News / USA

American Sikhs Mourn a Tragedy Many Feared

ROCKVILLE, Maryland — A group of girls wearing richly colored headcoverings sit on the floor of a Sikh temple near Washington, DC, preparing posters for a vigil in front of the White House.
 
"Something with 'American' in it," one of them says, "like, 'Not a Sikh Tragedy, An American Tragedy." 
 
Across the U.S., Sikhs are mourning the victims of the massacre Sunday that killed six of their co-religionists and wounded three others at a temple in Wisconsin. 
 
The Guru Gobind Singh Foundation in Rockville, Maryland, is the largest gurdwara, or Sikh temple, in the Washington area. The shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, has left many people here in shock.  
 
"It's heartbreaking. We never thought this can happen, believe me," said Meeta Kaur Broca, a mother and IT specialist at a local firm. She said a gurdwara is supposed to be a sanctuary. "It's more secure than our own home. Our kids come here, they're walking, they're playing," she said. 
 
As the younger generation draws up the posters for the vigil, the head cleric, or granthi, comes down from the prayer room. "We need your help with Punjabi," one of the girls says in English. The cleric sits on the floor, takes a magic marker and writes out a slogan in the Punjabi script.
 
Bhai Gurdarshan Singh has led services at the Rockville gurdwara for the past 25 years.
 
In his sermon, he told the story of the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, who encountered a tribal leader "who wore a necklace of human fingers" and showed off his murderous strength by hacking a branch off a tree. 
 
The guru then challenged him: "Can you put it back?"
 
"Powerful are not those who know how to destroy. Powerful are those who know how to unite," Gurdarshan Singh told worshippers seated crosslegged on the floor of the temple, quoting the founder of his faith. 
 
In an interview before the service, Gurdarshan Singh said he heard about the shooting while chanting prayers.
 
"And somebody whispered in my ears and told me this has happened. And it was difficult to digest how can something in a gurdwara, in a place of worship, happen. It's a senseless act," he said. 
 
Dr. Rajwant Singh is president of the suburban Washington gurdwara and chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education. He followed the news at home as details emerged of the gunman's white supremacist views.
 
He says Sikhs are often misidentified as Muslims because of their turbans, and that their worries grew after the September 11, 2001 attacks. "So there has always been in the back of our minds a fear, anticipating a tragedy like this to happen," he said.
 
There are about a half-million Sikhs in America and they are rarely in the spotlight. But Sikhs have played a part in the country's civil rights struggle - claiming the first Asian American elected to Congress in 1957. A World War I veteran who was a Sikh fought a battle for citizenship rights in the 1920s that went all the way to the Supreme Court - although the ruling denied him and other Indian Americans citizenship because they were not Caucasian.
 
The Wisconsin tragedy comes as many Sikhs are celebrating the centennial of the first American gurdwara built in 1912 in Stockton, California.
 

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs