Helping more students have access to interfaith leadership training

A couple of weeks ago, someone surreptitiously took a picture of me and posted it in the "funny" section of Reddit with the caption, "I am not sure what to conclude from this." I sat for several hours reading the mocking and mean responses that post evoked. I chose to respond through the grace offered by my Sikh faith:

"I'm not embarrassed or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positive] that this picture is getting because, it's who I am. Yes, I'm a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body -- it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will ... by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can."

As part of my commitment to the Sikh faith, I have trained to become an interfaith leader. An interfaith leader is someone committed to highlighting how their faith or philosophical tradition inspires them to bring people from all backgrounds together to build understanding and cooperation. I have attended the Interfaith Leadership Institutes of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization that trains college students nationwide to be interfaith leaders. I also mentor other student interfaith leaders as a coach with IFYC.

My first experience in an Interfaith Youth Core was amazing (I’m actually wearing an IFYC shirt in the picture of me that was recently posted on Reddit.) I discovered so many other college students who didn’t see me only as ‘the turbaned girl,’ but as Balpreet Kaur. In fact, there I learned how to talk to others about my faith, about who I am. And, it wasn’t awkward - it was a breath of fresh air. For the first time, I wasn’t afraid to initiate a positive dialogue about faith. In fact, when people saw that I was different, they came up to me and asked me questions.

I started wearing my heart on my sleeve and seeing every stare as a chance for dialogue and friendliness. I began to firmly believe in the power of the spoken and written word. I finally began to realize that I had to take charge of my own narrative; if I didn’t, then that ignorance I saw in people’s eyes would never change into knowledge. That’s what it means to be a Sikh, and an interfaith leader.

I hope my story inspires people to learn more about the Sikh tradition, about what it is in their own faith or philosophy that would inspire them to respond to moments of nastiness with grace. I also hope my story inspires people to become interfaith leaders themselves, and to support the programs of IFYC that are training hundreds of college students a year in this methodology.

Every gift helps this great organization train other young people to build interfaith bridges, and every new interfaith leader contributes to a society where interfaith cooperation really is a social norm.

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    We view religious and philosophical traditions as bridges of cooperation. Our interfaith movement builds religious pluralism.
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