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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

August 13, 2012

Addressing the Recent Shooting at the Sikh Temple

It is important to discuss the recent deadly attack on Sikhs with students. This event was sparsely covered by the media compared to the Aurora, Co. theatre shooting . When a man opened fire on August 5 in a Wisconsin Sikh temple, he killed six people before ending his own life. Perhaps the Olympics distracted some people from the event or it attracted less attention because fewer people were killed or wounded. It is more likely, however, that while most Americans could imagine themselves in a crowded movie theatre, few could imagine themselves in a Sikh temple, much less identify who Sikhs are.

As a primarily Christian yet increasingly secular nation, Americans are notoriously “religiously illiterate” concerning Christian denominations and other religions. It is important to know that in some parts of the world, it is Christians who are the minority within a larger religious society and many have been victims of similar hatred recently. It is important for students to see that protecting all religious communities in all nations is a justice issue and is supporting “religious freedom.”

There are about 500,000 Sikhs in the United States and 20 to 25 million Sikhs globally, the majority of them living in India, making Sikhism the fifth largest religion in the world. Guru Nank founded Sikhism in 1469 in the Punjab region of India.

Sikhs first came to the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century. The word “sikh” (pronounced “seek” or “sick”) means “disciple”. These are some of the Sikh beliefs:

  • There is one God.

  • Men and women are inherently good and equal before God.

  • All people have access to God.

  • Serving other people is the way to become closer to God.

  • It is important to work hard and honestly.

  • It is important to remember God throughout the day.

Under federal law, employers are supposed to accommodate their employees’ religious traditions unless doing so would compromise the business in a serious manner. Sikh men do not cut their hair and protect their hair with a turban. American courts have sometimes ruled in favor of individual Sikhs or companies as to whether males can have turbans and long beards in various environments. The practice of wearing blunt ceremonial daggers or swords has also been an issue in some school districts.

Many Americans mistake Sikhs for Muslims from some Arab cultures and some have attacked or killed them because of their anti-Muslim feelings. While some may interpret distinctive dress as an attempt to distinguish themselves from others, Sikhs really believe that all humans are equal, regardless of gender, religion, race, or ethnicity.

It is now the non-Sikh Americans’ chance to learn and respect this religious group. For more information, see “5 Things to Know about Sikhism”.

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