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Sikh American creates history at Republican convention

August 30, 2012 11:32 IST

Ishwar Singh, president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida, created history on Wednesday at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, becoming the first Sikh American in US history to deliver an invocation at a national party convention.

Republican sources said that immediately after the horrific massacre of Sikh worshippers in the gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin by a neo-Nazi white supremacist, the party had decided to enlist a Sikh American to deliver an invocation on one day of the convention and had contacted South Carolina Governor Nimrata 'Nikki' Randhawa Haley, who is of Sikh origin, to help them in their quest.

Nikki referred them to her father, Professor Ajit Randhawa, who had recommended Singh since he headed the gurdwara closest to Tampa.

Singh said he was "honoured to be the first Sikh American in US history to deliver the invocation at a national convention," and in a posting on CNN's Belief Blog on August 29, said he would offer a prayer "from my Sikh faith."

He said the prayer would call upon "the American public to join with us in recognition that we are one family," and added: "As an immigrant, a small-business owner, and a father, I am humbled by the opportunity to address the nation."

Obviously overwhelmed by the fact that he would be addressing several thousands of delegates at the gargantuan Tampa Bay Union Forum, not to mention the millions of viewers on television, streaming video and several other sites, Singh acknowledged, "When I came to this country over 40 years ago, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the honour of offering a prayer for the nation. My story is possible only in America."

"My prayer will be an opportunity to share the spirit of the Sikh faith with the American people," he said, and explained that "the tenets of Sikhism -- humility, equality, and justice -- lie at the heart of the American ethic."

Singh said, "For more than 100 years, Sikhs have lived, worked, and worshipped in America as farmers, doctors, lawyers, engineer, entrepreneurs, artists and more. We see ourselves as part of one America."

He said he was "honoured to stand as a proud Sikh with my turban and beard as a fellow America."

Singh, who owns a small business called Industrial Scan, Inc, in Orlando, and is an engineer by training, coming to the US from Punjab in 1970 to pursue a graduate degree in biomedical engineering,  began his invocation on the second day of the abbreviated Republican convention -- since the first day was cancelled because of Hurricane Isaac, which was feared to hit Tampa too, but left this city unscathed -- where the theme was 'We Can Change It,' by declaring, "Let us pray," and noting that "Almighty God –Wahaguru -- we call you many names, but you are one."

"Give your divine hand over all the delegates and candidates as they help steer the future of our great nation," he said. "Remind us of our purpose to love and serve one another and create a more peaceful world."

He continued, "We ask for blessings unto all leaders as they work for the common good. Give all who govern this land humility and courage, integrity and compassion."

Singh also in his invocation called on God to "please release each one of us from ego so that we may serve selflessly, and help us remember that we belong to one family."

He also called on the "Almighty to keep watch over our nation, protect those who work tirelessly, day and night to ensure our safety and our freedom. Protect our children of the Gulf Coast and give them grace in weathering the storm."

"In the name of God we find everlasting optimism -- waiguru ji khalsa, waiguru ji fateh -- Almighty God, bless us all," he added.

In his blog, Singh said, "Unfortunately, the recent mass shooting of Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and attacks on mosques across the nation calls us to recommit to a vision of unity."

When it was announced that Singh would deliver the invocation at the Republican Convention, some Sikhs were pleasantly surprised and felt it was a touching gesture.

Rupinder Mohan Singh, who writes a blog about Sikhs in America called American Turban, said, "I remain surprised," and predicted, "If this turns out to be the case, it would be a touching gesture in the wake of the Wisconsin shooting on behalf of the Republican Party to the country's Sikhs and other minorities."

Ishwar Singh was hopeful that his presence and delivering the invocation on a national stage would "play a small part in helping Sikhs -- and people of all races, faiths and orientations -- be seen as part of the great American family.

"We Sikhs draw strength from the nonpartisan support we have received in response to the terrible tragedy in Oak Creek," he said.

Singh, who delivered the invocation of the day the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's choice of a running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan would be speaking, said that Ryan along with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, "and now the Republican National Committee have extended a hand of friendship."

He said similarly on the Democratic side, "President Obama ordered flags flown at half staff and Attorney General Eric Holder and First Lady Michelle Obama have visited Oak Creek to mourn with us and express their support."

Singh hoped that after his invocation, "We will see more engagement and inclusion," and that "our elected officials will stand against hateful speech this election season."

He also hoped that "the government tracks hate crimes specifically against Sikhs and that Sikhs will be considered eligible to serve this country, as we have served so many others, in the police and armed forces."

"I hope that our children and grandchildren will be permitted to be full and equal members of the great American family. As our first teacher, Guru Nanak, and the founders of our faith taught us -- I see no stranger."

Aziz Haniffa