EDITOR'S NOTE: The Bellingham Herald asked Satpal Singh Sidhu to share information about Sikhism and the local Sikh community after a man killed six people at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee Aug. 5.
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, which was founded 500 years ago in Northern India region called Punjab. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century and is based on his teachings, and those of the nine Sikh gurus who followed him. There are 25 million Sikhs in the world, most of whom live in Punjab State in India. There are two million Sikhs living outside India in the United States (about 750,000 in the U.S.), Canada and United Kingdom and other countries on every continent.
The word "Sikh" in the Punjabi language means disciple. Sikhs are the disciples of God who follow the writings and teachings of the 10 Sikh Gurus as written in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, which are practical and universal in their appeal to all mankind.
Sikhs believe in one universal God. The essence of Sikh teaching is summed up by Guru Nanak in these words: "Realization of truth is higher than all else. Higher still is truthful living." Sikhism preaches, "we are children of one God." It teaches the full equality of men and women. The true path to achieving salvation is living the life of a householder, earning an honest living, sharing with the needy and avoiding worldly temptations and sins.
Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th living guru, establish the written word as the final guru of Sikhs, which is in the form of holy book Guru Granth before he passed away in 1708. Guru Gobind Singh established the Sikh identity, the Khalsa Order, which is followed universally among the Sikh population throughout the world. The Khalsa are men and women who have undergone the Sikh baptism ceremony and who strictly follow the Sikh code of conduct and conventions and wear the prescribed physical articles of the faith. One of the more noticeable is keeping the uncut hair (required to be covered with a turban for men) and the Kirpan (ceremonial sword).
The Sikh prayer place is called Gurdwara, "doorway to the teacher," and everyone from any race or religion or color or faith is welcome to the Gurdwara. A free community kitchen is integral part of a Gurdwara, which serves every worshiper the same meals. This was the biggest statement of equality 500 years ago in face of the strict caste system prevalent in India. This institution outlines the basic Sikh principles of service, humility and equality.
Sikhs have early roots in Whatcom County. There were more than 400 Sikhs working in the lumber mills and fish canneries from early 1900s to 1907. There were riots in Bellingham in 1907 to expel the Sikhs under the pretense that they have different culture, different religion and work at lower wages, thus taking away the jobs from the white workers. It truly is a sad chapter in the history of Bellingham. It took almost 70 years for Sikhs to come back to Bellingham area and call it their home.
Sikhs are resilient people with character of honesty and ethic of hard work. This has been proven all over the world by their extraordinary success as citizens all over the world. Sikhs have made significant contribution to the wellbeing of the communities they live in and are promoters and preservers of peace and justice.
Many Sikhs in Whatcom County are farm owners growing raspberry and blueberry. Sikh farmers produce some 20 million pounds of berries out of the total 80 million pounds produced annually from Whatcom County. Sikhs are very apt business people and run a variety of businesses in the Pacific Northwest such as trucking, motels and gas stations, lumber mills, construction companies, along with being professional engineers, nurses, doctors and teachers.
There were only 10 or so families in Whatcom County in the mid-1980s. All the families would rent the VFW hall near Lynden once a month to have a prayer and common meal. Then the population grew and the community bought five acres on Pole Road and Guide Meridian Road in the county to build a Sikh temple. The first service at the current temple was held on Jan. 1, 2000. Now there are more than 400 Sikh families in Whatcom County. There is no Sikh temple in Skagit County and most of Sikh families attend the Lynden temple.
Satpal Singh Sidhu is a member of temple executive committee and spokesperson for the temple.
Members of the Lynden Sikh Temple invite Whatcom County residents to join in a special prayer for the victims of violence in Wisconsin at an open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 12, at the temple, 176 E. Pole Road, Lynden.