Local teen asks for religious tolerance
To the editor:
I am writing to express my condolences to the entire Oak Creek Gurdwara Sikh community. As a teenage Sikh-American, I am moved to write this letter to speak out against injustice, ignorance and religious intolerance. My heart shrank in disgust and sadness as I watched the tragedy of the Wisconsin Gurdwara shooting unfold before my eyes; I am flabbergasted by the knowledge that someone would murder innocent worshippers in sanctity of a religious setting. I fail to understand how anyone could be moved to commit an act of violence against any human: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, atheist, Sikh, etc.
Like the majority of Sikhs residing in the United States, I was born here; I am a U.S. citizen. I owe my allegiance to this country and am just as loyal to this nation as my fellow Americans. The very American values of freedom and sacrifice for one’s country are paralleled by the teachings of Sikhism. The three basic principles of Sikhism are to work hard to earn an honest living, share one’s earnings through charity, and to remember our divine creator.
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded in the Punjab region of India. Today it is the fifth largest world religion with nearly 25 million followers. Sikhism is a God-loving religion. The word “Sikh” translates to “disciple,” and Sikhism places a tremendous value on education and equality for all humans. This is mirrored in the architecture of the Golden Temple in Amritsar in India: People can enter the temple through a door facing any of the four directions they choose, symbolizing that all are welcome in the Gurdwara.
When a Sikh educates non-Sikhs about her faith, she is engaging in “parchar.” Growing up in a post 9/11 world, I was only in first grade when our nation was attacked; I have felt obliged to practice parchar daily due to the misguided association of the Sikhs with terrorism. This past December, I was honored to fulfill the request of my Global Scholars teacher to present on Sikhism and the Golden Temple to my fellow classmates and the faculty who chaperoned my school’s India trip. Following my presentation, I gave my peers a guided tour around the Golden Temple and the surrounding complex. I knew my efforts were fruitful when in between my presentation and entering the Golden Temple my teacher and one of his colleagues went to a local turban shop, purchased and requested the shop owner to adorn their heads with the Dastaar, Sikh Turban. My teachers chose to don the same turban, even after they left the Gurdwara, which has been misguidedly associated with terrorism, leading to abuse and the demise of Sikh-Americans since 9/11.
I have come to appreciate the wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt, “with great freedom comes great responsibility.” In order to fully exercise our freedom of religion as Americans, people of faith must actively educate their fellow citizens and uplift one another from the swamp of misguided ignorance that plagues our nation. Only then can we create an understanding, empathetic and diverse community that can proudly proclaim America to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Words cannot express our gratitude toward the Wisconsin police and first-responders who put their lives on the line to protect the Oak Creek Sikhs from further devastation, especially Lt. Brian Murphy, whose heroic actions to help a victim as the first to arrive on the scene has left him in critical condition.
We must honor the lives of the brave Sikh woman Paramjit Kaur, 41, and five brave Sikh men: Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65; Prakash Singh, 39; and Suveg Singh, 84, who were murdered in the Oak Creek Gurdwara shooting Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Let us all extend our support and prayers for the safe and timely recoveries of those who were hospitalized: Bhai Punjab Singh, Santokh Singh and Lt. Brian Murphy.
Gurbani Kaur, Copley (rising senior at Hathaway Brown School for Girls in Shaker Heights and a Revere Middle School, Bath Elementary School and Hillcrest Elementary School alumnus)
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