As a girl in New Delhi, Sabina Freedman grew up with the Sikh tradition of langar, the community meal open to anyone in the city regardless of religion, caste status, wealth or lack thereof. It was a lesson in equality, with the diners all sitting cross-legged on the ground, but also in humility for a girl from a privileged background.

It was the langar that members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin were readying Sunday when Wade Michael Page began his shooting spree.

“That’s what makes it so sad: the juxtaposition of this feeling of faith — the doors are open to anybody who wants a hot meal — and this person with so much anger comes in,” Freedman, who is now 46 and living in Cape Elizabeth.

Maine is home to a small community of Sikhs, some of whom said they don’t feel fearful in the wake of the killings and had never felt unwelcome in Maine. They said that people are generally unfamiliar with their religion — a 500-year-old monotheistic faith that is the fifth-largest religion in the world — and that they have experienced both curiosity and confusion about their faith. Some Sikhs contacted for this article declined to be interviewed.

Freedman, who moved to the Massachusetts from India for college, said she has never had any experiences involving bigotry against her or her family since settling in Maine in 1993. She and her husband have three children, ages 13 and 11, who are connected to both her Sikh and Indian background and his Jewish heritage.

“We live in Cape (Elizabeth). My kids go to school here. We have friends who are from every faith. It could just as well happened to our Jewish friends. This is not something where I feel like, ‘Oh my God, as a Sikh, I feel afraid to live in the United States,” she said.

Ranjit Singh Gill, a 69-year-old retired engineer who moved from Schenectady, N.Y., to Freeport in 2003, said there is a lot of ignorance about Sikhism. A couple of years ago, Gill and his wife prepared a one-page “Sikhism 101” handout for a gathering at their home. He said even Hindus who shared his Indian roots were not that familiar with Sikhism.

Gill said the beard and turbans worn by many Sikh men seem to be one source of confusion for non-Sikhs.

“Anybody who seeks a Sikh thinks: Osama bin Laden,” said Gill, who doesn’t wear a beard or turban himself.

The misidentification of Sikhs as Muslims is not new, noted Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, a religious studies professor at Colby College. It happened after 9/11 and during the 1979-1981 Iranian hostage crisis, she said.

Sikhs have been in the United States since the late 1800s, when a trickle began settling in California and taking on work in agriculture before immigration restrictions were adopted, she said. Another migration, largely professionals, began in the 1960s and 1970s, she said.

Kaur Singh said the aftermath of the Wisconsin shootings is a good time to make people aware of Sikhs.

“It’s a very sad moment in both Sikh and U.S. history, because Sikhs are a part of U.S. history,” she said.

Freedman said while it’s not known what triggered Page’s actions, it’s likely that something in his personal life prompted him to turn his anger on a group of available people. She said although there’s been much discussion about confusion between Sikhs and Muslims, it doesn’t necessarily mean he was motivated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Even if Sikhs are confused for Muslims,” she said, “it’s not right that someone would direct that kind of anger at Muslims.”

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.