During the summer, as I strolled through Baker Park with my father, we were met by three young men who from afar yelled loudly, “They have a bomb! They have a bomb!”
My father and I glanced at one another and continued our walk. We were quiet, and we reflected on what had transpired. As a matter of fact, the entire park seemed to have gone silent for us. What was it that prompted those young men to accuse us of having violent intentions?
People often use the word “ignorant” to describe those who do not know, do not understand or do not wish to change their mindset. But ignorance begins when we don’t educate, inform or raise awareness about ourselves or our faith.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the lives of Sikhs in the United States changed. They changed because of our identity. They changed because people didn’t know. They changed because people were afraid. It was on that day that Sikhs began to raise awareness, more so than ever before.
Observant Sikhs cover their hair with a turban or scarf; however, Sikhism is a younger and smaller religion as compared to others, and many people are unaware of this. As an observant Sikh, I find it my duty to help raise awareness. I cannot blame people for not knowing, but I can take opportunities to ensure that I share, so that people do become familiar with who Sikhs are.
People are unaware of why Sikhs cover their hair. False information has led many people to assume that those who cover their hair are somehow affiliated with the Taliban or Osama Bin Laden. Sikhs have no affiliation with either. Sikhism is an independent religion that began in India in 1469. The founder, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, was born to a Hindu family. From a young age, Guru Nanak Dev Ji had a concept or idea that he meditated on. This was the concept of One, or Ik. This concept or ideology reflects that we are all created by one God, and we are all equal. He used the term Sikh, or lifelong learner, to describe those who want to live life on a path to understanding this concept. A Sikh spends their lifetime learning, growing and understanding this concept. In order to do so, Sikhs must conquer their ego and lust and avoid living a life in vain.
ਜਬ ਹਮ ਹੋਤੇ ਤਬ ਤੂ ਨਾਹੀ ਅਬ ਤੂਹੀ ਮੈ ਨਾਹੀ ॥
Jab ham hoṯe ṯab ṯū nĝhī ab ṯūhī mai nĝhī.
Dear God, When I am in my ego, then You are not with me. Now that You are with me, there is no egotism within me.
— Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Holy book read by Sikhs)
Keeping one’s hair uncut, tied up and covered is part of the journey to living a life of simplicity and reaching God. Cutting or styling one’s hair increases temptation and attraction, hence we lose our path in life and prevent others from reaching God. By keeping your hair covered one remembers to stay focused on God and inspire others to do the same.
When those three young men yelled at my father and me, we both stayed silent because we diverted our attention to God and reflected on the concept of One. Just as we are creations of God, those three young men are as well. Those three young men may not understand, or they may have received the wrong information about who we are. This gives us more reason to begin dialogue and conversations about who Sikhs are and why we wear a turban.
I will end with a mantra by Guru Nanak Dev Ji that reflects Sikhism and the concept of One. This is known as the Mool (root) Mantra (transporting the mind to God):
Ik Onkar — One God
Sat Naam — the true name
Karta Purkah — the one who creates is everywhere
Nirbhau — without fear
Nirvair — without hate
Akal Murat — a form that lasts forever
Ajuni — not born and cannot go away
Sahibhang — one who makes itself, breaks itself, and fixes itself
Gurparsad — given by the grace of a teacher or enlightener
Jap — chant
On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Sikhs have been warned of possible hate crimes due to people not knowing or understanding. It is my hopes that this short piece reaches people and provides a glimpse of who Sikhs are and why we wear a turban.
Simarjeet Kaur Sandhu is a graduate of Hood College and an English as a Second Language teacher for Montgomery County Public Schools. She is the author of the Simran and Sehaj book series that is geared toward raising awareness for the Sikh community and creating more multicultural books for classrooms across the U.S.