Sikh Awareness Month with TejKiran “Sunny” Singh

Sikhism is a religion that originated in India hundreds of years ago. In Michigan, April is Sikh Appreciation and Awareness Month, a time to learn, understand, and recognize the rich history and experiences of Sikh Americans. We spoke with TejKiran “Sunny” Singh to learn more about Sikhism here in Canton.

A Volunteer at Heart

Sunny grew up in India, moved to Canada in 1989, and then to Canton in 2003. He has a degree in engineering and works full-time for the Ford Motor Company. Formerly in lead management at the Gurdwara Sahib (Singh Sabha of Michigan, on Canton Center Road) he now volunteers at both the Gurdwara Sahib and the Gurudwara Gobind Marg on Michigan Avenue, and acts as Canton Township’s main contact for facilitation and connection with Canton’s plentiful Sikh community.

In addition to his volunteer work at both gurdwaras, he is also a family/patient advisor at Beaumont in Wayne, on the board of directors for the Canton Chamber of Commerce as well as the Canton Coalition for Inclusive Communities, and works on accessibility and inclusion efforts with Canton Township.

A Bit about Sikhism

In Sikhism, worshipers believe in one God, the Almighty, and they meditate in his name. Worship consists of meditation and singing, which does not include praise for prophets or anything other than God. Sikh worship is very internal and religious, so they do not often celebrate with big events, and the Gurdwara is a place for worship.

Sikhs believe that internal feelings like hatred can take you further from the Almighty, whereas the purpose of a human body is to connect to the Almighty. Along the same lines, if you want to be friends with a good person, you have to develop those same good qualities in yourself.

Traditionally, Sikhs believe that God created people as he intended, and so doing things such as cutting one’s hair would be changing what God created. Therefore, many Sikhs do not cut their hair and will tie their hair in a turban. Sunny notes that this makes it take much longer to get ready! There is peer pressure to cut one’s hair; about 70% of the Sikh population do cut their hair and do not wear a turban.

The Sikh community very much believes in giving back without taking credit; about 10% of one’s honest earnings should be given back to those who need assistance, and taking credit for one’s giving goes against the idea of it. The Gurdwara is also there for anyone who needs help, as their principles teach. They always have vegetarian food available for those who are in need.

Sunny sums up the major fundamentals of Sikhism as:

  1. Hard work, regardless of success
  2. Sharing with the community
  3. Meditation/prayer

“Loyal to the Soil”

Sunny notes that most Sikh Americans are very proud to be American. He notes a tenant of being “loyal to the soil” that feeds them, so they owe loyalty to the country that treats them right, feeds their family, and more.

Sunny said that, because they often wear turbans, Sikhs are sometimes mistaken as members of terrorist groups from the Middle East, and have been the victims of hate crimes. However, they do not retaliate or clarify, because to clarify would imply that it would be okay to commit violence against the people they mistook them for, which is not an ethical way of living.

Sikhs who wished to serve in the U.S. military while adhering to their traditions have had issues because their turbans, beards, and uncut hair are not in line with the military uniform requirements. However, recently the U.S. Army, Marines, and some other branches of the military have granted religious exceptions that allow Sikhs to wear their traditional dress while serving in the military.

Out in the Canton Community

Sunny estimates that there are between 400-500 Sikh families in Canton. There are two Sikh gurdwaras, or places of worship, in Canton: the Gurdwara Sahib on Canton Center Road and the Gurudwara Gobind Marg on Michigan Avenue.

Many engineers, doctors, and business owners, including those who own grocery stores, restaurants and semi-trucks, are part of the Canton Sikh community. Singh Development Company was founded in Canton and has many properties within Canton, and other places like Tropical Smoothie Cafe are under Sikh ownership. As many as 50% of Sikhs in Canton are in the semi-truck logistics business, with some owning as many as 100 trucks. 

One of the Canton Sikh community’s major outreach efforts is the annual Canton Liberty Fest in June, where they give free water, snacks and fruit out to attendees as a way to show love for people in the community. In January, Sunny asks the Sikh community for contributions to this effort, and they are always supportive.

Sunny notes that, above all, Sikhs believe in God, and that God created humans, and so humans should be loved and cared for. “Humanity comes before religion. If you don’t serve humanity and the needy, or if pettiness is in your heart, then you can’t be religious. Religion comes after good deeds, and then traditions,” he says.

Sikhs in Canton take that caring, loving energy out into the community with their donations and volunteerism—be sure to stop by and say, “Hello!” at their booth at Liberty Fest this year.