Several local Sikhs said they chose to settle in the Oklahoma City area to attend college or because they found job opportunities.
But most members of the close-knit group that met this week at the Sikh Gurdwara of Oklahoma said they have made their homes in cities like Edmond, Shawnee, Nichols Hills and Oklahoma City because they felt those communities were great places for raising families.
They said their sentiments haven't changed even though a fatal shooting rampage at a Wisconsin gurdwara has left some Sikhs across the U.S. unsettled.
Dr. Jaspal Singh Chawla, 66, an Edmond doctor, said education is key to helping the community-at-large understand more about Sikhism, particularly its mantra of peace.
Umi Kaur Chahal, an Edmond resident whose family is in the home health and hospice business, said she has found that one-on-one friendships and work relationships have done much to educate the general public about Sikhism.
“That is the best way — one person at a time,” Chahal, 62, said.
“One person educated is a community educated. It is a seed that continues to grow.”
Many of the Sikhs who attend the gurdwara or Sikh temple at 4525 NW 16 said being members of a minority faith helped draw them closer together.
“One of the reasons we formed this gurdwara was so that our children would be able to grow up with other Sikhs,” Chahal said.
Minnie Kaur Bajaj, 65, a Nichols Hills office manager, agreed.
“We wanted to teach our children the Sikh religion on a regular basis at a gurdwara with other Sikhs instead of just in our homes,” Bajaj said.
Having each other has helped the Sikhs through difficult times associated with being part of a minority religion, the group said.
Chahal and her husband, Bhajee Singh Chahal, talked about his excruciatingly painful decision to cut his hair and stop wearing a turban.
Many Sikh men do not cut their hair or beards and wear turbans as symbols of their faith.
Bhajee Singh Chahal, 66, said he decided to forego the faith traditions after experiencing difficulties in finding employment in the early 1970s in another state.
“I went to the barber and said ‘Don't ask me anything, just cut it,'” he said.
His wife said she remembered the day very well.
“He cried all evening long — we cried. It was such a big change in our lives because we grew up in a traditional Sikh family,” Umi Kaur Chahal said.
She said wearing the traditional turban is a matter of choice for most Sikh men, both those in America and those in other countries.
Sarbjit “Sabi” Singh, 67, a retired Oklahoma City engineer, shared similar sentiments.
He said he has always considered wearing his traditional turban “as an advantage to be different” because it set him apart from others particularly in his career.
“When I wear a turban, I'm proud to proclaim it — that I am a Sikh,” he said.
Hardeep Singh Saluja, 35, a Southwestern Oklahoma State University professor, said he often coordinates the color of his turbans to match his suit.
He said the turban can be a catalyst to provide education for those who are curious about Sikhism. He said a professor at Southwestern talked to him about Sikhism and then put together a curriculum explaining what it is and isn't to students.
Saluja said he was grateful for the professor's interest because he, like most of the metro Sikhs, thinks education will bring people together and help combat the hate that led to the fatal Wisconsin gurdwara shootings.