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Open house


OKC’s growing Sikh community celebrates a new house of worship.

Greg Horton July 17th, 2013

According to local Sikhs, the first Sikh arrived in Oklahoma City in 1972, but their community has worshipped in a modified church only since 1983.

BY: Shannon Cornman

In those days, the city had about 25 Sikhs and fewer than 10 families.

In May, the brand-new house of worship, called a gurdwara, opened its doors at 4525 N.W. 16th.

About 300 people attended its grand opening, but Sabi Singh, Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma president, estimates the metro is now home to 35 to 40 Sikh families, and most meetings — held on the first and third Sunday of each month — now draw upward of 100 Sikhs.

The Sikhism movement, which now has more than 25 million adherents, began more than 500 years ago when Guru Nanak, the first of Sikhism’s 10 teachers, attempted to synthesize Islam and Hinduism in India. The goal was to establish the equality of all peoples and to say that both Allah and Brahma wanted humans to submit to God and serve one another.

“Sikhs do not have a priesthood or clergy,” Singh said. “We do not believe an intermediary between God and human beings is necessary.”

Guru Nanak did not like mere ritual, so he emphasized a religion in which only an individual’s actions can save that person. As such, Sikhs have tremendous respect for individual autonomy, including a prohibition against proselytizing.

“Sikhs do not tell other people, ‘This is the way to God,’” Singh said.

Worship services feature prayer and readings from their sacred scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. The readings usually are sung because the entire 1,430-page text is in the form of poetry.

Every service concludes with a community meal, but not like the potluck dinners many Oklahomans experienced growing up.

“The meal was started by the second guru, Guru Angad, as a way of bringing people of all castes together,” Singh said.

India’s notorious caste system was even stronger in those days, and Guru Nanak, a social reformer in his own right, preached that all people are equal. In the rules of the caste system, if a person of a lesser caste entered a kitchen, that room was considered defiled. To illustrate the teaching of equality, Guru Angad invited all Sikhs to eat together as a way of destroying the power of the caste system.

As part of their commitment to service, Sikhs are involved in community projects, including feeding the homeless, offering medical care and sending teams for disaster relief. After the Moore tornadoes, teams of Sikhs from Seattle and Dallas converged on the metro to assist with cleanup.

 
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