The Arizona Republic

Anti-Muslim marches prompt Sikh open house

- Anjleen Kaur Gumer is a volunteer for the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh American civil rights organizati­on. She lives in Phoenix with her husband and two sons. Email her at; Twitter, @anjleen. ANJLEEN KAUR GUMER

On Saturday, ACT for America will hold antiMuslim rallies in more than 20 cities around the nation, including Phoenix. As a Sikh American, I believe rallies like these endanger the lives of Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim, and that all of us should stand together to reject this bigotry.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, ACT for America is an extremist organizati­on, with a history of stereotypi­ng Muslims. Brigitte Gabriel, the organizer of the rallies, does not distinguis­h the overwhelmi­ng majority of peace-loving Muslims from fringe organizati­ons such as ISIS and al-Qaida.

For example, Gabriel has claimed that a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” Instead of recognizin­g the valor of Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim American who lost his life while serving in the U.S. Army – a fact that deflates Gabriel’s loyalty theory – she questioned his father’s patriotism.

You may find it surprising that a Sikh like me is defending Muslims, but my faith requires me to stand up for all people, even if they follow a different religion. Observant Sikhs are distinguis­hed by turbans and uncut hair. These articles of faith signal our religious commitment to uphold equality and justice for all people. Like most Americans, we believe an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

As we all know, Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first American to die post 9/11. He was shot and killed in front of his gas station here in Mesa on Sept. 15, 2001, by a man who declared that he wanted to “go out and shoot some towelheads.”

More than 15 years later, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction. According to the latest FBI hate crime statistics, the federal government has documented a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. Ominously, the FBI data also show that hate crimes have increased in Phoenix.

So what should we do about these troubling trends?

Gabriel has a constituti­onal right to express her views, but we also have a constituti­onal right to speak out in favor of a more tolerant society. We should condemn bigotry and stand in solidarity with our Muslim friends.

We must urge our political leaders to speak out against intoleranc­e. During the 2016 presidenti­al campaign, Sen. John McCain strongly defended the Khan family after then-candidate Donald Trump questioned their patriotism. Conversely, when elected officials bash immigrants and religious minorities, we need to hold them accountabl­e.

As a parent, I believe we must also work with our schools on bullying prevention. I have two young sons who wear turbans and attend public elementary school. According to Sikh Coalition surveys, children who wear turbans experience bullying, harassment and physical violence. Some are even called “terrorist” and “Osama,” and are told to “go back to their country.”

I am proud to live in a country where I can freely practice my religion and build friendship­s with people from different faiths and traditions. We should not let hate divide us.

In these trying times, it is imperative that we learn about each other and how each community enriches America. In this spirit, I would like to extend an invite to an open house at Nishkam Seva Gurdwara (house of worship), on June 25, 12:30-2 p.m., 4950 W Tonopah Drive, Glendale, to inform our neighbors about our faith.

I am proud to live in a country where I can freely practice my religion and build friendship­s with people from different faiths and traditions. We should not let hate divide us.

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