Why is it so important for so many religions to embrace difference?

For this final critical writing week, let’s look closer at themes we’ve touched on in every religion covered so far: sameness and difference. Like so many gods we’ve examined, the Sikh God (along with the Gurus) emphasizes the sameness or oneness of all beings, regardless of race, gender, or culture. Though Sikhism blends elements of Islam with Hinduism, hundreds of years ago Guru Nanak chose to focus on the similarities. As he famously proclaimed, “There is no Hindu, and there is no Muslim” (p. 138). Gurdwaras were established so all people could eat together regardless of class or religious belief (p. 138). We see this point driven home when the Sikh warrior Bhai Kanhaiya was discovered helping the enemy in the middle of a war. Kanhaiya echoed the Sikh philosophy by pronouncing, “I do not see the other, the foe. I only see that the light in me is in all beings alike and my service is rendered unto that source of life” (p. 140). On the other hand, each religion differentiates itself from other faiths and sometimes other gods, and like all minorities, people from “other” religions often stand out from/as others. In Sikhism, members of the community (khalsa) are encouraged to wear their hair long and braided or bound in a turban. Standing out in this way inspires followers to feel differently than everyone “else.” As one famous Sikh poet said, “People say it is difficult to keep hair, but a life devoid of any source of inspiration is all the more difficult to live” (p. 140). Particularly since Partition Partition (pp. 142-144), when so many Sikhs were displaced in India, Pakistan, and around the world, the theme of feeling like a stranger (as we discussed in Islam) runs deep. As the Canadian author Sikh Shauna Singh Baldwin writes, “One day our children will say, ‘My father came to this country with very little but his turban and my mother learned to work because no one would hire him.’ Then we will have taught Canadians what it takes to wear a turban.” In our first video, we see a PBS (American Public Television) interview with Instagram poet Rupi Kaur. The host flew to Brampton, Ontario to interview her. While Kaur doesn’t speak specifically about Sikhism, we see many of the above themes that come with standing out as a voiceless minority. Kaur says, “I think I just fell in love with the way the mic picks up my voice, and it like boomed throughout the entire space. And for someone that felt voiceless for so long, that was so refreshing” (3.52). Drawing on her family’s immigration to Canada, she seems to relate well to people outside of Sikhism who also feel voiceless. “A lot of the readers are young women who are experiencing really real things, and they’re not able to talk about it with maybe family or other friends, and so they go to this type of poetry to sort of feel understood and to have these conversations” (5.51). In the second video Arjun Singh Bhullar makes a similar point. Just a few months ago, Bhullar because the first Indian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion. In the video he discusses the importance of wearing his turban into the octagon (he doesn’t wear it while fighting). He says, “And it’s not easy, man, being a minority. You’re almost raised to conform. To be like everyone else. You’re different. And it’s hard to sometimes embrace that.” (4.06). Why is it so important for so many religions to embrace difference? How do Sikhs embrace difference? Specifically, explore the religious tension (contradiction?) between wanting to be the same and wanting to be different. The Sikh God seems to want us to “make this body a cage of love, and then talk” (p. 142). What does this mean, and what, specifically, should we talk about?

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