What's distinctive about my faith? Faiths Act Fellow Pritpal explores her Sikh religion
Another interfaith event, another awkward moment. People really weren’t there to drink tea and talk about the weather. If I wanted to engage, I quickly realised that I needed to do some homework. And so the homework began - at ‘home.’
I walked towards the local Gurudwara (Sikh place of worship) to discover that my faith had something very unique and very distinct to offer in terms of interfaith.
Opening the beautifully carved doors of the Gurudwara, I was reminded that it was an ‘open house.’ Everyone and anyone was could enter here, 365 days of the year, 24 hours of the day, regardless of what faith they were from. As I took off my shoes, washed my hands and covered my head, I walked past a picture of the Harimandir Sahib, commonly known as the Golden Temple, which had been constructed by the third, fourth and fifth Gurus, during the 16th Century, with four doors to epitomise that God’s House welcomed all. Then I entered the Darbar, the prayer hall, or ‘Court’ of the Guru, where the sacred scriptures and eternal Guru of the Sikhs is ceremoniously enthroned, and paid my respects to the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, an interfaith scripture that not only
contains writings of the Sikh Gurus, but also of Hindu and Muslim Saints. As the poetic and lyrical verses were beautifully sung, I looked up towards the radiating logo of ‘Ik Oankar’ - the very first words of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji which state that God is One, and all is His creation - a powerful message for the equality of all human beings, and of unity in diversity. Before leaving, I then partook in Langar, whereby everyone sits on the same level, to share the same food, in the spirit of togetherness and interdependence.
As I looked more into my tradition, and into the lives of the Sikh Gurus, one of the most extraordinary examples of ‘interfaith’ I came across, was that of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, the ninth Sikh Guru who gave his life to protect a faith other than his own. This set an exemplary standard for interfaith. It demonstrated that when engaging in interfaith, a Sikh should move beyond dialogue, tolerance, acceptance and even beyond respect - the ultimate ideal is that they should be ready to sacrifice their own life to help another. The supreme sacrifice of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, a faith leader, did not require setting aside or compromising faith identity, but required acting upon it, and putting into practise the love and compassion for fellow human beings.
I was proud that I had a lot to share and celebrate about my faith tradition and rich heritage with others, and this had only come about due to the introspection which interfaith dialogue had inspired and prompted me towards. The pre-requisite for interfaith, was my own faith.
Over the last few months Faiths Act Fellows have been spending countless hours working in communities with people of many different faiths, and people of no religious beliefs, to help eliminate deaths from malaria.
In this short series called ‘stories of faith’ the Fellows explore how this experience has affected their own beliefs and identities. Their stories offer a powerful counter message to those that say multi-faith dialogue or encounter means having to water-down ones’ own beliefs.’ They have encountered many challenges along their journey but many have said that their experiences have encouraged them to delve deeper into their own faith commitments and traditions. In no small part because the friend and colleague that may hold a very different world-view to us also holds up a mirror for us: one if which our own faith is reflected, explored, deepened and allowed room to grow.
Here Pritpal Kaur Riat begins the series by sharing with us how multi-faith work led her on a journey to deeper explore her own Sikh faith.