Center Profile

Quad Cities Sikh Religious Society (Gurdwara Sahib) (2004)

(Sikhism)

Photographs:


Description

History

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.
More recently, less educated Sikh businessmen and entrepreneurs began to arrive from the Punjab with their families. This group now comprises a majority in the Sikh community and has proved to be the driving force behind establishing a Gurdwara in the area. In contrast to their earlier counterparts, many of these immigrants showed concern about the absence of an organized Sikh community in the Quad Cities and subsequently took steps to establish a temple. The temple itself was finally made possible through the cooperation of the two immigrant groups—the former primarily supplying financial support and the latter providing maintenance and religious leadership. As an illustration of this relationship, in 2000 one doctor from the community purchased a permanent site for the formation of a Gurdwara which has been largely run and maintained by the newer immigrants.
Today the Gurdwara is a vibrant religious site claiming a membership of about thirty families, employing two full-time granthi, and providing weekly religious services and educational opportunities for children and converts. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, community growth through immigration has slowed, but encouragingly, Sikhs in the Quad Cities have encountered few overt acts of discrimination. As one exception to this general rule, some Sikh business owners reported lower-than-usual sales in the months following the attacks. Overall, Quad Cities Sikhs consider themselves patriotic Americans and permanent fixtures of the area religious scene.

Demographics

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.”
Thus, many in the community have already adapted to American culture in larger cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Moving to the Quad Cities then represents a second challenge for members—-acclimating to life away from the advantages of a large immigrant population. Similarly, most community members come to the region already well-established in their professional or business careers. Doctors, professors, and small business owners make up a majority of the Gurdwara’s membership. With these demographic characteristics, the Gurdwara represents both a traditional religious community and an important forum for the maintenance of many distinct Punjabi cultural traditions.

Organization

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.
Two granthis brought from the Punjab on a temporary contract basis anchor the religious leadership of the Gurdwara. Many devout Sikhs from the business community augment this leadership by providing the bulk of religious enthusiasm. While some professionals have shed their turbans over the years, many of the more recent immigrant businessmen retain the traditional Sikh religious symbols. Additionally, it is this group which provides the greatest financial support to maintain temple facilities and activities. In short, without the cooperation and support of both groups, a Quad Cities Sikh temple would not exist in its present form.

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.
In addition to leading Sunday services, the granthis share the responsibility of providing religious and cultural education to the community’s youth—-teaching topics such as Punjabi language, Indian and Sikh religious music, and reading from the Granth Sahib. Due to the small number of Sikhs in the Quad Cities, few educational opportunities of this kind exist outside the Gurdwara. The center is thus an important venue for the reproduction of traditional Indian and Sikh cultural forms.
Aside from providing their obvious religious function, services also supply a much needed social outlet for many in the community. Especially for those who speak little or no English, the Gurdwara offers a forum in which to communicate in Punjabi, debate current events from a Sikh perspective, and share North Indian cuisine. As testament to the strength of this common cultural bond, the entire community often gathers outside the formal religious setting to celebrate members’ birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. Thus, for Sikhs living in the Quad Cities area, the Gurdwara offers a range of religious and social activities—-strengthening common cultural identity and improving the lives of its members.

Interfaith Activities

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.

Date Center Founded
February 2000

Religious Leader and Title
Kehar Singh, granthi and Raghbir Singh, granthi

Membership
about 30 families

Ethnic Composition
Punjabi, other Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, Caucasian American

Affiliation with Other Communities/Organizations
none