Being a “New Sikh” and Trying to Fit In

“I have ‘discovered’ Sikhi for about 6 months or so and have attended a Gurdwara a few times. I have forgotten to mention that I live in Cardiff, Wales, UK. There appears to be no other white people in the Gurdwara and so all conversation is in Punjabi. Similarly the worship and service are too. I don’t wish to give up my new found desire to embrace Sikhism but I am finding it difficult to feel a part of the congregation. Can you help please?”

Recently I received a few emails (one of them shown above) from people who were brought up with different religious backgrounds and are exploring the Sikhi lifestyle (ie: Wanting to be a Sikh). The emails were asking for help and advice in relation to fitting in with the Sikh community and being accepted.

Most of you are probably not used to seeing/meeting people who have converted to Sikhism and trying to find their place as a Sikh in a community. I was on a Sikh discussion forum the other night reading a really long discussion topic that was raging back and forth between the participants. Basically one individual was criticizing “3HO”, “Western Sikhs”, “Yogi Bhajan”, etc, on just about everything. Without going into all that, the one subject of that discussion was a remark that “White Sikhs” don’t go to other “Punjabi Gurdwaras” and just “start their own Gurdwaras”. Of course this is not true…but it made me think. First…there is an assumption that there are HUGE number of Sikhs that have converted to Sikhi. I don’t think there are nearly as many as people think. Maybe we are big in our projection and so people think there are hundreds of thousands and since they have not seen them in their Gurdwara that they must be avoiding it. Who knows though… we don’t have a “Sikh Convert Census”. So…with these few Sikhs spread out all over the world you may not see a “Sikh Convert” often at all.

In general I think people tend to live within communities of people that they have similarities with. So, many people who have adopted the Sikh lifestyle live in areas where there are other similar Sikhs. There are a few reasons for this.

First…most of them have come from a very different cultural background and do not understand or relate to Punjabi culture, so feel more at home with others from the same background (Just as someone from India might feel more comfortable with other Indians who have similar backgrounds). It’s what you know and are familiar with. This is changing as our youth become more global, but is still a big issue for the older generations of people.

Second… Someone who becomes a Sikh has to learn everything from scratch and learn a whole new way of life. This is hard if you don’t have someone helping or speaking the language that you understand. It is extremely difficult to learn and feel a part of things when the Gurdwaras are all Punjabi centric. I am not saying it is a bad thing, but I think it is important in western countries where most of the population speaks English that communities figure out ways to support the youth (many of who don’t understand/speak Punjabi). This will also support the people that are interested/learning about Sikhi. So, in relation to the topic of this post, because most Gurdwaras don’t have a good support system for people of non Punjabi background it is natural for these Sikhs to gather together to support each other and learn together. The issue for communities is to decide WHAT can be done to address this. If you ever come to our Gurdwara here in Espanola you will see how our community does things a little different because of the different background. The format and general ceremonies are the same, but some are done a little different. Someone might read the Ardas in English or Punjabi (depending on the person’s preference). We have an Akandh Path that is always going every week and people from the Sangat sign up to read. Volumes of the SGGS with Gurmukhi and English Translation are used so depending on what language the person understands they can all participate. After the Hukamnama is read in Gurmukhi someone always reads the translation in English (sometimes spanish too) so people can understand what was said. Kirtan is normally traditional style, but someone might also sing a devotional song that they wrote about the Gurus (not Gurbani). People play kirtan with Guitars and many western instruments…..and many do so in tunes that are more western sounding. Most of the women are very active in the Gurdwara ceremonies and have strong leadership roles in our community. They do many more of the Gurdwara activies than men (Ardas, Kirtan, Hukamnama, Prakash/Sukhasn, etc). In your typical Gurdwara, men are very dominant and it can be hard sometimes for women to do these things if they want. Our communties are small so don’t have dedicated/paid ragis or granthis. Everything is done by the sangat. At least every month the parents and kids get together for Sikh stories or some activity where they can learn about Sikh history (In english of course). There are many other things…but this post is getting long so I’ll stop there. I just wanted to give you an idea of things.

Third… A big reason why some of the people that I know have become Sikhs is that they have had someone that speaks their language, and I don’t mean the English language. I mean that there is someone that shares information on Sikhi in a way that they can understand and relate to. Just imagine if you were Desi Punjabi, didn’t know English, had grown up all your life in India, and then all of sudden you were in the midwest USA (The “Bible Belt” where there is a church on almost every block). Imagine you went into one of the churches trying to learn about Christianity. You would have a tough time I’m sure! I know this is an extreme scenario but I wanted to try to give you an idea of how different it is for someone who is not brought up as a Sikh from Punjabi backround.

