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Columbia County Sikh community seeks understanding

Posted: August 13, 2012 - 1:42pm  |  Updated: August 15, 2012 - 12:03am
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Photo by Jim Blaylock  A woman prays during an interfaith prayer service at Guru Singh Sabha for the victims of the shootings in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.
Photo by Jim Blaylock A woman prays during an interfaith prayer service at Guru Singh Sabha for the victims of the shootings in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.

Twitter @StevenUhles

Although his beard and turban identify him as a Sikh, a member of the world’s fifth-largest religion, Dr. Harinderjit Singh is constantly confronted by people who don’t understand exactly what that means.

On Aug. 5, a gunman walked into a Sikh temple, or gurdwara, in Oak Creek, Wis. and opened fire. Six members of the temple were killed. Singh says when people understand the history and theology of the Sikh religion, there’s very little to hate.

Speaking after an interfaith service at the Gurdwara Guru Singh Sabha in Evans this past Friday, he explained that the religion, founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India, is a monotheistic faith built on the belief that all people are created equal and therefore deserve equal treatment.

“Do you see that,” he said, pointing to a print on the wall of the gurdwara. “That is our Golden Temple. The foundation stone was laid by a Muslim saint and it was built with four entrances. Why is that? Because everyone is equally welcome.”

One of several young Sikhs asked to speak at the interfaith service, Ikjot Singh, a junior at Lakeside High School, used the opportunity to ask members of the community to spread the word that Sikhs want, more than anything, to be active and constructive members of their community. In fact, he said, the Sikh faith insists upon it.

“Please tell your friends who we are,” he said. “Tell them what we are.”

Later, still wearing the black “Proud To Be a Sikh” T-shirt he wore during the service, Singh said it’s important for Sikhs, particularly young Sikhs like him, to talk about their faith.

“The truth is we don’t talk about it enough,” he said. “Look, I’m the only person at Lakeside that wears a turban. People only need to ask. Knowledge is important. Knowledge is power.”

As people filed into the service, they were asked, according to Sikh custom, to remove their shoes and cover their heads. As a service to those of other faiths, the temple provided head-covering scarves. Before the service ended, the number of participants from outside the temple had outstripped the number of available scarves. The last dozen through the door were asked to make do with lengths of paper towel.

A SIKH PRIMER

Belief: Sikhism is a monotheistic faith, based on the belief in a single God.

History: Sikhism was founded in the 15th century by the Guru Nanak Dev. The faith was formed, in part, as a rejection of India’s prevalent caste system.

Scripture: The primary Sikh scripture is called the Guru Granth Sahib, regarded as a living Guru that took the role after the final Guru in human form died in the 18th century.

Temples: Sikh temples traditionally segregated with men seated on the left and women the right. Althouth Sikh tradition does not recognize official clergy, many gurdwara’s employ a priest to conduct services.

The five Ks: The five K’s are tangible symbol of faith dictated by the Sikh religion. They are Kesh - or uncut hair. Hair on the men’s heads is protected by the traditional Sikh turban; the Kangha, a small wooden comb; the Kara - an iron bangle worn on each Sikh’s dominant hand; the kachera, a specific undergarment worn by men and women and the kirpan, a short ceremonial dagger.

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