Statement from the Nishkam Civic Association – Wisconsin Gurdwara shooting

Wisconsin Gurdwara shooting – our thoughts and prayers

Two weeks ago we saw a tragic chapter unfold in the USA when, in Oak Creek Gurdwara, Wisconsin, an armed assailant opened fire on Sikh worshippers. This marked a low in community relations and cohesion; something many of us never want to see again. As Sikhs, like many faith-inspired people, we turn to our spirituality. We turn to God and we pray; we seek wisdom and strength to deal with unfolding events. No matter how devastating a situation – especially for those who we there and those who lost loved ones – Sikhs and people of faith deal with disaster with inner strength provided through spirituality.

 Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and Nishkam Civic Association (NCA) are touched and honoured by the messages of condolence and wishes received from around the globe over the weeks. GNNSJ serves one of the largest gurdwaras in Europe, on one of the busiest roads in the city of Birmingham. It welcomes daily streams of Sikh devotees and non-Sikh visitors and serves an estimated 20,000 meals per week, free of charge from the langar or Guru’s kitchen, an institution integral to every gurdwara, founded on the principles of equality, generosity, humility and service to humanity.

At 5am on Friday 10th August 2012, an akhand paath was started here to honour the memory of the six victims of the Wisconsin attack and give thanks for the lives that were bestowed to them. An akhand paath is the continuous, non-stop recitation of the entire Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the volume of scripture which resides in the ‘guru-dwara’ or ‘Guru’s abode’. It is revered by Sikhs as their perpetual Guru, or spiritual enlightener, authority and guide, with verses including interfaith dialogue centred on humanity’s most noble, spiritual values which transcend all social divides. The 48-hour recitation concluded with a final service and supplication on Sunday 12th August at 5am – in the ambrosial hours of the morning.

A Sikh prays for the wellbeing of all humanity every day. It is inconceivable for a Sikh not to expect the welfare of all. As practitioners of a monotheistic faith that encourages those of other faiths to be reflective and robust in their own faith traditions, the Sikhs do not believe in exclusivity or hierarchy. The whole of humanity is one big family. As children of One Creator we have a moral duty to understand, support, help and be there for all our neighbours irrespective of religious, cultural or social background.

The world witnessed thousands of mourners gather on Friday 10th August 2012 in Wisconsin to pay their final respects to the six worshippers gunned down. A wake and visitation service at a school saw mourners from around the world, and also the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, in attendance. Gov. Scott Walker addressed the congregation, telling mourners how the Sikh community has shown others that the best way to respond to hate is with love. The service included commencement of an akhand paath, Sikh hymns and traditional hospitality.

As part of the global Sikh community, we thank Police Lt. Brian Murphy who risked his life in the line of duty to defend his fellow countrymen. We are pleased that he has been blessed with strength and is now in a satisfactory condition. He has demonstrated an important characteristic which we see as our moral duty; being prepared to sacrifice oneself to protect the rights and lives of others. We pray for those who have lost loved ones to be blessed with strength and solace in their bereavement, and offer our prayers in memory of those individuals below who departed this world:

  • Satwant Singh Kaleka (65)
  • Paramjit Kaur (41)
  • Ranjit Singh (49) and his brother
  • Sita Singh (41)
  • Suveg Singh Khattra (84)
  • Prakash Singh (39)

We learnt that President Barack Obama contacted the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to express his condolences over the brutal shootings. The full statement released by the White House read: “President Obama spoke with Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh this morning to express condolences for victims of the senseless attack at the gurdwara in Wisconsin, which took the lives of Indian nationals as well as Americans, and to convey the solidarity of the American people. President Obama reiterated that the Sikh community is an essential and vibrant part of the American family.

The President also underscored that the incident is particularly tragic because it took place in a house of worship. Prime Minister Singh expressed his gratitude for the many messages and gestures of support from the United States, and for the prompt reaction and heroism of the local police department. The two leaders re-affirmed their nations’ commitment to the shared values of pluralism, religious freedom, and freedom of worship.