There are a lot of bridges to build and things that we have to do to progress into this new age of globalization where Sikhs live in many different countries and come from different cultures. I don’t think Guru Gobind Singh’s prophecy of 960,000,000 was a vision of all Punjabi’s (That’s just my opinion).

So, what can be done? This is up to YOU to think about and try to encourage possible changes in your communities (at the very least to support our Sikh youth). So, I don’t just assume someone else will do this; make this your contribution. Everyone can take time to help in some way.

21 Responses to “Being a “New Sikh” and Trying to Fit In”

  1. Gurkirpal says:

    gurmustuk

    for me its easier to be punjabi sikh.. beacause you can learn it from birth like if you have punjabi sikh parents you can read Gurmukhi and undersatnd. for me reading it in Gurmukhi is better than reading it from a english translation. because it was written by our Guru’s. But english translation is also good.

  2. SikhsRus says:

    Gurmustuk,

    I agree with everything you have said. Also, I think problem is also is that in Gurudwaras with most Punjabi Sadh Sangat, most of the granthis and sevadars are not on internet and reading this post and hence have no clue as to what is going on in Sikhi today. Otherwise changes such as making English a part of the Gurudwara service would happen more quickly. I think people are also little afraid to offend and are scared to cause a fight to initiate these changes. This is all my opinion.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dear Gurumustuk Singh,

    We see you as the link , as the bridge between the Punjabi Sikhs and the non-Punjabi Sikhs.

    Waheguru will help us find the way.

  4. TJKK says:

    Ironically, a lot of the “Punjabi” children in this country don’t know Punjabi/Gurmukhi either. Because of this, they are being excluded from Sikhism as well. Even Punjabi people need bi-lingual Gurdwaras.

    I love that the women at your Gurdwara play an active and siginificant role there, good for them!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think that white sikhs are fruit of sikhism, which has seeds in it and it would take time to blossom into beautiful plants which will provide more fruit.

    Majority of punjabi sikhs are not even aware of that there are white sikhs or people who belong to other cultures might be intersted in sikhism.
    It matter of communication with the entire community.

    I agree that gurumustak is a bridge between white ( westerner) and punjabi sikhs.

    I have seen people are interested in sikhism in russia, south america and other parts of the world.

  6. Anonymous says:

    it is fine to use different languages to accomadate the youth who may not understand gurmukhi. but definately Guru Ji gave gurgaddi not to an english translation of Guru Granth Sahib ji. thus it is the duty of every sikh to learn the langauge of the Gurus. Infact Guru Angad dev ji created the script of Gurmukhi [to my knowledge], so we must strive to learn it. i myself was born and raised in canada and speak little to no punjabi at home. my parents speak punjabi, and i can understand it, but the languages of Guru Granth Sahib ji go far beyond simple punjabi so my parents speaking it only helped with my pronounciation. and i had to work very hard to learn to read and understand gurmukhi [still learning] and it is much much sweeter to do paath in Gurmukhi, and to understand it as such. take it from someone who has once done paath from transliterations…

  7. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know but from the some western Sikhs I have met, they don’t seem to be too talkative to me. If I say Fateh! They say Fateh and that is it. I don’t know why? They might think that I might say something rude to them and if they do then it is a mistake. They have to look at other Sikhs as the same. Sikhs of Guru are Sikhs of Guru. They should not be hesitant. We are not here to say anything bad to them but to help them. So this is one thing that I have noticed.

  8. Tejinder says:

    It is fine to read SGGS in English if someone does not understand punjabi. There should be any kind of binding that one has tor read SGGS in punjabi. I read in both punjabi and English, but punjabi gives me more deep understanding. One should put an effort to learn punjabi. If one cant learn, it is fine. The whole point is to get the message conveyed. This issue does not limit to English only as mentioned by Gurumustuk ji, there r people who understand only native language.
    So, We just to make sure that the correct message of the Gurus is getting conveyed.

  9. Tejinder says:

    i made a typo mistake in my previous post…
    There should NOT be any kind of binding….

  10. xSHANTIx says:

    Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh..i think by now the ppl that use ur blog Gurumustuk will know that im a “white” sikh…but i cant say that the punjabi sikhs treat me any differently..they jus treat me as a fellow sister, and they are all wonderful. I have had a few ppl add me to their msn or email me and they have given me nothing but words of love and encouragement. May i note that, although “converts” (hate that word) are the ones who are new, it is very important for us to know the difference between what is punjabi and what is sikh. My family were really worried that id get sucked into punjabi lifestyle, but i am not a punjabi, it wud be an insult to copy sumone elses culture, but i am sikh, you have to know that from day one…at no point did i want to just start cooking aloo gobi and listen to bhangra, u can have your own identity and still be a sikh. i think if you dont set yourself straight on day one, its very easy for ppl to mould u into what they want ie: a punjabi boy/girl. The sangat here is wonderful and have ALL welcomed me with open arms, but if they do things that are “punjabi” i do point out that its not sikh and refrain from partaking in those activities or converstaions. If there is anyone who wants to “convert” i hope that they first know who they are as a person, taking on ANY religion will mould you and shape you, but it will create a more vibrant you, not lose you, leaving u overloaded with religion ony. Also how can we expect to walk into a Gurudwara and the people there be any wiser than ourselves, many punjabi sikhs are not even that educated in Sikhism in reality. Some of the older generations still practice Hindu type rituals aswell as following Sikhi and the younger generation are so confused with maya and reality that they often cant give you the information you need. Sangat IS important and its sad if there is none near you, but you have to remember you are the child of Guru Gobind Singh so you always have sangat beside you..you receive what you project. I hope i havent offended anyone here, i am very sorry if i have it wasnt my intention..just my thoughts.

  11. Anonymous says:

    xSHANTIx you summed it up !!

  12. http://mistakesingh.blogspot.com/2005/12/sikhs-arent-punjabis.html

    I thought this might be relevant, keep up the posts Gurmustak Singh ji

  13. sarvjeet says:

    I am a Sihk born and brought up in India and I moved to North America in 1998. My father was in Indian Air force (now retired and settled in New Delhi) and because of this reason, we had to travel a lot as he would get transferred every 3-5 yrs. So I lived most of my childhood and teen yrs out of Punjab. We went to school where Punjabi was not taught. And at home we were not taught to read / write Punjabi either. Though all the conversation between me, my siblings and parent was either in Punjabi or hindi… For a small period of my teen yrs, we lived in Punjab and that helped me alot in getting my punjabi pronounciation the way it is supposed to be. Now i do nitnem and all teh paath I can do with a Hindi gutka, but since I know how to pronounce punjabi, it makes it a lot easier to to my paath.

    My point is that it is not necessary to learn how to read / write a langague in order to be able to speak. So one can learn speaking the language, and then read the paath in english or spanish or what ever language. this will improve the correct or close to correct pronunciation. But it should not stop there… once you are comfortable speaking, your understanding of that language increases and then one should get on with learning how to read and write in that language… This is what I am doing to learn Spanish… but I just started….

  14. Anonymous says:

    Shant ji has said beautifully!!!!

    People relate punjabi culture with Sikh religion.
    Secondly, 100 yrs from now the face of sikhism is going to be different, in a better way!

    In the future sikhs will be practical and knowledgeable about their religion.

    Finally, There is NO harm to learn another laugage such is “GURMUKHI”

  15. manpreet says:

    Sat Shri Akal!

    Dear Gurumustuk Ji,

    As i lately wrote on my blog i feel very disappointed about the sikhs (not all of them of course), but not in sikhism.
    As Islam Yussef (aka Cat Stevens) once said:”Thank God i knew islam before i knew the muslims!” i am saying this about the sikhs and sikhism. Why?

    - the use of alcohol is the highest in Punjab of whole India
    - abortion of inborn females (daughters) is very high (highest?) in Punjab
    - drugabuse gets higher and higher (up to 70% in rural Punjab, i was so shocked last month in Punjab)
    - superstition and black magic are still very common
    - caste is still a very big issue (weddings!) though they are all named Singh and Kaur
    - no community is so much behind money in legal and illegal ways, even if they have to cheat their own brothers
    - slander and gossip is their national sport
    - punjabi sikh ladies are not equal to their husbands (on the contrary)
    -etc

    Still i belong to the House of Baba Nanak. I want to belong.
    When you open the door of sikhism and discover all these beautiful teachings (like Shanti i hate the word “convert”), one expects the followers to be perfect or almost perfect. The Guru gave us (10x, no 11 times) such beautiful advise, still their followers stumble in every way.
    Just like me, who is a new sikh with so many steps to take.
    Thank God i know some true sikhs or people who try to be one in all honesty. They pull me trough every time.
    And thank God i discovered sikhnet and your blog, Gurmustuk Ji. Very often it is my lighthouse and my shelter.
    Because my sangat is a punjabi sangat (mostly rural and not so educated people) and i am the odd one out (white sikh). They tolerate me, but are watching every step of me. They gossip their heads off, you can not imagine what awful things they say behind my back.
    Anyhow i realise this sound very negative, but i know this is my path, even it is not easy.
    I said it before and i say it again: thank you, Gurumustuk Ji, you do not realise how important your work is for me and so many others!!!It gives me the feeling that in front of Waheguru i do fit in, even i am not punjabi.
    Oh, i wish that Espanola was just round the corner…And maybe it is just round the corner because of your blog.
    love,

