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August 5th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

10 years after Sikh murder over 9/11, community continues to blend in and stand out

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story ran in 2011, around the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

By Jose G. Santos, CNN

Fairfax Station, Virginia (CNN)– Ten years ago, Balbir Singh Sodhi was gunned down, apparently because he looked Muslim or Arab.

He was neither.

Sodhi was a Sikh. Members of the religious tradition say he was the first person to be murdered in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks.

That claim has been backed up by the Justice Department.

"The first person killed in post-9/11 violence, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was a Sikh, shot while pumping gas at his gas station in Arizona four days after 9/11," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez in congressional testimony earlier this year.

For American Sikhs, Sunday's deadly attack on worshippers at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee dredged up memories of other recent attacks against their community.

At least seven people, including a gunman shot by a police officer, were killed in Sunday's attack.

In the case of the post 9/11 attack on in Arizona, a 45-year-old aircraft mechanic named Frank Roque gunned down a bearded, turban-wearing Indian immigrant outside a Mesa gas station. Roque drove up to the station, fired a handgun  at Balbir Singh Sodhi - who owned the station - five times, then fled.

Roque would go on to shoot at a Lebanese-American gas station clerk and fire into the home of an Afghan-American family later that same day.

In 2003, Roque was sentenced to death for Sodhi's murder. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to life in prison.

Blending in, standing out

Ten years after the September 11 attacks, which provoked a wave of organizing among Sikhs worried about being mistakenly targeted in retaliatory attacks, adherents of the religion remain both visible and enigmatic.

"Most of the challenges we face can be traced to people not knowing who we are," said Jasjit Singh, assistant executive director at the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in an interview last year. "I don't feel there is a specifically anti-Sikh bias, because people don't know what Sikhs are."

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Singh's group estimates that there are about 500,000 Sikhs in the United States, nearly all of Indian origin.

Sikh women are less identifiable than men, identifiable by their beards and turbans. Many American Sikh women dress like other Westerners or wear the salwar kameez, a traditional north Indian garment of a long shirt and loose-fitting pants.

A woman prays during a Sikh service.

Sikhism emerged more than 500 years ago in Punjab, in what is now India.

Adherents of the monotheistic faith believe in "devotion, remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality between all human beings, social justice, while emphatically denouncing superstitions and blind rituals," according to the website of the Sikh Coalition, a U.S.-based group.

"The ultimate goal in Sikhism is to merge into the divine love we know is God," said Navdeep Singh, a policy adviser to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in an interview last year.

"We believe in the cycle of reincarnation," he said. "That you will be judged by your deeds, and come back, and each time you come back you move one step closer to the divine."

There are 25 million Sikhs around the world, according to the Sikh Coalition, which was formed after the September 11 attacks.

Congregants meet inside a Sikh temple in Virginia.

Inside the temple

A Sikh temple is called a gurdwara, which means door to the guru, or teacher.

Gurdwara refers to both a place and a practice, encompassing temple, teachings and ceremony.

Gurdwaras around the world variously incorporate clinics, schools, guest quarters and community centers, which Sikhs say is a sign of the religion's values of service and equality.

Explainer: Who are Sikhs and what do they believe?

"Sikhism was founded in an area and in a time in which inequality was rampant," said Navdeep Singh. "If you were a woman, you were less than a man. If you were poor you were less than a rich person. Based on what caste you were, that defined your entire life. Sikhism was a rejection of those ideas."

At the gurdwara known as the Sikh Foundation of Virginia,  the muffled trills of a harmonium blended with birdsong on a recent Sunday morning.

The golden dome of the Sikh Foundation of Virginia.

The temple's  golden dome shimmers among the rustling dark green woods like a crown atop a velvet cushion.

As worshipers enter, shoeless and with heads covered, they approach the Guru Granth Sahib, a book elaborately enthroned beneath a canopy at the head of the building's main hall.

