Sikhs honor temple victims at memorial, introduce others to the faith
By Andrew Conte
Published: Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, 9:22 p.m.
Hundreds of people gathered beneath the golden domes of the Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara on Saturday to remember the victims of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin and learn about the religion.
With an overflow crowd of 350 to 400 people from many faiths sitting on the floor of the temple, located in Monroeville, the memorial included Sikh hymns and speeches from religious and government leaders.
It ended outside with the lighting of candles.
“I believe an attack on our civil rights or a hate crime is an attack on all of us, also an attack on our nation and our principles,” said David Hickton, the U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania.
Sikh community members sought to break down isolation — and to correct mistaken impressions about their religion — following the shootings of six Sikh worshippers Aug. 5 in suburban Milwaukee. Members of the Pittsburgh congregation opened the doors to their place of worship, honoring the victims and introducing their religion to a larger audience.
Hickton, like all of the males attending the ceremony, covered his head with cloth, a requirement for entering the temple and a sign of respect.
“Just because we have a turban on our head doesn't mean we belong to the Taliban or anything,” said Chitratan Singh, secretary of the Pittsburgh congregation. “We as a community realize we need to reach out to educate our neighbors, our co-workers and the American community.”
Local Sikh leaders said the outpouring of community support has been overwhelming.
Authorities said a gunman killed six people and wounded four others before shooting himself to death at the Wisconsin temple. The shooter has been linked to white supremacist groups, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday called the murders “a hate crime.”
With golden spires rising above high white brick walls, the Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara sits like a fortress hidden within a Monroeville subdivision of split-level homes.
Hickton said during the memorial that law enforcement is prepared to make sure Sikhs' rights are protected.
“We are not a nation of hate,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. “We are a nation of love, and as such there is no room for hate in this room.”
The Sikh community in Western Pennsylvania includes about 70 to 100 families, and weekly services in the gurdwara at 4407 McKenzie Drive, near Boyce Park, draw about 300 people, members said.
Sikhs in the United States have been on edge since the 9/11 attacks, when many Americans associated turbans and beards with Osama bin Laden and his followers. The Wisconsin attack renewed those anxieties, said Dr. Tejinder Singh, 68, of Youngstown, a member of the Pittsburgh congregation since 1969.
As a symbol of equality, male Sikhs typically take the surname Singh while women use the name Kaur. They identify themselves by their first name and sometimes use another designation derived from their hometown or family name.
“The people who know me, they have no misconception,” Tejinder said. “But the people who don't know me might have a misconception.”
Saturday's memorial service included prayers, hymns and candle-lighting to honor the victims. It also featured a question-and-answer session about Sikhs.
Like other religions, Sikhism calls its followers to believe in one higher power, and practitioners value equality without regard to gender, race or wealth. Many practice their faith by not cutting their hair, by carrying a kirpan, or symbolic sword, and by wearing a kara, or bracelet, on their right wrist.
No matter their outward differences, Sikhs want the same things as other Americans, said Satpal Singh, 51, of Plum, who served as the Pittsburgh congregation's first spiritual leader in the 1980s.
“We are peace-loving people,” he said. “We believe in humanity, and we respect every religion.”
Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Panthers free agent safety headed to Steelers
- Orpik rises to occasion as Penguins take down Capitals once again
- Figure skating coach dies in crash at Washington County Airport
- Penguins notebook: Letang skating, but no return set
- Police charge Westmoreland County priest in $124,000 theft case
- Students prepare for robotics competitions
- Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto proposes $16M for schools to boost population
- Starkey: No shame for Robert Morris
- Memo confirms VA Pittsburgh officials knew of Legionella threat early on
- Elizabeth Forward school director accused in coin, jewelry theft
- Obamacare dramatically increases costs for some small businesses