Following the attack of an elderly Sikh man in Fresno a week ago – violence being investigated as a hate crime – Sikh leaders continue to work to educate the public about their faith and culture. They stand in solidarity with local leaders in denouncing violence.
Fresno police don’t yet know what motivated two unknown men to beat 68-year-old Amrik Singh Bal and then strike the Sikh man with their car while he was walking in a neighborhood west of Highway 99 on Dec. 26. But many believe recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, along with heated political rhetoric, have made more turban-wearing Sikhs targets for violent members of society.
I don’t want this to happen to Sikhs, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists – anyone. Hate crimes should not happen and no one is the correct target.
To help combat ignorance and hate, The Sikh Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group founded the night of Sept. 11, 2001, in response to violent attacks against Sikh Americans, and Ike Grewal, a member of the Sikh Council of Central California, provided most of the following information about Sikhism:
Core Sikh beliefs: Sikhs believe in devotion to one God, living truthfully, serving others, equality, sharing and working hard.
Sadly, since Sept. 11, 2001, the Sikh community has endured discrimination because of the lack of understanding about Sikhism, which is based on equality and love.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno
“My hope is that people would understand who the Sikhs are,” Grewal says. “They are not terrorists. They are not radicals. They are peace-loving, hardworking people – very hardworking people – trying to realize the American Dream and raise their families.”
Sikhs in the Valley: Grewal estimates there are around 50,000 Sikh Americans in the Central Valley. The oldest gurdwara, Sikh house of worship, in the United States was built in Stockton in 1912. In Fresno County, many Sikhs live in northwest Fresno, Selma, Caruthers, Kerman and San Joaquin. Sikh Coalition leaders say the largest peach, pistachio, okra and raisin farms are all owned by Sikh farmers in California. Grewal says many Sikhs in the Valley also work in trucking, own gas stations, Subway sandwich shops, convenience and liquor stores, serve in the military, or work as doctors and engineers.
History of the religion: Sikhism was founded in the 1400s by Guru Nanak in the Punjab region in northern India and eastern Pakistan. He denounced the caste system and religious ritual observed in medieval Hinduism and Islam and taught that all faiths lead to one God, and that all people are equal. Nine gurus succeeded him. The 11th and lasting Sikh teacher is the Sikh’s holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhism is the fifth-largest organized religion followed by an estimated 25 million people throughout the world – more than 500,000 of them in the United States.
Every American citizen regardless of race, creed or gender has the right to live free of discrimination and fear.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno
How Sikhs worship: Sikh houses of worship are called gurdwaras. Grewal says there are 11 throughout Fresno and Madera counties. Services are always held Sunday. Some gurdwaras hold services Friday through Sunday. A granthi presides over worship, reading from the Sikh’s holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
How Sikhs dress: Followers of Sikhism are required to wear certain objects that demonstrate their faith, including a turban, an iron bracelet (kara) representing good deeds, a dagger (kirpan) representing protection for self and others facing injustice, an undergarment (kachera) for self-discipline and a comb (kanga) for cleanliness. Hair must remain uncut (kesh), a symbol of faith and love for what God provides. This is why many Sikh men also have long beards. Sikh women also are not supposed to cut their hair, but wearing a turban is optional. Many choose to cover hair with a long piece of material (chunni), which is draped over the head but doesn’t cover the face. Some kind of headscarf must be worn inside a gurdwara. Some Sikhs, however, choose not to wear these objects.
Mistaken identities: Turbans are worn in many countries for cultural reasons. For Sikhs, it is part of practicing their faith. For this reason, Grewal says nearly all turban-wearing people in America are Sikh, not Muslim, a common misconception.
Sikhism is a separate religion from Islam. Islam was founded by Prophet Muhammad in seventh-century Mecca, Islam’s holiest place, located in western Saudi Arabia, and its followers are known as Muslims. Muslim leaders also denounce violence in the name of Islam and say groups like ISIS are radical terrorists who are wrongfully skewing religious teachings for political gain.
We all have to come together as citizens of this world, regardless of our faith, ethnicity, race, etc., in the stand to defeat extremism and violence.
“Muslim leaders, and Muslims in general, stand with Sikhs, Christians, Jews, atheists and everybody else in condemning terrorism and groups like ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, etc.,” says Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno. “And, like Sikhs, we Muslims, too, are not terrorists – rather productive citizens who want nothing more than to contribute to the American society.”