Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 | 10:47 a.m.
It was an evening of unity, resilience and optimism Wednesday night at the Sikh temple Baba Deep Singh Ji in northwest Las Vegas, which opened its doors for an interfaith prayer service and candlelight vigil honoring the six victims of Sunday’s shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
From priests to politicians, seniors to small children, attendees lined up to remove their shoes and don headscarves before entering the temple, or gurdwara, in keeping with Sikh tradition.
An estimated 300 to 400 people listened as community leaders reflected on the violence. A Catholic priest led a prayer of unity; a Muslim spoke on the importance of rebuilding and resilience; a Buddhist offered words of healing.
Secular leaders also offered support.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie assured the community of its safety and his department’s preparedness.
Rep. Shelley Berkley spoke on the importance of solidarity among faiths in the wake of the shooting.
“I heard an observation that maybe [the gunman] was so filled with hate, he thought he was going into a mosque. To me, that distinction has no place in the United States of America,” she said.
“It does not matter that this senseless tragedy happened in a Sikh temple or a mosque, or a synagogue, or a church,” Berkley said. “It was wrong, and it needs to be condemned by all decent caring human beings.”
Maggie Mooha, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Las Vegas, came to offer optimism and support. Over a fresh meal of basmati rice, vegetable curry and daal served after the vigil, she and other members of the congregation discussed the importance of combating religious, ethnic and sexual marginalization.
“A lot of our Unitarian principles are the same as the Sikh’s. We welcome everyone, regardless of their beliefs or sexual orientation. I was surprised to find out just how much our faiths have in common,” she said.
Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, with about 27 million observers worldwide. Close to 800,000 people identify as Sikh in the United States, with about 2,000 Sikh worshippers across the valley.
Teji Malik, a Sikh member of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, said he’s encountered bouts of discrimination among the valley’s Sikh community, but attributes them to a lack of knowledge about the faith.
He stresses the importance of harnessing this moment to better educate the public and share Sikh values of unity and acceptance.
“[Hate] is always there; people show their middle finger, they say things, because they don’t know who we are. They think we’re Arabs, because we wear turbans. But that’s not the point. Hate shouldn’t be towards anybody,” he said.
“Our faith teaches us oneness in all; we all belong to one source. How we came to be here [doesn’t matter]. For me, personally, it’s about enjoying the journey — cultivating goodness within while meeting new and different people, and that’s the way it goes,” he said.
Another interfaith community service will be held at 6:30 p.m. today at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, 4487 E. Russell Road.