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The Sikhs in the United Kingdom
– Their Contribution to the British Society –

Onkar Singh

Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest faith and the youngest of world religions with a vibrant global presence of 25 million. Over half a million Sikhs live in the United Kingdom, a democracy of many faiths and cultures, crammed with 60 million people. It’s population growth is drawn from immigrants.

The first Sikh immigrants to Britain were the soldier-survivors of the First World War, though most of them came afterwards from the Punjab, after India became independent. They were followed by thousands of Sikhs from East Africa.

They have done remarkably well in the last fifty years in many fields from farming and commerce to engineering, medicine and law. Today, among them are distinguished businessmen, lawyers, judges, doctors and software experts.

An enterprising, resilient and industrious community, they have played a vital role in various professions, business and politics not only in India, their country of origin, but also in countries, which they have made their home. Through hard work, perseverance and honesty, they have made a living for themselves and their families.

In recognition of their contribution to the British society, Prime Minister Tony Blair paid them a glowing tribute on the occasion of the 2003 Vaisakhi celebrations in London. Mr Blair said, “I know that British Sikhs have made a great contribution to the economic, cultural and political life of the United Kingdom, and I firmly believe that your faith and culture have brought tremendous strengths and benefits to our society.”

Out of over 150 gurdwaras which dot the skyline of United Kingdom, the city of London has over two dozen, while other big cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Glasgow, Swindon, Warrington and Kent have several gurdwaras to meet the religious and social needs of the well-established Sikh communities over there.

Southall (West London), famous as “Little Punjab” with a predominant Sikh population is home to over six gurdwaras. One comes across a vibrant Punjabi way of life, a spectacular spread of Indian supermarkets and popular eatries. The gurudwaras are knowm by denominations such as, Ramgarhias, Namdharis, Sri Guru Singh Sabha and Shiromani Akali Dal. Gurdwaras built on the basis of caste and communities is against the spirit and teachings of the Sikh Gurus, who worked to create a casteless society.

Southall now boasts of a magnificent 4-level newly constructed “Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Southall,” the largest gurdwara outside India and Europe. It blends traditional and modern architecture using the latest technology. It has a serene spiritual ambience and grandeur dominating London’s skyline.

Built at a phenomenal cost of 17 million pounds, the ambitious Sikh temple covers a sprawling area of 6000 sq meters with a marble and granite finish and an enormous gilded dome of traditional design which attracts attention from afar. The main congregational prayer hall on the first level can accommodate 2000 worshippers and another 1000 on the level-2 gallery. The vast langar (dining) hall on the ground floor provides free meals for a thousand pilgrims daily with a capacity of serving upto 20,000 on festivals.

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, paid a royal visit on 13th June, 2003. He praised the Sikh community “for having served this country with great loyalty for hundreds of years, adding to the rich tapestry in Britain.”

Another imposing Sikh shrine is the “Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Hanslow (West London). “From humble beginning, it has become a huge complex of a large marbled prayer hall, dining hall and classrooms, where hundreds of schoolchildren are taught. It’s facilities and workmanship is something to be admired. The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, paid a royal visit to the gurdwara on 25th October, 2004.

The Sikh sangat has generously contributed to the building of these stately Sikh temples to serve the rapidly growing Sikh community in London, offering extensive modern facilities of a library, seminar and community centre for educational, health and welfare services, and sports. As unmissable places of pilgrimage, these gurdwaras serve as a focal point of research and study of Sikh religion in Britain and Europe.

Wherever the Sikhs go to settle and live, they take with them the Gurbani (Gurus holy word), the divine hymns (shabads) of their Gurus (spiritual Prophets). They have a strong binding of unity and faith in Gurbani, a sense of responsibility to contribute to the general good of mankind.

The Gurbani deprecates discrimination on grounds of religion and caste by birth. The essence of Gurbani is love and respect of all human beings, despite their distinctive religions and beliefs, as they are all equal before the Creator.

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