Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Our Sikh Neighbors

There was a tragic shooting, the murder of six people, this past weekend at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The shooter was killed by quick-responding police, so we don’t know his motives. But it has come out that he was less than honorably discharged from the military over a decade ago, and was a member in a white supremacist group. We can probably assume mental illness in the general sense, because no one in their right mind sets out to kill innocent people.

This could be a time to write about the second amendment, and encourage sensible gun ownership including training, and possibly a concealed carry permit. But, this is Texas; we almost don’t need to say what our beliefs are. As Candace Bergin’s character said in the movie Miss Congeniality, “Of course he had a gun. This is Texas; everyone has a gun. My florist has a gun.” Enough said.
Instead, I’d like to restate my belief about the contribution of religion to civilization.
One of the questions that arose following the Wisconsin tragedy was, what are Sikhs? I am not expert, but I have a little experience. A few times a year I attend an interfaith event for women, hosted by a different religion each time. One of these was at a local Sikh Gurdwara. The way the evening is set up, the group gathers and hears a presentation on the religion; then we share a dinner and conversation related to our religious beliefs. These have been sweet experiences every time I’ve gone, and always enlightening.
The Sikhs, I learned, are from the Punjab region of India, where the large majority live today. They are a monotheistic separation from Hinduism (I hope I’m stating that correctly). Most of the time they have gotten along well with other religions. The Sikh presentation was given by a very lovely young woman in a colorful sari and headscarf. O that all our clothing could be so beautiful! In her regular daily life, she is a lawyer. So she was well-educated and very good at presenting information. After a couple of years, I still remember a few details. I realized during the evening that I’d known Sikhs for years. You may also know some. The common surname given to Sikh men is Singh, which means lion, and women are surnamed Kaur, meaning princess.
Those who fully practice the Sikh religion do not cut their hair—men or women. Boys wear their hair tied in a knot on top of the head, with a cloth over it. When they reach a certain age (I think around 12), boys go through a ceremony where they learn to tie a turban and begin wearing that. The turban can be placed on the head like a hat; taken off it keeps its shape. To some of us inexperienced neighbors, this might seem similar to a Middle Eastern turban, but they’re actually quite different. Women often wear their hair in a braid, pony tail, or down loose and long, covered by a sheer and colorful head scarf.
There are five particular things they wear that remind them of their beliefs. Among these is a small knife; this is symbolic, not dangerous. It is only a few inches long, and not sharp. They have permission to wear these even in places where no weapons are allowed, such as a TSA screening or a public school. It is not symbolic of violence, but more like the personal fight to live a good life (again, I’m sure they have better ways to put that than I have). They also wear a wooden comb in the hair, under the head covering.
The knot of hair on top of the head was something we first encountered in the small town where we used to live, in a child’s gifted school class. We knew this young boy was making a personal choice to follow this religious practice, but we hadn’t realized what the religion was. We now have Sikh neighbors. When 9/11 happened, these good people put a US flag in their window to show solidarity with us. And they told us they believe all that we do.
One of their concerns was that people might mistake them for Muslims, which was a concern when it was Islamist terrorists who had committed the atrocities. This concern came up in some of the interviews following the Wisconsin event. Of course it is wrong for a crazed serial killer to attack innocent worshipers of any religion, including Muslims. But it does appear that the Sikhs have received a share of bigotry not because of their particular religion, but because of our ignorance about them.
The Sikhs are vegetarian and are concerned with good health. They value home and family life—definitely a civilizing pattern. They are also concerned with equality of all people.
The Sikh population in the US is small. They may or may not adopt the look of their American neighbors, but they tend to keep their Indian culture even while living in their adopted land. One thing they have not done is cause unrest or reason for fear in our country. I want to offer my sympathy to these good people in the wake of the senseless violence they have suffered.
As I said in a post in April 2011,
I am a strong believer in my own religion, and I believe that if everyone believed and lived according to my religion, we would have not only worldwide peace but also flourishing civilization. But since we don’t all believe the same, my plan B belief is that if everyone earnestly strived to live their own religion, emphasizing truth, goodness to one another, and strong families, then civilization would have more than just a fighting chance; it would just about be guaranteed.

No comments:

Post a Comment