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Sikh students seek religious tolerance

[caption id="attachment_15749" align="aligncenter" width="318"]gurunanakfresco-goindwal Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. Photo via Wikipedia/Gurdwara Goindwal Sahib.[/caption] For Prachi Makkar, Sikhism is not just a religion, but a way of life. The senior finance, information technology and marketing major practices the centuries old religion, which worships the holy book Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji that contains the teachings of the 10 Sikh gurus and other holy saints. Though her parents are from India, Makkar was born and raised in America, and grew up with the Sikh and Hindu religions. “The two crucial and vital principles in Sikhism are the spiritual element and ethical element,” Makkar said. “Sikhism is a positive and well-balanced monotheistic religion. In Sikhism we do not worship idols so you can really practice anywhere.” The Sikh religion helps one stay rooted with God. While religion deals with a man’s inner spiritual development, ethics ensure that a man’s social responses should be on a sound footing, Makkar said. Makkar added that a true Sikh is one who always works for the betterment of others, who helps care for the poor and needy and never keeps malice or hatred for others. “A true Sikh has a selfless, definite purpose and mission in life,” she added. “Sikh is a peaceful, humble, honest, calm, open, committed and determined person.” In Sikhism, the Guru is the divinely-designated representative of God. “This is the most important and pivotal figure on which the whole spiritual and temporal edifice of Sikhism stands,” Makkar said. On Sundays, Makkar practices her religion by going to the Bridgewater Gurdwara with her family. The Gurdwara, which is a peaceful place of worship, comes from Guru ka dwaar, meaning the house of Gurus. “Most Gurdwaras are part of the Humkunt Foundation which encourages the youth of community,” Makkar said. “They encourage learning more about our religion and culture.” The fact that Seton Hall is a Catholic school did not factor into Makkar’s decision to attend. “In Sikhism we are taught to be open and accepting of other religions and ways of life,” she said. “I am happy I chose Seton Hall because along with a great education in business, I have been able to learn a lot about Catholicism.” Dr. A.D. Amar, a professor of management in the Stillman School of Business, who is Hindu, said “Sikhism was known as a sect of Hinduism,” though the religion is one all its own. “There’s a lot of commonality between Catholicism and Hinduism, such as the respect of human beings and entities, and being a good person,” Amar said. Makkar also said Catholicism and Sikhism are not that far apart in differences. “They are both monotheistic religions and do not worship idols,” Makkar said. “Similar to the 10 Commandments, Sikhism has the Rehat Maryada which is a code of conduct Sikh people follow. Like the Bible, we follow the Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The main differences lie within how we practice our religion such as prayer and ceremonies.” Though Seton Hall is dedicated to the Catholic mission, Makkar said SHU does a great job of exposing everyone to Catholicism without forcing individuals to get involved. “I have never felt uncomfortable or out of place because of my religion,” Makkar said. On the other hand, Neeraja Thakur, a sophomore Hindu finance, marketing, and management major, said she has felt uncomfortable at SHU due to her religion. “The only time I felt uncomfortable at SHU was Lent and how the university sold no meat on Friday’s,” Thakur said. “It was extremely inconvenient and also absurd that those who aren’t Catholic have to adhere by these rules.” Thakur added that she felt that she was forced to follow Catholicism for those few weeks and didn’t appreciate it. “In my opinion, if a devout Catholic followed the rules of Lent and believed in their religion, then they could do what they have to without having the university help them,” Thakur said. “For example, they should be able to avoid meat on their own instead of having the university ban meat so that they will not be compelled to eat it.” The Catholic mission is embedded into the curriculum, not just during Lent. Amar said that the Catholic mission does have an impact on his classes. “I make sure to go over the Catholic mission in all my classes, discussing the mind, heart and spirit,” Amar said. “I give my students not just bookish knowledge but help form their personalities as a manager, citizen and member of our community.” When Amar applied for a job to SHU for the second time in 1983, he asked about the Catholic religion in his interview because he had been told from outside sources that he might not fit in at a Catholic University. When he asked the dean at the time, the dean told him that he would be free to do whatever he wanted and Amar said that turned out to be true. “SHU is accepting of other religions,” Amar said. “I have seen Catholicism increase on campus through the years, but it has not created a reduction in other people’s beliefs or any discouragement.” When the CORE curriculum was created, Amar was impressed that one of the main readings was the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita. Harleen Kaur, a junior biology major, is also Sikh. Kaur believes that the school should make it mandatory for students to take courses like Religions of the World and add a chapter about Sikhism. “I feel like it would help people to be more open-minded and accepting of all faiths and cultures,” Kaur said. Makkar said it is important for students to keep an open mind if they go to a school with a faith that is different than your own. “You can enlighten your friends and school community about your religion,” she said. “Take them to your place of worship, to your holidays, to other ceremonies, and help teach people about your religion and culture. At the same time, get to know more about their culture and religion.” On campus, Makkar is a member of the South Asian Students Association (SASA), which has South Asian students of all religions, including Sikh, Hindu, Jain and more. SASA puts on events for the major holidays. Thakur is also involved in SASA. “SASA focuses more on the culture of India than the religion of Hinduism,” Thakur said. “It does however hold events that are celebrated in the Hindi religion and I am involved in those events.” Vina Tailor, a senior finance and marketing major, is Hindu and said that SHU has a variety of Indian organizations where they can celebrate Indian holidays. “I have always been a curious person so although I am Hindi and there is no temple, I have gone to church a couple of times with friends to see what the experience is like,” Tailor said. “I am more of an open-minded person so what I learn about other beliefs is interesting to me and has never tremendously affected me. I know myself, my values and what I believe in and all of that means the most to me.” Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article quoted Dr. A.D. Amar as saying “Sikh is a sect of Hinduism.” He said “Sikhism was known as a sect of Hinduism.” This article has been updated to reflect that correction. Rebecca White can be reached at


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