Simran Jeet Singh — The Light We Give – with Rabia Chaudry and Wajahat Ali – powered by Happy Scribe
So she imagined the deadly bar now as well that you sent her picture. I showed her this picture, she was like, oh my gosh, that really is 20 minutes, right? Anyway.
Hello, politics and Pro Bookstore. My name is Alisa. I’m on the events team here at Politics and Pros, where we now host inperson and virtual events, along with partnered events, trips, and classes. For a full list of everything that we have confirmed, please go to our website, politicspros.com. Before we get started today, I would like you to please silence your cell phones to avoid any disruptions during the event. And while we strongly encourage mask wearing during the events, we especially encourage that for the signing line. So if you’ll be coming to get your book personalized, that’d be great. If you don’t have a mask with you, we also have plenty available to give you. So when we get to the time for opening the floor to your questions, we’ve placed a microphone over here by this pillar. And please line up at the microphone so that everybody can hear your questions. We are recording today’s event and we’d really like to catch every question and answer. So following the Q and A, we’ll have a signing line up here at this big table. If you haven’t already purchased the book, we have plenty of copies behind our registers at the front of the store, so make sure to get one for yourself, for your friends, for your family, whoever.
We’ll also ask you to line up, starting at the pillar for the signing line, and we’ll come by to ask your name for personalization. So please have your books out and ready for us once the event is complete. We ask that you please fold up your chairs and lean them against one of these sturdy bookshelves, just to help us clean up a bit. And so now, without further ado, tonight I am very excited to welcome Simran Jeetsing celebrating the release of the light we give how seek wisdom can transform your life. Dr. Simran Jeetsing is executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Program on Religion and Society, recognized among Time magazine 16 people fighting for a more equal America. He’s a Soros equality fellow with the Open Society Foundations, senior Advisor on Equity and Inclusion for YSC Consulting and a visiting professor at Union Seminary. Dr. Simran is Dr. Singh Sorry is a regular contributor to Time, CNN and The Washington Post, a monthly columnist for Religion News Service, and the author of the best selling children’s book Fauja Singh Keeps Going. Dr. Singh will be in conversation with David Ashodry, an attorney and New York Times bestselling author of Adnan’s Story and author of the upcoming book Fatty Fatty Boom Boom a Memoir About Food, Fat, and Family.
She’s also the executive producer of HBO’s 2019 The Case Against Adnan David, a four part Emmynominated docu series about the murder conviction of her friend Adnan Saed. Also in conversation will be Wajaha Ali, a New York Times contributor, op ed writer, public speaker, recovering attorney, and tired dad of two very adorable children. His work has appeared in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books. So please join me in welcoming to politics and prose, simran, Jeetsing, Raviya, Shadri, and Wajaha Ali.
Hello, everyone. How’s everyone? Can you guys hear me? Thank you for that overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. That was awesome. Really appreciate it. Give it up for Simone. He just released a book. All right. Robbie’s book is forthcoming, and I just want to say that I actually have three children, not two. So just want to put it out there for my wife and my baby Hadida, that she exists. Thank you all for joining us. The hour is going to go by really fast. Hopefully there’s chairs. If not, thank you for standing in the back. We have a conversation today to talk about how to save America, but other than that, it’s going to be very lighthearted. I want to start off with this question to both of you. When did you first know that you were not the protagonist of the American narrative? Simran.
An interesting way to ask the question, because I thought about this a lot in terms of my own life and even in writing this book, but I haven’t really thought of myself as a protagonist or an antagonist. It’s just never really occurred to me that I might fit into the American narrative. I feel like in many ways, I’ve always been outside of it. And so part of my experience growing up here in the States, I was born and raised in Texas, and my father was the first turban sick to Oliver in San Antonio. And my brothers and I were the first kids with turbans running around the streets of San Antonio.
The first, yeah, with turbans. And so you can sort of imagine or maybe some of you can maybe imagine what that was like for us. I mean, it was early when people would start asking us questions, and it wasn’t always malicious. Sometimes it was, but it was very clear to us that people had no idea what to make of us. Right. The questions from kids were, why do you wear that thing on your head? Or what language are you speaking? And so it was from a very young age we had to learn not just how to answer those questions, but also reconcile in our own heads that there was something different about us. I would say we were like four, five, six years old when it became very clear to us. How about you, David?
So, first of all, congratulations, Simone. Everybody’s going to get this book. You’re not allowed to leave until you have it in your hands. I’m telling you right now.
My mission, David, is like, daddy, she will hunt you down.
There’ll be aunty at the door. Show me the book and the receipt. No, look, it’s interesting because it wasn’t until adulthood and I started seeing some brown representation in TV that I realized, oh, it was so normal not to have it growing up that it didn’t even seem like something offensive. It was just like, well, that’s just how America is. We’re just kind of on the outside of it, almost. And when I mean, as I’m reading Simon’s book and I connect with so many of the really terrible anecdotes being called like Saddam’s niece and all kinds of stuff, like, you know, we had terribly common says, even in those moments. I remember thinking as a child, well, I mean, I guess I am an outsider, but not necessarily feeling like I should be upset about it. And we were just I think that was the first time that I realized that there is this entire story that people believe about us and we have literally no power in it. And I was an adult, but that was the first time I was really.
