Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett lauds Sikh principles of inclusion and oneness
By Geeta Goindi
Rockville, Maryland, October 30, 2014 – In a heart-warming display of diversity, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett’s Office of Community Partnerships, in conjunction with the Sikh community of the Washington metropolitan area, celebrated ‘Gurpurab’, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, founder of Sikhism.
It was the first-ever celebration of its kind by Montgomery County and the gesture went a long way in reaching out to, and striking an emotional chord with, members of the Sikh community.
The County’s Executive, Ike Leggett, who has made heralding diversity the hallmark of his tenure, lauded “the Sikh principles of inclusion and oneness”. Looking at the 100-strong ‘Sangat’ (congregation), considerable turnout for a weekday afternoon, he said, “What you preach is common to all religions”. You endeavor “to make sure that all people are treated with dignity and respect” and this “happens because you are true to your faith. It happens because you are active in our community and you are taking a forceful, active role in our society”.
On his part, Leggett emphasized, “I am proud to be a County Executive where we have so much diversity and we want to include all of us. My goal and my mission is to make Montgomery County the most welcome, the most inclusive place, not only in America, but in the world”!
He envisioned a place “where you see people of diverse faiths, where you understand that we really mean respect and dignity in our communities”. With this goal in mind, efforts are being made “in Montgomery County to understand the culture, the language, more importantly the religion”, he noted. “For us to make that mission possible, we need you to be active, to participate, to engage”, he implored the gathering.
“As we gather together to celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday, let’s practice the principles that you teach, that you claim, that you want your (descendants) to follow, that you want to explain to our teachers and our administrators, so that they truly have an understanding of what is happening”, he said.
It is noteworthy that Leggett reached out to the Sikh community which was shaken in the aftermath of the Oak Creek Gurdwara massacre. On August 5, 2012, a white supremacist, Wade Michael Page, went on a shooting spree at the Gurdwara in Wisconsin killing six worshipers – Satwant Singh Kaleka, Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh and Suveg Singh – and wounding others, including Lieutenant Brian Murphy, the police officer who responded to the attack, and Punjab Singh, a member of the Sangat (Sikh congregation) who is paralyzed.
Recalling the heinous crime, Leggett believed that it stemmed from “hatred, but more so ignorance and bigotry. What is so unfortunate is that a person was so filled with hate that he was confused who he was hating. He simply saw a turban and decided, this is where I should go. You don’t get rid of that (ignorance) by standing on the sidelines. You educate, you spread awareness”, he told the gathering.
“The greatest weapon against ignorance is knowledge”, he emphasized. “We need to make sure that people are knowledgeable about Sikhism”.
On his part, Leggett disclosed, “Just a couple of weeks from now in order to ensure that I get a fuller understanding of what Sikhism is about and that I stand before you not just looking at it from a distance”, he will visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
It is noteworthy that the County Executive is leading an economic development mission to India, November 11 to 22. He will be accompanied by Maryland Delegate Aruna Miller and a group of 55 activists including 15 business leaders. The itinerary is Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Raipur and Amritsar.
“We will leave here on November 11, after the election on November 4″, Leggett told the gathering. “Make sure you participate in the election because when I go to the holy temple, I don’t want to go as the former County Executive, but as the current and future one”, he said, to laughter and applause. “And when I stand before you next year here (at the Gurpurab celebration), I want to stand before you as your County Executive”.
He underscored, “This is a wonderful celebration. I am delighted to be here and I hope to come back next year”.
Among the speakers at the event were: Reverend Mansfield ‘Kasey’ Kaseman, Interfaith Community Liaison in the Office of Community Partnerships; Mrs. Harsharan Kaur, President of Guru Nanak Foundation of America (GNFA), a Gurdwara located in Silver Spring, MD; Dr. Rajwant Singh, founder and chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE) and Secretary of the Rockville-based Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (GGSF), a Sikh spiritual center; 14-year-old Hana Mangat of Sikh Kid To Kid; and Ravi Singh, emcee of the event and a board member of GGSF. Seated in the audience was Diane Vu, Montgomery County’s Asian Liaison, who was actively engaged in organizing and facilitating the historic celebration.
Ravi Singh enthused, “As residents of Montgomery County, we feel proud that we live in a County where there is equality, justice and care for all residents, irrespective of their religion or political affiliation”.
In the same vein, Mrs. Harsharan Kaur noted, “How apt it is that we are, today, celebrating the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in a county and a country that is famed for its warm embrace of multi-cultural diversity. There is a deep consonance between core American values of equality, freedom and justice, and core Sikh values”, she said. “Guru Nanak preached oneness – of the divine, of all humankind. Various faiths are all different paths to the same one Creator”.
Throughout the event, there were chants of Sikh slogans, ‘Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh’ (Khalsa belongs to the Lord, Victory belongs to the Lord), ‘Bole So Nihal’ (Whoever utters shall be fulfilled) followed by ‘Sat Sri Akal’ (Eternal is the great Lord). The celebration began with a Shabad (religious hymn), ‘Satguru Nanak Pargateya Miti Dund Jag Chanan Hoya’ (Satguru Nanak’s emergence cleared spiritual darkness), sung by Bhai Jagmohan and group from GNFA. The program was interspersed with another Shabad, ‘Hum Nahi Changai Bura Nahi Koe’ (Those who reflect on the true wisdom know that they are not superior and no one is inferior), by Bhai Gurdarshan Singh, Head Granthi (priest) of GGSF, and group.
Rev. Kaseman pointed out that today, Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world. “Guru Nanak’s message of social and spiritual inclusion, his platform of equality for everyone, love for everyone, justice – this was something far ahead of its time”, he said. “Unfortunately, it is still ahead of its time, which makes what we are doing here today all the more important. We need to be recalling such wisdom, a lifestyle of devotion using poetry and music to get ourselves in touch with the divine and with one another. We need to travel like He did and reach out to people of other faiths and traditions, reminding them that we all are, indeed, one, thanks to the One Divine who created and sustains our lives”.
Montgomery County’s Interfaith Community Liaison noted, “We are celebrating the power of love as greater than all forms of loveless power – that can heal and reconcile and unite, and keep hope alive!”
Dr. Rajwant Singh drew attention to four Gurdwaras which steadfastly serve the community in Montgomery County and beyond, namely the Washington Sikh Center, Gurdwara Guru Gyan Sagar in Burtonsville, GNFA and GGSF. He asked the gathering, “Where did we find the strength and the drive to succeed in every situation? What is the source of our strength?” and replied, “It is Guru Nanak and his message of justice, equality, respect for women, education for all children”.
Dr. Singh dwelt on an issue which he is passionate about – the environment and climate change. “Guru Nanak wanted us to be mindful of our place in nature”, he reminded the Sangat.
Thanking Leggett for ensuring that the Montgomery County Police Department instill a sense of security in Sikh residents following the massacre in Oak Creek, Dr. Singh requested enhanced security for Gurdwaras so no harm befalls members of the congregation when they gather for worship.
Young members of Sikh Kid-To-Kid, led by Hana Mangat, presented a memento to Leggett in the form of a ‘Kara’ (sacred bracelet) which he promptly wore, and vowed to wear when he visits the Golden Temple in mid November. About Sikh Kid-To-Kid, Hana said, it comprises of “Montgomery County students whose mission is to eradicate ignorance by the power of education”.