The author is a contributor to The Washington Post's local faith leader network.

Some 700,000 of us belonging to the Sikh religion live in the United States. A majority of the Sikhs wear a beard and have an unshorn head of hair covered neatly under a turban. Often we are confused for Muslims (some of whom also wear turbans and sport a beard). Unfortunately, because of this appearance, Sikhs are also often confused for members of terrorist groups like Al- Qaeda. As a result, since the horrific events of 9/11, the Sikhs have become repeated targets of hate groups ; to many ignorant individuals, we look very similar to Osama Bin Laden or a member of the Taliban.

The incident last Sunday in Oak Creek, Wis., where a gunman killed six Sikh worshippers in a place of worship (Sikh Gurdwara) is the most horrific tragedy that has happened to Sikhs in the United States. Our congregation, at the Sikh Foundation of Virginia, is both shocked and saddened that such a tragedy befell our sister community. Our hearts and prayers are with our fallen brethren and their families. Thankfully, I am sure that our Faith in Almighty will pull us through this and make our communities more united.

Most of us Sikhs are well educated (engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists and business people) and are a valuable asset to the communities in which we live. We love America and the American way of life. Although Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion, the media and Sikhs themselves have a lot of work to do to make common folks aware of who the Sikhs are and how God fearing, peaceful and hard-working we are as a community.

The word Sikh means a disciple or seeker of Truth. The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak (1469-1539) first uttered the word Ek-Onkar envisioning that there is only One Universal Creator of us all and of everything around us. He brought a message of love and equality to his disciples, the Sikhs, and preached them to: 1. Always remember the creator  God (Akaal Purkh) 2. Always live a honest life and earn a just living and 3. Always share your blessings with other less fortunate ones. Guru Nanak passed on his enlightened leadership of this new religion to nine successive gurus. The final living guru, Gobind Singh died in 1708. All 10 Sikh gurus preached the same enlightened spiritual beliefs and carried the same torch lit by Guru Nanak. All Sikh Gurureligion or social status. Guru Nanak traveled far and wide spreading his message of monotheistic belief in only one creator being, Akaal Purkh, and dispelling superstitions and ritualistic practices brought about by old religions and prevalent beliefs.

Sikhs ascribe to a few very specific beliefs and philosophies:

- There is only o ne God. He is the same God for people of all religions. Sikhs should worship this only one all pervading God and always live remembering Him and accepting His Will.

-Sikhs should practice living a virtuous and truthful life while maintaining a balance between their spiritual obligations and temporal obligations.

-Sikhism condemns blind rituals and superstitions.

- Sikhism preaches that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of the Creator, Akaal Purkh.

There are also three tenets which help to guide our way of life:

Nam Japna:  Always remembering the Creator Lord, Waheguru

Kirt Karni:  Working hard earning an honest living

Wand Shakana:  Sharing the bounty with those less fortunate ones

Ajaib Singh is chairman of the Sikh Foundation of Virginia in Fairfax Station.