And that’s the power of story. You mentioned this American story because we grew up around the same time where our greatest representation was Apu, a big cartoon voiced by white men, right? And I remember around that age, we’re like, Ah, poo, he’s brown. This is amazing. Very stereotypical, but amazing. Seniors at the age of five and six and seven, oftentimes people of color in this country, we’re having this conversation in America right now. How young is too young to talk about race? These kids can’t take it. We gotta banned books. America has banned 1100 books in the past year, ladies and gentlemen, in the year 2022. But five, six, seven is when that was the common age that I keep hearing that we first learned our place in America, right? Why is your skin color the color of poo? Why do you have that thing on your head and so forth? And what also sometimes happens is when you’re not part of the story, you learn to hate yourself kind of implicitly. And I remember I mentioned in my book that when I was six, I went home and I told ammi mother, I said, AMI, you have to give me an American name.
I’m born and raised in America. I’ll let you keep the W. And this is the name I chose. Not William. Not Walter. I chose Wilbur. All right, I know. Yes.
Totally on Brandt.
Totally on Brandt. Amazing. Like, let me even get a bigger target. And the reason I chose Wilbur is because we were rooting Charlotte’s Web. And Wilbur was the pig that everyone loved. And my mother, like all day, see immigrant parents, operates only on blunt. And very blunt. She’s like, Your name is Vajahat, go away. But I remember even a person like me, who grew up in a very loving brown Muslim family, you kind of learned to sometimes hate yourself. Did you guys ever have those moments where you wished you were the hero, you wished you were mainstream, you wished you were average American, which is all doing a lot of heavy lifting for white.
Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of moments that come to mind immediately. I’ll share one that I don’t think I share in the book, but it’s one that has hit hard for me recently, and it’s really come up because it has to do with being a parent now. And I hadn’t really thought about how I thought about my parents growing up. And it was a very loving home, very close to my parents and my siblings. But about two years ago, I was going through TSA security. And for those of you who go through this experience, you’ll understand that when you walk through with a turban or a hijab, the standard protocol from our own government is secondary screening. It’s racial profiling. And like you were saying over the years, since 911, you kind of get used to it. I don’t get so bothered by it anymore. But about two or three years ago, I was walking with my daughters and my older daughter for the first time. She was old enough to understand what was happening. She didn’t understand, but she had a question, because I walked through holding her hand, and my wife was holding our other daughter, who was a baby.
And my daughter said, well, why are you going away? Did you do something wrong? Again, this had never really bothered me over the years. Totally used to it. But it was in that moment where I started to recognize that my own government was teaching my daughters that there’s something to be ashamed of about me and about who we are. I’m not a dramatic person. I’m not an overly expressive person. But the next 24 hours were brutal. Like, I could not sleep that night. I could not do anything on that flight. It was just, what do I do about this experience? And part of what was coming up for me was this memory that I had of being embarrassed by my own parents. I mean, my dad wore it’s urban too. It’s not like he was that different accents, some of the cultural differences, because they came as immigrants. It was very real for me, although I always loved them and still do. I also had this concern of, well, what will my friends think when they notice that my parents talk this way or eat this way or do this other thing? And so it is something that has felt really real for me over the last few years.
So, I mean, I don’t have as a profound anecdote to share about the first memory I have of basically wishing I was white. And I write about this in my upcoming book. But I was in fifth grade, and there was a little boy named Jonathan Whitmer who the entire school had a crush on. I pretended not to. And that’s when I really started noticing, like, who the pretty girls were and how all the pretty girls were blonde and blue eyed and had pink cheeks, and when I ran, I turned a blue and they turned pink, and these kinds of differences. And that was the first time I remember thinking, god, I wish I was white. But this then this continued over the years when especially in school related stuff, like when we have Christmas concerts and stuff, and I ended up playing like, me and my sister would play, like, two of the three wise men all the time because we’re brown and played them very well, by the way. Immigrants get the job done. But I wish I was like, I don’t want to just I wish I could just kind of stay in this world.
Everybody’s celebrating Christmas, and this is the overwhelming culture, right? And I remember one year I convinced my mom to let me just get, like, three stockings. She’s like, I don’t know why these socks are hanging here, but fine, just let it happen. And so, yeah, there were a lot of those kinds of moments.
What’s interesting is each of us, in our own ways, even though we grew up in what is predominantly what mainstream is synonymous for, whitmer born and raised in this country to immigrant parents, somehow along the way, we resisted and we held onto those traditions. And we’re very openly brown skinned, very openly dizzy, very openly sick and Muslim. You’re a Muslim woman who wears hijab. And there was a decision a decision made to be an active participant in pushing back, right? And what was that pivot point where you said, okay, I can either assimilate into this melting pot where I’ll become I don’t know. I don’t want to melt into anything I know about you guys, right? I like my corporal form. Right? But that’s a decision that makes I could change my name to what would be your American white name?
Wilbur, right? You’d be like, I don’t know.
Bobby, right? I’ll be pinky. But you’re like, no. We will represent and oftentimes, even though we’re the token brown, the token sick, the token Muslim will step up, and we will make the decision to be the cultural ambassadors of all of our people. That’s a choice. And when and how did you make that choice?
It’s a great question, because in many ways, you might look at me in a reporter I was talking to today actually made this assumption, right? He said, well, you were born in a sick family, so this is just what you inherit, right? And yes, there’s some truth to that, right? I live the tradition that my parents gave me, but it’s actually a choice. Every single day, every day, I choose to wear the turban, and I intentionally wrap it around my head. So it’s not like this is just some passive acceptance of who I am because I was born a certain way. And I think for me, I was raised in this tradition, and it was transmitted to me very intentionally. And what they describe in the book is that my engagement with it, when I really began to appreciate it, was after 911. And I know this to be true for many of my sick friends where the terrorist attacks hit, we are targeted. Our communities become America’s enemy. We fit the exact profile of who should be seen as a threat. And all of a sudden, the racism that I had felt before, I couldn’t turn away from it.
