Kids Corner


Spitting Is Not Dialogue. Nor Is It Pious:
Internal Diversity & Intra-Faith Conversations







Did you hear about the Orthodox Jewish men who curse and spit on elementary school kids as they walk to school?

Waiting for the punchline?

Sorry, there isn't one.

Just a couple weeks ago, a story came to light after 8-year-old Naama Margolese complained to her mother that she was too scared to go to school. She explained that men would stand on the sidewalk and terrorize the young girls because they weren't dressed conservatively enough.

As someone who practices religion personally and studies religion academically, this story tears me up inside. There's so much I want to say about this. A lot of it is probably obvious, and a lot has already been said. But I do think this story raises an important question that we tend to overlook.

How do we deal with internal diversity?

Most efforts towards religious dialogue emphasize relationships across traditions. These conversations work on an "inter-faith" level and play an important role in connecting people of various backgrounds and worldviews with one another. At the same time though, I don't hear much about "intra-faith" dialogues. I think it would be incredibly useful to have a forum where people with different interpretations of shared traditions could gather and share their perspectives.

We've benefited immensely from opening our minds to inter-faith conversations, and there's so much to be gained by embracing intra-faith dialogues.

I have my own challenges in dealing with internal diversity.

I often catch myself thinking about religion exclusively in terms of ideas and beliefs, and I have to remind myself that there's a lot more to it than that. It takes a conscious effort to remember that religion is practiced and interpreted by individuals with all sorts of unique life experiences, and that it would only be natural for people to view the world from different perspectives.

In other words, internal diversity is the norm - no religious community is homogenous.

And while our society has come to place a strong emphasis on accepting people from other religions, we don't really try to understand alternative interpretations within our own traditions.

It's like Muslims who can talk about the status of different prophets with Christians and Jews, but can't have that same conversation with other Muslims.

It's like Sikhs who are willing to listen to other Hindu and Buddhist views on vegetarianism, but dismiss one another the moment they hear a different viewpoint.

It's like Jews who are able to live with people of various cultural and religious backgrounds, but who spit and curse at other Jews who dress differently.

I understand why it may be difficult for people of faith to accept a different interpretation than their own, but to me, the example of the 8-year-old girl is a reminder of what's at stake here. It's too important to keep neglecting, and I'm convinced that it's worth our while.

It seems to me that being able to better reconcile the differences we encounter in our lives will help us maintain our humanity.



We at invite our readers to ruminate on the issues raised by the author hereinabove, to self-examine how they apply to us as Sikhs.

We too are quick to pounce on outside groups to blame them for our ills and failings - albeit, sometiumes with merit and justification. But are we equally critical of ourselves, particularly in identifying our own inability in dealing with differences within our own ranks?

This is not meant to be an exercise in self-flagellation. Lord knows, we can be equally adept in pointing fingers at each other within the community, as people in all religions are prone to do.

What we seek here on this forum is to hear from you on how you, personally, find yourself falling into such traps and how you deal with it. A frank and honest confessional, but for the sole purpose of seeking collective solutions!      


[The author of the article is a Doctoral student in Religion at Columbia University.]

[Courtesy: The Huffington Post]

January 20, 2012




Conversation about this article

1: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), January 20, 2012, 9:58 AM.

Religion makes people do all sort of strange and weird things ... ostensibly for a seat in heaven.

2: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), January 20, 2012, 10:09 AM.

The shabad Guru Granth Sahib is our eternal Guru. It has all the answers for internal diversity and internal conversations. As a community we need to accept that gurbani is interpreted as per one's understanding. If we Sikhs accept the supremacy of the shabad Guru in word and spirit, we will easily resolve all our differences. Is it that we adhere to the teachings of gurbani when we deal with other communities and religions and forget the teachings of gurbani when it comes to our own?

3: Bakshish Singh  (Utah, U.S.A.), January 20, 2012, 10:11 AM.

Strange, but it's always the weirdest, the ugliest, and the most uncouth characters (both inside and outside), who - completely oblivious of their own dilapidation and decadence - feel free and, oddly, also qualified, to opine on the appearance of others! One of the great wonders that the good Lord has created for us to behold!

4: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), January 20, 2012, 8:20 PM.

It is the energy of the ego which drives ordinary humans to misinterpret scriptures and turn them into dogma and instruments of control.

5: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.), January 22, 2012, 11:01 AM.

"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion!" ... (Stephen Weinberg)

6: Manwinder Grewal (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), January 22, 2012, 1:31 PM.

This is an article I have waited for. I myself do not wear a turban. This is an excellent article to get our fellow Sikhs to look at each other and see the similarities that we share. Well written and thank you,, for publishing it.

7: Gurpreet Singh (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada), February 14, 2012, 1:31 PM.

This is certainly a well-written article that raises an excellent point about the lack of intra-faith dialogue. Its point is certainly proven by the simple fact that within almost a whole month's time only six readers prior to my posting stopped to comment on it! This suggests either a lack of awareness, or an apathy in dialoguing internally that pervades our community as well. I believe it is the latter and now question what the barriers to dialogue might be? Are people so busy that they cannot spend a few minutes to share their opinion here or perhaps one's hesitation occurs due to fear of retribution from those in our sangat who choose to "spit" instead of writing or speaking constructive words. Again, I suspect it is the latter reason and unfortunately we all lose out when we live in fear of the few intolerant amongst us.

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