by SS Shiva Singh Khalsa, Chicago IL
2021 (Second Quarter)
In 1992, we were informed of the planned Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) event to take place in 1993 in Chicago. This event ultimately welcomed 7,000 people of all faiths, including the Dalai Lama, Akal Takhat Jethadar Manjit Singh, and hundreds of faith leaders and their devoted followers. (Editor’s Note: The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the oldest and largest interfaith gathering in the world, first held in Chicago in 1893.)
Sadly, our community’s participation with the Sikh Host Committee was rejected by its leaders. The Siri Singh Sahib asked me to create our own Host Committee for Sikh Dharma International. At one point, the Sikhs in attendance requested that I ask the Event Security on behalf of the Sikh participants to be allowed to carry the symbols of our faith (Kirpan and Siri Sahibs), to which they approved.
We had informed the Parliament leadership that the Sikh presenter at the Plenary for Displaced Persons would be deemed unsuitable by the Indian government. As we predicted, when he spoke about the civil rights abuses towards the Sikhs in India, the entire front row of Indian government attendees shouted him down.
A few good Sikhs stood, calling out to “let him speak” and at that point, the security staff shut the lights and hustled the speakers off the stage.
My wife, Shabad Kaur, and I rushed to the stage and started chanting “Give Peace a Chance,” taking the hands of others. Soon the thousands present were linked in arms and voice.
The Assembly of Religious Leaders worked to create the document, “Towards a Global Ethic,” a template for how people of faith agree to treat each other.
According to Brother Wayne Teasdale (a well-known Catholic monk and teacher of interspirituality), there was a conflict during the proceedings. He told me that the Siri Singh Sahib rose and spoke saying: “Millions of people are watching us, and we can’t disappoint them.” Brother Wayne said it would not have happened but for the Siri Singh Sahib.
Most recently, in October 2015, I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City. Along with the Sikh sangat, we served langar during the event to thousands of attendees, sharing the story of Mata Khivi establishing the langar during the time of her husband, Guru Amar Das.
Faith Communities Unite
In 1999, I participated in the creation of the Rogers Park Interreligious Partners, a group of 18 faith communities. Besides developing trust, understanding, and lifelong friendships, we hosted interreligious community events.
Following hate-crime killings of minorities in the Chicago area, our group called for a Peace Vigil that was attended by 500 people, including the mayor of Chicago, members of the interfaith community, and all local media.
Post 9/11 Anti-Hate Crime Work
On September 11, 2001, I was working at Asian Human Services, providing public health and other services to the broader Asian community in Chicago.
We huddled in front of the television all day long and watched in horror as the two towers at the World Trade Center were struck by terrorists and destroyed. The South Asian and Muslim women in our community were terrified to go out in the streets.
From that day on, I represented the Greater Chicago Punjabi Sikh community at many public events and interacted with both the Chicago police and the media.
As a part of Superintendent Terry Hillard’s Multicultural Hate Crimes Forum, we developed training videos and relationships with Chicago’s police.
Due to our efforts, upon the arrival in Chicago of four Akal Takhat Jathedars making a historic visit, we were pleased to see the police (in plainclothes) providing the security for these Sikhs who were carrying swords on their laps!
Article photos courtesy of the author. Header photo from Chicago Tribune, May 2, 2021.
About the Author
SS Shiva Singh Khalsa is a Sikh Dharma Minister recognized as a leader within the spiritual/interreligious community, as well as being an activist for HIV prevention and the rights of the aged and infirm. Since 1972, Shiva Singh has taught and lectured on yoga and meditation, serves as a KRI Mentoring Lead Trainer, and is co-director of Spirit Rising Yoga and President of Spirit Rising Foundation. He is also a member of Gift of Hope Interfaith Council and the City of Chicago Faith Communities Core Group. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Shabad Kaur Khalsa, MA, LCPC, LMFT, E-RYT500 in private practice, and their adult son.