I couldn’t ignore it anymore because people I knew were getting attacked and killed, literally. And so on the one hand, I felt this obligation, and I think many of us did, to push back and protect ourselves and to ensure we did whatever we could to survive. And then a few months and a few years pass and things settle, and then you start asking yourself internally, or at least I did well, why do I choose to live this way? What’s the value? What’s the purpose? Is this really worth the trouble? I was in college then. It’s a real cost, and you don’t have to and so as a college student, I really started delving into the why. And the more I studied I studied a bunch of different religions. I’m now a scholar of religion. The more I studied other traditions and my own, the more I started to appreciate some of the principles of Sikh philosophy as having real practical answers for some of the most pressing questions in our lives. And that, to me, was the moment where I said, you know what? It’s not just a superficial pride of, hey, I come from another place, and I can resist the norm of America.
I mean, that was certainly there, and it’s always been the sort of almost rebellious streak that’s part of our tradition too. But it was deeper than that as I started to study and say, you know what? There’s something really substantive here that I love and I want to hold on to. And it came through this process of delving deep within the tradition.
Yeah, and I have a feeling that a lot of South Asian Americans of Muslim background, or maybe like Muslim Americans and sick Americans, I think after 911, that forced us to really examine is what we are being told about ourselves true. That’s how it happened for me. I said, okay, we’ve got these people who are claiming that Islam says X, Y, and Z, and these are people who identify as Muslim. And I got to figure out what part of this is real and what part of it is not. During 911, I was in law school. I was a young adult, and at the same time, I was also having a lot of issues in the local muslim community with how women were being treated at the mosque. So I was having all kinds of crises. I was like to treat a great, yeah, we get our own wall.
We all work to do.
We get our own border wall. And so I was like, if the worst parts, I mean, if my worst experiences being a Muslim are coming from, like, within the Islamic tradition, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can stay in it. And I probably spent four or five years just really bypassing gatekeepers. I’m sorry, but a lot of religious leaders are male gatekeepers who, like, want to interpret tradition the way they want to interpret it in order to keep a certain status quo. And I realized so much of what we’re being told about women, about nonmuslims, but all these things actually is not what the text says. It’s not even in the spirit of the religion, right? So once I was able to get back past all that is when I consciously said that this faith answers all my questions and I’m leaning into it. And I didn’t start wearing hijab until I was 30. We didn’t grow up in a household. We were Pakistani, Punjabis. And it’s not that common, really, even in Bakhisan. So I started wearing hijab in authority.
I want to talk about 911, and I want to talk about religion, but let’s just focus on 911 because for all of us, it was a turning point around the same age. We’re the generation that saw the two towers fall, and we’re the generation that had to bear the cost of it. There were targets on our back, right? I remember the hate mail that I received. I mean, I was at UC Berkeley a senior, and my roommate decided to put my email on the UC Berkeley MSA list, FML, as the kids say. And that day I got the email, go back to where you came from, and you effing moslems. And I’m like, I’m a 20 year old undeclared senior at UC Berkeley, born to Pakistani Muslim parents. What? These are 19 foreign hijackers. But bigots, ladies and gentlemen, aren’t nuanced, if you’ve noticed. And the first hate crime people forget this after 911 was not against a Muslim. It was against Bobir Singh, sick immigrant gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, because the white supremacist said, I want to get revenge for the Two towers, and I’m going to take my anger out on you, sick Indian gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, who wore a turban and had a beard.
Bigots aren’t nuanced. But I remember in that moment, that post 911 climate, and we were talking about this in the green room. A lot of folks were just trying to save themselves. And so there were some Arab Christian friends who are like, I’m not Muslim. It’s those Muslims. And like, some Sikhs were like, it’s those Muslims. It’s not us. And then some Muslims here are like, it’s not us, it’s the bad Muslims. But we learned real quick it didn’t matter. And just take me through that moment where you had that realization that we actually can’t throw each other under the bus. If you can take the DeLorean back to October 2001.
Yeah, I mean, one of the really confusing elements of experiencing the process of racialization, of living through the experience of people starting to look at you differently is exactly what Rubio was describing before. It’s the gap between how other people see you versus how you see yourself. And up until this point, like I was saying before, it was completely fine for me to ignore when people came after us and be like, that’s just your perception. That’s your problem, you deal with it. And after 911, especially after Bobir Singhordy was killed, September 15, it was it became clear to us that we had to be more active in how we responded and more thoughtful about this response. And I’ll share a couple of things here in the few days and weeks that followed 911. So immediately, the day of 911, my mom picks us up from school, we go home, we lock the doors, nobody says anything, and we turn the TV on and we just watch the news, trying to understand what’s happening to our country, like pretty much every other American in this country. And then in the evenings, we would get on these conference calls, and my brothers and I are kids, we’re listening.
