Bonds of Brotherhood

PARDEEP KALEKA and former white supremacist Arno Michaelis clasped hands during a radio interview on the first anniversary of a mass shooting that changed both of their lives. Their embrace was the ultimate symbol of brotherhood—two starkly different backgrounds united by a common goal of peace and understanding in an oftentimes cruel and unforgiving world.

Pardeep Kaleka is a member of the Sikh faith community. His father was one of the six worshippers killed on Aug. 5, 2012, at the Sikh temple, or gurdwara, in Oak Creek, Wis. Three more were injured that day before the man opening fire on the temple was wounded by the police. The gunman then prepared for one final pull of the trigger, taking his own life.

The shooter was Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist, acting on his own volition that Sunday morning. He had spent his life practicing violence and hatred toward all kinds of people he felt to be “different” from him. This hatred culminated in a final unthinkable act, killing six people in cold blood at their holy place of worship.

There was angst, confusion, and grief among the Wisconsin Sikh community after this terrible tragedy. But where many may have expected anger from those most deeply affected, the Sikhs responded with something thoroughly refreshing: peace.

IN THE 21ST CENTURY, peace seems to be more of a mental construct than a state of being. The world around us is filled with conflict, struggle, and anguish. But when the Oak Creek Sikh community had an opportunity to respond likewise to an act of hatred, they refused.

Instead, the Sikhs reached out to the world with a passion to promote peace. The Sikhs took the opportunity to educate the world about who they are—a faith community filled with peace and devotion. But more important, they taught the world an incredibly valuable lesson: Answering hate with more hate leads nowhere. Love and understanding is the only path forward.

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Sikhs Honor Police Officer Shot During Attack on Wisconsin Temple

Brian Murphy, second from left, was honored by the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation. Photo courtesy of Rajinder Babra, via RNS

Brian Murphy attended Catholic Mass regularly, both before and after he took 12 bullets while trying to defend a Sikh temple in Wisconsin from a gunman in 2012.

But he says the principles he’s learned from the Sikh temple have helped his recovery.

Now, a Maryland-based Sikh organization has honored the retired police officer for his service when a gunman killed six worshippers at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

The Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, a Maryland-based Sikh advocacy organization, honored Murphy on Sunday — on Vaisakhi Day, a Sikh holy day — with a Sewa (service) Award, given annually to someone who has contributed to the Sikh community.

Assault on Professor Part of Wave of Attacks on Sikhs, Muslims, Others

Dr. Prabhjot Singh from his profile at Columbia University

Shortly after teenagers beat up a Columbia University physician Saturday, a Muslim woman was attacked a few blocks away.

It is not clear whether the attacks on Dr. Prabhjot Singh and the Muslim woman, who were both treated at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, are related. But many say the motives, if not the perpetrators, are depressingly familiar.

They are part of a long line of assaults on Sikhs, who are sometimes mistaken for Muslims; on Muslims; and, more generally, on people perceived as foreigners.

Soccer Ban on Sikh Turbans Leads to Backlash Against Quebec

Photo Courtesy RNS/

Soccer ball in goal. Photo Courtesy RNS/

Quebec’s decision to ban Sikh religious headgear on the soccer field is having national repercussions.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Soccer Association suspended the Quebec Soccer Federation for instituting the ban on religious head coverings, such as turbans, keskis, and patkas. Then the Ontario Soccer Association withheld travel permits for 20 Ontario teams scheduled to play in a tournament near Montreal.

Finally, on Friday, FIFA, the international governing soccer body, said it was authorizing male head covers at all levels of Canadian soccer.

Is Religious Freedom At Risk in U.S.?

RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

Amardeep Singh (l), Rev. Eugene Rivers, Shaykha Reima Yosif at religious freedom conference. RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

In a conference full of people who champion traditional religious values, Amardeep Singh knew that everyone might not appreciate his recounting of the “uncomfortable” cab ride he had taken the previous day.

Singh, a featured speaker at the second annual National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington on Thursday, told the several hundred attendees that his D.C. taxi driver had the radio tuned to a religiously minded commentator, who was explaining that women become lesbians because they had been abused.

His cab story — both his telling and the reaction to it — reveals fault lines in the coalition of Americans concerned that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom and trying to banish religion from the public sphere.

After Shooting, Sikhs Push for More Legal Protections

U.S. Sikhs are taking heart in a widely publicized Senate hearing on hate crimes and a pledge by the Justice Department to consider tracking hate crimes directed at their community.  

