Students ‘explore’ Sikhism

By Kaci Watt, Staff Reporter

Davinder Singh, a volunteer from the Sikh Resource Society, asked an audience of Columbia students during a March 1 event whether they had ever heard of the Sikh religion.

Not a single hand rose.

The event, held at The Loft, 916 S. Wabash Ave., is part of the college’s Exploration of Faith series. Presenters from Chicago’s Sikh Resource Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources to those who want to learn about Sikhism, said this is a common response to the Sikh religion, which is the fifth largest in the world.

But Sikhs, who have been the targets of many hate crimes, are trying to change that, said Singh to the gathering of approximately 10 students.

“In the political climate that we have now, it’s even more important for us to reach across the table and build bridges,” Singh said. “This is a great place to start because universities and colleges are such a safe place for that.”

The religion is not included in most history books or taught in many schools, Singh said. Unlike many religions, Sikhs do not worship a specific deity or accept the concept of heaven and hell, he added.

“[Life] is heaven or hell, it’s your actions that dictate that,” Singh said. “If I am a good person, this can be heaven for me. If I commit crimes and go to jail, it’s quite hellish for me. But the actual concept for a Sikh is to leave this place better than you found it when you got here, and that’s what you are always working toward.”

Fellow presenter Shamsher Singh said the religion prides itself on equality and gained widespread acceptance in India during the 14th century by preaching its message when India’s caste system was rampant.

“[Sikh] is accepting of everybody from all faiths,” Shamsher Singh said. “The way our scripture is written, anybody can read it and understand it, it’s not meant for just a certain person.”

Despite not believing in a specific figure as a diety, Sikhs believe in a greater power they cannot define that was involved in the creation of the universe, according to the Sikh Resource Society.

“It’s more of the ‘Star Wars’ idea of the force, its energy, it can’t be destroyed, it can’t be created, it is transferred, it’s all around us,” Singh said. “If you have the same force in him, that’s in me, that’s in everyone, it’s in the trees—how can I hate you because technically then I’ll be hating myself.”

At the event, sophomore English and creative writing major Jaye Rodriguez got the chance to experience wearing a turban and the process that goes into putting it on each day.

The Exploration of Faith series, produced by Student Organization and Leadership, began last fall and intends on bringing awareness to students of different religions, according to the Columbia Events website.

Attendee and junior cinema and television arts major Adriana Baca came for just that reason.

“I like to learn about new cultures and new religions,” Baca said. “I’m a part of a student organization on campus, Latino Alliance, and I believe in getting out to learn about other cultures and understanding and appreciating them.”