But community leaders from around the country are having conversations and they’re sharing what are the attacks that we’ve experienced in our community, who’s been hurt? How are they doing? And so we would get these reports. Some of the people who are on these calls and led those calls are actually in this room. We get these reports. And then afterwards we would talk about, well, what do we do? And I remember as an 18 year old at the time, listening to these conversations, and it was actually, as I was describing, when did I really start to recognize something powerful about this tradition and this worldview? It was in those conversations because it was exactly this question of, well, what really is the right thing to do in this situation? And it’s easier for me to understand this now, right? Like the easy response. And as a parent, the most intuitive response is, I just want safety for myself and my kids, whatever that takes. If people are coming to kill us, I’ll say anything, like literally anything. I mean, I would do that right now for my own girls, right? It’s very obvious to a parent.
But being on these calls with these leaders who are saying, yeah, sure, we could do that, but that’s not the right thing to do, to deflect it to someone else. And what I learned in that moment was a couple of things. It’s not just about ethics. There was also strategy. It wasn’t just the right thing to do. It was also this very clear recognition that saving ourselves is actually not going to save us all. And if you deflect, it’s just going to come back and get you later. And so to me, this was the real moment. And people on those calls would share reflections from our tradition in terms of how our leaders and sick heroes in history would really make the tough decisions and take on pain in the service of justice. And so it wasn’t this overly dramatized, like martyrdom perspective. It wasn’t like we need to go out and risk our lives to save other people. It wasn’t like that. It was just like, what does our tradition teach us? What are the right things? What are the principles we’re trying to live by? And let’s just do that, even if it makes things harder for us in the short term.
So I love that and it’s been.
Really powerful for both before Robbie responds, do you ever sit there and go like, freaking Muslims? It’s a safe space. We’re not recording it. You’re like Hindu nationalism. You want to be like, hey, six, hey, we’re okay. You ever sit there and just get frustrated? Or do these values help you overcome it? Because I know I’m just keeping it real. Let’s do a real talk here. I know some people, they’re just like, I’m going to throw you under the bus. You’ve made my life terrible. They just attacked Guru because they want to attack Muslims. And so my initial response is, I’m not those Muslims. Let’s go get those Muslims. Right? Like you said, that’s the initial human response to save yourself.
Let me answer that. I’ll be honest and say growing up, I didn’t actually know Muslims. My babysitter, I had one babysitter who was Muslim. She was the only Muslim I knew. She was great, except she made us eat spaghetti with ketchup, which scarring.
That is not in our tradition, not in the garage. We disowned that Muslim. Who made you do that? I apologize. Half of all my people, that scarring event.
So the confusing thing about the racialization of people starting to see me as Muslim was I actually didn’t know any. Right. This is the funny thing about race and racism, which is it doesn’t matter how you see yourself, it matters how people perceive you. And so here I am, an 18 year old, I don’t know Muslims and I’m being perceived as one and I don’t know how to get out of this box. And to your question, I think early on I had very simplistic understandings in the way that most of us are raised in this country to have of who other people are. I had a very simplistic view of Hindus. I didn’t know any or many at least I had a very simplistic view of Muslims. Like they were all just people in a box that all did the same things and thought of the world in the same way. And then I started meeting people, and that completely changed my perspective. And now I recognize that there are people of every background who do these horrible things, including of the sick background, right? And so I guess part of the point is, in my own maturation and evolution, learning to recognize that it’s not the religion that causes this violence, and that’s really helped me sort of move beyond the vulnerability we all have of stereotypes, right?
We all make assumptions about people, especially when we don’t know them. So actually getting to know people has protected me from that, at least to whatever degree I’ve been able to.
Rob, I want to bring you and surrounding when it comes to can we talk about religion, is it okay? It’s like a very pregnant pause that made me very nervous. Right now. Both of you have leaned in to your religious identity, not just as an identity, but as a way of life, values, philosophy. In fact, your book is not just the light we give. How sick. Wisdom can transform your life. And these religions of ours, as you know, are stereotyped, maligned, misunderstood, and oftentimes used by bigots to attack our communities. And as you were saying, Robbie, and even used to run, it took 911, this moment of crisis, for you guys to actually go back into your religion and say, oh, there’s a better way to respond to this hate. I won’t meet hate with hate. I won’t meet anger with anger. In fact, when I actually go reinvestigate my religion, it gives me models to be a better person. And actually, there’s values here that can help America and humanity. And I want to ask you about that, Robbie, that choice you made to lean in and actually share your religious values. Because even in the book a nonstory, even though it’s about the criminal justice system, you actually made a very deliberate decision before each chapter to sometimes just put a verse of the Quran or a hadith a saying of the Prophet Muhammad.
What is it about Islam for you? And then I want to talk about your book and Sikhism in particular that you think cannot only benefit you, but actually benefit America in this moment of multiple crises.
Are you asking how Islam can save America? Well, basically we have that’s what it sounded like.
We basically have a competition of who can convert more people. So this is just me trying to ante up. I’m just kidding. It’s a choice that you made. And the answer could be, I don’t think it can help. I just notice this is an observation I’ve made about both of you.
Look, I have spent much of my adult life doing a lot of some superficial, but a lot of very deep interfaith work. And what I’ve found is when you think about, like, who are my. People who am I deeply connected to? It’s always people of faith, but not people of the same faith. The people are closest to me are people who all have some kind of a spiritual or faith belief system that guides them. And that’s what I connect to because and I honestly see I just see one common thread throughout all of all of this. I mean, whether it’s my close I have very close Hindu friends, Buddhist friends, Sikh friend, and I see, like, literally, I just see the same values lived throughout all of this. So I might get excommunicated for this, but I truly do believe there are many paths to one God. And so there are plenty of times when, if you follow me on Twitter, you know, I don’t always respond very graciously to hate and difficult situations. But on a deeper level, I again and again and again turn to the stories of my religion to teach me what is the proper community response to something.
