'In the UAE, they respect the otherness of others'
Founder of the UAE's only Sikh temple Surender Singh Kandhari talks about his new book on tolerance and why the emirates are the perfect model of peaceful coexistence
The need of the hour is to promote tolerance at all levels. Long-time Dubai resident Surender Singh Kandhari believes this so strongly that he has dedicated his second book, Lighthouse of Tolerance - set to launch on September 23 - entirely to the subject. It is just as well, for if anyone is postured to advocate for peaceful coexistence, it's Surender.
The Sikh businessman landed on the UAE's shores 44 years ago to set up his family business. Today, Al Dobowi is a fourth-generation business with a presence on five continents. Nevertheless, what Surender may be better known for is for being one of the founders of Guru Nanak Darbar, the UAE's only Sikh temple.
The Indian expat has been at the forefront of promoting interfaith harmony over the years, making news (and warming hearts) especially during Ramadan, when free iftars are hosted by the temple - and Muslims and non-Muslims alike are welcomed to share a meal. He has also represented the UAE as a delegate at various global summits to promote tolerance and peace.
Surender's advocacy is perfectly aligned with the UAE's own position on tolerance - something he can personally testify goes all the way back to when he first moved to the country in 1976. "Back then, even the Emiratis spoke Hindi," he recalls of the smooth transition. "It was very easy to adjust here, as we felt we were in an extended part of India. When our local landlord, Mr Ali Kamali, went fishing every Friday, he would get fish for us too. So, I always felt very comfortable because I could speak my own language and we were accepted with open arms by the Emiratis."
He notes that the principles of Sikhism - that "we are all equal and should respect all religions" - are also the bedrock for his stance on interfaith harmony. "People use money and politics to create divides and this is harmful to peaceful coexistence," states Surender, who believes the path to such a goal lies in education. "We should educate the youth and instil in them the values of love and tolerance, so as to make the world a better place to live in."
Considering the sectarian strife that many countries continue to see today, Surender upholds the UAE as a model for how governments can lead the way to promoting peace. "The UAE is the only country in the world which has a Ministry of Tolerance. It introduced a Tolerance Week initiative this year, while 2019 was celebrated as the Year of Tolerance. Tolerance is taught as a subject in schools and colleges here, and the country recently issued a law against hate crimes and discrimination too."
He is not waxing lyrical. The global spotlight has indeed been turned on the UAE on several occasions in the recent past - from the historic papal visit last year to the groundbreaking peace accord that it reached with Israel last month. "In the UAE, they respect the otherness of others, irrespective of religion, caste and creed," Surender observes. And that is what he explores in his new book. The self-published 272-pager will be the expat's second authored work after his autobiography, which was published in 2018.
A better understanding of what it means to peacefully coexist is what he is hoping people will eventually take away from his book. "Peace can only be achieved when one puts one's mind to it," he asserts. "There is a saying in our scripture: 'Mann Jeete Jag Jeete'. It means if you can control your mind, you can control the world. I believe if there is peace in the house, there can be peace in the world."