Response to New York Times article about President Obama's Visit to the Golden Temple
in Amritsar, India
Indianapolis, Indiana USA
Oct. 21, 2010
Kanwal Prakash Singh
Sikh Americans and the Sikh world are stunned to read of the
reasons for President Obama not visiting the Golden Temple in
Amritsar, India given by his staff in the New York Times article, "A Question of Appearances: Obama Will Bypass Sikh Temple
on Visit to India" by Lydia Polgreen (NY Times, October 19, 2010).
The US President's canceling his trip to Amritsar and the visit to the Golden Temple strictly based on the report in media circles, if true, that by wearing a scarf to cover his head, the President may be viewed as being a Muslim is most unfortunate.
The White House's action to cancel his trip based on that would reinforce the unconscionable stereotype that all those who cover their heads in America are Muslims rather than Sikhs (for whom covering their heads is a faith-mandated commandment and tradition). Mr. Obama canceling the trip to Amritsar to avoid an association with any faith other than his
own can lead to further misunderstanding and perpetuation of unprovoked hostility, harassment and hate crimes, problems of mistaken identity and discrimination against Sikh Americans in the U.S.
SIKHS ARE NOT MUSLIMS; covering one's head is associated with humility and respect for a faith tradition. The recent visits to the Golden Temple by Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu leaders, and others have generated a great sense of goodwill among the Sikh diaspora
around the world. These world leaders never thought that somehow covering their head in the holiest shrine of the Sikh faith ever compromised their humanity or spirituality. They, and tens of millions from diverse faith traditions from every corner of the world, come annually to honor a world faith, its traditions, and followers and receive spiritual blessings.
The visits by world leaders to the Golden Temple have enhanced their stature and admiration in the global Sikh community and among people of their own nations, many of whom are well aware of the history, tradition, and the foundation of the Sikh faith as based on equality, sanctity of all faiths and sacred traditions, and dignity and justice for all human beings.
Thus, the White House considering canceling the U.S. President's visit to Golden Temple shows a total lack of understanding and will be a serious setback for the whole issue of honoring and celebrating diversity in America. If the White House has other reasons to cancel the President's trip to Amritsar and the Golden Temple, then that is altogether a different matter. Sikhs around the world are optimistic that this grand gesture towards the global Sikh community and his friend, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh (a Sikh), may send the right message. His canceling the trip due to the
reasons being floated by the media is a terribly shortsighted decision and could be a missed opportunity to see one of the world's most beautiful spiritual heritage centers.
A few words about the Golden Temple:
From an essay titled, "GOLDEN TEMPLE: A SPIRITUAL TREASURE;
AN ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL" by Kanwal Prakash Singh, originally posted at www.NRIInternet.com.
"For the Sikhs, this shrine is their heart and soul; a place that has
witnessed the history of their faith, sacrifices of countless followers
to defend its sanctity and reinforce their faith and commitment to
the sacred commandments of equality, justice, dignity of all God's
children;to uphold the sanctity of all faith traditions as humanity's
collective spiritual treasure, and service of all people.
At this place, the sacred Scripture of the Sikhs was installed by the
Fifth Sikh Prophet, Guru Arjan Dev himself in 1604 A.D. Associated
with the lives of other Sikh Gurus, the foundation stone of this Temple
was laid by a venerated Sufi Saint, Hazrat Mian Mir, in 1588 A.D.
The Temple was richly adorned and embellished by Maharaja Ranjit
Singh in the nineteenth century. This sacred complex is associated
with celebrated martyrs who gave their lives in righteous defiance and
for the defense of this magnificent Harmander Sahib: 'The Temple of
God' surrounded by a 'Pool of Immortality' and anchored by The Akal
Takht: 'The Throne of God.'
This world spiritual heritage center is rich with history and tradition.
This is hallowed ground for all humanity. This place is alive with the
spirit and prayers of pilgrims of many faiths from the remotest corners
of earth. Built in 1588 A.D., the Temple is an exquisite example of
Indo-Sarsenic architecture and radiates a celestial aura. The sacred
Sikh music emanating daily from inside the Golden Temple, from before
dawn till late into the evening, fills the air with blessings and praise
of the Divine. The music, melody, and Ragas (patterns of music),
universal message, serene beauty and warm spirit of the place
seem to transcend all differences, and invite cultures, languages,
national origins, and diverse traditions into folds of seamless spiritual bliss."