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Monday, March 19, 2007

An enclave of faith

In Hillsborough, Sikhs come together to worship God and honor their guru.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001.

After that, teenagers called him a terrorist as he shopped with his daughter at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Administrators at a Pinellas County private school refused to admit his children unless they cut their hair. Perplexed, Singh found another, more tolerant school.

Sikhs, Singh and others at the temple say, have a problem: Few people know who they are and what they believe.

"People misunderstand our identity," said Devinder Sethi, a Tampa business owner and manager of the gurdwara. "We are not Muslim. We are Sikh. I'm really proud of my religion."

Still Singh, like others, feels pressure to fit in. He wants his children to become sports stars and help break down barriers for Sikhs in the public square.

"I was trying to tell my kids, 'You need to become a golfer and a tennis player so everybody will see you on television so they can see that Sikhs are like us,'" Singh said. "I tried my hardest, but my kids have so much homework. I'm still pushing them."

Young men at the temple learn to perfect answering questions from curious classmates about their headdress.

"I've been teaching them and enlightening them about what Sikhism is all about," said Neal Singh, a 16-year-old sophomore at Palm Harbor University High School. "It's made me strong in my beliefs and my faith."

Still, the adults and children know the road to widespread understanding of their religion looms long. Most Americans can't even properly pronounce their religion's name. It rhymes with stick, not seek. And many Sikhs lack religious knowledge too. [Link]

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