Binghamton Sikh Community Reacts to Wisconsin Tragedy
8/7/2012 (Updated 11:37:23 PM)(Source: Kate Thornton)
A full beard and a turban are the most distinguished physical features of a male who practices Sikhism. There are about 15 families in the Binghamton area who practice the monotheistic religion founded in India 500 years ago.
Women are also required to maintain their hair, but it's because of these features people who aren't familiar with the religion can jump to conclusions.
Dr. Jagraj Rai, a local physician said although they appear different, we are part of the fabric of America. "Even though we may be mistaken for people of other faith, we are a distinct religion that has taken some tenets of Hinduism and some tenets of Islam and created a separate religion."
Dean of the School of Management at Binghamton University, Upinder Dhillon said the tenats of Sikhism are one of service, unity, peace, and the grace of God.
"Our principles line up with the American principles and that's what acceptance is," said University of Norte Dame Pre-Med student Amarpreet Rai. "We all have to find our common similarities, not focus on the differences."
Sunday, tragedy struck at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. 40-year old Wade Michael shot and killed six people and wounded four. This act of violence has left the Sikh community feeling dismay and disappointment, but they're determined not to let it define them.
"We don't live in fear, but we hope to use this as a teachable moment so that people may understand because we have the turbans and the beard, it does not mean that we are up to no good or doing evil or doing anything like that," said Dr. Rai.
Most local families have the Sikh holy book in their homes and convene once a month at each other's homes and pray. The closest Sikh temple is in Syracuse.
Social media like Twitter and Facebook are becoming useful tools to make sure information on the Sikh religion, or any religion, is right at people's fingertips so they can come to their own conclusions.
"Create a link, somebody can look at it, it's very easy for us as a community, as a younger generation to educate others on what we belive in. And we think that's important because that's the American way," said Rai.
"As unfortunate this tragedy is, it's providing us this opportunity to educate the general public," said recent Binghamton University graduate Preet Kahai. "We hope that we can use this as a positive stepping stone forward."
All are invited to an interfaith candlelight vigil this Saturday at 6pm in memory of those killed and wounded last Sunday. The vigil will be at the Indian Cultural Center, 1595 Rt. 26, Vestal.
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