ATTENTION SIKH PEOPLE: Ya'll don't have to read this first section. It's really meant for people who are not Sikhs. But if you want to read the whole thing, go ahead. Scroll down to the "Bonus Paragraph" to read something more "relevant".
As a Sikh living in Texas, it is not surprising how curious people can be about my faith. As most Sikhs know, people in the United States are not aware of who Sikhs are (or for that matter, that Sikhs even exist). Heck, before I became a Sikh, I didn't even know that Sikhs existed. It's like a secret community hidden away from the public eye. But back on topic, I find there are a few questions that I seem to get asked a lot by my fellow Texans. So I decided to answer them here.
1. A Sikh? What's that?
"Well, the word "Sikh" literally means disciple or learner. The word became associated with the followers of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. The religion "Sikhism" originated in the northern region of India known as Punjab. It's evolved into the fifth largest world religion and shares similar beliefs with a lot of the other major world religions. We believe in One God, but not in the same way as the Abrahamic sense. For example, Sikhs believe God to be Nirankar (without Form). He* is gender neutral and resides within everyone (regardless of class, nationality, etc.). A Sikh's duty is to serve humanity, remember God at all times, and work hard to better mankind."
Honestly, this is such a hard question to answer because there's so much to be said. So I just usually follow it up with "Are there any specific questions you have about the religion?"
*In the English language, instead of saying "It" we just automatically say "He". It's a complicated situation. Also, the most common way you will hear Sikhs address God is Wahe Guru. The simplified translation of this is "Wondrous Enlightener". The overly complicated translation of this is "Praise be to the One who brings us from darkness into light".
2. How do other Sikhs (meaning Punjabi Sikhs) react to you?
Now, I tend to get this question from Indians or Indian Americans who aren't Sikh. Which I definitely could understand why they would ask that question. It's the subtle way of asking, "Do you find that Punjabis are racist toward you?" Here's what I would usually say:
"Being a minority within a religion, you definitely stand out. And some might be sort of wary of you at first. BUT, over time, what makes you different kind of becomes an advantage. Because wherever you go people know who you are or at least know your face. And at every samagam I go to, I have at least one person approach me out of curiosity and ask me how I got into the faith. I find this personally enjoyable and as a way to further integrate myself into the community. Now, are there Punjabis out there who are racist? Yes. Is this the majority? No. The thing is you're going to find ignorant people within every religion, but that shouldn't stop you from being who you are."
3. I thought only Sikh men wear the turban. Are there other Sikh women who wear the turban? Why?
"First, I would like to say that for everyone (regardless of gender) wearing the turban is a choice. Same way there are Sikh men and women who choose to wear the turban, there are Sikh men and women who choose not to wear the turban. Even though Sikhs have been donning turbans since the time of Guru Nanak, it became an official part of the Sikh religion during the time of our tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. He bestowed on us distinct articles of faith to make us recognizable in a crowd.* When he did this though, he was not just addressing one gender. He gave these gifts to everyone (men as well as women), seeing that Sikhi is a religion that gives full gender equality. Historically, there were few Kaurs who wore the turban (most likely Nihangs). Almost all women stuck to wearing chunnis (a shawl like scarf most Sikh women still wear today). But as time has gone on, more and more Kaurs have decided to include the dastar as apart of their uniform. Some, to connect more with their faith. Some, to be recognizable in a crowd. Some, because they believe this is what Guru Gobind Singh wanted in the first place. Etc. Etc.
In summary, the Sikh turban does not just belong to one gender but both. If you want to see pictures of Sikh girls wearing turbans, just look up "Singhnis" or "Sikh girls in turbans"
*For more information about the turban, watch the following 30-minute documentary done by the BBC
4. Are you from India? Where in India are you from?
This is ANOTHER question I tend to get from Indian immigrants. While asking me this question, they look me up and down with a look of confusion on their face. I just know that in my head they're trying to figure out what race I am and I kind of find these encounters funny. Here's usually how the conversation goes:
Person: You are a Sikh?
Person: *confused look* Where are you from? Are you from India?
Me: No. I was born here in Texas.
Person: *still looking confused* Where are your parents from?
Person: *confusion intensifies* Where are your grandparents from?
Me: Uhhhhh, Texas 😂
The conversation goes on and on until I think they get the point. I kind of just chalk this up to them not knowing American history (and therefore not knowing about slavery). They don't understand that African Americans have been in the United States for almost 400 years and did not necessarily "immigrate" here.
Common Questions I Get From My Fellow Sikhs:
1. How did you become a Sikh?
This is by far the number one question I get from other Sikhs. To them, it's intriguing to see someone like myself following Sikhi. Even though I get this question the most , I always seem to get caught off guard about it. So I tell them the short version of my story.
Christian > Questioning/Having Doubts > Research/Prayer > Secular > Eventually felt a pull to keep looking > Research/Prayer > Sikhi
Now if you want to know the full story, there is a Google Doc on the left-hand side of this blog. Feel free to have a read
2. Where are you from?
Now, this is basically like question #4....but a little bit different. When dealing with Punjabi Sikh children, some things are said that can be considered...offensive. But I don't hold it over their heads since they are still children. One thing I find quite shocking though is that a few kids ask me the question "Are you really from Africa?" or something similar to that. First of all, I've never indicated that I'm from Africa. So I have no idea where they might have gotten that idea from. Second of all, Africa is not a country (like most kids think). And third of all, no, I'm not from Africa.
After thinking about it for a while, I came up with two hypothesis about why they would make these type of statements. Either (1) the Texas education system is horrible and these kids ain't learning jack or (2) these kids are in such a cultural bubble, they know nothing about other cultures. But like I said before, they're kids. So can't be too up in arms about it.
3. Do you know Punjabi?
No. When it comes to the Punjabi language, almost all of my efforts have gone into reading and writing it. I have not started to work on speaking and understanding it. I know a few words but that's it. This doesn't mean though that I'm not going to work on conversating in Punjabi eventually. Nothing about having a language barrier between you and other people in your spiritual community is fun. But my main focus right now is to be able to read and write Gurbani.
4. Have you been to India yet?
No, I have not been and I have no plans on going. I would not feel safe traveling to India. Period.
5. How did your parents/family react?
Planning on doing a blog post about this in August so I won't give too much away here. But, I am definitely the black sheep of the family, and my mother is verbally hostile toward my religion and anything related to it. That's all I'll say for now.
6. Are you Amritdhari?
It's funny. Right after I became Amritdhari, I have not been receiving this question. I use to get it all the time before becoming one. So either people aren't asking it anymore because everyone knows my business or they just don't care anymore lol.
7. What is your "other/real" name?
.....This question triggers me so much. By asking this question, you're assuming by my outward appearance that I have "another" name. That conversation would be really awkward if my Punjabi name was actually my legal name. And yes, I do have "another" name, but why does it matter in this situation?! My legal name is Jasmine but Sikhs call me Gurpreet (the name given to me by the Shri Guru Granth Sahib). I tell all Sikhs to call me by that name or else I'm eventually going to call you out about it..eventually. So how about when I tell you my name is Gurpreet, we just leave it at that.
And that's it for this month's blog post. As always, thanks for reading this blog. Sorry for the grammar errors or mistakes. And be on the lookout for the next blog post (My Family).