Every week for the past several months, my mother and father prepared and donated 100 meals for their local food bank in San Antonio. As time passed and people learned about their efforts, their personal initiative turned into a small operation, bringing in food donations from all over the city.
Simran Jeet Singh
When I asked my parents what moved them to give so generously, they replied matter-of-factly: “This is what we do. This is what our Sikh faith teaches us.”
While I saw their service as a unique expression of selflessness, they saw their actions as part of a long lineage of justice work, termed seva in the Sikh tradition.
Ever since its inception in 1469, Sikhism has been about finding injustices in the world and standing against them. The three core pillars of Sikhism — “Kirat Karo, Vand Chakko, Naam Japo”–– call on all Sikhs to earn an honest living, share and contribute to your communities, and remember the Divine constantly.
Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak Sahib, established the Sikh tradition with a firm commitment to justice. He observed deep inequities in the world around him and rejected them outright. Accordingly, Sikhs are taught that divisions such as caste, class, gender, and religion are mere social constructions, and that all of us are bound by a shared, divine light.
I Find Myself Drawn to the Progressive Movement
The Sikh Gurus didn’t just talk about equity. They lived it. For example, adherents of the Sikh faith share last names in furtherance of this core value of equality: Singh for men and Kaur for women. Sikhs adorn turbans to demonstrate that all people deserve to be treated as royalty, regardless of circumstances or background. Women are recognized as equals: it is a core tenet that men and women are equally divine.
When I look at the American political landscape, and apply the core teachings of my faith and its wisdom, I find myself drawn to the progressive movement. Our Sikh faith calls on each of us to be saint-soldiers (sant-sipahi), an ideal that corresponds to the progressive movement’s social justice warrior.
This election is another battle that Sikhs must engage with fearlessness and clarity of vision. As citizens of this country, we must recognize that we are battling for the soul of this nation and that, no matter what happens, we must fight with all of our might for what is right. Over the past few months, we have seen millions of Americans take a stand against anti-Black racism and racial injustice. Meaningful movements like these require significant sacrifice, and this reminds me of Guru Nanak Sahib’s loving wisdom: “If you want to play the game of love, come to me with your head on your palm.” What he meant is that to live with love requires that we be ready and willing to make a sacrifice. This is what it means for us to live selflessly.
Our Sikh Tradition Teaches Us to Confront Inequities, Not to Perpetuate Them
In a moment where we are facing a growing tide of oppressions — racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all other forms of other-isms that are dividing this country — our only way out is to find connection. This is where it serves us to remember the Sikh principle of ik oankar. We are better when we stand together and see our shared humanity.
Our Sikh tradition teaches us to confront inequities, not to perpetuate them; to challenge bigotry and hate, not to participate in it; to serve the most vulnerable, not disenfranchise them. Our commitment as Sikhs is to set the bar higher and to seek a better world, not just for ourselves but for everyone. That’s why I am proud to vote for Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris in this election. Vice President Biden’s principled and compassionate leadership will further the causes of justice and equality that are core to our Sikh faith. Put simply, Joe Biden is the right person for this moment.
About the Author
Simran Jeet Singh, an American educator, writer, and activist, who frequently offers comment and analysis on religion, racism, and justice. Singh is a columnist for Religion News Service, host of the “Spirited” podcast, and a visiting professor of religion at Union Theological Seminary.