South Florida Sikhs shed light on religious background

Local sikhs open up about world's fifth largest religion


SOUTHWEST RANCHES, Fla. – Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, and dates back 500 years to India.

"The word 'Sikh' means student," said Gurtegh Singh. "Sikhism is a combination of multiple religions, such as Islam, Hindu, Buddhism."

Singh is a Sikh who attends services at Darbar Hall in Southwest Ranches, where worshippers must take of their shoes and cover their heads as a sign of respect. Nearly every day of the week, the center is open for anyone to receive a free meal.

Singh said the religion was started out of a need for equality in India. Their beliefs promote men and women are one and the same, and Sikhs believe in one supreme God.

"Sikhs is one of the peaceful religions out there ever," said Singh. "The ideas were based on times of the past but they apply to today as well."

Sikhism, however, is one of the most attacked religious groups because of their public displays of faith. At a Wisconsin temple this summer, a shooting left six people dead and four others wounded. The gunman, identified by police as 40-year-old Army veteran Wade Michael Page, later killed himself.

"With our appearance, we don't cut our hair, our beards, and we wear turbans as a sign of equality and identity," said Singh. "I believe following the 9/11 attacks -- you see the pictures of extremes wearing turbans and but less than 1 percent is extremist in the Muslim religion."

Singh was saddened by the shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, but said he wasn't surprised.

"I consistently get called Osama on the streets, things like that, just random people coming up to me saying, 'Oh, do you know where I can find some grenades or some guns," said Singh.

Despite what he encounters, Singh said his faith keeps him focused.

"I have learned to ignore it over time -- what else can I do about it," said Singh.