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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sikh teenager's book seeks to explain his faith

It wasn't long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that Sikhs living in the United States realized something was terribly amiss. They had a big bull's-eye across their chests, or at least it felt that way.
Sikh men were wearing turbans -- so of course, they must be anti-American terrorists. That case of mistaken identity has been well documented and, for the most part, remedied.
But one young man in the Sacramento area didn't think it went far enough. Harkirat Hansra, a 17-year-old Mira Loma High School rising senior, wrote a book to explain who he is, what he believes and clear up the whole thing about the turbans once and for all.
His book is about Sikhs but not for them. His audience is everyone else.
Although Hansra never felt in danger, he recalls a time soon after 9/11 when someone shouted, "Terrorists, go back to Afghanistan."
For one thing, Hansra was born in San Jose and his parents came to the United States from India.
His book is called "Liberty at Stake" and is subtitled "Sikhs: The Most Visible Yet Misunderstood Minority in America."
It went to press through the self-publishing venture iUniverse and costs $12.95.
Male Sikhs are visible because of their turbans.
As Hansra notes at the beginning of his book, he is one of two students at his high school who wear one.
As most people know by now, Sikh men don't cut their hair for religious reasons. Hansra's hair is now down to his lower back, and he doesn't shave his face.
Hansra opens his book with scores of bullet points about the Sikh religion, hoping that even if people flip through the book and don't buy it, they will learn a thing or two.
One heading states that "Sikhs DO NOT believe in: terrorism or hurting people, hate or racial profiling, war based on religion and converting other people to Sikhism."
He also points out that the turban must be worn in public at all times.
Hansra is in many ways a typical American young man. He is a serious student who dreams of a career in the sciences.
He loves sports and has played soccer for 10 years. He has also dabbled in basketball, baseball and tennis. And he wears a gold rubber wristband, indicating he is a big fan of the San Francisco 49ers.
Because he didn't have a publishing contract and, thus, no deadline, Hansra said he had to discipline himself to write the book in a timely manner. He said his primary motivation was serving the Sikh community. In greater Sacramento, there are an estimated 10,000 Sikhs.
"I wanted to take away the fear of the unknown," he said.
Earlier, he created a Web site -- www.infoaboutsikhs.com -- as a school project to do the same thing.

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