A Light in Dark Times

Sikhs invite interfaith service at temple near Lynden

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The religious faithful from all sects teemed into the Sikh temple in Lynden last week for a prayer service. The interfaith service at Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara Sahib temple marked the 350th birthday of the last guru, Guru Gobind Singh, and marked a reawakening, ten years after the 100th anniversary of the expulsion of Sokhs from Bellingham.
The service began with a keynote address from Noémi Ban, a Holocaust survivor and Bellingham resident. Ban, 94, spoke of the need for love and tolerance in turbulent times. She was hosted by Satpal Sidhu, a Whatcom County Council member who is the chief committee officer of the Sikh temple.

“Only a small group of a different set of people in collusion with press and law enforcement back in 1907 caused an untold humiliation and pain to a minority community of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims from India,” Sidhu explained of the mob in the early part of the last century that drove these communities from Bellingham. The mob claimed racial and cultural purity as their motive.

“Last week, some 500 kind, beautiful souls refused to watch the Seahawks playoff game and opted to pray together and share a meal, show their love and compassion at the Sikh Temple in Lynden,” Sidhu said. “We all want to heal and reconcile and step forward to the future for all our kids and grandkids in the new world of harmony and love.”

Sidhu noted that it is difficult to know the true number of hate crimes against Sikh Americans since 9/11 because many incidents go unreported and because Sikh-specific statistics are currently unavailable. The U.S. Department of Justice has noted that, since 9/11, its Civil Rights Division as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Attorneys have investigated more than 800 bias incidents against Sikh, Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans. Significantly, a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests that, as of 2005, the true number of hate crimes committed in the United States was 15 times higher than that which was reported in FBI hate crime statistics.
The weekly Guru Nanak service is always open for visits from the community, but the event marked a special outreach into the community by churches and synagogues and temples of all faiths.

Marian Beddill heard about the interfaith service and alerted her her church, the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, and other churches, and the synagogue.

“I was moved by every part of the event,” said Sara O’Connor, a former teacher in Ferndale. “I’m so glad I had my scarf handy [as a head covering] because I used it to wipe away tears many times. I’ve been feeling really down lately, really hopeless about the state of our union in light of the recent election. This event reminded me that we are one people. It gave me hope that there are many others fighting for and working for the causes of social justice, and also that the great wheel will keep spinning.

“Hate and bigotry and racism come around and around again,” she said, “but also constant is love and brother- and sisterhood and the sharing of a great meal. I have spent too much energy lately dwelling on the darkness of these modern times, and the opportunity to pray and share in the gurdwara reminded me that there’s also lots of light.”

Photos by Alan Friedlob

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