And I’ll give you one example, a very simple example. There is a tradition of Prophet Muhammad, and the traditions of the prophet are called Hadith, their collection of sayings and things he did about the question of engagement. And as somebody who’s done a lot of advocacy work, it’s like, when do you engage people? When do you not engage? Do you engage hate groups? Do you not like there’s a lot of red lines that advocates also, like, draw, and you cannot cross these things. And it’s a very simple tradition that you engage until you are until and unless you are abused. If you are physically or verbally abused, you say, Saddam, peace, and walk away. But until unless then, you should continue to engage. That’s what we are encouraged. So when I’m grappling with these tough questions, and it’s hard it’s hard to be in a space where everybody has their own everybody’s a pundit, everybody’s a guru, everybody has their own ideas. You can get kicked out of your own community if you like, do the wrong thing, as we know. And I realized that I cannot take my cues from just social media advocates, basically social justice warriors on their computers.
And so for me, I have to go back to my faith again and again. And the reason I started every chapter in the book of a non story with something from the Muslim faith, Christian, is because I need people to understand how we think. One of the most instructive things that I’ve learned in doing my interfaith work is just being quiet and listening to what other people believe about themselves. It’s crazy to me that people always say, well, your religion believes this. Then how do you know what my religion believes? I’m the one practicing it, right? So it’s like, I just really think that the best way to I mean, people really need to be able to quiet and listen to what people have to say about their own selves and.
Their own beliefs are in Sri Lanka. You’ve spent your life actually investing in this concept of religious pluralism in America, right? You scholar religion this is funny. Teaches Islam. And I’m sure a bunch of Sikh folks are like, why bro? Why are you doing this? Your job at Aspen right now? And the book, and specifically, again, I want to get back to the book is you have this deliberate choice to write this American story, and you said, The Light We Give how Sick Wisdom can Transform your life, and specifically, if you can share. And this is why you have to read the book. But I want to give a teaser to the audience about Sikhism, which many people do not understand. I mean, is it Sikh? Is it sick? How do you pronounce it? Sikh. Yeah. What is about Guru Nanak and the teachings of Sikhism that you think at this moment in America can really help individuals who are atheists, who are searching, who might be Muslim, who might be Christian, but you’re like, you know what? You can benefit from this wisdom that I’ve been lucky to receive from my ancestors, and I think this can heal some of the divides.
Yeah, thanks for the question. Growing up, I would always hear people talk about sick principles as being universal and timeless, and I would hear that. And over the years, I started to roll my eyes and be like, you just want to be able to say that this is perfection. And I didn’t really understand what was meant by these terms universal and timeless until I really started delving into the tradition. And part of what I have discovered in my study of Sikhism and in my attempts to practice it is that it’s actually really simple. And the simplicity, I think, makes it actionable and practical. And there are many lessons that I’ve taken away that have given me immense joy in a world that feels really difficult. And that’s why I wanted to share it with you. That’s it, really. As I look around and see people suffering, and I feel the privilege of having access to this deep well of wisdom that’s not my own. I’ve just been given it as a gift. I want to share it. And so there are many things I could share in response. There are many ideas in the book, but the one that I would say is really that I’ve been thinking about a lot the last few weeks is the teaching around ego and in the sick tradition and in many spiritual traditions.
I teach Buddhism. Now, in Buddhism, this is a common teaching. In Islam, it’s a common teaching where we talk about nufts, right. Ego is such a source of human suffering individually. Right. We all suffer because of ego. This is what Sikhism teaches us, too, and what we learn from Guru Nanak and his teachings. Is there’s a way out of that. And I’m not sitting here claiming that I’ve perfected it or that I’m some sort of prophet or guru, but, like, it’s given me immense happiness. And there are three principles in our tradition which, again, I find to be universal, and I think they’re universal in the sense that we find them in other traditions, right? So the foundation is ikonggar, a perspective of interconnectedness, what in Buddhism, we might call interdependence. In Islam, you call it Tho heid or Wahdata wajud, right? Like, it’s the oneness, the interconnectedness. And part of what I’m noticing in this country right now and around the world is the way we think about identity. And our constant obsession with identity is just reinforcing our ego over and over again, right? I’m this and you’re that. Race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, even in our conversations around diversity and inclusion, even those are just perpetuating the sense of who I am in opposition to you.
And what the interconnection offers us is we can think of who we are in relation to one another, right? If we start with this simple concept of what do we share at our core? What is that one? What is Iglongkar? What is the light? Right? That’s a metaphor that we also see in many traditions. If we start from that place, then Gudanik says, every aspect of difference becomes an expression of the oneness. Like that’s beauty. You’re not scared of the difference anymore. You love it. You’re celebrating it, you’re cherishing it. And so this, to me, is step one that Guru Nanak teaches us. And there are several other elements that we can build on from there. But I’ll share one more, which I’ve also been thinking about quite a lot recently, and it comes closer to the end of the book, but it’s it’s this. If you follow the thread of this idea that we’re all interconnected, right? That is a thought. If you can learn to feel that in your everyday life, then that’s love, you can learn to take the transient moments of love, which is the best of human experience, and make those constant experiences of life.