  16. rsingh says:

    manpreet Ji you made valid points about Panjabis aand life style. Thing is Sikhi is on decline parchar is non exsistant and corruption has taken over. Bhai Gurmustuk Singh and others are fresh beeze which is needed to wake us up. I see it as teh duty of my generation born in the west to teach out fellow society about Sikhi while inspiring my brothers and sisters in my own home town and back in Panjab to see the true sweetness of Sikhi.
    Guroo Anng Sanng

  17. SikhsRus says:

    Manpreet Ji,
    you are right about Punjabis being rude and not really following Sikhism. Some of us Punjabis are just very ignorant about other cultures, religions and even Sikhi and hopefully can be forgiven by other Gursikhs like yourself. I think people always look to blame others such as Indian Government, School system, Hindus etc. but I think the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents to teach real Sikhi to kids so they don’t treat other people rudely. People like yourself that have adopted Sikhi especailly kids represent Sikhi in its purest form. Sikhi in India got diluted over time by local and foreign cultures, traditions and government influences. I think, with strong willed Gursikhs like yourself and Sikhi becoming more global, it will definitely change. We have a lot to learn from each other.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Dear Gurumustuk yet another excellent topic for the blog.

    I feel that there is no difference between Sikhs no matter where they are from or whether they were born or became Sikhs. I mean we as Sikhs are not meant to think any different of anyone regardless of colour, creed, caste or religion. This is emphasized so much by our Guru’s within the bani they have blessed us with.

    I’ll share an experience I had when I was in my early teens at the local Gurdwara. There was a white Sikh amongst the sangat that regularly visited the Gurdwara (rest all from Panjabi descent) and on this one occasion was given the opportunity to do kirtan at the weekly gathering. When he addressed the congregation with Waheguru ji ka khalsa Waheguru ji ki fateh no one but one or two people replied with same in return.

    It was amazing to see how people reacted to this, I think the main reason was seeing someone other than the usual Panjabi Sikh address the congregation, they just didn’t know how to react. However the other granthi stood up and explained to everyone that they shouldn’t treat the Sikh different just because he is a white Sikh. Once this initial incident was over everyone seemed to be ok and were singing along with the kirtan and as if everything was normal.

    I am sure all Sikhs are more aware of people of other cultures adopting the Sikh way nowadays. I feel sites like Sikhnet have a deep impact on this. For example most of todays youth are brought up knowing that racism is bad and that everyone has equal rights and thus, are more likely to take people for who they are not what they are.

    I for one tell my mum, aunties, and friends about Western Sikhs and how they have established such a deep understanding of Sikhi and also, are spreading the word of Sikhi in places that not many (if any) Panjabi Sikh preachers have gone to before, take the Guru Ram Das Lord of Miracles Tour through South America. I feel the Panjabi Sikhs can learn a lot from Western Sikhs as they have not been contaminated by the acceptance of castes systems, rituals, and power struggles as most of the Panjabis not all) are lost in.

    But I guess this all happens for a reason as god has meant this to be.

    Waheguru ji ka khalsa Waheguru ji ki fateh!

    Avtar Singh

    P.s, I yearn for the day that we are 960,000,000 and living in unity as one – think it would be bliss on Earth!

  19. allegrina says:

    Sat Nam!
    Most of you probably dont know me, im Vir Kaur-Angela, from Chile, south america.. (sorry if my english is not good) i love to read this blog…
    Im mmm not something like “outside” sikh, but i feel that my heart is sikh… I love Guru and i feel that Guru loves me, and i think that finaly that is the most important thing…
    I really think that there is no differences about a sikh from “a” “b” or “z” place…. In Chile there is a small comunity (growing) of sikh people and just two of them are punjab… (maybe a little more)but here the bigest thing that join us, is GURU!
    and when i was traveling to spain, i needed to see Guru, i was in the street and i saw a “turbant” (punjab) who guided us to others sikhs… i have to recognize that they look us very strange… in general i dont use turbant, just my kara, and i was with my father who dont understand too much and was a little in shock… I explained that i knew the Guru from Chile and the long history and they where very happy and they took us to the Gurdwara…. and they where very patients with my father and where really nice with us….
    then, i was alone in france and i was in the subway and saw a very lovely sikh family and started to talk with them they where so so nice!!! they were going to the Gurdwara and “forced” me to go with them….. The father of the family treated me as a daughter….

    Sikhs are a big big FAMILY….
    We must centre ourselves on our similarities and not in our differences… like colors, countries or languages….

    greetings to all
    WAHE GURU

  20. allegrina: You are very right! Good point. To often the problem is people looking at the differences and negative things…rather than the positive and similarities.

    Thank you for sharing!

    I have checked out your blog in the past….but haven’t seen any new updates recently. You should keep posting things on your blog :)

  21. Jaspal says:

    waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fathe… my life has changed so much since i have seen gurumustuks videos on youtube, its well worth checking them out!