More than 700 pairs of shoes filled the designated cubbies at the entrance of the Sikh Gurudwara of North Carolina Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil to remember the nine victims and the gunman of the recent shooting at a temple in Wisconsin.
"Everybody has come forward in the community as well as outside the community and asked 'How can we help?'" said Paramjeet Singh, a member of the board of trustees at the Sikh Gurudwara of N.C.
On Aug. 5, Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran who served at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, entered the Sikh religious center in Oak Creek, Wis., and killed six people and wounded three others, including police officer Brian Murphy.
Sikhism is the fifth most-practiced religion in the world. It's relatively new to the United States—an estimated 500,000 Americans practice the faith—and the Triangle. In the U.S., it is often mistaken for other religions, such as Islam. Since 9/11, Sikhs have been confused with Islamic religious groups, including the Taliban.
Sikh men and women are required to cover their hair. Sikh men wear a turban and cannot cut their hair. "All these Taliban ... unfortunately wear turbans and we are caught in the middle," Singh said. "We have nothing to do with them—we have no idea what they believe in, we are from a different place, we do not share their beliefs, but only because we wear turbans and we keep beards, people mistake us for Taliban."
Dr. Daljit Cabe, who delivered remarks before the vigil, said that when he arrived in North Carolina in the ’70s, there were 10 to 15 Sikh families living in the state. Now he estimates more than 500 live and work in the area.
The Gurudwara welcomed everyone and provided food and head scarves for the ceremony preceding the vigil.
"This is our family," Dr. Cabe said. "All of you right here."
Archana Gowda, who practices Hinduism, attended the candlelight vigil and says she was impressed by the diversity of people there.
"The service tonight was just really amazing," she said. "People from all these different faiths were coming together and (were) here in solidarity, and I think that just speaks volumes about Durham (and) about this particular area of North Carolina."Cabe and other speakers, including non-Sikhs, emphasized the importance of using Wisconsin as a way to educate the public about the Sikh religion but also the importance of forgiveness and humanity.
"I think people need to have a dialogue and learn to open your doors of your faith like they did tonight," said Gagan Singh, a Sikh from Raleigh. "This should be more frequent. It shouldn't happen just because of the shooting."
A fundamental tenet of Sikhism is acceptance and equal treatment of all people, which includes people like Page who have directly harmed the community, Paramjeet Singh said.
"As a Sikh, first and foremost, the most important thing is to pray for every human being," he said. "Yes, Mr. Page killed a few of the community members, but as a Sikh it's my fundamental responsibility to pray for him too, and I have been praying for him and his family."