Obeisance is made, and a gift, usually of money, is placed on the dais. Music, song, prayer, readings from the Guru Granth Sahib and sermons comprise most of the ceremony. Everyone sits on the floor, men on one side, women on the other, children wherever suits them.

Congregants meet for prayer and study in Virginia.

"The beginning of our Guru Granth Sahib, and Sikh philosophy is really encapsulated in the first phrase: 'Ik Onkar,' which means 'there is one God,' " said Navdeep Singh.

More than a book of scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib is considered to be a living teacher, or guru.

After the service congregants share a communal meal.

After the worship service, called Diwan, comes Langar, a simple meal eaten while sitting on the floor, which Sikhs say reinforces the ethic of egalitarianism.

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"Langar is based on this idea of equality, and making sure that no one goes away hungry," said Navdeep Singh. "Because as Sikhs, we're kind of like Italians. We view everyone as one family. And if you're part of that family, you can't go away hungry. You have to have a meal together."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 9/11 • Sikh • United States • Virginia

soundoff (422 Responses)
  1. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    August 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!#..

      August 6, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  2. Liberty Queen

    Goddess bless the Sikhs and condolences to their families. One does not need to read any book to know the truth that All is One and One is All, everything is in Unity and Oneness.

    August 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  3. riamb60

    One thing that i noticed after the Aurora shooting , was that the media came out with a report stating that Holmes got a lot of attention from female admirers posting on the internet.
    Reporting such statements are dangerous , since there are a lot of attention seekers out in this world, who will commit a crime like Holmes did simply to seek the attention they grave. The person in this shooting looks like a Holmes copy cat, dying for the missed attention in his life.

    August 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  4. guest 10

    Thank you CNN for keeping the reports regarding the Sikh Temple incident update and current. Thank you also for reminding viewers that it is early in the investigation and many new things will be uncovered in days to come. A big thank you to the current anchormen, Don and Rob , for constantly reminding the public this may be domestic terror-type incident, but not to jump to conclusions until we have all the reports. Very professional thank you gentlemen.

    August 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  5. Rob

    "At least seven people, including a gunman shot by a police officer, were been killed in Sunday's attack."

    August 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Carol Gallagher

      But of couse this has NOTHING to do with Guns.

      August 5, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • sharemyday

      I drove past it on my way from church to the grocery store. I didn't even know the Temple was back there. I saw many men in turbans standing outside and more than a dozen police cars, fire trucks and rescue squads, plus what I assume was the Flight-for-Life helicopter.
      I am a Christian, but my heart still breaks for you. Your temple should be a place of peace and sanctuary, and I hate that someone busted and took your lives. I pray for God's peace and consolation for all of you. May your beliefs bring you comfort at this time.

      August 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  6. Iqbal Khan

    Check this...

    http://www.realzionistnews.com/?p=238

    September 19, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Satan

      Or this http://www.saladandchips.com

      August 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • rhinoqlit1

      You sir are legitimately off your rocker. We Jews are not involved in a worldwide conspiracy. Of course that's just what you'd expect us to say. So maybe we are. We love playing games with you gentiles.

      August 5, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Sean

      Common, stop the hate!

      August 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  7. AGuest9

    I have never feared for a friend as much as after that murder.

    September 17, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  8. Parminder Singh

    Also, just want to mention for all the ego-maniacs who think women have always been free in Christian societies...have you ever read about the Women's Suffrage movement in the United States? Do you know what year women got the right to vote in America? It was in the 20th century. So don't forget where you came from. If you don't know where you came from, don't tell others where their going.....to hell...please...luckily God doesn't leave these decisions to ego maniacs known as the "Religious ones".

    God Bless America, in all its Diverse glory.

    September 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Just sayin

      Show us any case where a god actually stepped in to influence a decision. Present your evidence. Be the first.

      Just sayin...

