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Victims of Hatred after 9/11 Apply Lessons of Forgiveness to Today's Tragedies

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Scott Willis
/
WAER News

Sixteen years ago Saturday, three teenagers set fire to a 100-year-old farmhouse at Gobind Sadan USA in Palermo, destroying the Sikh place of worship.  The community is invited to a memorial vigil Saturday to celebrate overcome the hatred that has fueled recent tragedies.

Gobind Sadan USA founding president Ralph Singh remembers getting the phone call, and arriving on the scene…

“You could feel the negativity and the heaviness in the air.  So, right away one in our group said we should offer a prayer of forgiveness that the hatred and ignorance that leads to these senseless acts be taken away and replaced by a sense of community and love and respect for each other.  Immediately, the atmosphere cleared, it was as if the weight was lifted, and the light shone through.”

The arson was a mistaken retaliation for the 9-11 terrorist attacks. 

These kids saw our turbans and beards, and every minute the media was playing a picture of Bin Laden with a turban and beard. They thought we as Sikhs were somehow associated with Bin Laden.”

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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Ralph Singh reads from the holy book inside a prayer room in the building that replaced the farmhouse.

Singh says it’s ironic they were targeted because their turbans and the name Gobin Sadan actually welcome everyone to pray and gather regardless of religion, beliefs, or tradition.  But he says out of all the ashes and water came a miracle…their holy book in the second floor prayer room came out unscathed. 

“For us it was not only uplifting that in fact, light can triumph over the darkness, for us, it was a great miracle and a great sign of hope.”

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Ralph Singh describes how even today, Sikhs are targeted because of their appearance. He says the turban stands for many things, including truth, justice, and defend everyone's rights to pray publicly or in private without fear of persecution.

It’s that hope, along with the story of forgiveness and embracing the arsonists that Singh says brought the broader community together and started the healing and rebuilding process.  He says that same powerful statement is needed today amid a fragmented society filled with hatred, fear, and tragedy.

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Credit gobindsadan.org
The newly completed Gurdwara in 2004.

“It’s hard and shocking when those who are our neighbors, carry out these acts of mass violence.  Yet, if we do not forgive, we carry that hatred with us, and we are a prisoner to that hatred.  By forgiving, it releases us and releases the community to live together again.”

The prayer vigil “Gathering Around the Light” will be held Saturday at 4:00 at Gobind Sadan USA on Graves Road, north of Central Square.  

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Credit gobindsadan.org
The charred shell of the old Gurdwara that burned Nov. 18, 2001.