A Sikh Response to Christchurch

People of faith are resilient. The Muslims of Christchurch will pick themselves up, like the Sikhs of Oak Creek did....

Podcast Episode : A Sikh response to Christchurch

March 15, 2019. Five hundred of the faithful had gathered for Jumu’ah at the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch like they did every Friday. At 1:40 p.m., a hate filled white supremacist, affiliated with the alt-right, walked into the mosque, heavily armed. Hello brother, said the first worshipper who greeted him, only to be shot dead. The gunman spent six minutes at the Al Noor Mosque leaving heaps of dead and wounded before driving to the Linwood Islamic Center, five kilometers away. He shot and killed seven people outside the mosque, before a brave worshipper, Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah confronted him, unarmed, and scared him away. The crazed terrorist left behind fifty dead. Several others were injured.August 15, 2012. A small group of Sikhs had gathered at the Oak Creek Gurdwara in Wisconsin, USA. It was early yet and many of the congregants present were there to prepare Langar, the meal that would be served after the service. It was a Sunday, seemingly like any other. The adults worked in the kitchen, and the children ran around playing as their Sunday School was to start an hour later.. That was when another hate filled bigot, armed to the teeth, entered the Gurdwara and opened fire, killing six of the worshippers.

aasaa mahalaa pehilaa ||

khuraasaan khasamaanaa keeaa hi(n)dhusataan ddaraiaa ||

aapai dhos na dheiee karataa jam kar mugal chaRaiaa ||

etee maar piee karalaane tai(n) kee dharadh na aaiaa ||1||

karataa too(n) sabhanaa kaa soiee ||

je sakataa sakate kau maare taa man ros na hoiee ||1|| rahaau ||

sakataa seeh maare pai vagai khasamai saa purasaiee ||

ratan vigaaR vigoe kuta(n)ee muiaa saar na kaiee ||

aape joR vichhoRe aape vekh teree vaddiaaiee ||2||

je ko naau dharaae vaddaa saadh kare man bhaane ||

khasamai nadharee keeRaa aavai jete chugai dhaane ||

mar mar jeevai taa kichh paae naanak naam vakhaane ||3||5||39||

Khorasan he laid to waste                   To India then he turned his gaze

How can you be blameless my Lord  Herald of death did you not raise

Slaughter death and cries of pain       How can you from pity refrain

Lord you are of all there is                  Surely this you too can see

If warriors mighty two do fight            Reason for grief there none will be

But if the lion slays the lamb               Answer for it his master must

Dogs defile this precious land             The dead forgotten in the dust

Your mysteries are beyond our ken   Let us praise your glories then

Deem themselves the mighty high     Filled with pride the foolish preen

But in your eyes, master, lord             Naught but lowly worms they’re seen

Forever blest, the humble, meek        Forever Nanak His name seek

ratan vigaaR vigoe kuta(n)ee muiaa saar na kaiee ||

Dogs defile this precious land             The dead forgotten in the dust

Guru Nanak said these anguished words upon beholding the slaughter in Sayyidpur, a small town in modern day Pakistan, when he was returning from his Hajj to Mecca. While he was referring to the depredations of the invader Babar, who would go on to establish the mighty Mughal empire, he could well have been responding to the carnage in Christchurch or Oak Creek.

Even though we live in a world that has become inured to such senseless violence, these tragedies cannot but shock us. What can be more heinous than the violation of a sacred space and the senseless slaughter of innocents? And yet we see it again and again, with no end in sight.

People of faith are resilient. The Muslims of Christchurch will pick themselves up, like the Sikhs of Oak Creek did. Shattered lives will be pieced together again. Hope will rise. Pain will dull and become bearable. If we are lucky, healing grace will follow. Perhaps forgiveness too.

Do I sound foolishly optimistic?

I am not, for I have seen such miracles before.

The shootings in Christchurch were not just an attack on the worshippers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques. It is understandable that every Muslim will feel the pain of Christchurch, in the same manner that every Sikh felt the pain of Oak Creek.

Elsewhere, I have shared the story of the Muslim response to the Oak Creek shootings. The generosity of spirit with which the Muslim community and indeed the entire interfaith community responded to Oak Creek was unprecedented and powerful. And it had a huge role to play in the healing that followed.

It is far from naive to seek the proverbial silver lining after every tragedy. In that search lies the seed of hope. But none of this happens serendipitously.

We need to act.

There are many aspects of the faith of Guru Nanak that inspire me and countless other Sikhs. An unequivocal commitment to embracing the pain of the other is by far the most precious to me. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith was boldly defining this principle when he excoriated the powerful warlord Babar, for his savagery. The eight Gurus who followed faithfully adopted this principle and strengthened it, often with their blood. Guru Gobind Singh distilled the essence of this principle into an identity and a way of life. He bequeathed the Kirpan upon his Sikhs as a daily reminder of righteous action and the commitment to the eternal fight against oppression.

It is incumbent on all people of faith to express their solidarity with the Muslim community during this time of anguish and pain. Whenever we can. Wherever we can. However we can. Let us seek out every opportunity to do this. And let us confront intolerance and bigotry in all of its forms.

My final words are addressed to my young Sikh readers. You are the inheritors of the legacy of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh that inspires us so. And I know you fully understand its import.

We the Sikhs will always remember the Muslim response to Oak Creek.

What do you plan to do to ensure that our  response to Christchurch is no less memorable? 


Sarbpreet Singh is a poet, playwright, and commentator from Boston. His podcast, The Story of the Sikhs has listeners in eighty countries. He is the author of Kultar's Mime, which tells the story of the 1984 Delhi massacre of the Sikhs in verse. His commentary has appeared on NPRHuffington PostSikhchicSikhnet, Boston Herald, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Providence Journal. He is the founder of the Gurmat Sangeet Project, which is dedicated to the preservation of traditional Sikh music and serves on the boards of various non-profits focused on service and social justice.

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