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Local Sikhs grieve loss, worry about more violence, targeting

Sukhdev K.  Ghuman president Sikh Religious Sociey Chicago prays temple Palatine Sunday for victims Milwaukee shooting.  |Dave Shields~For

Sukhdev K. Ghuman, president of the Sikh Religious Sociey of Chicago, prays at the temple in Palatine Sunday, for the victims of the Milwaukee shooting. |Dave Shields~For Suntimes Media

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Updated: September 7, 2012 6:16AM

Shock, grief and worries about personal safety figured Sunday in the reactions of local Sikh congregations to the shootings in Wisconsin.

Gurdwaras, or churches, of the Sikh faith are in Wheaton, Palatine and at 2341 W. Devon in Chicago. Sikhs said their faith is open and welcoming, which may have played into a killer’s hands in Wisconsin.

The Palatine location is the Sikh Religious Society of Chicago, 1280 Winnetka St., where members said about 500 people attend Sunday services.

“Our gurdwara is very open,” said its past president, Balwant Singh Hansra. “Everyone who wants to come in is welcome to.”

Hansra said the church’s leadership will meet to discuss enhanced security. Palatine police have been consulted, he said.

“We are heartbroken. Our trust is lost and we want to restore it,” said the congregation’s president, Sukhdev Ghuman. She said members were saddened that violence took place where people gather for peace and fellowship.

“We are so open and welcoming of any other caste or creed,” she said.

Palatine police said an officer was dispatched to the location Sunday as a precaution.

In Wheaton, the Illinois Sikh Community Center asked police to provide extra patrols around the facility at 2131 Creekside Drive, said Amajit Singh, its vice president and founder-trustee.

He said worshipers initially were concerned that other Sikh centers could be targeted. That concern abated as more details of the Oak Creek, Wis., tragedy became known.

“We ask everyone in our community to unite in prayer,” Singh said. “We are concerned more with the victims and their families. We understand this was a random act.”

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, a prayer service and vigil will be at the Illinois Sikh Community Center,  2131 Creekside Drive in Wheaton and at 7 p.m. Monday, one will be at Palatine Gurdwara, 1280 Winnetka Street in Palatine.

Sikhism originated in the fifteenth century in northwest India. Most of the first Sikhs in Chicago arrived in the 1950s as university students, according to an article by Paul Numrich in the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Numrich said the first arrivals were largely professionals who settled in the western or northwestern suburbs.

A less affluent wave arrived starting in the 1970s and settled near Devon Avenue in Chicago. Hansra estimated that there are 10,000 to 15,000 Sikhs in the Chicago area.

Sikhs have said that their faith is often mistakenly identified as a Muslim religion and that they felt discrimination after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“We believe in one God and we believe that all human beings come from one source,” Singh said. Another hallmark of the faith is that all people are equal, he said.

Sikhs said their religion is separate from Hinduism, with which it is often confused. In India, there has been violence between the religions.

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund has estimated that about 700,000 Sikhs live in the United States. Locally, the shootings were an unpleasant reminder of the 1994 stabbing of 4-year-old Steven Sahota, who was killed outside the Sikh temple in Palatine. In that case, a deranged fellow Sikh led the little Carol Stream boy away from the temple and stabbed him 19 times, authorities said.

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