Local Sikh community unites in prayer

6 killed in shooting at Wisconsin temple Sunday

Published On: Aug 09 2012 02:21:18 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 06 2012 10:29:34 PM EDT

The mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin has the entire Sikh community coming together in prayer.

But the six people killed Sunday morning may have been victims of misdirected revenge.

U.S. Attorney James Santelle said this appears to be the latest incident in a string of post-9/11 hate crimes that have targeted Sikhs, perhaps because they were mistaken for Muslims.

In Jacksonville, the Sikh community says all it can do during this tough time is unite in prayer.

At the local Sikh temple, prayer and song symbolize the religion's most important worship values. It's a religion believers say is based on non-violence and unity, making the shooting at one of its temples that much harder to understand.

"It becomes even more difficult when in the Sikh temple, anybody can come any time and do their offer prayer to their god and Sikhism," said Sukhbir Singh, co-founder of the Sikh Society of Northeast Florida. "The premise is we believe in one god. You may call it something else, I may call it something else, he may call it something else."

Some Sikh men in the U.S. have been mistakenly targeted since 9/11 by people with anti-Islamic sentiment.

"One of first casualties after the horrific violence of Sept. 11, 2001, was visited upon a gas station owner in Arizona who was brutally and terribly gunned down by someone who thought he was Muslim," Santelle said. "He was not. He was Sikh. The Muslim faith is not the Sikh faith."

Since Sikh men often wear beards and turbans, some of them have been confused for Muslims.

"It could happen in any place of worship, but mainly it's I think because of the mistaken identity," said Bobby Singh, a member of the Sikh Society of Northeast Florida. "And we are from India and we've been here for a long time. A lot of Sikhs are here in the U.S."

The Sikh religion originated in northern India about 25 years ago. Of its 250,000,000 followers worldwide, 700,000 of them live in the U.S.

In Jacksonville, only about 25 families practice Sikhism, a small number that members say makes it difficult to create awareness about their beliefs.

While the peace that defined their place of worship has been shattered, local Sikhs are still turning to their faith, praying for comfort during this tragic time.

"We live in a world where love and hate unfortunately goes side by side," Bobby Singh said. "There's more love -- I would say -- there's more love than hate, so I know love is going to prevail at the end. I will definitely say that."

The Sikh Society of Northeast Florida held a prayer service and candlelight vigil Sunday night.  The city of Oak Creek, Wisc., will host a service at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.