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As we celebrate the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth, the founder of the Sikh faith, his message is as relevant today – if not more so – as it was centuries ago.

Guru Nanak was born in a society sharply divided, based on religion, caste, and gender. Those labeled “upper caste” grossly mistreated and abused those labeled “lower caste.” Interreligious oppression choked society, and women were treated as inferior, subservient to men. Religious leaders and the priestly class exploited people’s devotion to God and misguided them for their own selfish reasons.


Guru Nanak received Divine revelation and founded Sikhism as a newly revealed religion – the word ‘Guru’ in this context relates to one being the messenger of God. Guru Nanak’s message relates to many important aspects of today’s society, including love and caring for one another, service to humanity and helping those in need, justice for all, taking a stand against the oppression of any segment of society, and freedom of expression and practice of one’s religious beliefs.

One of Guru Nanak’s fundamental messages is the oneness of all humanity. He spoke emphatically against the notion of inequality and the resulting mistreatment of one segment of society by another. He emphasized that there is only One God who has created the entire universe, including human beings. He gave us the message of Ik-Onkar, which is the very first word in the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib (GGS), and means there is only One, universal Creator who has created all of us.

Guru Nanak emphasized that all humans, being children of the same One Creator or One Divine, are divinely interconnected. The same Divine, or God, permeates all of us, and we are all an integral part of the same Divine. As a natural consequence, no one is superior or inferior to anyone else, whether it is in the context of gender, religion, caste, or anything else. As translated from the GGS: ‘First, God Created light, all humanity has been Created by the same Divine; all have been Created out of the same light, how could one be good and another bad.’

Connecting What Has Been Divided

This concept of connectedness is critically important in today’s world, when we have hopelessly divided ourselves on the basis of religion, caste, race, language, gender, and national boundaries (to name a few). Hatred and brutalization of those we consider “others,” based on such divisions, is tearing all segments of our society apart. It has already led to the displacement, torture, and killing of millions of people across the world. Since we are all children of the same One God, when we engage in interreligious fights, thinking our religion to be better than someone else’s is an affront to God. It is like two sons of the same mother attacking each other, each professing that his mother is superior to his brother’s.


On the other hand, once we embrace the concept of One Divine, it allows us to embrace diversity and practice pluralism. This does not mean that we have to give up our individual paths to reaching the Divine. It just means that while we pursue our own individual paths, we also celebrate diversity and pluralism, and the very concept of otherness dissolves away.

Treating others as our own brothers and sisters rises beyond being nice to them, or even striving for peace and harmony. Since diversity and plurality are an inherent theme of the Divine Creation, as we embrace all humanity as a part of the same Divine, we inherently become a part of the same Divine syncytium as everyone else. As described in Guru Granth Sahib, we reach a state where ‘there is no stranger, nor an enemy, I am in harmony with everyone.’

This concept of One humanity is reflected in many Sikh traditions and historic events. Among others, these include langar, where everyone sits together and eats a meal without any distinction of religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, social status, race, caste, or any other division; inclusion of the writings of spiritual writers from other faiths alongside the Sikh Gurus in the Guru Granth Sahib; the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who sacrificed his life so that Hindus could freely practice their own faith; Bhai Ghanhaya’s act of giving water and tending to the wounds of injured enemy soldiers who had been fighting to kill Sikhs; and Sikhs rising up to fight the huge armies of Ahmad Shah Abdali to save the women whom Abdali’s forces had abducted, even though most of those women came from families who were intent on annihilating Sikhs.

Guru Nanak traveled far and wide, emphasizing the oneness of all humanity and bridging perceived interfaith and other gaps among society. Committing to the importance of bridging gaps among today’s society, interfaith organizations like Religions for Peace and the Parliament of the World’s Religions are playing an important role in promoting interfaith understanding and harmony. This is a commendable and much needed effort in today’s splintered world.

Note: Dr. Satpal Singh is a founding trustee of the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations, and is the immediate past chairperson of the World Sikh Council - America Region. He is a member of the Executive Council of the Religions For Peace, USA, and is actively involved in Catholic-Sikh dialogue.
Photo: Nick Kenrick, C.c. 2.0

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