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Full House Learns About Sikh, Other Faiths

'Know Your Neighbors: Exploring Our Diverse Faiths' showcased the Milwaukee area's diverse mix of religious beliefs.

Nobody could learn everything they need to know about a religion in eight minutes or less.

But an event Monday night at the Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church gave those who attended a better understanding of their neighbors and the wide range of beliefs in the Milwaukee area.

"Know Your Neighbors: Exploring Our Diverse Faiths" was held seven weeks after white supremacist Wade Michael Page killed six members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. The event was put on by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, which later presented the Sikh temple with a donation of $5,558.

Organizers said the community needs to move into and beyond tolerance to understanding and friendship, and Monday's meeting showed that despite all their differences, faiths also have a lot in common.

It also showed a high amount of interest in the topic. Despite a Green Bay Packers Monday night game, the church's fellowship hall couldn't hold everyone, with some people sitting in chairs just outside the doors.

Pardeep Kaleka, son of slain temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, said that's how he summons the courage to speak publicly about his father and the shootings so often.

"Because of people like you," he said.

The evening began with an emphasis on the Sikh faith and was followed by overviews on Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist traditions.

Sikh temple leaders said they couldn't have imagined the event happening if not for the Aug. 5 shootings. While tragic, the shootings shed an unprecedented light onto the Sikh faith — a relatively young religion at just 500 years old, but the fifth-largest religion in the world.

Kanwarjit S. Bajwa, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin chairman, said he was at a Brewers game recently and felt proud about the respect shown to him. Many asked about the temple and how the members were doing, he said.

He also spoke of his best friend Satwant Singh Kaleka, the temple president who died defending others from the attack.

They met in 1996. After they settled on their respective titles, they got to work on growing the congregation, which eventually became large enough to require the facility in Oak Creek, where they moved five years ago.

Bajwa said Kaleka died in the best possible place — a house of worship.

In the eight-minute presentations that followed the Sikh overview, representatives touched on several of the same themes, like openness, tolerance and the presence of God in their lives.

Ahmed Quereshi, president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, pointed out that extremists like Page can have an impact on any religion. He noted the anti-Muslim video that has sparked protests and deaths in the Middle East.

"If somebody mocks us, as Muslims we have to follow the example of the prophet who never took personal vengeance out of any personal insult or attack against himself," he said.

"And we must join together, all men and women of good faith, against extermism, whether it be on one side or the other."

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