      September 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • jfb

      well said

      August 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  9. Parminder Singh

    Please stop living in a fantasy world. The African Americans had to fight to be seen as human beings just 40 odd years ago in this Christian Eutopia. All the bible verses and the blue-eyed blonde haired Jesus couldn't inspire the majority Christians to see fellow Christians as equals. Please, practice what you preach and this world will be a much better place to live. Every religion is talking about love and respect for each other, ok, let's see the proof.

    Christians and Muslims are fighting over heavens after death; please don't make this present life a hell for the rest of us in your quest for fantasy heavens.

    The human race is One.

    September 17, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Amen

      September 18, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • cory

      AMEN!!!!!!

      August 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  10. Message to Sikhs

    God is definitely knowable:

    "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known." (John chapter 1)
    "Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." (John chapter 17)

    God has clearly revealed His name:

    Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
    God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
    God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’
    “This is My name forever,
    the name you shall call Me
    from generation to generation.
    “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me..." (Exodus chapter 3)

    September 17, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • Just sayin

      God's name is Albus Dumbledore.

      Dumbledore + Harry Potter >> Jesus +Mohammed + God + Allah.

      It's not even close.

      September 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Mathilda

      The popular fiction novels made stupid Americans all the more ignorant. Secular Americans read fictions and watch cartoon movies but never read decent religious texts properly.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • AGuest9

      Mathilda – obviously, you are the illiterate here. Just how many people were killed in the Old Testament alone during all of your god's temper tantrums? I seem to remember the entire population of the planet supposedly being wiped out during one of is hissy fits (if you actually believe that there is grain of truth to the story).

      September 18, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • AGuest9

      Or, Mathilda, should I say, ColoredMountain?

      September 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Mathilda

      The OT Israelites executed only the child-killing perverts who deserved wiping out. Anything that happened on earth is a cute thing comparing to what atheists did in communist nations last century and what they are doing this century. This planet will burn because of all the massacred unborn humans. I change my user names because atheists hijack them.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • AGeek

      Mathilda ..you may want to go educate yourself. Hitler was Catholic. ...how many Jews were slaughtered? More people have been killed in the name of religion than any other cause in the history of mankind.

      August 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  11. snow

    Well the so called opening up the world to the light of "Christianity" is all about expecting a rosy afterlife. You only preach and try to convert others because you want something in return from god (want him to let you into heaven or wherever). That is neither spirituality nor urge to do good. It is simple "greed" and "want". Compare this cult like drivel with a thousand year old veda in Hinduism that DOES NOT have conversion nor does not require its followers to try to influence others to follow is not only sad, but pathetic.. really!!

    September 16, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Mathilda

      @Snow, the Eastern religions don't evangelize because they are merely proverbs and imaginations, not truth. They themselves know it, and they oppress women like hell. Only the truth-hating hedonistic Westerners love Eastern religions.

      September 17, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • bbbmonk

      @Mathilda – Eastern religions do not oppress women. In fact many Eastern societies are matriarchial. I am personally from one of those societies, so I know. Also, as far as what's the truth, that's a matter of opinion. Obviously you wouldn't find Eastern religions to be the truth as you are not a follower. To us, the Western religions seem to be just as ludicrous as you find ours.

      September 17, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Mathilda

      @Bbbmonk, don't lie. I'm from Asia. ALL of you Asian men oppress/ed women. No exception. It's been the staunch evil system in all of the non-West. The Christian West beat you up for good; that's the only reason you learned to be civil with women. Now the de-christianized West is turning to barbaric like you.

      September 18, 2011 at 4:23 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      bbmonk..Matilda has had many names on here, and always writes this way. Its all fluff and no substance

      September 18, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  12. Iconoclast

    The sheer arrogance of these christian posters never ceases to amaze me. When you can only point to your book as proof the book is true, you have no argument. I for one am sick of PEOPLE telling me what to believe. The bible was written by PEOPLE folks, get it?

