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Walk a mile in a Sikh’s turban Thursday at University of Guelph

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Preetam
Singh, 20, describes his religious conviction as a love affair with
God. The University of Guelph student is helping to organize the Sikh
Students' Association's Sikh Awareness Day on Thursday. Non-Sikhs will
get the opportunity to experience what it is like to wear turban.

Rob O'Flanagan/Mercury staff


GUELPH—A
Sikh’s turban, or dastar, is a symbol of religious devotion and a mark
of personal courage. It and other elements of customary Sikhi dress
distinguish followers of the religion from others in Canadian society,
and that distinction is not without challenges.

The Sikh Student
Association at the University of Guelph will hold a Sikh Awareness Day
on Thursday, giving non-Sikhs an opportunity to experience what it is
like to wear a turban. The event is patterned after others on Canadian
campuses aimed at familiarizing Canadians with Sikh beliefs and inviting
them to experience both the highs and lows of wearing the dastar.

Preetam
Singh, 20, was a striking figure over the weekend on the U of G campus,
wearing flowing dark bana—traditional attire—with his high, dark blue
dastar covering his uncut hair, and a kirpan—dagger—strapped to this
hip.

“As soon as I walk in a room I have people’s attention,”
Singh said. “It gives me the opportunity to teach people something about
my faith.”

The Sikhi way of life, he added, has timeless and
holistic qualities. While the rules, ethics and customs of society are
constantly changing, the teachings of the faith remain stable.

His religion, he said, is a love affair, and one he entered into of his own volition at the age of 13.

“I
think of it as falling in love,” said the U of G history student. “You
don’t choose who you fall in love with, or when you are going to fall in
love. You have no power over it. I never thought that I was going to be
as religious as I am now.”

As with other religions, Sikhs strive
to be constantly mindful of the presence of God in their day-to-day
lives. It’s a devotional ambition to which Singh is committed.

“Everyday
is a challenge to make yourself better,” he said. “It’s never good
enough. You always have to work for something more, to try harder and
strive for higher ideals. Ideals are perfection and we are imperfect as
human beings.”

Being easily identifiable as an adherent to a particular faith, he said, puts an onus of responsibility upon a Sikh.

“As
a Sikh I know that people know immediately that I am different, that I
am religious,” he said. “If someone knows that I am a Sikh then I am
representing the Sikh faith. All my actions represent the Sikh
faith—what I say, what I do, how I act. It gives you a lot of
responsibility, and I have to really strive to put the Sikh faith in a
better light.”

Sikhs do face overt discrimination because of
their appearance, Singh said. Mass media, he said, has associated the
wearing of a turban with perpetrators of terrorist acts, and that
negative and unfair association has been applied to Sikhs.

“I
think it is very important for us to propagate the wearing of the
turban, and to have people know the difference between the Sikh religion
and other religions, and why we wear a turban,” Singh said. “It is a
show of peace.”

The Sikh religion—the term Sikhism is not
proper—began in the late 1400s in the Punjab region of India. It has no
clergy. The faith promotes the equality of all human beings, social
justice, the removal of superstition and blind ritual from religious
life, earning an honest living, and circumventing worldly desires and
sin.

There are about 20 million Sikhs worldwide, and it is
estimated there are more than 300,000 in Canada. To be a part of the
Khalsa, or collective body of the faith, one must wear five kakars, or
articles of faith, on their person, including uncut hair, a wooden comb,
a metal bracelet, special cotton undergarments, and the dagger.

Thursday’s
Sikh Awareness Day, sponsored by the Sikh Student Association, runs
throughout the day in the University Centre and is a chance to “walk in
the shoes of a Sikh for one day.”

roflanagan@guelphmercury.com

[www.guelphmercury.com]

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