After the arrest of the two men, who are not part of the Sikh community, others realized they had seen them both in the local Sikh temple, called a gurdwara, in the days before the assaults. Sikh prayers begin as early as 3 a.m. Since the attacks, younger people in the area have begun to escort their elders to and from services, said Japneet Singh, a local organizer who helped put together Thursday’s rally.
“The thing with this community is they come home after a long day, watch TV for a little bit and go to sleep and repeat,” he said. “And we just want to make sure this happens to nobody 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 an estimated 500,000 live in the United States, according to the Sikh Coalition.
But Sikhism remains widely misunderstood in the United States. Few Americans know the tenets of the faith, which emphasizes spiritual oneness, or the idea that there is one God who is equally present in all people, which makes all humans equal before God.
It is common for Sikhs to have one of two last names, Singh or Kaur, as a way to rebuke the historical caste system of South Asia and promote the faith’s egalitarian ideals. But pious Sikh men, for whom wearing a beard and turban is a religious requirement, are frequently mistaken for Muslims.
Many Sikh victims of hate crimes were mistaken for Muslims, a religious community that has faced widespread discrimination in the United States in recent decades. In the first month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Sikh Coalition documented more than 300 instances of violence and discrimination against Sikhs in the United States.
Just days after Sept. 11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man, was killed outside his gas station in Arizona during a gun rampage by Frank Roque, who said he wanted to kill Muslims. That same day, Mr. Roque went on to shoot at a man of Lebanese descent and into a home owned by an Afghan American family. He was later convicted of first degree murder.