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Sikhs, even in troubled moments, avoid anger

By Annysa Johnson, Aisha Qidwae and Emily Eggleston, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

MILWAUKEE — There is a mantra, a meditation, that Sikhs recite again and again in times of trouble.

“Bajeguru, bajeguru,” is likely on the lips of many this week. “God is good, God is good.”

It is a recognition that all things, even the unthinkable murder of innocents in the Oak Creek, Wis., temple on Sunday morning, are the will of God.

“Acceptance of God’s will is fundamental,” said Swarnjit S. Arora, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who has spoken about his Sikh faith at interfaith gatherings.

“Life is regarded as a temporary face of creation,” he said. “It’s like a bubble in the water, which comes, and then disappears.”

There is a kind of fatalism at the heart of Sikhism, an understanding that one’s karma, one’s fate, is preordained. And anger is not just futile, it’s a sin.

Many, especially older, Sikhs insist there is no anger. But grief is as varied as the people who experience it. And others, especially younger Sikhs are struggling with their emotions and questions, say parents and psychologists.

“The anger is more sorrow, more grief, a kind of helplessness,” said Sukhjinder Kaur of Hartland, Wis.

J. Barry Mascari, associate professor of Counselor Education at Kean University and co-editor of the book “Terrorism, Trauma and Tragedy: A Counselor’s Guide to Preparing and Responding,” said that acts of mass violence can be particularly hard for religious groups to understand.

“Victims targeted for their religion can experience a personal crisis as they try to understand and accept how someone could have this sort of hatred toward them,” said Mascari.

The local Sikh community is putting together a crisis management team to address the grief following Sunday’s massacre. According to community members, federal officials will be providing counseling services and information brochures printed in Punjabi, the primary language spoken by Sikhs.

Mental health experts and others are encouraging Sikhs to avail themselves of counseling. That’s a foreign concept for many Sikhs, said Mohan Singh Dhariwal, a physician at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“We are constantly saying in the ‘great state of exuberance’ and we’re constantly being uplifted,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t grieve, the way we do grieving is done very privately with close family members and of course within our services.”

Looking to relatives may become more complicated when everyone in the family is affected by the same traumatic event, said Muninder Kaur Ahluwalia, professor at Montclair State University in the department of Counseling and Educational Leadership in Montclair, N.J.

“Your primary community space, the gurdwara, is the one that got attacked and that also complicates the grieving,” she said.

Sikhs will experience the universal stages of grief including shock, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, which is “OK to go through these stages, that it’s normal,” said Ahluwalia.

At the same time, they may feel a pressure to present a more stoic face to the outside world that may not understand their faith and culture.

Minority communities are “trying to both educate the outside community, the non-Sikhs while at the same time, managing the grief of the traumatic event,” Ahluwalia said.

After a mass shooting, it’s helpful to have a close-knit religious community as opposed to having communities that don’t identify with one, said David Kaplan, chief professional officer for the American Counseling Association.

“One of the things that will happen, and we’ve seen in religious communities before such as the Amish community, they will pull together and provide support that they need in their own way,” he said.

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