Let me preface the rest of this article with the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Muslims. I call many friends. And see them as family. Had this tragedy happened at a mosque, it would have been equally awful. I seek not to compare or contrast the two faiths. Rather point out a few things in order to open your eyes, ears, and hearts. One, Sikhs and Muslims are not the same and come from two completely different religions. And two, that this deranged mad man went on a shooting spree under the assumption that Sikhs were Muslim because he was an Islamophobe (Another highly abused and therefore almost unimportant word because of it’s improper usage). There is a vast and huge difference between being a Muslim peacefully practicing the Islamic faith and a radical Islamic extremist looking to destroy western civilization and murder the innocent.
Yesterday’s tragic shooting inside of a Sikh temple was devastating to watch. The loss of any innocent life breaks my heart. Death of the innocent wreaks havoc on my soul and inner being. This is my internal Catholic and Pro Life dialogue coming through at it’s finest. Flipping back and forth between news stations and reading updates on Twitter and Facebook made me realize one thing. Just how ignorant so many people are about faiths and cultures outside of their own. Including Sikhism. To most people who were not raised in communities with a large Sikh population, if one saw a Sikh walking down the street they would assume they were Muslim based upon how they were dressed. Or maybe because they speak a language vaguely reminiscent of what you thought was Arabic? How about the turban? It’s their turbans that make you think they’re Muslim. Right?
I could write a novel about the intricacies of Sikhism, but for the interests of keeping you engaged in reading what I have to say, I will keep it short. And if my prose stirs you enough to learn more about the faith, then I will consider this piece a success. That thingy on top of that man’s head you thought was a turban? It’s actually called a dastar. That language being spoken you assumed was Arabic? They were really speaking in Punjabi. Is Kaur or Singh an Arabic or Persian name? No, Sikhs tend to hail mainly from India and to some extent Pakistan. Have I caught your attention yet? Possibly these facts will catch your eye.
(United States Army Captain Rattan, HOOAH!)
Sikhs carry a knife after their baptism into the faith called a kirpan. A kirpan is carried for the sole purpose of defending innocent life. A Sikh is asked to be peaceful and to use their kirpan only when their life or the life of those around them is being threatened. Sikhs are patriotic and service minded people. Upon moving around the world and creating a Sikh diaspora, many join the military, neighborhood watch groups, and teach self defense classes. The first Sikh soldier in America can be dated back to World War I when Bhagat Singh Thind enlisted in the United States Army and later became an American citizen. After the heinous attacks on September 11th, many Sikhs proudly displayed their patriotism by wearing American flag dastars. Sikh business and homeowners flew large American flags. And quickly came out to the media on the reasons why they left their native countries to come to America and seek refuge from the violence and terrorism so many of them had seen first hand. Yeah, you know the typical Sikh stereotypes. They own 7-11s. They drive taxis. They own small markets. So what? They’re working hard to send their children to college. They’re proud land owners, shop owners, and are among the highest educated group of people in America. Many Sikhs proudly raise within one generation of moving to America, doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and scientists in their families.
(Bhagat Singh Thind)
Ashley. Where did you learn so much about Sikhism, you ask? Funny answer. Catholic school. That’s right. The education system loathed and mocked by those who fight us of faith. The very faith the haters claim teaches nothing but intolerance. It was in Catholic school where I received my formal education on World Religions. Where I was taken to different houses of worship. Where I got to see first hand how unique and special everyone’s individual cultures were. With these experiences, I became a better American and a better Catholic. It was this time in my life that I realized we all worshiped the same God. We just all had our own way of doing so. It was then that I realized that education and spiritual awakening were an integral part of the development of humanity. You do not have to go to school to be educated and learn more about other faiths and cultures. The vast knowledge compiled on the internet, in books available to you at a library, or simply reaching out to someone who looks different than you on the street or in a café will teach you more than you could ever learn sitting in a classroom. I implore you to turn off the cable news channels for the next few days, open up a book, and to start your quest of knowledge. The only thing the news will have to offer you is more hate, teach you nothing about faith or culture, and try to somehow convince you that this maniac’s rampage was the product of being in the Army. Of course in the past day I have watched the talking heads point at one another and turn yet another shooting into some sort of political food fight. Did Aurora teach you guys nothing? Did it not teach you that crazy people are just crazy for the sake of being crazy sometimes? You can not politicize crazy, plain and simple!
(Hanging a flag. As American as Apple Pie)
Now, finish reading this article. Turn off your TV. Grab a book. And learn. Learn as much as you can, every day for the rest of your lives. Being astute and educated does not mean having a degree hanging up on your wall. It mean’s you have taken the time to become an enrolled student at the University of Wanting to know more. A student willing to look outside of the standard one size fits all educational box. Only then will you be able to know real tolerance, love, and kindness. And please, do not confuse political correctness with legitimate reverence for one’s faith and culture. Political correctness is the reason why we’re in this angry, hate filled, intolerant mess as it is.
Now that you know how to differentiate Sikhs from Muslims or Hindus, make sure to engage in friendly conversation next time you are privileged enough to encounter one. They will be gracious and elated to converse with you about their faith. Thank them for working so hard. Thank them for being so family oriented. And most of all, thank them for being such patriotic Americans. My hope for each of you reading this is that I have sparked a fire within you to proselytize education and learning. Not hate and ignorance. Maybe then we can avoid another mass killing spree like the one we witnessed yesterday.