The Sikh faith is the fifth largest in the world, with more than 30 million followers. It includes belief in one God and that the goal of life is to lead an exemplary existence. Sikhs are identified by their unique appearance, complimented by the dastaar (or turban) and beard, as well as their commitment to a unique spiritual lifestyle. This distinct identity separates Sikhs from others, holding them accountable to their spiritual values and commitments for the common good of others. Unfortunately, it has in the past – and now in the Wisconsin tragedy – made them a target for discrimination. The media informs us that the tragedy was a case of mistaken identity; the assailant thought these were Muslim people. Such a statement begs the question of why an impulse to target Muslim brothers and sisters might be deemed acceptable – or, for that matter, Jews, Africans Eastern Europeans, or those of any other identifiable community?

‘Mistaken identity’ is a glib term with an insidious subtext, suggesting something wrong with being a Muslim in America. The Wisconsin attack was an attack on humanity which cannot be condoned or excused, nor involve the belittling of any community.

At a vigil in Wisconsin many were struck by the Sikh community’s willingness to forgive the man who committed murder in their gurdwara, and to emphasize peace over vengeance. The town’s Police Chief, John Edwards, was quoted in The Guardian as saying: “In 28 years of law enforcement, I have seen a lot of hate. I have seen a lot of revenge. I’ve seen a lot of anger. What I saw, particularly from the Sikh community this week, was compassion, concern, support,” he told the vigil. “What I didn’t see was hate. Idid not see revenge. I didn’t see any of that. And in law enforcement that’s unusual to not see that reaction to something like this. I want you all to understand how unique that is.”

Echoed here is verse from Guru Granth Sahib Ji regularly recalled by the Chair of GNNSJ and NCA, Bhai Sahib Bhai Dr Mohinder Singh. Attributed to the north Indian saint, Kabir Ji, it ends with the message: “Where there is forgiveness, there is God himself.”

The silver lining to the Wisconsin cloud is that we see people around the world wondering, ‘Who are the Sikhs? What are their beliefs and the values they stand for?’ It has stimulated a desire to know more about this lesser known, diaspora people who, from its origins in the Punjab, as a minority in India, have over a century-long history of settlement in Europe, North America, East Africa and the Far East. We are also seeing people from all walks of life coming to stand together in solidarity, and hearing messages promoting unity, community cohesion, working and living together as one. We must nurture this in everyday, practical ways and move to act differently going forward.

As Sikhs we are called to be our “brother’s keeper” and this includes the whole of humanity. We want to extend an invitation to others to join us and take collective responsibility by promoting the values of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, truthfulness, selflessness, humility and, most of all, love. Our faith requires us to give utmost respect to all places of worship, and indeed, to see the whole of ‘mother earth’ as a sacred space which we are to look after with responsibility and care, cherishing its diversity.

In the wake of the Wisconsin attack, as we come to terms with sadness and loss and face the challenges of human ignorance, confusion and conflict, the Sikh principle of chardi kala or incessant positivity compels us to light a beacon of hope and determination to do all we can to build a peaceful and flourishing shared world.

                                                                                                                                                                               Ends

 For further information please contact:

Amrick Singh Ubhi,

Nishkam Civic Association,

The Nishkam Centre,

6 Soho Road, Handsworth,

Birmingham, B21 9BH.

Tel: 0121 525 4229

email: info@ncauk.org

www.ncauk.org

Notes for Editors

1. Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) is a multi-faceted, faith based organisation practicing and propagating the Sikh Dharam (faith) in the name of Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539). It has been involved in selfless intra-faith work in Kenya and India informally since 1950, and formally in the UK since 1978 as a registered Charity through five centres for excellence in the inner-city depressed area of Handsworth, Birmingham, where its Headquarters are based. GNNSJ also has sister organisations in Leeds and London (UK); as well as in Kericho (Kenya) and Delhi/ Amritsar (India). Significant achievements have been made by GNNSJ in the conservation and restoration of historical Sikh shrines.

Chaired by Bhai Sahib Bhai Dr Mohinder Singh, who holds two honorary degrees from the city’s universities, it aims to serve and uplift society through the practice of core values – nishkamta, or the spirit of selflessness, being one of them. Inspired by spirituality, GNNSJ has generated a flourishing culture of volunteering, which has contributed immensely to transform its visionary projects into a reality, including the Nishkam Civic Association (see below) which received a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2010. Bhai Sahib was recently created a knight by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of his dedicated work for Roman Catholic / Sikh relations and for his enthusiastic commitment to working for peace among people of all faiths.

2. The Nishkam Civic Association (NCA) is the civic arm of GNNSJ. More details can be found at www.ncauk.org.

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