The hearing, on Sept. 19, featured Harpreet Singh Saini,18, whose mother was one of six Sikh worshippers killed Aug. 5 when a gunman opened fire in their Wisconsin gurudwara (house of worship or, literally, "house of the guru").

“Senators, I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic,” he told a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “My mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.”

Sikhism, a monotheistic faith founded in South Asia, is the world’s fifth largest religion with an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 adherents in the U.S. Male Sikhs often keep their uncut hair bound up in a turban.

The Senate hearing, spurred by the Wisconsin shooting, brought more than 400 people to Capitol Hill, most of them Sikhs.

For Sikhs, the Soul Lives on Long After the Body Dies

Candles photo, Ekaterina Pokrovsky /

Candles photo, Ekaterina Pokrovsky /

Funeral services will be held today for the six Sikhs killed at a Wisconsin temple last Sunday. The bodies of the deceased will later be cremated —  but their souls will live on, Sikh tradition teaches.

Sikh scriptures don't dwell on what happens after death. Instead, the faith focuses on earthly duties, such as honoring God, performing charity and promoting justice.

"The afterlife is not a primary concern," said Gurinder Singh Mann, a religious studies professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara. "It's a very life-affirming belief system."

Still, like many religions, Sikhism includes intimations of immortality.

Founded in 15th-century India, Sikhism was born in the same cradle as Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which posit reincarnation. Like those faiths, Sikhism teaches that the goal is to escape from the cycle of death and rebirth.

But unlike Hindus and Buddhists, Sikhs believe that humans can't liberate themselves through meditation and virtuous living — only God's grace offers freedom from rebirth.

"We don't think that, 'Well, I've done these wonderful things, I get a ticket to heaven,'" said Mann. "That's a divine decision."

'We Are All Oak Creek:' Prayer Vigil Near White House (Photos)

Prayer vigil near the White House for the Sikh community. Photo by Rose Marie Be

Prayer vigil near the White House for the Sikh community. Photo by Rose Marie Berger / Sojourners

Four hundred people gathered across from the White House last night with a single message: “We are all Oak Creek.” 

Responding to the murder of six Sikh worshippers, the wounding of four others, including police officer Lt. Brian Murphy, and the suicide of perpetrator Wade M. Page, hundreds gathered to stand with the Sikh community as they invited prayers for the victims, the murderer, and his family. "Tonight, we are not Jain, Muslim, Hindu,” announced one speaker, “we are all Sikh tonight. We are all Oak Creek. We will not allow fear to overcome us."

In a response reminiscent of the Amish during the Nickel Mines, Pa., massacre in 2006, the Sikh community, the fifth largest religion in the world, is not used to the national spotlight in the U.S. But neither do they shy away from an opportunity to introduce their faith to a wider audience and to practice what they preach. 

Why I Prayed With the Sikh Community Last Night


Indian Sikhs place flower petals and candles near pictures of those killed on Sunday. PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/GettyImages

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we pulled into the parking lot of a local Sikh temple — or gurudwara— last night, but I assumed it would be culturally enlightening and offer a glimpse into a worldview and religious tradition I have only sparingly engaged. While yesterday was the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity for the victims and mourners of the shooting in Wisconsin, I felt deeply compelled to stand with them in their pain as a follower of the Prince of Peace. 

Walking into the gurudwara's courtyard holding my two-year-old daughter’s hand, my wife and two friends were immediately greeted by the priest with a handshake and smile. He thanked us for coming and invited us into the experience that included a short service in the gurudwara and vigil outside to remember the six worshipers who were shot by a man that had never met them. I can only speculate, but if this man would have engaged these people on a relational level at any point, he certainly would have reconsidered his actions.  

Much like the response of the Amish after the horrific schoolhouse massacre in 2006, the Sikh community has intentionally chosen to respond to by offering radical love and forgiveness. Although somber, they carried a deep conviction to embrace the way of peace as retaliation for the death of these innocent victims.  

Sikh Calls for Peace Echo Amish Shooting Response

Amish boy (left) and Sikh boy (right).

Amish boy (left) and Sikh boy (right).

Like most people, I was deeply troubled by news of another mass shooting, this time at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., not far from Milwaukee. On the heels of the tragic massacre in Aurora, Colo., this seemed all the more savage to me, given that it took place in a house of worship.

Maybe it’s because my wife and I work in a church and are aware of such vulnerabilities every day, but my first reaction is defensiveness. I want to raise my guard, double-check the locks and do whatever I can to ensure our safety. It’s the response that makes the most sense, after all.

Or is it?