Durham, N.C. — Sikhs of the Triangle said hatred and ignorance were to blame for a mass shooting at a Wisconsin temple Sunday.
An unidentified gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee in a rampage that left terrified congregants hiding in closets and others texting friends outside for help. The suspect was killed outside the temple in a shootout with police officers.
Police called the attack an act of domestic terrorism, but did not provide any details about the gunman or suggest a possible motive, including whether he specifically targeted the Sikh temple.
Tejphal Singh Dhillon, who co-founded the 600-member Sikh Gurdwara of North Carolina in Durham, said the victims in Wisconsin share a common enemy with Sikhs in the Triangle.
"Our common enemy is hatred and ignorance," he said. "If we can remove this hatred and ignorance, then we'd all be winners."
Daljit Caberwal, another of the temple's founding members, said that people have a lot of misunderstandings about the Sikh religion.
"I don't know the exact motivation, but I think one of the reasons could be mistaking Sikhs for the followers of bin Laden," Caberwal said. "We are mistaken for our identity."
Sikh men traditionally wear turbans and grow beards, Caberwal said, which causes them to frequently be confused with Muslims.
"When September 11 happened, pictures of bin Laden were posted on the TV and press media wearing a turban and a beard," he said. "Basically, it's a question of ignorance. Hopefully, with more education, people will soon find out who Sikhs are and hopefully this confusion will someday will go away."
He said the Sikh faith – the fifth largest religion in the world with about 80 percent of its followers living in India – is "peace-loving." There are about 250,000 to 300,000 in the United States.
"We are proud to be patriotic, fellow Americans," he said. "This incident is an unfortunate one... (but) once we come to know people and people come to know us, there are no walls in between."
The World Sikh Council released a statement Sunday condemning the Wisconsin temple shooting and calling for a "prayerful response."
"This is a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but also for all Americans," Sikh leaders said in the statement.