    September 16, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Read Matthew 13:36-43 and let us know who's being groomed.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • pritika

      The Bible was written by men to comfort and support men and to subjugate women, children and any non-believers.

      August 5, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  13. Eye1

    You fail to recognize the congruencies that exist between these two belief systems. Sikhism accepts and recognizes The old Testament, the Vedas, the Quran, Buddism as revalations by the timeless Truth. They provide the framework to do good. This amorphous Being, the Timeless Truth, cannot and will not be understood by any human; much like, a single cell cannot ever understand it's place in the body whole.
    Sikhs are peaceful people; however, when called upon they are willing to defend the truth. In world war 1 and WW2 83,000 died while fighting alongside the allies. I implore you spend some time to learn about your neighbors.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • ColoredMountains

      Mushing up everything is the same as having nothing. The Eastern spirituality's inclusiveness is good for only stupid hedonists. It never makes anyone quest for objective truth. The reason the woman-oppressing Asia got beaten by the Christian West. The table is turning lately with increasing number of serious Christians in Asia, however.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Eye1

      ColoredMountain, you seem to follow a Zero sum paradigm: Christians of the west “beating” the east and conversely the economics superpowers of the east aiding the western Christians. The egalitarian principles of Sikhism reject this zero sum notion and have faith in the ability of all to move forward together. The rights of women, as the article states, have been recognized and elevated to the highest level by the followers of this faith for half a millennia. As for the “objective truth” that is for science, discoveries of science in no way conflict with core principles set forth in the Guru Granth Sahib.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • ColoredMountains

      Eye 1, not at all. Sikhism is another Eastern religion that locks up the people in a primitive darkness. Every place had to be opened up by the Christian West like a light lits every corner. Christendom's strength is nothing about economy but all those Biblical ideals.

      September 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • AGuest9

      There you have it. Stories, lies and contradictions are the strength of the religious.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Mathilda

      Anything is better than the brutal atheism. Soviets should have landed on USA instead of the Eastern Europe 60 years ago; Americans would not have been this uneducated, then.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  14. Bible Verses for Sikhs

    Read what God says about mankind:

    "Just as people are destined to die ONCE, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him." (Hebrews chapter 9)

    “There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
    All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one." (Romans chapter 3)

    Sikhs should stop imagining about God and about human life but read the Word of God, the Bible, because the Bible teaches opposite of what Sikhism teaches.

    September 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Margroks

      Leave other people alone and keep your religion to yourself. Maybe God decided he wanted other people to practice other spiritual beliefs. Ultra religious people can be so self-righteous it's sickening. The point of this article is not to prattle on about any individual beliefs adn try to shove them down other people's throats. The point is that too many people are clueless about other religions and take out their stupid hatreds on other innocent inhabitants of the planet Earth. This poor man was minding his own business when this hateful man shot him down in cold blood. The killer should not have had his death sentence commuted. He should be on death row even now.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • ColoredMountains

      Everyone needs the life-saving Truth of Christ Jesus. Only villains leave dying people alone. Christians do not do that.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Iconoclast

      You are so arrogant in trying to force your religion down peoples throats. I'd wager that if you ask what religion Frank Roque is he would say christian. In my personal experience christian charity = death and persecution.

      September 16, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Singh

      Whoever so it calling others religions need to gain some religious education first in kids school. Stay true to whatever religion you belong to in a way. Sikhism respects all religions and Sikhism is a unique path not for the understanding of any person. The path is "Sharper than the double edged sword and finer than a hair". Go to Sri Granth website and actually read some of the Great Bani and feel VAHEGURU.

      September 17, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • bbbmonk

      And how do you know that your Bible isn't any less imaginary than what the Sikhs follow? You don't. Faith is not proof.

