Sikh American Community of Chicago holds prayers…

Sikh American Community of Chicago holds prayers and interfaith candlelight vigil for Orlando shooting victims

Palatine, IL: In remembrance of the forty-nine victims and 53 injured, in one of the worst recent mass shootings in American history, at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando Florida, on June 12, 2016, the Sikh Religious Society in Palatine, Illinois organised a prayer service and candlelight vigil.

Despite a rainy forecast, over 200 attendees gathered, comprising members of the local Sikh community, neighbours, and interfaith groups.

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The event started with Kirtan (singing of Sikh hymns) in the congregation hall of the Palatine Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). One hymn translated for the attendees on the projection screen, read, “We are all born with the same divine light, then who is good and who is bad?”.

Eight speakers, representing the Sikh, LGBTQ, Muslim, mental health care, and gun violence prevention communities, addressed the standing room only gathering.

Dr Balwant Singh Hansra welcomed the guests and urged the attendees to donate to known charities or groups supporting the families and friends of the victims.

“This gathering is against hate and violence and with respect to all human life”, said Rajinder Singh Mago, who outlined the purpose of the gathering and introduced Gaurav Singh who emceed the program.

Surinder Kaur Nand M.D., a psychiatrist, Nancy Mullen-Executive Director Youth Outlook, Marcus Hamilton a counselor at Youth Outlook, Satnaam Singh Mago a Sikh Youth Outreach volunteer, Azam Nizamuddin interfaith representative from Villa Park mosque, Parminder Singh Mann, a Sikh youth activist, Maria Pike of Every Town Moms against Guns, Mohammad Sarwar Nasir president of Muslim Community Center (MCC) Chicago, shared their perspectives and emphasized cohesiveness and strength in respecting and accepting diversity.

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“God dwells in every heart,” said Mohammad Sarwar Nasir, while reciting a couplet in the Punjabi language. Marcus Hamilton, who works with a local nonprofit, Youth Outlook, that offers counselling to LGBTQ children from 11 to 20 years old, holding back tears, said that as a gay man, he lost a piece of himself after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12.

“It was an attack on Muslims, it was an attack on Sikhs, it was an attack on Christians,” Hamilton said. “It was an attack on people of good will everywhere.”

The Sikh community has fresh memories of deadly hate and violence. In 2012, a man with connections to white supremacists shot and killed six worshippers at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which several speakers referred to during the evening.

There also were several calls to action to the large interfaith crowd who attended the vigil. “We cannot pray away the violence, the shootings, the injustice and inhumanity. Let’s honour their lives through action,” said Gaurav Singh, who emceed the program.

“The origins of Sikhism were based on activism against tyranny and hate, and standing up for truth and justice, not only for themselves but also for others,” said Satnaam Singh Mago.

Narrating the story of a school friend Lucio, who was a regular at Pulse club in Orlando until about a month prior to this tragedy, Satnaam Singh Mago said, “We are all connected in sorrow and determination to end racial and hate violence in our communities.”

Maria Pike, a Chicago woman representing gun control advocacy group, “Every Town For Gun Sense and Moms Demand Action,” said the day her son was killed outside his apartment in Logan Square Chicago in 2012 was the day she became an activist.

“I’m feeling very humbled by your presence because I know that the fact that you are here means that you care,” Maria Pike told the large crowd. “It means that we are one.”

Parminder Singh Mann, wanting to bring ownership and action beyond the vigils, asked the gathering, “Are we authentic in feeling the pain? Can we make it our own? Is it another community’s [pain]?” He emphasised the Sikh teaching begins with the numeral one, to signify the inherent unity of not just mankind, but all there is.

Standing in solidarity against hatred and violence, a moment of silence was observed to honour the dead.

After the candlelight vigil, which included a reading of the names of the 49 victims by Jasvir Kaur and Jagjinder Singh, everyone sat down on the ground as a sign of support to lawmakers in Washington DC, who staged a sit-in on the House floor on the same day June 22.

Sarwan Singh Raju, thanked all the guests, participants and the organisers.

All the participants of the event were invited to share “langar” the community kitchen vegetarian meal.

Special arrangements were made for the Muslim guests for their prayers (Namaaz) and breaking their Roza (Ramadan fast) with water and dates before partaking “langar” at the Sikh Gurdwara.

“Beautiful is the tapestry of our nation United for the right to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. We break bread, share in the community the best of humanity and decry the worst by honouring with action. LOVE wins,” posted Maria Pike on her Facebook after attending the vigil.

The event was coordinated by Rajinder Singh Mago, Sarwan Singh Raju, Jasvir Kaur Singh, Parminder Singh Mann, Satnaam Singh Mago, Gaurav Singh, and Balwant Singh Hansra for the Sikh Religious Society, Palatine Illinois.

Photos Credit: Kamaljit Singh Virdi

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