Sikhism is the fifth world religion. There are over 500,000 Sikhs in the United States. And in the greater Milwaukee area, there are two main places of worship.
But what do local non-Sikhs know? In 2014, the Sikh National Campaign had a survey in which 60% of Americans said they knew nothing at all about Sikhs.
A new collection of books on religion and its culture connects communities and educates the public.
Library director Jill Lininger stands in front of the collection of Sikh books in the Oak Creek Library. Fluorescent lights illuminate several shelves displaying approximately 120 books and films.
There are books on Sikh art, scriptures, history books and documentaries.
She points to her favorite book in the collection. “So this book is called Ajeet Singh: the invincible lion. And there’s a young boy, I guess he’s probably six or seven years old. And he does the muscle pose with his arms above his head showing how strong he is.
It is a story written in English and Punjabi about a boy’s triumph over bullying at school.
The collection was made available to the public in April. Lininger says it’s been an ongoing effort to educate locals about Sikhs since the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting in 2012.
“I think the biggest thing about what we have here is to start with, it’s a lot of books on Sikhism for non-Sikhs,” Lininger says. “And it allows the community to start to learn about the diversity of our community and to learn about what Sikhism is as a religion and as a culture.
An Oak Creek Temple official, Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal, says that after the shooting, hundreds of people visited the temple to learn more about Sikhism. He says the library’s collection is another resource for non-Sikhs to better understand the religion.
“We try to put out very simple, short and concise books that give factual information without any kind of controversial subject to introduce people to who the Sikhs really are, what their true values are,” he says.
Dhaliwal says Sikhs are brought to live a peaceful life without conflicts or disputes. Sikhs practice three fundamental beliefs: truthful living, devotion to God, and service to humanity.
He explains the beliefs in their original Punjabi: “Kirit Karo, which means you live by honest means; naam japna which means to worship God; and vand chakko, and share what you have with the needy – the three principles The essence of Sikhism.”
Sikhs wear turbans to represent their faith. And they let their hair and beard grow. Dhaliwal says people often ask about it. “They’ll say what does that hair mean, your beard?” What does your turban mean? Do you have different colors? Do they mean anything at all?
Dhaliwal says Sikhs believe hair is a gift from God. They let it grow naturally out of respect, covering it with a turban. He says Sikhs in America are often misidentified as Muslim or from the Middle East. According to Sikh Coalition99% of people wearing turbans in America are Sikhs.
As library-goer Jason Bernard pauses in front of the collection on display, he says he has heard of violence against Sikhs and understands that Sikhism is a peaceful religion.
“It’s interesting to learn more about different people,” notes Bernard. “There is always something to learn. I think every culture has something valuable to contribute.
Dhaliwal says that in addition to using the Oak Creek Library collection, the community is encouraged to learn about Sikhism at the Oak Creek Temple.
“I would encourage people to come, at least in the local community in the Milwaukee area, if they want to learn more about Sikhism,” Dhaliwal says. “This is where they come, to the Oak Creek Public Library. And they can get information and they can always come to our temple. There is always group or individual, we will be happy to talk to them and explain our religion or any other question they have.
Lininger says the library is expanding the collection with more adult novels and children’s books.