Sikhs in UAE hail country's year of 'respect, inclusion'

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Sikhs pray at the region’s first Gurudwara in Jebel Ali, which was established in 2012. — File photo
Sikhs pray at the region's first Gurudwara in Jebel Ali, which was established in 2012. - File photo

Dubai - Since the Sikh Gurudwara in the UAE was opened, Sikhs in the country have become more "self-assured of their identity.

By Dhanusha Gokulan

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Published: Wed 30 Jan 2019, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Wed 30 Jan 2019, 11:06 PM

When it was announced that 2019 would be the Year of Tolerance in the UAE, the Sikh community in the country felt the palpable "respect and recognition for their faith", said the leader of the country's first Gurudwara. 
"Proclaiming the Year of Tolerance even goes beyond recognising faith groups, it also signifies inclusion - by encouraging everyone to observe the value of tolerance towards other religious beliefs, cultures and traditions," said Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh Temple in Dubai, the first Sikh Gurudwara in the region.
In the country, tolerance is not just a concept people talk about - it is a virtue that the UAE has institutionalised, especially with the establishment of the Ministry of Tolerance a few years ago, Kandhari said.
"This means that programmes are planned, executed, monitored and evaluated. Structuring efforts in nurturing tolerance can have measurable and tangible results - which makes all the dialogues and activities progressive and continuously developed."
He said Pope Francis' upcoming visit to Abu Dhabi alone cements the status of the UAE as a global champion of tolerance.
"Countering hatred and violence by embracing and promoting respect and tolerance is a great example that the global community can learn from," Kandhari said. "To see the pope in the UAE will have a resounding effect to all people, young and old. I am certain that this event will bring encouragement and send a message that everyone has the right and freedom to choose and practice their religion.
"For non-Catholics, to see the Pope in a Muslim country perpetuates positive acceptance."
Region's first Gurudwara
It was on January 17, 2012 that Kandhari achieved a life-long dream - he established the region's first official Sikh Gurudwara (temple) in Jebel Ali Village, Dubai.
Freedom of religion and expression is a cornerstone of the Sikh faith. Kandhari said that since the Sikh Gurudwara in the UAE was opened, Sikhs in the country have become more "self-assured of their identity".  They have also been more understanding of different perspectives and practices, he said.
Sikhism was founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak and the nine successive Sikh Gurus in 15th-century Punjab.  It is the fifth-largest organised religion in the world.
This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (literally, the counsel of the gurus) or the Sikh Dharma. In 1958, the Sikh community comprised just 1,000 people. Now, there are over 50,000 Sikhs in the UAE and majority of them are blue-collar workers.
The Gurudwara serves free food from 6am to 9pm every day to all who come to the temple. Everybody - regardless of their faith - is welcome to enjoy a spiritual experience, along with a tasty vegetarian meal, at the temple.
"We distribute approximately 1,500 meals per day. On special days and weekends, we distribute over 55,000 free meals to everyone," Kandhari said.
550 years
This year is significant for the Sikhs as it marks Guru Nanak Dev's 550th birth anniversary.
"Guru Nanak Dev Ji has been an advocate of inter-faith harmony as evidenced by having a Hindu and Muslim constant companion throughout his lifetime," Kandhari said.
"In honour of his 550th birth anniversary, we are planning an inter-faith programme in April, similar to the UN World Interfaith Harmony Day conference we had last February 2016. We are also planning a joint service initiative with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in November 2019."

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