You’re constantly seeing the beauty, or what we call it Punjabi, it’s Mikas sweetness. The sweetness of life is always there. And then the expression of that, of your love. If you love someone, you serve them. It’s action, right? You’re moved into action. And it’s not about you. It’s egoless. It’s selfless. It’s about the people you love. And what I think is really powerful is that the practice of selfless love erases your ego. That’s what this sick tradition teaches us. And if you can learn to erase your ego, even just diminish it a little bit, then you’re happier, and you can hold on to that for much longer. So this is something that is, I think, a really subtle shift that we can all make. You don’t have to convert them or you don’t repeat after me, but they’re just little principles that you can shift that instead of starting from a place of difference, you start from a place of oneness. Instead of operating out of fear or anger or ego, you operate out of love. And then your entire experience of this world is just different. It’s sweet all the time. That’s what Ghuranik offers us, and I think we can all have that.
That’s very beautiful. And before we open up to Q and A, I want to ask one more question. But this whole concept of erasing the ego, it’s very similar to Sufism and Islamaskia. Nufts work on your nuffs, work on your ego. And once you conquer your ego, then you will be in service to God and you can be selfless. And that’s where you find the spiritual highs of life, right? And the interconnectedness, I think, is very important, very telling, especially as if you’ve all seen the videos of Europe burning right now. 140 degree temperature in England, 114 degree temperature in Italy. And we are all connected to each other on this planet. When the sea levels rise, you get climate change refugees, you’re going to get resources and land that are going to die. You’re going to get animals who are going to suffer. This is going to impact all of us. Contrary to what Herschel Walker said, there’s not good air or clean air that goes to China and comes back. He actually said that, mary, he lose the Senate race in Georgia. I apologize if it means too political, but it just shows you right now, climate change and the pandemic.
For those who thought that we were not close and connected, this has flattened all of us, but has flattened us unequally. Those with privilege seem to get an upper hand on this. But speaking about the interconnectedness, and we talked about this in the green room, one would assume that daisies, that’s what we call ourselves those who come from the motherland South Asians would be able to get along and say, okay, there’s these differences sick, Hindu, Muslim, Pakistani, Indian. But at the core of it, the bigots don’t care. We still eat dalchamil, we eat roti. There’s more similarities than differences. And I was telling someone when I grew up and how I grew up, my parents couldn’t care less that someone was sicker. And most of my friends growing up were like, sick Hindu or Catholic, right? We used to go to their house, simran Sandus daddy used to make chappati prarata and roti and gobi and palak. Google it’s delicious. They used to come to our house. No one ever said anything. My parents never said, why did you bring a sick to a home or a Hindu to home? It was like, Daisy great.
We trust them. Same values. Go eat roti. The only time I experienced these differences, right, was when I was my freshman year of UC Berkeley, where I’m walking with my friend Garav, who carpooled with me for years. Indian, Hindu. And there’s another friend, Vishal, who comes and he says, how long have you guys known each other? Like, for years. We used to go over to each other’s houses and he goes, wow, I brought home a Muslim once. And my nanny said, Why’d you bring a warmonger to the house? And I’m like, Damn. And it was during that time, 98, 99, 2000, with the rise of Hindu nationalism, that I saw that imported, or rather exported to America. And you’re seeing that impact us right now. Completely foreign to me then, completely foreign to me now. So with that being said, and that’s a real problem right now in India that is affecting our communities. We’ve seen that being exported here. Any message, any lesson of how we can build the ties within our own communities where religion and tribalism and ethnicity are being literally driven by some folks who drive us apart? Simple question before we open up the.
Q and A. I think the only thing that matters is whether you’re Punjabi or not. That’s the only divide that matters.
I like how Lily surrendered this poetic expression of oneness and the Punjabi tribalism just came out of David and crushed it. But in all seriousness, yes.
No, this is for some of us.
I’ll share a story that I share in the book, which is actually kind of embarrassing in retrospect. So I moved from Texas. Didn’t really know many sicks growing up. Lived in Boston. Not many sicks there either. And then I moved to New York, and I was so excited because finally I would have sick friends. And there were guys who were my age, same interests. Basketball. We played basketball together, other sports. That was pretty much our only interestball.
So we try these kind of mangoes chasing girls that we couldn’t get.
Mangoes, TV. Basketball. Basketball, yeah, exactly. So I just had this expectation that I would finally be in this place where I would have people who were just like me and who understood me. And I hung out with these guys for a couple of weeks, good guys, like, fine people. And we played a lot of basketball together, watched a lot of basketball together. But then I was like, these are not my people. I get along better with my friends from college who are not sick. I share values more closely with people who are not sick that I know than these people who I’m hanging out with. And it just kind of blew my mind. And it’s embarrassing in retrospect because of course, of course that’s not how the world works or how humans work. Right. We find connection across other kinds of differences. And just because we come from the same place or have the same last names or whatever it is, doesn’t mean that we’re the same, right? That’s what I was expecting. I wanted sameness for whatever reason. And so part of my lesson in that experience. I mean, it was disappointing at first, and then I came to understand and appreciate that actually looking for sameness, only erases what is actually beautiful about the world.
And I started to recognize when other people would start putting stereotypes on me about who they thought I was, that’s exactly what I had been doing about my own community. And so it was just this revelatory moment of, like, we all do this. We all have this proclivity to say, you look this way or you come from this place and you are this or that or whatever, and therefore I can categorize you. And so to me, it’s just the humility of understanding that whatever it is that you think you know about other people, you actually have to get to know. And I think, to me at least, that’s the only way. The curiosity, the humility, the openness that gets us to a place beyond tribalism.
