One of the most peaceful places I have visited was a Sikh temple in India.
It was an extremely hot day in New Delhi, and I was welcomed to Gudwara Bangla Sahib with cool water.
I cleansed my feet and hands, and covered my head to worship in a naturally air-conditioned room. The 18th century temple was expansive, and filled with subdued light. Its floors were covered with ornate rugs, but there were few adornments.
I met men, mostly, then a few women and children, and everyone welcomed me as a stranger visiting from Canada.
I was invited to share tea and fruit with Gurdwara leaders, and not once did anyone ask me about religion.
No one challenged me. No one ranted about their beliefs, or lectured me about why their brand of worship is better than another.
And, memorably, no one asked me for money. My modest offering was refused. (I took that as an invitation to return — and did, several times.)
I was offered a guide, if I didn’t want to be alone. I found this especially touching, then, because I was a newcomer in India, and there was so much to learn in a little time.
I was also invited to wander alone, if that made me more comfortable. I was left to pray in peace.
Everywhere I walked, it seemed as if there were only murmurs, not a single loud or harsh voice, or even children’s chatter, among hundreds of worshippers in separate places in the temple, or by the large pool outside.
I was impressed by the respect shown toward each other. And I was especially touched by how gentle everyone was, from the very old to the young.
I have always been grateful for the kindness of Sikhs who took time to explain their beliefs and culture, and weren’t bothered by a stranger’s questions (I was working as a journalist on two visits to the temple).
That was 2001, our first year in India, and I have never forgotten the peacefulness in that Gurdwara. I’ve told many people about my joy that day, because it was one of our most memorable experiences in India.
My mind is tugged back to that time and that place, because of the hate-crime murders in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
And I wonder why, with all the good people who gather in faith, anywhere in the world, whatever religion they follow, we cannot, will not, let them worship in peace?
I believe learning about other cultures is one of the best ways to encourage tolerance and understanding. To learn more from Sikhs discussing common misunderstandings of their faith, please see this guide from the Sikh Coalition.
There will be prayer vigils across the United States tonight in honor of the Oak Creek victims and survivors. There have been prayer vigils this week in India too.
Let’s work together, across cultures and continents, to end hate.