

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