I think it’s the awareness and the intention and then leads to the action and the choice that you make to reach out and befriend people who are different. And we can all enjoy rotating and broadcasting. I think we can all agree on that. I hope so, at least, or else it’s over for America. If you haven’t had parata, you haven’t lived life. Go get a parata right now after this conversation. But first, get some rounds. Book. There is about 1314 minutes left for Q and A. I want to open it up. Just come right there to the microphone and ask him, Ron and Rabia, any questions you might have. Don’t all rush at once, ladies and gentlemen. Okay, let me ask a question before as you guys, you can ask a question.
Yeah, I have lots of questions, but I’ll ask just one, which you’re a scholar of religion, but in the political space, you’re a pretty progressive person. And one thing I’ve struggled with a little bit, especially in DC. And I worked in national security policy for six, seven years, is being a progressive, a religious progressive person, because it often feels like those spaces, like, you know, the other side of the political spectrum has claimed that space claimed religion for themselves. And frankly, sometimes it feels like there is a space for religion on the progressive end of the spectrum. Like, we’re just like silly woo woo people. So has that ever been an issue for you and how have you navigated that?
Yeah, it was a big surprise to me when I first came because, I mean, remember, I’m growing up in Texas, and the assumptions that I was the assumptions that I had about what people were assuming about me was that I was the things they said to me, right? Terrorist, violent, misogynistic, whatever they thought Muslims were, that was their assumption. And so that’s what I came to expect of people. And then I moved to Boston. My wife now, we were dating then. She was in medical school, and her best friend came out to her as gay. And he comes from a pretty traditional Catholic family, and he begged her. He was like, Please don’t tell him. Don’t tell him. And she was like, Why not? And he was like, well, he’s religious, and I can tell he’s religious because he’s super religious. Look, he wears a turban. She assured him that I’m not like that. But it was the first time to me that I came to understand this exact thing you’re describing where people, because I was openly religious, would come to have some expectations about my political beliefs or my social beliefs and that I was socially or politically conservative.
It was like a slap in the face. Like, I was really embarrassed that he would assume that of me. And it was the first time I really thought I came to understand that people might have these assumptions about me. And so it became important to me and I’ll say one other thing here. It became important to me to be more open about who I am. Not just to sort of push back against people’s stereotypes that I didn’t even know existed about me, but also as a way of pulling myself out of any kind of stereotypes that I find myself in. What I’m trying to say is, so often when people are stereotyping you, they’re flattening you to one thing. Right. I think often in this country now, six are only talked about in the context of a hate crime. And so we’re seen as victims, and people feel sorry for us. And I don’t like that. Like, I don’t want us to be I don’t see our community as victims. I don’t see myself as a victim. And I think the only way to really push back against that is to show the fullness of our humanity.
So that’s why I talk about my politics and my love for sports and the food. I mean, just being a normal human, right? That’s who we are. And I just try and present that whenever I can.
I have one more question. I should get up with that mic. Is that okay? Good. We do have a question, but can I that is this as you kind of, like, went back to your faith tradition to draw inspiration, knowledge, guidance. Were there things that you encountered that you found either problematic or contradictory to your values as a human being? And then, if so, could you have an example on how to deal with it?
Yeah, I’ll share one that was very confusing for me, and it was when I was younger, my friends in Texas would often be like, well, we want you to be saved because we love you, and so please convert. And they started to ask me, well, if you don’t believe in that, then what do you believe in for afterlife? And it was really confusing to me because I couldn’t find a good answer. Like, I couldn’t find a compelling, clear answer in the way that Christianity has and that most of my friends were Christian. And I started questioning, well, I would start reading about other religion and be like, well, is sick philosophy somehow deficient because there is no clear answer? Like, why can I not get an answer about afterlife? And it wasn’t for years of pushing and asking pretty much everyone I knew, what do I do with this question? So it was a really important experience for me to go through that and actually come to understand that I don’t have to ask the same questions. And my tradition doesn’t care about the same questions necessarily in the same way that others do. And that was my first experience of like, well, maybe I’m looking at my own faith through the lens of Christianity as opposed to what is meant for itself.
We have seven minutes left, and I want to make sure I get all the questions. So let’s do two questions at a time and go for it. Go first.
Okay. Thank you for that lovely conversation. My question is to follow up to what you said about your daughter in TSA and just how I mean, I know she’s young, but as a mom of teens and seeing how angry people are on social media and how polarized everyone is and how so much activism is linked to outrage, how do you reconcile that with what you’re trying to teach your daughter? And the oneness and the connectedness? And what advice do you have for a parent with angry teenager?
I was actually going to ask that. So thank you. Excellent question. And let’s have one more sad shika.
So good to see you. My question is related, but in a kind of odd way. But I really resonate with your message of radical empathy, radical love, radical optimism. And I’m curious for you, I know for me it comes from sake in a lot of ways, but how do you practice that on a daily basis when we’re constantly bombarded with news that feels so heavy and so disheartening at times?
Pretty similar theory.
