Being Sikh

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Photo: Sikh Candlelight Prayer Ceremony by Jay Baker. License. 

Arshpreet Saraan
Social Issue Reflection Paper, GSP Fall 2016

What is Sikhism? Many people in the United States would most likely not be able to answer this question, even though Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world (Barooah). This further explains the reason why Sikhs are being mistaken as Muslims. The reason for this is obvious because Sikhs appear similar to Muslims in appearance.  Sikh men wear turbans which to me are strikingly different in appearance; however, to the regular person they are similar. As a Sikh myself, I struggle to understand why the people around me fail to recognize that a Sikh is not a Muslim.

As islamaphobia is on the rise, Sikh’s have been paying the price for their brown skin, turbans, and beards. After a wave of violence, “Sikhs across the country are trying to explain to an uncomprehending public that despite their turbans and beards, they are not followers of the Taliban or other terror groups” (Goodstein and Lewin). It has become far too common for me to hear on the news that a Sikh child was bullied at school for being called a terrorist, or that an elderly Sikh man was beaten and asked “Why are you here?” The most tragic, an incident where there was a shooting at a Sikh temple.

Just last year, there was footage released showing “a child being subjected to racist bullying from classmates on his school bus. The boy, who described himself as a Sikh, films an encounter with other children in which he appears to be chanted at and called a ‘terrorist’ ” (Allegretti).  This video sparked massive outrage on the internet in support of the Sikh boy, which is heartwarming to see. I believe these sorts of incidents need to be brought to light to show people that there is a difference between Sikh and Muslims. Nobody of any faith should be bullied, especially a child.

In another recent case, an elderly Fresno Sikh man was hit by a car, and beaten by men yelling “Why are you here?”(“Elderly Fresno”). This elderly man, who was wearing a turban, was standing alone near a bus stand waiting for a ride to work, when “the men stopped their car and started yelling obscenities at him. The man then tried to cross the street to get away, but the suspects backed up the car, hitting him. Then, they got out and began beating him on his face and body” (“Elderly Fresno”). The elderly man suffered injuries to the collarbone and neck and was sent to the hospital. Such incidents are classified as hate crimes towards Sikhs.

Additionally, in 2012, the Sikh community was once again attacked when a gunman killed 6 people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (Yaccino). The Sunday service was underway and worshippers were walking in, when suddenly a gunman stepped through the door. This is an example of a senseless tragedy that should not have happened. Lives were lost and families left devastated. The Sikhs of the community were robbed of their sense of security. After the incident, many said that “though violence against Sikhs in Wisconsin was unheard of before the shooting, many in the community sensed a rise in antipathy since the attacks on Sept.11 and suspected it was because people mistake them for Muslims” (Yaccino).

These are just three examples of some of the incidents that the Sikh community has had to suffer through because their identity is being mistaken as Muslim.  It is time to educate the public of the difference between being Muslim and being Sikh. As a student at the University of Michigan, I am a part of the Sikh Student Association (SSA) on campus. As a student-led organization, we as young Sikhs are committed to educating the people around us about Sikhism by holding monthly events that discuss the religion and culture. As a nation, we should open our minds to recognize the many different religions and cultures around us, and stop categorizing people just by appearance. I hope to see a time in the near future where Sikhs are not targeted because they are seen as Muslim. I hope to see a time where a Sikh boy can ride the bus with his classmates without being called a terrorist. I hope to see a time when an elderly Sikh man can go to work without the fear of being attacked. I hope to see a time where the Sikh people can feel secure at their temple. Most importantly, I am proud to be a Sikh, and I hope to see a nation where the Sikh religion is recognized and respected for its true identity.

Works Cited

Allegretti, Aubrey. “‘Sickening’ and ‘Racist’ Taunts To Sikh Child By His Classmates On Schoolbus Exposed.” http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk, 3 Feb. 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/03/02/sikh-boy-racist-bus-schoo_n_6782972.html. Accessed 25 Sept. 2016.

Barooah, Jahnabi. “Sikhism: 5 Things To Know About The Sikh Religion.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com, 5 Aug. 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/05/5-things-you-should-know-about-sikhism_n_1744657.html. Accessed 25 Sept. 2016.

“Elderly Fresno Sikh Man Hit By Car, Beaten By Men Yelling ‘Why Are You Here?’.” sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com, 28 Dec. 2015, sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2015/12/28/elderly-fresno-sikh-man-hit-by-car-beaten-by-men-yelling-why-are-you-here/. Accessed 25 Sept. 2016.

Goodstein, Laurie, and Tamar Lewin. “A Nation Challenged: Violence and Harrasment.” New York Times, 19 Sept. 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/19/us/nation-challenged-violence-harassment-victims-mistaken-identity-sikhs-pay-price.html?_r=0. Accessed 25 Sept. 2016.

Yaccino, Steven. “Gunman Kills 6 at a Sikh Temple Near Milwaukee.” http://www.nytimes.com, 5 Aug. 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/us/shooting-reported-at-temple-in-wisconsin.html. Accessed 25 Sept. 2016.

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