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Condolences to Families of Two Sikh elders gunned down- looked ‘Muslim’


Photo: Surinder Singh

Our condolences to the family of two Sikh elders gunned down in Elk Grove, CA. Sikhs are frequently mistaken for Muslims in The U.S. because of their beards and turbans. This suburb is not to far from where my in laws live. My husband’s 90 year old grandfather takes walks around his neighborhood, everyday.  This could have been anyone of our grandfathers, uncles, friends. This may not seems like such a big deal to people who are living in violence, day in and day out, but in idyllic and  peaceful California, this is like the crack of gunshot in a pristine forest at dawn. A wake up call to all Americans who see their country as land of the free.  This country is changing , ugly rhetoric and violence against Muslims and immigrants is escalating.  While we hide in our masjids and community centers and refuse civic engagement, our narrative gets stolen everyday.  May Allah (SWT) protect us.

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations has offered a $5,000 reward after two Sikh men were gunned down — one of them fatally — on a sidewalk in a Northern California suburb.The executive director of the council’s Sacramento Valley chapter noted that Sikh men in beards and turbans are often targeted by those who mistake them for Muslims.”The Muslim community offers its condolences and support to the Sikh community in this time of sorrow,” Basim Elkarra said.

From the Sacramento Bee:

Police said Saturday that they don’t know why someone gunned down two men – frail from heart attacks and advancing years – as they slowly ambled through a quiet Elk Grove neighborhood during their daily afternoon walk.

Surinder Singh, 67, died Friday afternoon on the sidewalk along East Stockton Boulevard near Geneva Pointe Drive. Gurmej Atwal, his 78-year-old friend, was shot twice in the chest. His family said he was in critical but stable condition.

In a statement released late Saturday, Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Lehner called on witnesses to come forward and said, “We have no evidence to indicate there was a hate or bias motivation for this crime; however, the obvious Sikh appearance of the men, including the traditional Dastar headwear and lack of any other apparent motive, increasingly raise that possibility.”

Lehner also said he had “made preliminary notification” to the local FBI office.

Relatives and friends in the tightknit Sikh community to which the two men belong were not as hesitant to call the shooting a hate crime.

Singh and Atwal, like many Sikh men, had thick beards and wore turbans – traditions that have made Sikhs the target of bigotry and violent attacks since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“The turban is a big problem for us,” said Gurjatinder Singh Randhawa, chief editor of the Sikh newspaper Punjab Mail USA. “We look the same as Afghan Taliban – but we are not Taliban.”

Randhawa recalled the beating of a Sikh cab driver four months ago in West Sacramento.

The driver told authorities that two passengers had uttered anti-Islamic slurs as they attacked him and then beat a female passenger who tried to stop them. Police have since arrested two men on charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon and commission of a hate crime in connection with the attack.

“A lot of people don’t understand where we’re from. They think we’re Muslim. We’re not,” said Ram Singh, one of dozens of mourners who gathered Saturday at Singh’s home on McGray Way.

Surinder Singh was a truck driver who had worked in both India and Libya before moving to the United States about five years ago, son Harvinder Singh said.

He had recently survived his fourth heart attack.

The senior Atwal moved to the United States in 2001, and the family settled in Elk Grove in 2003.

Both victims lived quiet, suburban lives.

Gurmej Atwal’s days consisted of eating breakfast, walking the neighborhood for an hour or so, eating lunch and then walking some more, son Kamaljit Atwal said.

“They didn’t even talk to anybody,” said Harvinder Singh.

Kamaljit Atwal said his father is a retired civil servant who spent his career in the revenue department of northwest India’s Punjab state.

“He is quite a gentle man,” the younger Atwal said.

Even neighbors who had never met the victims remembered seeing the bearded, turban-wearing men walking around.

Read rest at the SacBEE

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.



  1. Umm Yusuf

    March 7, 2011 at 4:00 AM

    That is terrible news- my condolences to the family too.

    People really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

  2. Pingback: $5000 Reward Offered In Elk Grove Shooting – KCRA Sacramento

  3. Yahya Ibrahim

    March 7, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    Tragic and inexcuseable!

    I pray they catch these cowards and justice can be done.

    Yahya Ibrahim
    twitter @yahya_ibrahim

  4. Hassan

    March 7, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    In the article, it seems all the sikh leaders are saying, do not kill us, we are not muslims. Would they be ok if muslims are killed?

