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Religious leaders join Sikhs in Wheaton to mourn shooting deaths

Worshippers gather for candlelight vigil outside Illinois Sikh Community Center WheatMonday August 6 2012 remember those lost weekend mass shooting

Worshippers gather for a candlelight vigil outside the Illinois Sikh Community Center in Wheaton on Monday, August 6, 2012, to remember those lost in a weekend mass shooting inside a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisc. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 8, 2012 6:14AM



The American Sikh community has faced tragedy and persecution before.

“I was so praying that it wasn’t a hate crime,” said Ravi Singh, spokesman for the Illinois Sikh Community Center in Wheaton. “Thirty five years ago we were explaining who we were, why we’re not related to Ayatollah Khomeini. Now we have to re-educate everyone.”

In the wake of Middle East conflicts and again after the Sept. 11 attacks, followers of Sikhism were subject to hate crimes stemming from racism and confusion about their background and beliefs.

During prayer on Sunday morning in a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., an armed assailant who authorities believe had ties to white supremacy opened fire at the temple, leaving six dead and three still in the hospital. He was shot and killed by police at the scene.

But on Monday night in the sacred space of the Wheaton Sikh center, the interfaith community unleashed an outpouring of love and support as Sikhs mourned.

“God’s love calls us together,” said the Rev. Linda Tossey of Community Baptist Church in Warrenville. “It does not matter what religious denomination brought us here, or that we haven’t quite figured out our theology. What matters is that we have come as Americans, as people who care, that we have all come as children of the same God.”

Religious leaders representing Protestants, Mormons, Hindus, Muslims and Jews spoke to offer their condolences and pray for peace and understanding between faiths.   

Guests representing major faiths removed their shoes and donned orange headscarves to join in the service.

Sikhism, which originated in the Punjab region in northern India, is the world’s fifth largest religion. Adherents are often distinguished by outward symbols of their faith — turbans for men and headscarves for women — that many people confuse with Islamic tradition.

Half a million Sikhs live in the United States, where adherents work hard to live a life that is true to their faith and heritage but also distinctly American.

“It was really, really sad,” said Jashanpreet Kaur, a member of the Wheaton temple who worshipped at the Oak Creek temple when she was a college student in Wisconsin. “The man who makes the food there used to pack food for me, like home. It was a second house for people. I keep crying.”

Following Monday’s service, hundreds of Sikhs and their supporters gathered outside for a candlelight vigil, calling out to the waheguru — the wondrous lord — for peace and for victory over hatred.

“It’s not about racism,” said Kaur. “It’s about humanity.”



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