When a crazed gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Sikhs in the Lehigh Valley region were moved by the outpouring of support from the rest of the country for the victims.
"The whole of America stood with us, the people, the media, the politicians," said Tajinder Tung of the Guru Nanak Sikh Society of the Lehigh Valley, based in Lower Nazareth. "There are no words to thank them."
So they decided one way would be to donate money to the Wisconsin police officer who was badly wounded trying to stop the attack. The Valley Sikh community collected $1,100 that members gave to Colonial Regional Police Chief Roy Seiple, who forwarded it to the officer's police association.
Seiple visited the Guru Nanak temple -- called a Gurdwara -- on Aug. 26 to speak to some of the Sikh children who were still anxious following the Wisconsin attack. Seiple said he talked about measures the police would take in patroling during services and precautions the congregation could take.
But Seiple also pointed out what the Sikh community is aware of -- that it's hard to guard against the random act of a madman. The gunman -- an Army veteran who according to the Southern Poverty Law Center was involved with the white supremacist movement -- just walked into the temple on Aug. 5 and started shooting.
Seiple, who stayed for the Sikhs' Sunday service and the meal that followed, was given a ceremonial sword by the congregation. "They wanted to stress they want to be involved in the community," he said. "They're just looking to be understood. They are very organized, they have incredible traditions and they are sticking with their traditions. It was great to see so many young people involved."
Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims, which was thought to be the case when a Sikh was shot and killed at a gas station in Arizona, four days after the Sept. 11 attacks. The shooter reportedly called himself a "patriot and an American."
At a service on Friday, Tung and other congregation members were anxious to talk about Sikh beliefs and dispel misconceptions about their religion.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that was founded about 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. The religion was started by Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469, and spread by nine gurus who followed him. Sikhism's creed emphasizes service to society, generosity to the poor, treating everyone equally, working hard and living honestly and keeping God in mind in all things.
During Friday's service, a small group of men in the front of Diwan Hall at the temple sang hymns and prayers while worshipers sat crosslegged on the floor in front of them praying.
The words, both in Punjabi and English, were projected on a screen above the singers. "This is all praise of the Lord, nothing else," Tung explained during a hymn. "We don't criticize anyone else."
Next to those singing the hymns was an ornate altar holding the Sikhs' holy scriptures -- the Guru Granth Sahib -- of which passages were read during the service.
Afterward, the congregants headed to the dining hall where Sikhs of all ages shared a meal of spicy vegetarian food supplied by donations from the members. Tung emphasized that the meal is free to anyone who comes, members and non-members alike.