      September 17, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Mathilda

      @Bbbmonk, the Biblical Christianity alone is the evidential faith on Planet Earth. No others. Villains don't attack the Eastern religions because their content itself is primitive and have nothing worth of serious scholarly works or concerns. One can live ignoring Eastern religions altogether as if they don't exist. Not so with Christianity. They attack Christianity because the Bible is seriously true, intelligent and irrefutable.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • riamb60

      Stop ranting your stupidity, it will get you nowhere you are a brainwashed soul.

      August 5, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  15. The Truth Sikhs Need to Know

    God's Word clearly declared there is NO incarnation and every human is a damned sinner by birth. Sikhism is wrong, though Sikhs are morally better than the Western hedonists and atheists. Sikhs need to trust in the Divine Savior Jesus alone to be saved. No Sikh can be fully God-focused or live a good life; and since there is only one life to live for every human, they have no second chance. No human soul can be redeemed by meditation. The reason the Savior Jesus died for the sins of mankind. The remission of sin must be received by faith in Jesus alone.

    September 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • J.W

      Wow Naomi these are longer than your normal posts. You must have put alot of thought into them.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  16. J.W

    The woman in the first picture is very lovely. Maybe i need a Sikh girlfriend.

    September 16, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Mit

      That's just Sikh

      September 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • J.W

      She looks so pretty in her salwar kameez.

      September 16, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Sikh and ye shall find.

      September 17, 2011 at 6:17 am |
    • Sami

      Posted on Give that 50 Billion to build and safeguard our Southern Border. Build the damn wall! We will save that much on not ihosung illegals and spending more taxes on law enforcment to deport illegals and incarcerate criminals, only to have them come back in over and over again!!this just inTHE CARTEL HAVE SEIZED 80 MILES OF Park Land in Arizona and our Federal Government does nothing but tale local law to post signs NOT TO HAVE AMERICAN CITIZENS GO ON AMERICAN LAND! They are giving our Sovereign land to the Drug Cartel! This used to be hiking/ATV fun land I am shocked and apalled and no biased other news stations are reporting it!

      March 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  17. Praveen

    Religion is a complex thing, not something that you can understand by some moronic talk shows. I am a Hindu and I find it difficult to understand my own religion leave aside others. But there are many people I saw on fox news who seem to know about all religions!

    September 16, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • AGuest9

      That's just Fox News. Claiming to know it all, but not really knowing anything.

      September 18, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • riamb60

      Fox news is faux news.
      Fox news is banned in Canada and several other countries, that must say enough ......

      August 5, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • pATHEISTic

      @Guest..

      "Claiming to know it all, but not really knowing anything."

      Common thing for atheists and Fox News.

      August 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • pATHEISTic

      @riambo

      And Canadian atheists sue Fox News for copyright infringement...for copying their trademark as the original "Claiming to know it all, but not really knowing anything."

      August 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Fox News is not banned in Canada – I watch it all the time in Canada.

      August 5, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • lostursoul

      Atheists are pseudo-scientists with pseudo-logic and pseudo-intelligence

      August 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  18. bottomline007

    In response go Gorges: Hinduism also believed in one god but believes the god is every every where and leaves the choice to you through whom you want to see or reach the god. Hinduism is a symobol of true freedom of belief. Lack of this freedom is the root cause of all the religious turmoil and terrorism occuring in this world.

    September 16, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Rev. Rick

      Amen to that my brother!

      September 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Mathilda

      Hinduism ab-solves the un-atoned, un-redeemed, filthy natural humans into "God". A complete anti-thesis to God's Truth revealed in the Bible. Hinduism has no redemption or no Savior, therefore no salvation, according to the Bible. Humans either trust God's Word or ground-less imaginations. Hinduism just like atheism is the latter case.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  19. bottomline007

    It is an unfortunate event. Sikhs are great warriors and they have a major role in fighting Islamic terrorists in India. God bless them

    September 16, 2011 at 4:40 am |
  20. joesense

    interesting that Frank roque gets away with life in prison and Buck edwards get the death sentence

    September 16, 2011 at 3:11 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.