On Being a Sikh
by Jasjit Singh

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa!
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!


When somebody asks me who I am, I say that I am a Sikh. I do not say that I am a man, or an Indian, or Punjabi. I no longer identify with any of these as a way to describe me. I am a Sikh first, and then I am an Indian. That is how I feel today.


Many years ago, when I was much younger, I would not identify myself as a Sikh. When asked who I was, I would say that I was an Indian. I spent the majority of my childhood in Africa, as my parents were working on a contractual basis as teachers. Growing up as a Sikh in a foreign climate is not an easy thing to do -- especially if you are the only one. As a child, I did not understand the reactions of the other school children to my apparent "differentness". This led to confusion and often frustration. I was often the object of jokes and ridicule that I could not fathom. And worse, I had no ground for a defense, because I did not know what that defense should constitute. I did not know why I kept long hair and wore a bracelet. As a child exposed to these factors it was very easy to wonder why I even needed these outward symbols that I wore. It was easy to want to discard them for a desire to be accepted into the prevailing culture; to become one of the norm.


My father strictly forbade anything of the sort.


And so the years passed.


Eventually, slowly, after a lot of introspection and thinking, and questioning, I began to understand. During my first year in College I was fortunate enough to meet a fellow Sikh student. He had been in America for five years while I had only arrived. He was very curious and questioned me in almost everything I did. At the time I was surprised as to his reactions and wondered what his motives were. However, it turned out that he only had the best of intentions for me, and did me a great service by provoking me into thinking about why I was who I was, and questioning my beliefs. It was during the short time that I had the good fortune of knowing him that I realized something very important about Sikhism. I realized that this is not a part of history that we are just keeping alive. Sikhism is a very relevant religion that is as important today as it was almost five hundred years ago. And my Sikh friend helped me realize a pride in being a Sikh that I had never experienced before.


Truly, there is nothing in this world worth concerning oneself over, nothing worth fighting over, save your religion. When there is nothing else left for a man, when the world has given up hope on him, when his friends have deserted him, and when even his family has left him for dead, there is only the one holy Name of God that will come to his aid. And wherever he may go, there he can count on the only one Name of God. Why then, should he not remember the Creator and thank Him for all that is given? There is a curious thing about life. And that is that in one instant, it can show you just how vulnerable you are. We build our empires, and our fortunes, and sometimes we get carried away, thinking that we are powerful, or strong. But it only takes a fraction of a second for all that to come crashing down.


There is a story about this. When Shah Jahan heard GuruJi's Bani, he could not accept that God could turn a beggar into the king of the whole world and then into a beggar again in a thrice. And the time came, when Aurangzeb sent the message to Shah Jahan, that he was very ill. Shah Jahan was Aurangzeb's father. And the orders were that when Shah Jahan arrived to see his son, he should be captured and thrown into prison. This Aurangzeb did out of greed for wealth of the empire. And it was only when Shah Jahan was captured, and imprisoned, that he remembered GuruJi's Bani, and realized that it was true.


I gradually began to understand more and more about Sikhism. I realized the importance of wearing my hair long, and of wearing a turban. I remember to this day my fathers strictness on our religion. And it was at this time that I realized why. Today I am glad that my father forbade me from discarding the symbols. They define me. They define who I am. I must wear my turban because I am a Sikh. Without it I would not be a Sikh.


And as this realization dawned, I began to be more curious. I began to study, and learnt about the glorious history of the Sikhs. One of the questions that I had had as a child was why it seemed that everyone wanted to persecute us. Why did it seem that everyone wanted to harm us. Why was there a need for me to be on guard nearly all the time. And the answer to that question was given to me, years later.


"It is because you are Sikh that people want to hurt you."


But Sikhs thrive on adversity and are at their best under pressure. A religion that was born in such tumultuous times could only survive by being strong and powerful. And then came the realization that I was a Sikh. I was the one who would protect the weak and serve the poor. I was the one who would fight for the oppressed. And I had been given the power to do so.


When this realization dawned in me, I lost all fear that I had had. There is One to pray to. He will protect you, and none other.


Today, my only real support is my religion. It gives me hope, strength, and courage. Without it, I am a mere shell, a body without any light. It would be preferable to die rather than to live without Sikhism.


Guru Gobind Singh Ji was the greatest warrior, and he created an army of such brilliance and discipline that none in the past or future will equal it. The Sikhs in Guru Gobind Singh Ji's time were courageous and brave. Moreover, they were united as one power, one force. They were the magnificent warriors that went forth to lay down their lives to save another's religion. They were the one's who sacrificed themselves so that others may live. They are the true saints. Learning about them and their heroic deeds always infuses me with hope and courage.


Prayer is a great part of any religion. In Sikhism, the prayer itself will give the person spirituality, and instill a deep understanding and peace unto the person who even utters the sacred words. By joining the society of true saints a person can gain the passageway to God.


There are many aspects of Sikhism that I am only beginning to discover. I still have a lot to learn, and am by no means an expert on anything. Nor am I to be counted as a holy man. I am a sinner. However, I did write this article because something special happened to me. I would have gone one to become a lifeless, Godless person. However, through the grace of God, I instead became a person with a respect for life and for God. There are many youth in the Western nations of today who are being swept away by the societal and cultural pressures of the white society. Traditional ways are forgotten. They may feel lost, or may be lost. And they may lose their religion. If they are Sikhs, then they cannot afford to do so, for they would be denying their heritage as Princes and Kings and wandering the lands like beggars.


To be a Sikh is to be the most Godlike as man can get. To be a Sikh is to be at the highest level of achievement an individual can have in his or her lifetime. All pains vanish, and comes only bliss.


My search and learning will continue. However, I can now be assured that I am on the right path, and that God is guiding me.


May God bless you in all that you do, and all the best wishes for your future.


Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa!
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!