Wisconsin shooting shocks, saddens Pasco Sikh temple

Twice each day, those who attend the Sikh temple in Pasco offer a prayer to God.

They pray for peace. They pray for the world. They pray for all of humanity.

They were offering that prayer Sunday when they heard that another congregation across the country in Wisconsin had been attacked by a man wielding a gun who claimed the lives of several people just like them.

It was with sadness that Kamaljit Sahota, spokesman for the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Parkash temple in Pasco, known in the faith as gurdwara, noted that when the man now identified by police as Wade M. Page, 40, opened fire in a Milwaukee suburb, that Sikh community also was praying, and because their prayers include all of humanity, they were praying for the man who killed them.

"One person is praying for you. The second person is taking your life," Sahota told the Herald. "Can you imagine how bad and sad and sick that is? You are killing the people there. They're not doing anything bad for anyone. If that person had read about Sikhism, had a little knowledge, there's no way he could act."

The shootings are unfathomable to Sahota and other Tri-City Sikhs, who practice what Sahota described as a more than a 500-year-old faith centered on peace and service.

The local gurdwara is the spiritual home for about 40 Sikh families, who share meals and prayers with people of any background or religion who want to visit, Sahota said.

But despite being the fifth-most-practiced religion in the world, with about 25 million followers worldwide and an estimated 700,000 in the United States, it's little-known and little-understood by many Americans.

Sahota said after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Sikhs often were misidentified as Muslims because of outward similarities, and that prompted Sikh communities in the United States to try to raise awareness about the differences between the two religions and their complicated history that often has included conflict with each other in the Punjab region of India.

That misidentification has led Sikhs across the United States to fear becoming victims of assaults, vandalism or other crimes because of anti-Muslim sentiment sparked by the terrorist attacks.

But Sahota said in his seven years in the Tri-Cities, he has had no bad experiences.

"Nobody bothers us. We feel pretty good here," he said.

Sahota said the people at the Tri-City gurdwara still are feeling shock and sadness over the shootings, but plan to reach out to the Wisconsin gurdwara to offer them any assistance they need.

"We are really praying for those people who got wounded there. Whatever we need to do we are going to do for the community," he said.

-- More information: For more information about Sikhism, Sahota recommends reading www.sikhnet.com.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com