As hundreds flooded into the Palatine Sikh Gurdwara, or temple, Monday night, all being required to remove their shoes and cover their heads, those of other faiths were identifiable by one thing: the educational pamphlets they had picked up on their way in.
Interfaith religious tolerance was a message returned to again and again Monday night, as speakers offered their prayers for the six victims in the Sunday Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting. The candlelight vigil, held by the Sikh Religious Society, 1280 W. Winnetka St., welcomed people of all faiths to share in the sorrow and learn about Sikh culture and customs.
Rev. Paul Rutgers, of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, emphasized the strength of the entire religious community.
“The number of people who stood up this evening when asked to identify themselves as members of the interfaith community, that…speaks louder than words,” he said. More than 100 people stood in the packed sanctuary to show they were of other faiths.
Parminder Singhmann, a Sikh living in Chicagoland who was invited to speak, emphasized how closely the Wisconsin tragedy had affected the Sikh community in the entire Midwest.
“It’s a small community – many of us know each other personally or have seen each other’s faces…and it just seems very personal,” he said.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that began in India in the 15th century. Estimates of its U.S. population today range from 300,000 to 500,000.
Gurmukh Bhullar, a Sikh from Bartlett who attended the vigil, echoed Singhmann’s emphasis on the closeness of the Sikh community.
“When these kind of things happen, it doesn’t happen to somebody’s brother, mother, daughter…it’s against the community,” he said.
Sikhs have been targeted for acts of violence after 9/11, mistakenly thought to be Muslim because of the turban men wear. Though the motive of Sunday’s shooter Wade Michael Page remains unknown, he has ties to white supremacist bands.
Bullar said he is conscious of the example he sets when he goes out in public wearing his turban, and said he is cautious not to do anything that would make people look badly upon him or his religion.
“If Sikhs get rid of their turban that would be a dark day for America,” said Singhmann during the candlelight vigil, emphasizing the United States’ foundation on religious freedoms and its celebration of all multicultural groups.“…That’s why the river is died green on St. Patrick’s Day…Irish American are celebrated, Italian Americans are celebrated, African Americans are celebrated…Sikh Americans are also celebrated and that is proven here today.”
Harpreet Kaur, a Sikh living in Palatine, said she has experienced religious violence first-hand. When first hearing the news, she couldn’t believe the reports were true, but then felt they had been inevitable based on the religious intolerance she has seen. Her family’s home was a target of arson in 2002, and Kaur said she has been discouraged by comments she has heard and read.
“I’ve heard, ‘Sikh is a blend of Muslims and Hinduism,” she said. “Sikhs are our own religion…I feel like people don’t ask the right questions.”
But Kaur was hopeful because the turnout at the vigil Monday, and appreciated the attendance of those of other faiths, which she said doesn’t happen often at the temple. “I would like to see people who can interact with each other and come to see each other…hopefully that would go a long way,” she said.
Attendees also heard from Bishop Travis Grant, on behalf of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition, who wished for stricter gun control, and U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of the 8th District, who pushed for increased homeland security. Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic challenger in the 8th District, offered prayers in her mother’s Thai tradition and father’s Methodist tradition.
The Sikh Religious Society will hold an interfaith prayer to remember the victims of the tragedy from 3 to 5 p.m. Aug. 18.
–By Kyla Gardner