All religions are equal. We often take that sentence to be axiomatic, it is a statement that is often distributed by certain members of the New Atheist community, however, to learn about other religions - or in this case monotheism's - is to be struck both by their similarities and their differences.
When my girlfriend received a generous scholarship study English in Dudley, she was kindly hosted by a Sikh family. For a while she has been pestering me to find time to go up to "The Black Country" and meet them, last weekend provided that opportunity.
I knew very little about the young monotheism, in fact I didn't when know whether it was a monotheism until this trip. The religion of Sikhism was founded in India, the land of Hinduism; a ancient, colourful polytheism. This was maybe the source of my confusion and it could be said that Sikhism has far more in common with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I was eager to learn more.
Mr. Singh - the name my girlfriend always referred to him as - kindly picked us up at the train station. He was a short man with a bespectacled face, an immaculate turban and a bushy grey beard. He welcomed us warmly and began questioning my girlfriend like an inquisitive and attentive father.
We had lunch at Mr. Singh's and then went for a wander around the town. Dudley was depressingly quiet for a Saturday. Mr. Singh lamented the fact that a lot of the more high-end shops had closed down, moved and been replaced by charity shops and pound shops; Dudley had feel of a town that suffered greatly during the 2008 recession.
That didn't stop it from having a certain charm. We visited Dudley Priory, a medieval ruin surrounded by semi-detached houses and beautiful gardens.
We also visited a small suburb called Gornal. The sleepy village it is situated on a hill and is split into sections, Lower Gornal, Upper Gornal and Gornal Wood. It was there we found an 19th century graveyard.
It was here again the Mr. Singh bemoaned the amount of pubs that had closed down, he mused that when he first moved the Dudley there was a pub on almost every street corner. As we walked from Upper to lower Gornal, the extent of the 'commonisation' was evident. Small shops and businesses had all but closed down, only takeaway restaurants had some life in them. Groups of bored children hung around on street corners and cars full of bored teenagers beeped at us they sped past. This was very much the heart of Brexit territory.
It was now time for us to visit one of the local Sikh Temples or Gurdwara. When we arrived Noelia changed into some jeans, we both covered our hair, removed our footwear and washed our hands (a very important requirement). We entered the main area of worship; a large room almost empty apart from a raised area decorated with various swords and spears. On this elevation sat two men, one harmoniously reciting text from the Sikh holy book; the Guru Granth Sahib.
We made our way toward the raised platform, Mr. Singh knelt and kissed the floor. We were then handed some sweet dough which we ate with our hands. A few people sat end listened to the recital. We were then quickly whisked off the another room to eat, again washing our hands before we entered. We were served various vegetable curries with some bread and yoghurt. The room was busier, a group of around 5 women sat on the floor speaking, whilst others were in the kitchen cooking the food.
I must now take a step back from the photographs and tell you a little bit about Sikhism.
During our walk back from the cemetery I quizzed Mr. Singh on his faith. He firstly expressed what Sikh's consider to be the concept of God; one all pervading spirit. God, in the monotheistic tradition, is perceivable only for a person willing to dedicate their time to the correct worship. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, like other monotheism's is said to have been ordained with divine qualities as a child. At the age of 30 - the same age Jesus was baptised and began his ministry - Guru Nanak vanished for 3 days only to return and make the heretical claim that "God is neither Hindu nor Mussulman (Muslim)." Unlike Jesus, Guru Nanak was not the embodiment of God, but more a messenger for God. Having the name of God bestowed upon him in the form of cup of nectar, Guru Nanak had permission to proselytise to others, thus Sikhism was born.
One of the main attributes that differentiates Sikhism from Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions is its attitude towards women. The latter takes a rather boorish attitude towards those born with the ability to bare children and, as a result, has caused untold suffering throughout the ages. Even today, as I write these words, women in many Muslim majority countries enjoy rights akin to chattel. Sikhism takes a more modern approach to the subject of women, consider this quote from Guru Nanak:
"We are born of woman, we are conceived in the womb of woman, we are engaged and married to woman. We make friendship with woman and the lineage continued because of woman. When one woman dies, we take another one, we are bound with the world through woman. Why should we talk ill of her, who gives birth to kings? The woman is born from woman; there is none without her. Only the One True Lord is without woman"
Mr. Singh explained to me the importance of Guru Nanak's attitudes to women, I observed that (for the time period) those views would've seemed revolutionary. "Yes" Mr. Singh explained "revolutionary!".