Today was a very interesting day. The US State Department has been hosting an International Visitor Tour “Promoting Interfaith Dialogue”. The tour consists of about 12 Muslim religious leaders, one priest from the Coptic Orthodox Church, 3 translators, and some aides. The purpose of this tour is to bring together people in our communities around the country to participate discussions about religious freedom and interfaith dialogue. The group of people were from all over the middle east (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen).
Sikh Dharma International is part of the Council of International Relations and was invited to host them here in our community for a morning dialog. It was an interesting experience sharing with each other about our different religions. Different people spoke about the Sikh religion, origins, beliefs, practices, etc; and they did the same about Islam and Christianity (as practiced by the coptic church).
After the dialog they came to our Gurdwara and sat down with the rest of the community for Langar. After langar we gave them a tour of the Gurdwara and had some more discussions about the different Sikh/Muslim practices. It was all very educational for us all. I think they will definitely remember us when they head home.
I realized a few things. First, I don’t know that much about other religious practices. Second, it is easy to form an opinion about a religion/people without knowing much. The media here does such a bad job, and basically makes it seem that all Muslims are extremists. Each religion has it’s fanatics and extremists (even Sikhi). Would you want someone to judge Sikhi based on those few?
It is important that we take the time to educate ourselves about the other people around us and their religious beliefs. I think our sangat does a really good job at building bridges between the Sikh community and others. I was just imagining someone from the SGPC trying to host something like this and how bad it would probably turn out. You really have to have a certain open mindset and walk the fine line of respect and diplomacy. The key is focusing on commonality and not the differences. More often people get stuck in the differences in practices/beliefs and this only separates us rather than uniting.
So…another day of learning and sharing here in our little Espanola. Even though we are a small town there always seems to be something going on.
Ps. I would have taken pictures but the I think the state department wants to keep things quiet for whatever reason. Otherwise I would have had some pics to show.