On September 12, 2001, a Sikh taxi driver at Sea-Tac International Airport is attacked after being called a "terrorist." This occurs after terrorist skyjackers identified as Islamic extremists launch a series of attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, killing more than 3,000 people. The driver's attackers did not recognize that Sikhs are not Muslims or that most followers of the Islamic faith are not religious or political extremists.
South King County is home to about 10,000 Sikhs, the largest concentration in the state. The Sikh temple in Renton (Gurdwara Singh Sabha of Washington) is located at 5200 Talbot Road. There are some 100,000 Sikhs in the United States and 20 million in the world.
Sikh Teachings and Practices
In Punjabi the word Sikh means disciple. Sikhs follow the teachings of 10 gurus, the first of whom was Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 and founded the religion. The last living guru of the 10 died in 1708. Sikhs specifically reject the teachings of both Hinduism and Islam. They believe there is one immortal God, who is the same God for people of all religions. Sikhism preaches that people of all races and religions are equal in the eyes of God. Sikhs oppose class and caste systems and symbolize this equality by sitting on the floor together during worship and community meals. They shed social status by using common middle names -- "Singh" for men and "Kaur" for women.
Sikhs believe that the soul goes through cycles of births and deaths before it reaches human form. They condemn such rituals as fasting, going on pilgrimages, idol worship, and superstitious worship of the dead. The Sikh holy book is called Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Sikhism does not have priests, but most gurdwaras (temples) have a Granthi. A Granthi is a learned Sikh who is skilled in reading the scriptures. However, a Granthi has no special religious status.
"That Could Have Been My Brother"
Speaking of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, spokesperson Kulwant Singh said, "First we are American, then we are Sikh. That could have been my brother or my friend [people killed in the attack]." The Sikh religion prohibits violence. Singh continued, "If we would do these things -- the violence and terrorist acts -- then we would not need the beard or the turban" (Jeffrey M. Barker).
Sikh men wear turbans to wrap their uncut hair. "We believe God created us perfect," Singh explains. "He gave us hair for a reason" (Jeffrey M. Barker).
Community leaders say they are concerned that many Americans see their turbans and confuse them with the Islamic militants they see in the newspaper and on television. On September 15, 2001, a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, was shot to death in an apparent response to the World Trade Center attacks.