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The fatal shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin echoes loudly with members of the Sikh community in Las Vegas.
“This is not what America is,” says Dr. Upinder Singh, who was at the Las Vegas Sikh Temple when he learned of the shootings. “For every Mr. Page there are millions of other people who support and share the values that Sikhism also stands for.”
Singh believes that recent events have called attention to the fact that the Sikh religion is not widely understood, ironically because their philosophy is one of acceptance.
“If you are a good Christian, be a good Christian, you will meet God. If you are a Hindu, be a good Hindu, you will meet God. My way is not the only way to be with the almighty God. So we never bothered to let anybody know who we are,” says Singh. “We have minded our own business.”
Misunderstandings about the Sikh religion are not new. Because Sikh men have full beards and wear their uncut hair in turbans, many Americans confuse them with Muslims. Sikhs in the United States say that they have had to fight anti-Muslim prejudice since 9/11.
Teji Malik is also a Sikh who lives in Las Vegas and is a member of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada. He says that he was once singled out by a local talk show host in the wake of 9/11.
“I own a gas station and one instance happened on 9/11. We were distributing ribbons to everybody who came, American flag ribbons, as we are all Americans first,” says Malik. “I don’t want to name the radio station but one of the hosts visited my gas station to buy something … and he went back to his radio (station) and he said there’s a man with a white turban at this address. I don’t listen to talk radio and my customers came to me to tell me ‘Hey. There’s someone talking about you and giving your address.’ So I had to call the radio station and say ‘Hey. Please don’t do that.’
It was apparently Malik’s turban that inspired the alarmist reaction from the talk show host. Upinder Singh says he doesn’t understand why some people are challenged by the presence of the turban, since other religious faiths including Christianity and Judaism require head coverings.
"Turban is a spirtual crown for the Sikh faith. It’s not a hat, it’s not a cap, it’s a spiritual crown," says Upinder Sing. "What it tells us is there’s a higher power above you, and it is there with you every single day, 24/7.”
The Las Vegas Sikh temple is holding an all-faiths service Wednesday at 7 p.m.