Sikhs mourn temple victims

Memorial services for those who died in Sunday's shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin are being held all over the US.

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    Memorial services for those who died in Sunday's shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in the US Midwest, are being held all over the country this week.

    Sikhs are mourning their dead, while at the same time trying to find a path forward after the tragedy that took seven lives on Sunday.

    On Monday evening I attended a service a the Gurdwara Sikh Spiritual Center in Washington DC in honour of the Wisconsin victims.

    The priest - or Granthi in Sikhism - Bhai Gurdarshan Singh, told me he's been touched by the outpouring of love the faith has received since the killings and says his community is determined to stand firm. 

    "Truly we are not afraid. I'm not afraid. If I'm being treated badly because of the way I look ... I'm not going to change my look - as long as I accept myself the way I am ... I'm fine."

    Attacks increase

    But civil rights lawyer, Rajdeep Singh, from the Sikh Coalition says attacks on Sikhs and other South Asian religions are up in the past ten years.

    "Since 9/11 unfortunately the prevailing stereotype is that if somebody wears a turban they're associated with al-Qaeda or extremism and this is a stereotype that is perpetuated in the media and ignorance is breeding ground for bigotry and discrimination and violence and this is the content in which hate crimes against Sikhs and other communities as well have been occurring in the last tens years."

    Monotheistic

    Sikhs believe in one God, just like Muslims, Jews and Christians.

    Their Holy Book, the Guru Granth Shahib, is considered to represent God to such an extend that it "rests" on a cushion by day in the temple's main hall and is put to bed at night and woken up each morning. Treated, in other words, just like a living God. The priest (Granthi) Bai Gurdarshan Singh told me:

    "This world is a garden of God. If it's a garden of God there has to be different flowers. And every flower has a different fragrance. In this universe there has to be different human beings and every human being has its own fragrance."

    It's hard to imagine why a white supremacist might actually go as far as attacking this humble and peace-loving religion at a simple Sunday morning service.

    Three main laws

    It's especially hard when you take into account the three central tenants of the Sikh religion. 1) Keep God at first place in your life. 2) Help everyone around you (that's why Sikhs wear a turban, in order to stand out in a crowd should anyone nearby need help. 3) Work hard to make an honest living.

    Services like the one I attended at the national Sikh Center will take place in the temple's main hall all week and there'll be a vigil at the White House on Wednesday evening too.

    It's all designed to keep alive the memory of those who died in Wisconsin as long as possible.

    Follow John Terrett on Twitter: @TerrettAJE


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