Yeah. I’ll share with you an anecdote from when I was a kid that really formed me. And I have many examples like this. But the first one that comes to mind is in those immediate days after 911 where we were getting death threats, starting the day of our house was shut down, as I described to you. And again, we’re sitting here twice attacked, right. We’re as Americans and as Si. And I was feeling pretty down. Right. The murder of Bobir Singsordi, as we heard. I mean, it was intense and it was rough and it was hard to see anything positive coming forward. And I remember my parents saying, we’re so lucky. I was like, what is I don’t think you understand what’s going on right now. And what is there to feel lucky about? And they said, well, notice our neighbors have brought over meals, your coaches are calling, your friends have come by, your teammates, your teacher. I mean, they were like, haven’t you noticed that? And I was like, yeah, sure, but there’s other stuff going on. And the lesson in this moment, and this is a lesson that my parents constantly tried to instill in us in the tough moments, was you always have to recognize the good around you, and the good is always there.
And we have to make it a choice to see it. And we’re wired, we’re socialized, but we’re also wired to focus on the negative. What is going to help us essentially survive, right? What is that? Basic instinct? But then what is our practice, our daily practice for the gifts that we have, for the goodness around us? And I think for me, like a really simple practice that I found that changed my life in high school was gratitude. It’s nothing super profound or innovative, but it’s just like counting your blessings at the end of each day. And what I noticed was I would do three every night. What am I grateful for? And it could be something huge and exciting. It could be something tiny. What I noticed was, as I did that every night, then I started noticing during the day, oh, I’m going to write that down later. And then the more I did that, the more I was noticing. And that was a feeling of both the sort of connection and remembrance that we’re taught in our tradition, but then also like, oh, there is goodness around us. I just forgot to notice it.
We have three minutes left. Let’s take one more question if we have time. I’ll get you.
Hi, it’s been wonderful hearing you speak, so thank you.
I just wanted to mention I’m a symbol also, so I appreciate you. So I know you mentioned you’re a religious scholar, so I just wanted to.
Ask what significant morals, ideas, advice has.
Come through to you across different religions.
And what themes have come across through.
All of them in your studies?
Very simple question for the last few minutes. Yeah, good question.
Yeah. There’s so much running through my head right now. I think to me, one key aspect that comes out of every tradition that I’ve studied and in my own practice too, of Sikhism is in the Bible. It’s described as faith without works is dead. The point is, you can think anything, you can believe anything, you can know everything. Doesn’t matter if you’re not doing anything about it. So until you build that into your daily practice, until it becomes part of your character, it doesn’t matter. And every tradition, Islam, maybe more than any tradition, talks about this, that like, it’s what you do in this world that matters. Guru Nanak has this really cool we have this anecdote about guarantee where he meets these Ascetics who are really spiritually accomplished. Like, sadhu’s, we call them. Like, they’re incredibly spiritual. And he goes and talks to them, and the outcome of his conversation is like, who cares? Like, I respect your spirituality. What difference are you making in the world? And so to me, if you are truly spiritual, then your spirituality, your love for the world will translate into action, because you love the world, right?
That’s what we are taught, and it’s something that I see in every tradition.
The final question at the minute I have and for those who didn’t get to ask a question, don’t worry, sir Ron is going to be right here signing the book. The book is the light we give that you have to buy Auntie Robbie is making sure who purchased a copy. But I went to all boys Jesus Catholic High School. And similarly, the Jesuits taught me that faith through service meant for others. And specifically in this specific time, many people are saying, what’s the point? Climate change, income inequality, white supremacy, rise of fascism, rise of hate. Like, it’s all coming at once. And the final question I have for both of you is, what is giving you hope during these hopeless times? Go first.
I always whenever I think about that, and believe me, I think we all go through that kind of spiral every so often when you’re on Twitter, and then you get often but there is a tradition hadith that I think about all the time, which is that Muslims, by the way, there’s a Muslim gender, so you’re welcome. You can come to our heaven. But there’s a tradition in which, in the Islamic faith, that the world is going to come to an end at some point, and that’s the end times. And that in order for that to happen, there will be an angel who blows the trumpet. And so the tradition says that if you are planting a seed or planting a plant, I can’t remember which one, but if you’re planting something and the angel blows the trumpet, that it’s the end of the world. Finish planting. Like, finish your work. That’s what we’re gonna be judged by. And I think about that all the time, and I’m like, all right, keep moving ahead, keep planting. And in the end, only God knows what the food of that will bring.
Yeah. One of the teachings that’s giving me a lot of hope right now is the acceptance of imperfection. Because I think so much of our culture right now is we will not be happy until we are perfect, until we solve all the problems of our world and the humility to be able to step back and say, this is not I am imperfect and humans are imperfect, and the world is going to be imperfect, and that’s okay. And we will just do the best we can. There’s a lot of teaching around this in sick philosophy, but I think, again, it goes back. To the core of ego. You are not here to fix everything. And so take that pressure off of yourself and find the calm within the storm and then try and resolve what you can while you’re here. So very much along the line of what you’re describing.
Thank you all for coming. I want to thank the authors. We have Hannah Khan here. He’s another best selling ya author. Who? Curious George meets Islam. We got David Jodri a non story which is here. And then Fatty Fatty Boom Boom is coming out, which is a member, which is excellent, which I was lucky enough to blur. And you’re here for Simran Singh. Whose book? Simon Jesing’s book. The light we give. How sick wisdom can transform your life. He’s signing it right now. Thank you all for coming. Buy a book. Spread the word if you have money left over by Mike a book, but right now by his book first. The book is called Go Back To Where You Came From and other Helpful recommendations on how to become American. But right now by the light we give and if you have some money left.