Want to join some members of the khalsa for a little kirtan at the gurdwara this weekend?

The newly formed Sikh Students’ Association hopes to remove that blank look from your face by educating students about the traditions and tenets of their faith. The group will be holding their first gurdwara, or worship service, at the Interfaith Chapel Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. The service, which is open to everyone, will include devotional kirtan music, meditative prayer, and a free Indian meal.

Last year, a group of students succeeded in gaining religion department approval for a course in Sikh Studies, and over the summer Gill and Take Five Scholar, fellow SSA leader and Interfaith Fellow and Sikh student Heather Hall brought materials back from India for the group to use.

Gill said he feels that the UR Community has been receptive towards Sikhs. “Fortunately, people at major educational institutions like ours are much more aware of such distinctions and are more sympathetic to our experience as a religious and ethnic minority in America.”

At the same time, Gill reiterated that the tolerance of such an academic setting can provide false reassurance. “Prejudice, racism, and bigotry are nothing new to America, nor to Sikhs,” he said.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks many Sikhs in the United States have been targets of racist violence and intimidation because their appearance is confused with those held responsible for the tragedy.

“Apparently we are mistakenly associated with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban images flashed on TV screens,” Interfaith Fellow and Senior SSA leader Rahuldeep Singh Gill said.

Sept. 17, Sikh Balbir Singh Sodi was killed in a drive-by shooting at the Chevron station he owned and operated in Mesa, Ariz. Accused murderer Frank S. Roque, who also shot at a Lebanese clerk and into the home of an Afghan family, later called himself a “patriot.”

Closer to home, an elderly Sikh man in Penfield was reportedly threatened with a handgun by another driver in September. No Sikhs have been physically attacked in the Rochester area.

Although the misinformation following Sept 11 increased the need for education on Sikhism, Sikh students on campus had been organizing well before then.

Sikhism originated around A.D. 1500 in the Punjab region of India. Although drawing on Hindu and Islamic traditions, Sikhism focuses on the teachings of ten gurus, or holy teachers, which are embodied in Adi Granth, the Sikh sacred text.

Sikhs believe in a single god of several names. These include Sat, or truth, Kartar, or creator, Akal Purakh, or timeless being, and Sat Guru, or true Guru. Sikhs call this set of titles the divine name, and they believe that contemplating the divine Name will liberate them from a cycle of rebirths and unite them with the complete spirit of god.

Many male Sikhs are instantly recognizable by the turbans and beards that they wear. These represent one of the distinctive rules of the Khalsa, a sub-group of Sikhs created by the tenth and final guru, Gobind Singh.

Another requirement issued by guru Gobind Singh was that all male Sikhs were to take on the name Singh, or lion, and all female Sikhs were to take on the name Kaur, or princess. Hence the UR student phone directory currently lists more people with Singh or Kaur in their name than with the last name of Jones. Sikhs reject the Indian caste system and allow anyone to take part in their services. “There is no formal process to become a Sikh ? anyone can begin practicing,” Hall said.

For Hall, social justice is a key element of being a Sikh. “Some of the primary obligations of Sikhs are to uphold justice and the rights of others, and to do service for the poor,” she said.”All gurdwaras are accompanied by the free meal in this spirit.”

Brach can be reached at jbrach@campustimes.org

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