MAITLAND — If Jasbir Bhatia knows one thing about his religion, it’s that Sikhism is very challenging for many — to pronounce.
“It is difficult to pronounce,” Bhatia said. “Some call it shiek, shake, sick, six.”
It’s also not very well known in the United States, he added, even though there are actually 23 million Sikhs practicing the faith today.
“We are the fifth largest religion in the world,” Bhatia said. “About 20 million live in India, and the rest are scattered around the world.”
It is a faith, he added, that believes in one God — and a loving one.
“He has no negativity like anger — he is all-loving,” Bhatia said. “In summary, Sikhism believes in one supreme being, and calls for a God-conscious, morally and socially responsible life.”
On Tuesday, Bhatia — a devout follower of the Sikh religion, member of the Sikh Society of Central Florida, and board member of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida — talked about his faith at the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida.
The center in Maitland has been sponsoring a Religion 101 Series every month since September, putting the spotlight on religions like Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity so far.
On Tuesday, the spotlight turned to Sikhism.
Pam Kancher, the executive director of the Holocaust Center, noted that this was more than just an intellectual discussion on the history of specific religions. Understanding different faiths, she said, could help prevent tragedies like the ones in August 2012, when a gunman shot and killed six Sikhs at their Wisconsin mosque. The following day, a suspicious fire burned down a mosque in Missouri.
“Tonight we are going to be talking about Sikhism, and I’m disappointed we didn’t have this discussion back in August so we could understand more about the shooting at the mosque,” Kancher said.
Jim Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, noted that Bhatia has been strongly involved in promoting understanding between different faiths.
“There are a few people in the community who have been connected to interfaith work for years,” Coffin said. “Jasbir has been very active, not only in the Sikh Society, but also in the interfaith movement here.”
Bhatia noted that Sikhs originated within the fold of Hinduism, although “Now it’s considered to be a separate religion,” he said. “Sikh men are often distinguished by their unique attire and colorful turbans, and they often wear beards like mine.”
That’s because the religion discourages men from getting their hair cut to begin with, he added.
“The ‘don’ts’ are don’t dishonor your hair by cutting them, or using tobacco,” he said.
Sikh means a disciple of a religious teacher, and for Sikhism, that teacher was Naanak, born in 1469 in the Punjab in Northwest India.
“He is considered the founder and prophet of Sikhism and known as Guru Naanak,” Bhatia said.
In 1499, when Naanak was 30 years old, he walked to a local river to bathe — and disappeared.
“For three days he was lost and considered drowned,” Bhatia said. “Then he reemerged after three days and proclaimed, ‘There is no Hindu nor Muslim,’ meaning God doesn’t recognize people by their religious affiliation.”
He devoted his life to traveling around the world, spreading the message of God.
“He said that he was summoned by God himself, who told him ‘you will go to the world and give them an understanding,’ ” Bhatia said. “Guru Naanak gave us a very broad understanding of the nature of God, that there is one and only one God, the supreme being, that pervades throughout the universe.”
The followers of the Sikh faith are called upon today to “remember Him, meditate on Him,” Bhatia said. “You can feel His presence in you, but no one can fully comprehend Him. God has established a certain order. Birth, life and death are a part of that order. It is a blessing to be born as a human being.”
That is the foundation of Sikhism, Bhatia said.
“We believe in the continuity of life,” he said. “Within the bodies, we are spiritual beings. Our divinity inside us is overshadowed by our worldly passions — ego, lust, anger and greed. Our goal is to achieve redemption, nirvana from the life and death cycle. God has given us the essential gifts of air, water and earth, which nourish the whole world.”
The tenets of the faith include recitation of God’s name, singing or listening to his glory, Bhatia said.
The Religion 101 Series will focus on Hinduism on Feb. 12, Baha’i on March 12, and Unitarian Universalism on April 9, and then conclude with a panel discussion consisting of all the presenters in the series on May 7.
The Holocaust Memorial and Resource Center is at 851 N. Maitland Ave. in Maitland. To learn more about the Religion 101 series, call 407-628-0555 or log on to Holocaust Memorial Center.
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