This profile was last updated in 2004
Since the late 1970s, Sikhs have been arriving in the Quad Cities for a variety of reasons ranging from business and educational opportunities to personal and family motives. The first Sikh to arrive in the Quad Cities came from Malaysia in 1977 to obtain an undergraduate education from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. He had initially planned to return to Malaysia following graduation, but decided to stay in the Quad Cities after obtaining a job in the family business of his American sponsors. In the early 1980s, other Sikhs began to arrive in the area. This group was predominantly composed of single, male, middle-aged professionals who had come to the United States for economic reasons. These men crafted a permanent place for Sikhs in the Quad Cities religious community by forming many long-term economic links in the region. Families eventually appeared as the Sikhs began to marry—allowing Punjabi women to make their first appearance in the area. However, even this growth did not spur any particular interest in reproducing organized Sikh religious practice in the Quad Cities.
Sikhs in the Quad Cities hail chiefly from the Punjab in northern India, though other countries such as Malaysia and the United States are also represented. Conversion does account for a small percentage of the total membership, but its influence is limited due to a lack of emphasis on proselytization and the predominance the Punjabi language in religious and social activities. Most often, Sikhs arriving in the Quad Cities have already lived in one or even two other cities in the United States. As one interview subject noted, “For most of the people that are here in the temple, this would be their second, maybe even third stop. Some of them have come from New York, some of them have come from Colorado, some of them have come from Wisconsin.”
Leadership in the Quad Cities Gurdwara is roughly separated into religious and secular spheres. This division, in turn, largely coincides with the two waves of immigration present in the local Sikh community. Professionals form the basis of the secular leadership—-occupying most positions on the temple board. As one Sikh doctor related, “It is…interesting [that the uneducated] people are more committed to the religious rituals [while] the educated people [may be] interested [but] do not have the time…to put into the organizing and running of the temple in general.” Furthermore, as one unique characteristic of the Quad Cities community, the center is owned and controlled by a single member. Occupying the informal role of community patron, one doctor has purchased a former Baptist Church complex and now rents its facilities to the temple board. In this way, the competitions for control of temple resources seen in many larger temples are generally avoided.
Activities and Schedule
Gurdwara activities focus around providing both religious guidance and social functions for Sikhs living in the Quad Cities. Each Sunday morning at around eleven o’clock, the community meets on the first floor of an old converted Baptist Church to listen to psalms sung by the center’s two granthis and a reading from the Granth Sahib. After about one and a half hours, the service is concluded by a distribution of prasad and members move downstairs to take part in the langar or traditional communal meal shared by Sikhs following services. On festival days such as the Sikh New Year or the gurus’ birthdays, this regular pattern is broken by different reading schedules and special meals; however the importance of normal Sunday services is always emphasized.
Before the events of 9/11, turbans appearing on Quad Cities streets occasionally met with curious gazes or thoughtless remarks. However, for the most part the Sikh community went unnoticed in public. Now the situation for Sikhs living in the area has changed completely—-though not as one may have expected. Despite initial fears of retribution and violence, community members highlight the concern and understanding shown by many in the area following the terrorist attacks. Instead of becoming more xenophobic and close-minded, many in the Quad Cities have turned to organizations like the Gurdwara to learn more about the various hardships immigrants face when moving to the United States. To this end, media coverage of Gurdwara activities has become increasingly frequent in the past three years. Moreover, local interfaith leaders have taken note of a Sikh presence in the area and have begun to include the community in ecumenical events put on by organizations such as Churches United and Bridges of Faith. Yet, even this improved recognition has spurred little more than the most superficial dialogue. Language difficulties combine with the small size of the Gurdwara to preclude the types of interaction and education that would allow the general population to truly understand the Sikh religion.