This past weekend another tragic shooting occurred that could have been avoided. In a hate crime on Sunday August 5th, 2012 40-year-old Wade Michael Page started shooting attendants of a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., killing six members of the Sikh community while seriously injuring three others, including a police officer, before he was shot dead. It is now understood that Page, an army veteran, was also a white supremacist. Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, many Sikhs have been targeted as Muslims and as a result have been victims of hate crimes. While no person should ever be harmed due to their religious background, it is that much more upsetting when innocent lives are taken because of someone's lack of awareness. A core principle of Sikhism is the idea of peace and equality for all. In light of this recent tragedy, I would like to take the opportunity to educate my community on this religion because it is our belief that education is the best form of retaliation.
Sikhism is a distinct religion, separate from Hinduism and Islam, and was founded over 500 years ago and originated in Northern India. Sikhism is the world's fifth largest religion with roughly 25 million worshippers; 700,000 of which reside in the United States. The majority of turban wearing men and women in the U.S. are followers of the Sikh faith. The main attributes of the Sikh religion are based on one God, community service, and equality for all in regards to race, religion, gender, creed, nation, and color. A Gurudwara, which translates to "the doors to God" is where Sikhs go for worship and where this horrific event unfolded this past Sunday. Anyone is welcome at the Gurudwara regardless of race, religion, or gender. It has historically been a place of refuge for the poor and homeless. During prayers each attendant sits on the floor to symbolize equality, a concept that is so valued in this religion. To symbolize the important belief of community service, volunteers from the congregation come together to prepare a meal which is available to all, free of charge. Again, during this meal, referred to as Langar, everyone sits on the floor to show equality and that no one is above or below anyone else in the eyes of God.
An important physical aspect of Sikhs that often leads to us being targeted for hate crimes is the turban. Sikhism teaches to not cut one's hair as it is seen as God's gift. Men and women alike wear a turban to cover their uncut hair, although it is not as common for women to wear one. Historically, only men of high ranking and royalty wore turbans; however, with it now being a part of anyone who practices the Sikh religion, it is used to symbolize equality and justice. This tradition of wearing a turban is still carried out today. Unfortunately, many people are not educated on the different cultures and religions of the world and therefore commit senseless acts of violence against those who are different from themselves. Through this article I hope to have educated my community, and more importantly our youth, on Sikhs and Sikhism and our core beliefs. My wish is to wipe out any ignorance to the subject and provide enough information to prevent another tragedy like this one on the Sikh Gurudwara in Wisconsin from happening again. No one is born hating another group of individuals, it is learned; just as acceptance of different individuals can also be learned. It is our duty to educate the public on different cultures of the world to prevent hate from spreading and allowing it to result in the taking of innocent lives.
(Parihar is a native of Weirton and a member of the Sikh faith.)