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Sikhism preaches tolerance, good deeds

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is a prominent Sikh and American of Indian descent. (Reuters)

The central tenet of Sikhism is doing good deeds in this life in order to ensure a place with God in the afterlife, a stance at odds with the hate-filled gunman who opened fire in a temple near Milwaukee.

The world fifth-most popular religion numbers between 25 million and 30 million practitioners, with about 20 million in India and more than a half-million in the U.S. All consider themselves equal and the guru who founded Sikhism more than 500 years ago taught that all religions can be positive forces in the world. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former congressmen Martin Hoke (R-Ohio) and Dalip Singh Saund (D-Calif.) are among the Sikhs who have gained prominence in the U.S.

“We stand up for all people."

- Narinder Singh, chairman of the Sikh Coalition

Sikhs believe in a single God, and members must strive to make an honest living, engage with society and share with the needy. Sikhs reject the caste system, and consider men and women equals.

“We stand up for all people," said Narinder Singh, chairman of the Sikh Coalition, which was founded after 9/11 to help the community deal with hate crimes sometimes committed by people who thought they were targeting Muslims.

A gurdwara, the name for the Sikh temple such as the one a gunman burst into and opened fire Sunday, may have services on any day of the week, though Sundays are popular. They are typically opened at 6 a.m. for prayers, singing of hymns and recitations from the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism's holy scriptures.

Singh said members of the faith will try to learn from the unspeakable tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisc., where six people plus suspected gunman Wade Michael Page were killed.

"If it does turn out to be a hate crime, we want to use this tragedy to educate and start a dialogue within our country," he said. "We want to find relieve the problems that lead to unstable fringes and madmen.”

At the conclusion of a Sikh worship service, congregants pray for the "well-being of the world" then enjoy head to the langar, the community kitchen that serves meals for anyone who wants one.

Sikhism began in Punjab, in what is now India, when Guru Nanak, a non-practicing Hindu rejected the rituals and idols of Hinduism. The two religions have often clashed since, although since the 1980s, they have co-existed peacefully. Doing good deeds, Guru Nanak taught, prevents one from the cycle of rebirth and death.

At the end of the service, congregants pray for the "well-being of the world" then enjoy a feast in which anyone can partake.

Sikh men wear long beards and turbans, while women may wear the salwar kameez, a traditional north Indian garment of a long shirt and loose-fitting slacks. Most male Sikhs have Singh, which means lion, as their surname, while most women go by Kauer, or princess.

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