By coincidence or providence my wife and wore orange yesterday. When news of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin reached us we saw no connection between these two events. As details surfaced and Twitter exploded with prayers and gun rights debates I found myself tired, even sickened with politics. Sickened by a population too ideologically lock stepped to allow the aggrieved time to mourn the dead before leveraging tragedy for political agenda.
The President of the Milwaukee Gurdwara, Satwant Singh Kaleka, tried to save his congregation. He attempted to tackle the shooter, but was shot and killed instead. I thought of the Kirpan dagger, one of the few things I know about Sikhism. Practicing Sikhs carry one at all times, both as a symbol of the power of Truth to cut through falsehood, and as a tool to defend the powerless. It’s similar to the curved Jambiya dagger in Yemen. What a courageous exemplar of his creed, the Saint-Soldier.
My wife and brought flowers to our local Sikh Temple in the East Bay, the Gurdwara Sahib in Fremont, to express our condolences and sincere affections. I was asked cover my head with an orange cloth and to remove my shoes just like in a mosque. I was asked to perform ablutions with water, just like in a mosque. We were brought into a grand hall where men and women sat on the floor, made prostration, and offered prayers, just like in a mosque.
The brother guiding us through the Temple invited us to make prostration, which of course a Muslim cannot do to a man or idol. Being unfamiliar with their religion I asked if I could offer prayer as I was accustomed. I raised my hands in supplication and the words came to me, “Ya Allah, may I live to see an era which recognizes the siblinghood of all humanity.” He offered us chai, but of course we were fasting.
I went home determined to learn something about Sikhism I did not know before. And so, I thought, why not start with orange. I quickly learned that in the Sikh religion orange is a simbol of “Shaheedee,” a Punjabi word which means “sacrifice in complete submission to the divine to point of not fearing death.” In short, martyrdom. “Shahid” in Arabic. Coincidence or providence.
Last night, before I opened my fast, I made dua that Allah accept the martyrdom of Satwant Singh Kaleka, and all the Saint Soldiers who have heroically lost their lives among the Sikhs.
Photo courtesy of The Associated Press. This article originally appeared in www.examiner.com.