KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Inside the Sikh Sangat of East Tennessee, men and women cover their heads as a sign of respect. It is a holy place for praying, singing and the reading of scripture.
However, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on Sunday, Wade Michael Page shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple as they prepared for services.
"What's bothering us is not only the temple and what has occurred in the temple, but the idea that people are not safe anywhere, whether they're in a house of worship, a movie theater or a school," said Rupy Sawhney, a University of Tennessee professor and president of the temple.
The Knoxville congregation doesn't have a priest, as they do in larger temples like the one in Wisconsin. With such a small congregation, only about 40 families, everyone has a role.
"Prabudayal, for example, their family takes care of reading out of the holy book and singing," Sawhney explained. "Sevah, for example, takes care of paying the bills."
You can be born into the Sikh faith - it started in northern India - or you can adopt the religion. Either way, followers know they don't blend in. They never cut their hair, and the men have beards and wear turbans. That's one reason they feel so close to other Sikhs, even in other states.
"As somebody who wears a turban, you do associate with that because you do understand what they go through in every day life," Sawhney said.
He said he has always felt accepted here in Knoxville, and he doesn't believe the community in Wisconsin was any different. "It's not what a community does, it's one individual," he said.
For those who do fear what they don't know, he wants to make it clear that Sikhs are a peaceful people.
"These are people who have come and chosen this to be their home. They have worked hard. They are good citizens," Sawhney said.
The congregation is talking about having an interfaith prayer service for the community this Sunday in memory of the victims. They want to take up an offering to send to the families in Wisconsin.
Sawhney says several local religious leaders have reached out to them, including the Unitarian Universalists, who experienced a similar tragedy in Knoxville in 2008.