    • Umm Yusuf

      March 7, 2011 at 5:57 PM

      try a role reversal–if sikhs were on the wanted list and muslims got shot by accident–would we be saying “we’re not even sikh? ”

      it doesnt imply to me that it’s ok for muslims to get shot- it’s just their desperation at the whole debacle.

      w’Allahu a’lam

  5. Mansoor Ansari

    March 7, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    When did this happen, exact date?

    • Hena Zuberi

      March 7, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      Salams Brother
      I think Sunday March 6th, 2011.

      • saleha

        March 7, 2011 at 2:37 PM

        Actually it happened on Friday March 5th, around 4:30pm. Broad daylight…in a pretty safe neighborhood. Elk Grove really isn’t the place where it’s known to have random drive by shootings, which makes this even more of a shock to everyone here.

        • HenaZuberi

          March 7, 2011 at 5:33 PM

          Thanks for the correction- it was Friday

  6. salih

    March 7, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    It’s a totally sad incident. That’s why it’s important to build interfaith dialogue in every locality. Muslims need to communicate with their neighbors and friends about this religion. Don’t bring extemist views from where you’re coming from but speak with love and compassionate. Speak with Islamic values, not your personal interpretation.

    • nyla

      March 7, 2011 at 4:51 PM

      I totally agree with brother Salih on building interfaith dialogue. We as Muslims really need to communicate what being Muslim is all about to people of other faiths. A lot of people have very messed up notions about Islam and Muslims, courtesy of the media and a few black sheep in our community, who don’t miss an opportunity to further tarnish the reputation of the Ummah and this beautiful Deen of ours. We need to understand the importance of communication between communities and how far it can go in correcting people’s opinions and feelings towards us. To do this, we could start by taking small steps towards it, such as, helping out neighbours, even in the most miniscule ways, offering treats or small gifts during Eids, helping out the elderly getting on or off the bus, or even just smiling at passers by. Small gestures go a long way and who knows that these little gestures may eventually turn out to be opportunities for da’wah, inshaAllah. We should always keep in mind that we are the ambassadors of this Ummah, especially in places where Muslims aren’t a majority. Anything we do is going to be attributed to Islam, hence we should be very careful of how we carry out this responsibility. At the same time, we should also show solidarity to individuals and communities who are victims of possible hate crimes. May Allah protect us all.

  7. HenaZuberi

    March 7, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    I work with our local interfaith group Standing together if any wants more info on how to start their own chapter pls leave a comment.

    • nyla

      March 7, 2011 at 5:06 PM

      Where is this group based at?

      • HenaZuberi

        March 7, 2011 at 5:34 PM

        In Los Angeles

  8. Brother

    March 8, 2011 at 1:37 AM

    I am curious to know if this has anything to do with the hate protest in Orange County.

    I just checked a few news sites to see if this was published. I didn’t see it anywhere, so I googled it and found only yahoo as listing it as news on the first google search results page. Interestingly, I saw that a Pakistani news paper also published it.

    As far as I know, the perpertrators for this crime have not been caught yet, so it really could be anyone. So if the attacker was a Muslim, would the major news outlets only then deem the story as news-worthy?

  9. Amad

    March 8, 2011 at 6:28 AM

    Really sad. My best wishes and condolences to the family members.

    Here’s more news:
    Fatal shooting prompts outcry among Sikhs, Muslims

    We need to send this to Rep Pete King who thinks Islamophobia is imaginary!

  10. ahlam

    March 8, 2011 at 6:43 PM

    What a coward,killing an old man. And an ignorant coward at that.

  11. Wael -

    March 10, 2011 at 1:14 AM

    This is sad. Even though these men were Sikh, we need to realize that these attacks are aimed at the Muslim population. I think we have to tackle the issue in two ways. One is engagement with the community, education, involvement in the media, etc. The other is security. Training in martial arts, establishing security procedures in our masjids and at Islamic events, having escort services for sisters and the elderly, and even ride services.

    • HenaZuberi

      April 16, 2011 at 4:14 PM

      so right Brother Wael- we have to be proactive. The second gentleman died yesterday.

  12. Nida

    March 14, 2011 at 6:25 PM

    This is extremely upsetting. How can someone be so evil as to shoot two elderly gentlemen walking down the street? Subhanallah. My condolences go out to their family and friends as well. May Allah give them peace during this difficult time.

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