Temple shooting shocks, saddens Canadian Sikhs
Published Tuesday, August 7, 2012 8:43AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 8, 2012 8:02AM EDT
The deadly attack at a Sikh house of worship, or gurdwara, in Wisconsin has sent a shockwave through temples across Canada, as Sikhs come to grips with the shooting that left 7 dead including the alleged white supremacist gunman.
Praying at a Sikh temple in Ottawa, Prabhjot Sethi said the idea of a gunman walking in and opening fire like the shooter did Sunday morning, is unthinkable.
"You come here to connect with God, to seek peace. This is the last place one can ever think of an act like that."
In Alberta, Jasbeer Singh of the Sikh Federation of Edmonton said the attack has many of Canada's approximately half-million Sikhs now thinking twice.
"Using the power of weapons against absolutely helpless worshippers who have come to pray doesn't make any sense at all and if people can't feel safe when they come to pray in the house of God, where can they find safety?"
For Ottawa worshipper Preet Perhar, condolences are top of mind: "We feel the pain of the families with whom that happened, and the main question is: 'Why were we targeted?'"
That question is resonating through the community of more than 200,000 Sikhs living in the Toronto area, where Jasjit Bhullar is president of Mississauga gurdwara, the Ontario Khalsa Darbar.
He says Sikhs are shocked such a violent tragedy could occur anywhere, much less in a sacred place of worship.
"People come to the gurdwara to pray for themselves or their families. Somebody shoots over there ... nobody expects that," Bhullar told CTV Toronto.
But Bhullar said dealing with prejudice is commonplace for many Sikhs. In the years since the suicide attacks of 9/11, anti-Muslim hatred has often been misdirected at Sikhs, he said, particularly because of the distinctive turban born by male devotees.
"We are different from the Muslims, we wear turbans, but we are different," Bhullar told CTV Toronto. "It's ignorance. They compare us with them."
In Winnipeg, Nishu Brar said the search for the shooter's motive shouldn't overshadow the tragedy.
"He's a white supremacist so it could have been anybody that he was targeting," Brar told CTV Winnipeg. "I think everybody was just really sad that it happened, there's a lot of evil in the world."
In the nation's capital, Dalwinder Gill of the Ottawa Sikh Society said the best way to prevent such hate crimes is to better inform people about different religions and races.
"It's about education, it's about awareness and also has to be understanding about communities that come to live within North America."
The Ontario Khalsa Darbar is planning to hold a candlelight vigil this coming weekend in memory of the shooting victims. Similar services are planned in Ottawa, Winnipeg and other gurdwaras across the country in the coming days too.
At the Dashmesh Culture Centre in Calgary, where everyone is invited to say prayers for the victims, Tejinder Singh Sidhu said the faithful will be praying for the shooter too.
"One of the teachings of our faith is to accept God's will and see God in all. That in turn drives hatred out, and you don't have hatred in turn," Sidhu told CTV Calgary.
Meanwhile, at the Guru Nanak Singh Gurdwara in Surrey, people of all faiths are also invited to share in the reflection and sadness brought on by the shooting.
"This just wasn't an attack on a Sikh gurdwara, it was an attack on all faiths. And ignorance and hate is something we must all battle," temple director Sukhminder Virk told CTV British Columbia.
Members of the public are invited to a special peace prayer and candlelight vigil at the Surrey gurdwara between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. local time Tuesday.