Dubai: Nestled beside a church and a mosque along the bylanes of Jebel Ali Village lies the UAE’s first official gurdwara, the Sikh community’s temple named Gurunanak Darbar.
This house of prayer and community gathering of 50,000-strong Sikh community in the country is one of the best examples of the UAE’s religious tolerance and communal harmony.
This Sikh temple, the land for which was donated by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, welcomes one and all, from all religions and nationalities.
Every visitor to the gurdwara is served a vegetarian meal prepared in the community kitchen, three times a day. The only condition is that the visitors need to respect the dress code at the temple — take their shoes off and use a headscarf.
The Sikh community’s free kitchen service without the distinction of faith, religion or background is called Langar. The Langar Hall in Dubai’s gurdwara has welcomed members of over 45 nationalities in the last five years since its inception.
French tourists Alexandre Mayaud and family from Paris were among the visitors who received a warm welcome from the volunteers at the gurdwara when Gulf News visited it on Thursday.
“We just arrived from Paris and we are happy to visit the Sikh community who welcomed us here. They serve food to everybody. Great people,” said Mayaud.
Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the Gurunanak Darbar, said the langar serves food to about 1,500 people everyday.
“Friday being a holiday, we serve thousands of people, sometimes even up to 10,000 people. On festival days, it goes up to 40,000 to 50,000 people.”
The huge number of patrons requires an enormous volume of ingredients and labour as well. The weekly grocery list of the langar includes 1,500kg of wheat, 1,000kg rice, 1,000kg lentil, and 1,000kg vegetables.
“We have 10 stores in the basement for stocking the grocery. We usually have supplies enough to feed 40,000 to 50,000 people,” said Kandhari.
The total number of staff including the priests, kitchen staff and cleaning personnel is 35. Some 200 volunteers join them to prepare the meals for the high number of visitors every weekend.
“Our kitchen opens at 4.30am everyday and runs till around 10.30pm,” said Kandhari.
It is the first temple in the UAE with a distinction of having received the ISO 9001, ISO 14,001, OHSAS 18001 and ISO 22000 certifications.
“We have to stick to various requirements of the ISO certification and keep high standards in hygiene and cleanliness because for us, cleanliness is next to godliness,” said Kahdhari.
“For food takeaways, we put a label that it is [safe for consumption] for only two hours [after purchase] because we don’t want anyone to get food poisoning [due to time and temperature abuse],” said Kandhari. “Every month, we send the food samples for lab tests.”
Year of Giving initiatives
The act of giving is an inbuilt principle in the Sikh religion, said Kandhari. “It is our duty and our pleasure to serve food to the community. So the Year of Giving initiative is all the more important for us.”
The gurdwara is gearing up to give more to the local community during the Year of Giving.
One initiative that will begin on February 24 will be organised in partnership with the Singh Motorcycle Club members. Two dozen riders from the Sikh community, who are also part of Dubai’s Harley Davidson Club, will distribute 1,000 food packets to blue-collar workers.
“They will ride to different labour accommodations and distribute the food. This will be done every last Friday of the month for the whole year,” said Kandhari.
Another initiative planned is to set a world record in giving. “In the month of April, we want to serve breakfast for over 100 nationalities and enter the Guinness Book of World Records.”
The gurdwara will continue with its blanket donation drive which last year saw 3,000 needy people receiving blankets.
“We will do community activities for Tolerance Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving Day also,” Kandhari added.