God is in the gurdwara
by Nejoud Al-Yagout
As a local, I am acquainted with our lack of religious tolerance. I heard about a Hindu temple that was raided a couple of years ago, with twenty-five Hindus deported for being spiritual. I know that though we call Jews People of the Book, we still don’t allow synagogues. And I know that people are classified as believers and infidels. Yes, I am acquainted with this and more, but I will never get used to it. No. Because when I get used to it, I will become immune to the pain of others, and I will not allow that to happen. I ask God always to purify my heart and teach me how to love, regardless of all the conditioning that I was spoon-fed.
By now, we have all heard about the discovery of an underground gurdwara in our country. Sikh worshippers were treated as criminals and photographed, with their eyes pixelated, the way bootleggers and drug dealers are in this country. They were also asked to face a camera as a visual warning to other peaceful worshippers that their way of connecting to God will not be tolerated in this country. The image will haunt me for some time.
As I write this, I am crying inside. How can we call someone who is praying a criminal? Why is it in our country that people of other religions have to build underground places of worship? Can we picture the outrage if another country banned mosques? We would call it Islamophobia. So where are the people defending Sikh-phobia? Buddhist-phobia? Judeo-phobia? Jain-phobia? Yes, we have churches. But we still have Christo-phobia. In fact, the tragic irony is not lost on me that the religion most defended in the world continues to be the one that defends the least. Why?
This is not the Kuwait of my forefathers. Our ancestors, pearl-divers and seafarers, traveled far and wide and brought with them a tolerance that is imprinted in our hearts. Can’t we learn from them? Can’t we herald a new era where we leave behind our rigidity? Why can’t we learn from others the beauty of tolerance? Is this the legacy we want to leave?
Oh, I see a country that prides itself on religious tolerance. I see a country that gets over its discomfort and antiquated ideals and moves forward to create a community based on love and not fear. Even with all the prejudices we hold, even with all the antagonism we were fed through discriminatory curricula and polarizing ideology, we can move forward. My heart breaks for my Sikh brothers who were “raided” in the midst of connecting with the divine. My heart also breaks for my fellow countrymen and countrywomen who applaud the closure of the gurdwara, because they have not been taught that heaven is created when we love our brothers and sisters, especially those “different” to us. And my heart breaks for all those whose religions are banned locally.
I see a country with gurdwaras, temples, synagogues, meditation centers, and even non-affiliated community centers, but until then I apologize on behalf of my country. I apologize. Oh, I apologize.