Sikhs, Sikhism, + the Recent Tragedy

On August 5, 2012 a gunman entered a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin. He was responsible for the death of six victims and the wounds of another three victims, before police ended his own life (Article).

Although this tragedy was broadcasted, it did not capture and maintain the spotlight of media. In fact, the coverage of the newspapers were essentially limited to a mere two days. Social media did not explode with links, posts, or comments regarding the tragedy, such as the death of celebrities have provoked. Although the lack of attention was disappointing, I was further heartbroken when I heard that the Westboro Baptist Church was willing and prepared to give attention to the situation. In fact, moments after the tragedy was released to the public, the Westboro Baptist Church begun to tweet on Twitter:
“God sent another shooter” (Margie Phelps)
“Beautiful work of an angry God who told Wisconsin to keep their filthy hands off his people (WBC)!” (Fred Phelps Jr). (Article)

I fear that the lack of attention is not rooted in malic or disrespect but rather in a lack of knowledge about the tradition of Sikhism. Sikhism is a growing faith with approximately 20-23 million adherents and was founded in excess of 5oo years ago in India by Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak criticized the ‘blind rituals’ of Hinduism and Islam, the dominate religious traditions of the culture and era. Therefore, the belief system and traditions of Sikhism is understand in relationship, whether in accordance with or opposition to, these traditions.

Sikhism adheres to the belief in one God, who is the God for all people and all religious traditions. Similarly, the Islamic faith adheres to one God.
Sikhism adheres to a belief in re-incarnation. The soul experiences multiple cycles of birth, death, and re-birth prior to the human form. The goal of human experience is to merge with God. The merging with God occurs through being mindful of God at all times, while practicing a virtuous, truthful life balancing their spiritual and temporal obligations. Similarly, Hinduism adheres to the belief of re-incarnation.

Sikhs adhere to the concept that the intention, or purpose, of human life it to overcome the self. When one overcomes the self, the individual aligns their life with the will of God. The true path to salvation, i.e. merging with God, does not require the renunciation of the world, including celibacy. However, the path of salvation is paved with living as a householder, making a honest living, avoiding the temptations of our world, and avoiding sin. Similarly, the majority of world religious traditions would embrace a similar notion of the path to salvation, including Hinduism, Islam, and a vast majority of Christian denominations.

Sikhism preaches that all people (i.e. races, religions, gender) are equal before God.

Sikhism condemns the adherence to ritual practices such as fasting, pilgrimages, etc. The religious practice includes prayer and mediation on the name of God, private worship twice daily (morning, night), and gathering for prayer service and a common meal on special holidays. Adults have vowed never to cut the hair of their bodies. There are also symbolic objects including a wooden comb, a cloth around the chest, and an Iron bracelet (believed to never be removed). Additionally, a turban may be worn to signify personal sovereignty and responsibility to others. The turban has resulted in wrongful identification as Muslims, which after the events of September 11, 2001 resulted in the death of a Sikh man in Mesa, Arizona (Article).

Although I acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive exploration of Sikhism, I pray that it sparks conversation and/or consideration of Sikhs and Sikhism. May we, the entire human race, forever remember the tragic massacre at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Also, may the victims and their families be held in our hearts and prayers.

Additional Sources used in this post:
A Quick Guide to Cultural and Spiritual Traditions. Sue Wintz + Earl Cooper (in cooperation with Catholic Healthcare West Arizona and Yuma Regional Medical Center, 200, 2001.

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