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The Gurdwara Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, located in North Potomac, Md., joined the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington in 1987. One of their well-known events is the annual Interfaith Concert, where they bring together musical traditions from various faiths, including Gurbani Kirtan.

The Interfaith Concert 

For years now, a Sikh gurdwara in Washington has been actively involved in the interfaith community. They have been sharing Sikh music at the Washington National Cathedral. In 2008, the gurdwara invited Bhai Satvinder Singh and Bhai Harvinder Singh from Delhi, along with Bhai Manjeet Singh on tabla, to lead their kirtani jathaa in performing Guru Nanak's shabad: "Vich Duniya Sev Kamayiaye, Taan Darghai Baisan Payeeaye."

With 30 performers using the most instruments, their voices echoed throughout the grand cathedral hall. One thing that was missing was that the Sikh performance lacked an explanation of the shabad, as it wasn't mentioned in the event booklet or by the announcers.

Despite this, many in the audience found joy in the visual and auditory experience of the evening. Brenda Montague from Bethesda was particularly delighted, describing it as "seventh heaven." She expressed her appreciation for the event's ability to bring people together and hoped for its continuation. It was her fourth time attending this event.

The melody of the Sikh faith 

Mpala Sinotheni, a recent immigrant from South Africa, attended her first concert and was amazed by the diverse representation of religions. She expressed, "It's wonderful to see people of all faiths coming together. This is how it should be - We are all God's children."

Amrit Kaur, who has been the secretary of the gurdwara for over 20 years, has poured her heart into organizing the Interfaith Conference. In October, she achieved a milestone by becoming the first Sikh president of the interfaith group. She shared her passion for interfaith work, saying that she loved the idea of building bridges and fostering understanding and respect among different faiths. It's a beautiful concept."

While some faith groups formed umbrella organizations like the Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples and the Archdiocese of Washington to send representatives to the Interfaith Conference, others joined individually. The Islamic faith, for instance, had five groups represented at the conference, while the GGSF stood as the sole gurdwara representing the local Sikh community.

Kaur explained that gurdwaras in America don't have a central council, and they operate independently. She mentioned that the Sikh community needs to figure out a way to unite and approach the Interfaith Conference together. However, she noted that so far, no other gurdwara has shown interest in joining this interfaith group.

Kaur also shared that GGSF (Gurdwara Guru Singh Sabha) had been involved in interfaith activities even before the 9/11 tragedies. Other gurdwaras recognized the importance of reaching out and building networks after those events. She recalled some memorable moments from those experiences.

Racist acts affecting the Sikh community 

In 1992, a video camera captured Los Angeles policemen dragging Rodney King from his truck and beating him, which led to race riots. In response, the Interfaith Conference arranged a peace march in Washington. In 1996, when black churches were set on fire in the South, an interfaith service took place at the gurdwara.

In the year 2000, during President Clinton's visit to India, there was a tragic incident in which Kashmiri Sikhs were massacred in Chittisinghpura. In response, another interfaith prayer was held at the gurdwara.

Gurdarshan Singh, the gurdwara granthee, expressed his thoughts on the significance of such events, stating that it is powerful for Sikhs to demonstrate what our religion stands for. The Guru Granth Sahib is a holy book that promotes interfaith understanding; there is so much that different communities can share. 

Parade of faiths 

In 2008, a concert took place on the evening of November 18th, featuring various religious groups showcasing their faiths with colourful banners. The liveliest performance came from St. Anthony's Catholic Church Music Ministries, who sang gospel songs and danced in the black religious tradition. The audience enthusiastically clapped and swayed to the music.

The Nrityakalpana Hindu Dancers and the Cambodian Temple Buddhist Dancers wore mesmerizing costumes as they performed their traditional religious dances. After the performances, Rev. Clark Lobenstine announced that there were 1,040 people in the audience. He stated that the event provided an opportunity for people to share their faith and learn from other faiths, fostering a deeper understanding of a better world for future generations.

For the bhai sahibs from India, it was a significant moment to sing Guru Nanak's words on a national stage. Satvinder Singh, speaking in Punjabi, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to perform and spread Guru Nanak's message. He praised the sangat for their support during the kirtan.

During an interview conducted by Rajwant Singh, executive director of the gurdwara, some members of the group shared their experiences in front of a Sikh cameraman. Afterwards, they were asked to leave the stage to allow others to take photos.

Among the audience were some Sikhs, mostly regular sangat members of GGSF, including Inderpaul Singh Gadh of Germantown.

“I just enjoy the event,” he said. “So much diversity.” This was his second time at the concert. “I enjoyed the first time too… but this may have been the best (Sikh) performance.”

 

*Based on an article by Anju Kaur, published in the Sikh News on 5th December 2008 

 

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