Thursday, September 20, 2012: Local members hope that the tragedy in suburban Milwaukee will give them a chance to educate their neighbors about the Sikh faith while paying honor to those that were lost.
The Sikh community, consisting of about 25 families in the Muskegon area, is a close-knit group that has not only strong relationships with the Sikh Society of West Michigan and its temple in Ada but also associations with those of the Sikh community in southeast Wisconsin.
The Sikh immigrants to the United States come from the Punjab region of India. Some 500,000 Sikhs have come to the United States, many of them small business owners like Raj Singh Grewal, who among other businesses owns the downtown Muskegon Curry Kitchen with his wife, Kismat.
“Everyone knows everyone else in our community -- all of the kids now know each other,” Grewal said of Muskegon families with relationships with the Oak Creek temple community, even knowing some of the victims.
Grewal and others from the West Michigan Sikh community traveled to Oak Creek last month for an Aug. 12 memorial service at the temple in the wake of the Aug. 5 shooting.
“I have gone to Milwaukee all of the time because I know so many people there from back home,” said Grewal, who has been in Muskegon for 14 years. “We saw people from all over the United States at the memorial service.”
One of the West Michigan Sikh leaders is Aman Singh Jhandi, a Norton Shores resident who works as a program manager for Johnson Controls and is treasurer of the Sikh Society of West Michigan.
Jhandi explains that Sikh immigrants come to the United States for economic opportunity, freedom of religion and educational attainment. That members of his community were gunned down in a place of worship is troubling.
“You are targeting the fundamental belief of our country as to freedom of religion,” Jhandi said. “The only way to prevent this is through education.”
Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Sikh community has been uncomfortable. Although the terrorist attacks on the Americans have come from Muslim radicals, Sikhs are targeted for their skin tone and traditional dress.
Wearing a traditional turban or dastaar, Jhandi said: “I am a Sikh from India and believe in the same God as you. One God created all of us. From a religious perspective, we may be on different paths but we are headed for the same destination.”
Jhandi said that he has uncut hair and wears a turban as part of his religious expression of faith.
“The turban is part of my religion -- it is who I am as a Sikh,” he said, adding he understands the typical American reaction to the turban, which is also worn in a slightly different style by men in the Muslim faith.
“People need to learn more about religions around the world,” said Baljit Singh Saini of coming from India where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews live peaceably side-by-side.
Saini, who lives in Norton Shores, has been in the Muskegon-area for 18 years and owns retail outlets in North Muskegon and Ravenna.
The Sikh faith was founded in the 15th Century by Guru Nanak Dev and the faith is found in the holy book The Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Its roots come from Hinduism and instead of many gods, the Sikhs believe in one God, Jhandi said.
The main tenets of the faith beyond the belief in one God are that all humans are equal, among the races, religions and genders. Human life is precious above all other life and a Sikh must defend against injustice where ever it is found, he said of his faith.
“We want to go out and tell our neighbors this is who we are,” Jhandi said. “We may look different but we have the same God and live in the same country as other Americans.”