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People surround the Sikh Gurudwara in Spokane Valley to express solidarity

By Mary Stamp - Editor

Unitarian Universalist pastor Todd Eklof in Spokane sought a way for caring people to wrap their arms around the Sikh Gurudwara—place of worship—in Spokane Valley after he heard news of a gunman killing six people and wounding four before a service Aug. 5 at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee, Wis.

Community surrounds Sikh Gurudwara

Members of various faiths and the wider community hold hands aroundthe Sikh Gurudwara.

He contacted Baldev Singh, a volunteer at the temple, and their connection grew into a spontaneous, social-media-promoted expression of compassion and hospitality on Saturday, Aug. 11.

The Rev Todd Eklof

The Rev. Todd Eklof gathers people to an opportunity to talk
about the purpose of the gathering.

More than 175 people from the community gathered with about 100 from the Sikh community to say they care and to express their desire to protect and support the Sikh community in the Inland Northwest.  About 100 Sikh men and women welcomed the guests with water and then a vegetarian meal in gratitude for their love.

Kalwant Floua, one of the women volunteers, explained that the Sikh community worships on Sundays, but were gathered that Saturday as part of their monthly 48-hour gathering to read the 1,430 pages of their scriptures and to pray.

She said she is in the second family who came to the area.  Now about 70 Sikh families live in the region and participate in the temple.  She moved here in 1991.  The first family operates the Taste of India restaurant.

Baldev Singh
Baldev Singh spoke on behalf of the Sikh community, expressing their gratitude for the support and caring.

Baldev, who is director of international sales for Oxyfresh, moved from Malaysia four years ago to the international headquarters in Coeur d’Alene, after many years of visiting the United States and this region.

Todd said the event happened because “there is so much love and support in the community.  We just needed to open the door to allow people to express it.”

In the week before the gathering, he said he learned much about the Sikh faith and concluded, “We are blessed to have Sikhs in the community.  They are progressive people offering radical hospitality in response to a symbolic show of support sharing their mourning for the loss of Sikhs in Wisconsin.  We want them to feel safe to worship here.”

Todd said that many elements of the Sikh faith are like “our own religion and encapsulate my faith.”

A booklet the Sikhs passed out on “Why Are the Sikhs?” explains that the goal of the Guru Nanak Mission based in Miami, Fla., is to “spread the universal message of human understanding, love, co-existence and the establishment of pluralistic society based on equality, human fraternity, justice and freedom—economic and political.”

It further explained that Guru Nanak, who lived from 1469 to 1539, founded the faith and 20 Sikh Gurus developed it over 239 years.

Sikh Solidarity Love Sign
Community expresses its love and solidarity.

Sikhs believe in one God, the creator of the universe and in the equality of all human beings, both women and men.  They teach that one should earn a living by honest means, not take what belongs to others, and should share earnings with the poor and needy.

They call for service to humanity, regardless of religious or political affiliation, and for non-violence.

They believe meditation is for remembering God and bringing one closer to God and peace of mind.  Its followers do not believe in forced conversions.  Their daily prayer is for the wellbeing of humanity.

Sikhs are expected to control passion, anger, greed, materialism and ego.

Sikh men and women do not cut their hair.  Men wear turbans and women wear scarves or turbans.

Todd read several quotes celebrating the diversity of religions in the world:

• Gandhi spoke of the different religions being beautiful flowers, and different roads converging to the same point… the same truth.

• Hinduism and Krishna say, “Truth is One.”

• Bagavadita describes the different religions as “pearls in a necklace.”

• Rumi said, “All religions are one and sing one song.”

• The different expressions of faith, said Krishna, are because of “variances of climate, culture and temperament.”

• Catholic theologian Matthew Fox speaks of there being many wells tapping into one river.

Baldev expressed gratitude for “the interfaith expression of solidarity arising from a senseless act in Wisconsin.” 

Just as people gathered around the temple in Spokane Valley, many people across the nation have called local temples to express their compassion, their respect for life, freedom and the right to worship.

Baldev invited those who gathered to join in a worship service on Sundays to see how Sikhs pray and worship.

In an interview after formal comments, Baldev said that while most of the 70 families involved in the Spokane Valley temple are from Punjab, a province in northern India where the faith began and where 60 percent of people are Sikh, he grew up in Seremban, Malaysia, 40 miles from the capital, Kuala Lumpar, where one percent of people are Sikh in a predominantly Muslim society.

He wore a turban and beard through school and university studies, including playing field hockey.

“It makes me stand out and makes me be responsible to my duty as a Sikh,” he said.

He said Malaysia, with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, is like America, “a caldron of different cultures.”

While Sikhs are only one percent of the people in Malaysia, they are the fifth largest religion with 20 million adherents worldwide.  In the United States and Canada, there are 750,000 Sikhs.

Sikh women offer water
Sikh women give water to the visitors.

“It’s touching for our Sikh community to receive the outreach so many different communities have shown the Sikh faith by coming together spontaneously with little planning,” he said. “Todd had an idea of surrounding the temple with arms of compassion.”

He was impressed that so many were sympathetic and ready to celebrate diversity.

“It shows that people of different faiths are willing to come together, to support us and to respect diversity,” he said.  “It shows we are all moved by the same maker.  We have different names for God, but the same faith.  The Lord created us diverse, so we should celebrate diversity.  We were made different, unique, not all the same size or color.”

Baldev said Sikhs stood up for diversity over the years and fought in India to preserve the right of free worship for Hindus about 500 years ago.

“Our founder, Guru Nanak, spoke of equality of men and women, the right for freedom of worship, freedom of speech and freedom for individuals as tenets of Sikhism,” he said.

Because Sikhism is a non missionary religion, the doors of its temple are open for Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and other faiths to come and pray in their own way, “to salute the Lord by whatever name they call God,” aware that “a rose is sweet whatever its name.”

While the Sikhs are active globally in interfaith dialogue, in places where there are fewer Sikhs, they tend to focus on maintaining their own gurudwara.

Congregations, faiths and organizations represented among the people who gathered included St. Ann Catholic, Bethany Presbyterian, the Unitarian Universalist Church, Veradale and Westminster United Church of Christ churches, Liberty Park and Cheney United Methodist churches, Holy Trinity Episcopal, Salem and St. Mark’s Lutheran, Shalom UCC/Mennonite, Unity Church of Spokane, Country Homes Christian, Jewish, Baraka Sufi, Buddhist, Spokane Interfaith Council, Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, Gonzaga University’s Hate Studies Institute, Pax Christi and Friends of Compassion.

Baldev said there is a worship at the Sikh Gurudwara from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sundays, followed by a vegetarian meal.

For information, call 892-9377 or email baldevs@21ten.com.