Since the shooting at Gurdwara Sahib Wisconsin in Oak Creek on Sunday, Sikhs across North America have been gathering in their towns and cities to hold candle-light vigils as a mark of respect to those who were murdered and in hope of a recovery for the injured. The demeanour and attitude of these Sikhs is a testament to the teachings of Guru Nanak under whose direction we endeavour to lead our lives and this conduct has been recognised by the Police Chief in Oak Creek. John Edwards commented that he was startled by the response of the Sikh community to this tragedy, but many of us will not be. The House of Guru Nanak has since its earliest day inspired a revolutionary potency amongst its adherents to withstand oppression, infiltration and near annihilation, without compromising their principles.
“In 28 years of law enforcement, I have seen a lot of hate. I have seen a lot of revenge. I’ve seen a lot of anger. What I saw, particularly from the Sikh community this week was compassion, concern, support. What I didn’t see was hate. I did not see revenge. I didn’t see any of that. And in law enforcement that’s unusual to not see that reaction to something like this. I want you all to understand how unique that is.” -John Edwards
Sikhs are no strangers to dealing with atrocity. When Guru Nanak first made his Divine revelation, he did so knowing that his message of love, tolerance and freedom went against the communal norms of the sub-continent where class and caste had subjugated people for thousands of years. He also knew that his ground-breaking ideas for social reform would see him face the might of the Mughal Empire that had further enslaved a demoralised people, but he raised his voice in a fashion hitherto unseen, and so intrinsically Truthful were the words he spoke (immortalised in the Babur Bani within the Guru Granth Sahib) that he won over the Emperor.
Guru Nanak set the standard for all Sikhs who would follow, to remain steadfast in upholding Truth, justice and righteousness whilst maintaining pursuit of personal emancipation. Throughout the next two centuries, the Guru built the foundations to an all-encompassing way of life providing practical examples to compliment the ideology that was being imparted. When the Tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh learnt that all four of his sons had been murdered, he responded with the rousing call that they may have fell on the battlefield, but thousands more remained to defend liberty. The infamous letter that he wrote to the Mughal Emperor under whose rule the execution of his 6 and 8 year old sons was ordered, is a work of understated piety and bold proclamation. The Zafarnama reads still today as the work of a victorious soul whose unflinching dedication to all that is right in the World cannot be overcome.
With this knowledge, it should come as no surprise that the Sikhs of America in 2012 might comprise the same spirit, esteem and resolution as their illustrious teachers. The Gurus motivated Sikhs to follow in their footsteps, leading by example and trailblazing a path that would be tread by Banda Singh Bahadur, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, General Hari Singh Nalwa, Baba Maharaj Singh, most recently Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and of course so many others. These Sikhs proved that it was not only the Guru who could achieve great feats of humanity, but they too could do so, if they lived by Truth and were people of principle. They understood that those two imposters, birth and death, come to all; it is just a matter of time and place. Today across North America, the Sikhs who are winning such praise understand that too. They recognise that society must learn from the experiences we encounter and the tests that we face, such as the events of last Sunday, but that we must emerge foremost with our principles intact.
There is a legend that was retold by the human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra that has gained popularity in recent years about a solitary candle that remained lit when all others extinguished as the sun set for the very first time. Seeing the courage of this one small light and how the darkness could not encroach upon its space, thousands of other candles relit and brought light where there had been darkness. Guru means to bring light where there is darkness; realisation where there is ignorance. No matter what comes to pass in this World, Sikhs will always harness the strength of knowing that the Guru spoke up against all wrongs, but never did so in fear or in hate. And like those thousands of candles of the legend, we Sikhs will continue to shine brightly knowing that the Guru’s is an inextinguishable light.