Kuldeep Singh works to bring different religions into togetherness. He is one of 23 board members of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. On Nov. 16, he will be in Chicago to celebrate both a 120th and a 20th anniversary of the parliament. In September 1893 in Chicago, representatives of 10 world religions came together in a recognition of religious pluralism and coexistence. The present-day council revived the parliament in Chicago in 1993 and holds worldwide parliament sessions about every five years.
The parliament's “main objective is to create harmony among various religions and to have a good harmony in the interreligious community,” Mr. Singh said. He was a major speaker at the 2009 parliament held in Melbourne, Australia, and was also on the list of speakers in 1993, when “I spoke about the importance of similarities that various religions have and I emphasized that those are the things that will bring us together, not the dissimilarities.”
The council will have its anniversary celebration Nov. 16 with the theme “Living Out the Vision.” At 4 p.m. at the Chicago Sinai Congregation, four speakers will give reflections on the 1893 parliament and the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic that the parliament published in 1993, and there will be a reception after; tickets are available at parliamentbenefit.eventbrite.com. Then that evening at 6, Mr. Singh will attend a sold-out benefit dinner for the center, where the board chairman, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, a Muslim leader from Chicago, will speak.
The meeting place and time for for the next parliament has not been set. The council hopes Salt Lake City will be the parliament site, in 2015, Mr. Singh said.
Kuldeep Singh, pictured at his home, is a board member of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions.
Mr. Singh, 74, is a member of the Sikh faith, a religion that began in Punjab (now northern India and Pakistan) in the 1400s, and has had 10 major teachers, or gurus, plus an 11th guru that is the Sikhs' holy book, called the Guru Granth Sahib or Adi Granth, a book of thousands of hymns—itself an interfaith volume, Mr. Singh said, that includes 29 authors who are not Sikhs. He said the gurus emphasized that the word, what was said, and not the people themselves, was the true guru.
Sikhism is the fifth-largest world religion, with about 25 million people (22 million of them in India), but in Toledo, there are 30 to 40 Sikh families, and services are held every fourth Saturday in the evening at the University of Toledo International House, always followed by a community meal called a langar.
Members of the Sikh faith have three times for daily prayer. "I'm quite regular on those," Mr. Singh said. "There are three compositions that we recite and it takes almost a half hour in the morning."He recites 10 minutes of prayer at sunset. "And there is another short prayer which is barely a couple of minutes long. Before you go to bed, you recite to thank God for all the amenities of life that he has given to us.You're connected through these prayers to the guru as well as to God."
Mr. Singh's religion is often mispronounced in the U.S., though with good intentions. The word is “best pronounced sick,” Mr. Singh said. “Americans have been pronouncing it as seek, based in respect” so it doesn't sound like sick meaning illness. Sikh, meaning student, is itself a translation from a word that Mr. Singh said is unpronounceable in English.
Sikhs also take on a common name, Singh, meaning lion, for men and Kour, meaning daughter of kings, for women. A guru “gave the last name Singh just to be recognized as not belonging to any caste,” Mr. Singh said.
Mr. Singh has served as chairman of the World Sikh Council—American Region and on the Sikh Youth Alliance of North America, which has been holding educational camps for 40 years. He also is active with the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio. Mr. Singh was born in New Delhi, and moved to England to attend Surrey University, where he became a clinical chemist. He also lived in Canada and Detroit before moving to the Toledo area in 1987.
He and other Sikh men are recognized by their turbans, which all men and some women wear; women might choose a scarf instead, or no head covering. There are five items that all Sikhs—men and women—have, called the five K's or kakaars because they all start with that letter. They have keas, or uncut hair; a kanga, or comb; kaccha, short pants usually worn as underwear; a kirpan, or ceremonial dagger; and a kara, or iron bracelet.
The turban misleads some who are unfamiliar with the Sikh faith to misidentify Sikh men as extremist Muslims. “I think that's because of the photograph of Osama bin Laden displayed on the TV again and again,” Mr. Singh said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who wear turbans in America are Sikhs, so they have nothing to do with terrorism. They have nothing to do with any extremism. And they are unnecessarily identified wrongfully.”
Mr. Singh said that there has been some good media coverage of his religion, especially after six people at the Sikh gurdwara, or temple, in Oak Creek, Wisc., in August 2012 were killed by a gunman, who died there by suicide. “They elaborated very clearly that Sikhs are nice people and they have nothing to do with terrorism,” Mr. Singh said. “In spite of all that, people still fear, and the fear is quite genuine and that fear is quite natural” because of other news they see, but “they don't watch the news 100 percent. If they watch it thoroughly, they will understand,” he said. Educating the public about Sikhs and differentiating them from religious extremists and terrorists is a continuing challenge, Mr. Singh said.
With his continuing efforts in bringing faiths into communication and community, that challenge is one Mr. Singh can face.