After the arrest of the two men, who are not part of the Sikh community, others realized they had seen them both at the local Sikh temple, called a gurdwara, in the days before the attacks. Sikh prayers begin as early as 3 a.m. Since the attacks, local youth have begun escorting their elders to and from services, said Japneet Singh, a local organizer who helped organize Thursday’s rally.
“The problem with this community is that they come home after a long day, watch a little TV, fall asleep and repeat,” he said. “And we just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone again.”
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, with 25 million believers worldwide. Most Sikhs live in the Indian state of Punjab and about 500,000 live in the United States, according to the Sikh Coalition.
But Sikhism remains largely misunderstood in the United States. Few Americans are familiar with the tenets of faith, which emphasize spiritual unity, or the idea that there is one God who is equally present in all people, which makes all humans equal in front of God.
It is common for Sikhs to have one of two surnames, Singh or Kaur, as a way to rebuke the historic South Asian caste system and promote the egalitarian ideals of the faith. But devout Sikh men, for whom wearing beards and turbans are a religious requirement, are often mistaken for Muslims.
Many Sikh victims of hate crimes have been mistaken for Muslims, a religious community that has faced widespread discrimination in the United States in recent decades. In the first month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Sikh Coalition documented more than 300 cases of violence and discrimination against Sikhs in the United States.
Just days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, was killed outside his gas station in Arizona in a shooting by Frank Roque, who said he wanted to kill Muslims. On the same day, Mr. Roque shot a man of Lebanese origin and in a house belonging to an Afghan American family. He was later convicted of first degree murder.