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For Sikhism facts, Students in Montgomery become teachers

The teachers asked about the Sikh population of Montgomery and learned that at least 200 Sikh families live within 15 mi...

Sikhism has a history of more than 100 years in the United States and has over 25 million adherents worldwide. The majority of Americans in the USA do not know anything about Sikhism, even though there are at least 360,000 Sikhs in 246 congregations. 60 percent of Americans, according to a study conducted by the new National Sikh Campaign, do not know anything at all about Sikhism.

The majority of Americans incorrectly assume that a person wearing a turban is Muslim. According to two-thirds of Americans, they have never interacted with any Sikhs. Sikhism was not something they studied at school, for sure. According to the Sikh Coalition, 67% of Sikh youngsters report experiencing bullying as a result of ignorance.

A brief about Sikh Hate Crimes

Outside of schools, the violence was much worse: Four days after the 9/11 attacks, a Sikh man was murdered by an American who mistook him for a Muslim. It was in 2012 that a white supremacist went on a shooting spree, and killed six Sikh worshipers in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Weeks ago, a gunman shot a Sikh on his own driveway, telling him to return to his own country while he shot him. 

The Sikh community in America recently produced a nationwide TV campaign in which people of all ages declare to the camera, "We are Sikhs. We're Americans." This was done in response to escalating hate crimes that target not only Sikhs but also other Indian Americans and other religious groups like Muslims and Jews. 

Similar to the ‘We are Sikhs’ Campaign, children took over the role of teachers in Montgomery County. The children's message to teachers was similar to the CNN advertisement. The students have been teaching Sikhism 101 to their teachers at their gurdwara - a Sikh place of worship - in North Potomac for four years. To dispel ignorance about Sikhism, the students stepped up to help explain key concepts and even developed classroom materials to help their teachers learn facts about the Sikh faith. 

The training, according to Newport Mill Middle School's Spanish instructor Cynthia Nystrom, will help her better comprehend the circumstances of her pupils. "I work in a hugely diverse school. We've had Sikh children," she affirmed. She didn't know anything about their faith before the class. This exchange benefits both students and teachers.

Rajwant Singh, a dentist, who is secretary of this gurdwara, the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, and a co-founder of the national campaign. said that to see the kids assuming leadership roles, and the proud manner in which they talk about their own faith and their own identity is truly commendable.

Bullying faced by Sikh kids in school

Many of them have been bullied because of their visible signs of faith. Girls are teased about not shaving their legs because Sikhs don't cut their hair. Boys are teased about their turbans which they wear to school to hold their hair. 

The Sikh students and their parents hope that by educating Montgomery County's teachers about their faith, the teachers will be better prepared to prevent such religion-based bullying in the county schools. There have More than 200 teachers have been roped in as part of this program.

Amrit Kaur relates her experience of religious bullying. During seventh grade, the 14-year-old watched her twin brother, Anmol, badgered by students about his topknot. He was asked about the bump under his turban. They referred it to as “is that a rock?” “Is that a hamburger?” The boys tried to try to yank his turban off to see that was it hair. 

Amrit Kaur, who is now a freshman at Winston Churchill High School, felt powerless to stop the bullying during the school's classes. Drawing inspiration from the incident, she decided to become a teacher at the gurdwara.

Harvi Shergill, a 16-year-old Winston Churchill student, showcased a presentation outlining basic facts about Sikhism: Founded 500 years ago in India, Sikhism is monotheistic, doesn't believe in proselytizing, and gives everyone the same last name (Singh, meaning Lion for men, Kaur, meaning Princess for women). Based on the teachings of the religion’s founder Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru, and the nine Sikh gurus that followed him, Sikhism’s tenets include a belief in the unity of humanity and the value of selfless service and honest conduct. Sikhs also meditate on the name of the first guru as a means to feel God’s presence and control human vices.

Shergill offered his viewpoint on the benefits of wearing a turban: "You never have a bad hair day, and it makes you look taller." 

The teachers also witnessed a Sikh worship service that the students led. They entered the sanctuary, which they later discovered was known as a diwan hall, and stood before the altar, which was draped in a royal blue cloth with exquisite embroidery and held the Sikh scriptures, as well as the empty floor where worshippers could sit. 

One teacher whispered to another, "I wonder if it's gender-segregated." "That's what I wondered," the other teacher replied, hesitant to sit down. Teenagers strategically positioned themselves near the teachers to answer any questions they might have, so that they could share a quick lesson: Sikhism has always emphasized gender equality and class equality as its core values. So they could sit wherever they liked.

In Montgomery, the teachers learned that at least 200 Sikh families live within 15 miles of the North Potomac gurdwara. They asked what holidays Sikhs celebrate, and students complained that they have been marked down in class for missing classes on holidays that their teachers have never even heard of. While the kids were asked about inconveniences in playing sports while wearing a turban, they all told them that it is easy to tie a smaller turban and participate in any sport while wearing a turban.

Madhur Kaur, a junior at Quince Orchard High School, read aloud from the Gurmukhi scripture which she mastered for her recent baptism. The classes have been effective Madhur says. She saw an overhead slide repeating a common misconception that Sikhism is an offshoot of Hinduism. Before she could raise her hand to assert that Sikhism is a separate faith, not a variant of Hinduism or Islam, her teacher beat her to it. The teacher intervened saying that in his gurdwara class, he learned that the overhead slide was incorrect. 

According to organizer Harminder Kaur, the state of Maryland approved their free class last year as formal teacher training. Planning classes for teachers from the District and the rest of the state is underway. The students are now preparing groups of children in gurdwaras in Phoenix, Arizona, and Fresno, California, to implement the same program for their own teachers.

Sikh rap artists, Sikh basketball players, Sikh YouTubers, Sikh holidays, and Sikh prayer were all discussed in the Montgomery classes. The teachers who took part in the classes concurred that they were truly eye-opening and beneficial.


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