The Turban Campaign: Now is the time to unite against racists, fascists and Islamophobes
by The Turban Campaign
Following the tragic events earlier this week at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin which lead to the murder of six people in an attack orchestrated by a member of a neo-Nazi group, messages of support have poured in from across the globe with prominent figures travelling to the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) in solidarity.
This week also saw Barack Obama, the first Black President of the United States issue a proclamation for all American flags to fly at half mast in show of respect. Civil-rights activist, Rev. Jesse Jackson also visited the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin to assist with painting the Gurdwara. Speaking to the sons of the slain Oak Creek Gurdwara President, Rev. Jackson said: “You are not a minority but a moral majority.”
Above: Rev. Jackson paints wall at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin
Across the globe, candlelight vigils have been organised in rememberance of the victims with strong attendance from all faith groups and members of the wider community. The American Muslim community has been particularly vocal in sharing the grief and standing shoulder to shoulder with the Sikh community in what the American media has termed an incident involving mistaken identity. Several voices from within both communities have come out to condemn irresponsible journalism for trying to allude that the Muslim community is responsible for the actions of long ignored far-right neo-Nazi extremism.
In the United Kingdom, Co-founder of the Turban Campaign, Varinder Singh contributed to the Guardian newspaper saying: “Racism has always existed, but certainly September 11 didn’t help. It created a suspicion of the Sikh community, particularly because of the appearance of the male members. Inevitably that leads to physical and verbal attacks, but I think the recent attacks in America are a step beyond that.
That was deliberate and I think the argument of mistaken identity can’t really be used here – there were big signs outside saying ‘Sikh temple’. I think a general hatred has developed. Islamophobia is rife and applies to everyone of colour, regardless of religious background. In the eyes of people who wish to hate or belong to fascist organisations you are the enemy and seen as a potential target.
In this country, there is a lot of emphasis placed on extremism in certain corners of the Muslim community, however the government and councils tend to overlook far-right organisations such as the English Defence League.”
He further added: “When we see groups such as the EDL try to align themselves with the Sikh community, it’s a relationship that can’t last. This is a move to isolate the Muslim community who need our support [in tackling Islamophobia].”
Above: Muslim women stand in solidarity with the Sikh community
Above: Muslim brothers and sisters pray in the Sikh temple prior to breaking fast at the Palatine Candlelight vigil.
Recognising the unsubstantiated and misleading reporting by the major news agencies, music producer Kanwar Anit Singh Saini better known by stage name ‘Sikh Knowledge’ tweeted:
I will not distinguish my self from a muslim because I won’t abandon any one person as a target in the face of racist attitudes. Im a person
— Sikh Knowledge (@sikhknowledge) August 6, 2012
An excellent contribution was also made by commentator Jai Singh on Loonwatch.com, a website which routinely exposes far -right groups, in which he wrote:
Speaking as a Sikh, I’d like to thank everyone reading this who has sincerely expressed condolences and admiration for the Sikh community after this terrible event.
However, some people (on various online comments threads and elsewhere) are also obviously exploiting this tragedy to caricature & attack Islam and Muslims yet again. It’s therefore worth clarifying Sikhism’s actual stance on this subject, which is very different to the toxic message that these so-called “Friends of Sikhs & Sikhism / opponents of Muslims & Islam” are trying to promote.
For example, these verses from page 141 of the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, clearly state how highly Sikhism esteems a true Muslim:
“It is difficult to be called a Muslim; if one is truly a Muslim, then he may be called one. First, let him savour the religion of the Prophet as sweet; then, let his pride of his possessions be scraped away. Becoming a true Muslim, a disciple of the faith of Mohammed, let him put aside the delusion of death and life. As he submits to God’s Will, and surrenders to the Creator, he is rid of selfishness and conceit. And when, O Nanak, he is merciful to all beings, only then shall he be called a Muslim.”
The final version of the Guru Granth Sahib was compiled by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh.
The following verses from Guru Gobind Singh’s own writings, in this case known as the Akal Ustat, make Sikhism’s stance explicitly clear too; they also emphasise the importance of recognising our common identity as human beings:
“Someone calls himself a Hindu, another a Turk, someone a Shia, another a Sunni. Recognise the whole of humanity as one race…..He the One is the only God of us all: it is His Form, His Light that is diffused in all…..The temple or the mosque are the same, the Hindu worship or the Muslim prayer are the same; all humans are the same, it is through error they appear different…..it is the one God who created all. The Hindu God and the Muslim God are the same; let no man even by mistake suppose there is a difference.”
This is why the founders of Sikhism — the Sikh Gurus — deliberately included hymns & religious poetry by saints from multiple faiths when compiling our sacred scriptures, including hundreds of verses by Muslim saints; similarly, the scriptures also repeatedly use Islamic (as well as Sikh and Hindu) names for God. Even the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar was laid by a Muslim saint upon the invitation of the Sikh Guru at the time, and one of the later Sikh Gurus also had a mosque built for Muslims who’d settled in the town he’d founded. Several Sikh Gurus (including Guru Gobind Singh) also provided military support to Muslim princes during imperial wars of succession.
The powerful message encapsulated by the verses I’ve quoted — and indeed by the lives of the Sikh Gurus themselves — is anathema to racists and the kind of people who are opportunistically exploiting this terrible tragedy as another stick with which to beat Muslims. All I can say to such individuals is the following: If you’re going to take anything positive from recent events, understand Sikhism’s message of the inherent unity & equality of mankind and (if you’re spiritually inclined) the divine light in all people as God’s children, regardless of religion or race.
Please visit The Turban Campaign website http://www.turbancampaign.com/updates/ and support this effort.