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Sikh religion pursues peace, understanding

On Dec. 14, the Review-Journal printed a front-page story regarding the Interfaith Vigil for Peace, which took place at a local mosque after the attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., where many precious lives were lost for naught. The story included two pictures.

The killers happened to be Muslims who were shot dead by the police in order to avoid more innocent bloodshed. The vigil was organized by Imam Aslam Abdullah, who, like myself, is a board member for the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada.

Individuals from all different faiths spoke about unity and peace, including myself on behalf of the Sikh community of Las Vegas.

I am a Sikh. I wear a turban. The two pictures on the front page of the newspaper were of Sikhs who were present at the vigil. The first one showed someone holding a candle, and the second showed me speaking, which seemed strange because the story was not about the Sikhs.

I was shouted at several times during the days after the story was published. I was told that they had seen me, Osama, on the cover, and was told to go back to my country.

I am a proud American Sikh. I had not received this kind of treatment from locals since immediately after 9/11.

On Dec. 16, I received a call from Amar Singh, president of the Sikh temple. He told me he had been called a Muslim after the two pictures of Sikhs were published. It was the same case with many American Sikhs of Las Vegas during the same week.

Since the horrible events of 9/11, we, the turban-wearing Sikhs, have become targets of hate crimes. We are confused by the majority of Americans as Muslims. Hence, the shower of slurs by people has become a norm. In fact, an American Sikh by the name of Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death a few days after 9/11, when he was putting American flags on his gas station. He was told by the killer to go back to his country with his rag head, among many other racial remarks.

After the horrible event in San Bernardino, a Sikh temple was vandalized in Buena Park, Calif. Another temple in Long Island, N.Y., was set afire.

We Sikhs are used to this and are doing our best to educate our fellow Americans. In Las Vegas, my home since 1998, the Interfaith Council has been able to educate police forces and entities of Homeland Security, including the Transportation Security Administration, via PowerPoint presentations and regular meetings. In fact, I gave a PowerPoint presentation to Homeland Security a few months ago that was very well-received.

I would love to work with media, the Anti-Defamation League and the Muslim community so that we can join forces to educate the public through op-eds, forums and other means. It is our civic duty as Americans to protect and serve each other. This is what my religion, Sikhism, teaches me to do.

We do not want anyone to misunderstand the beautiful Review-Journal article with the two misplaced pictures of Sikhs. We are open to suggestions.

— Teji Singh Malik is a Las Vegas resident.

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