Even though it has been over 15 years since 9/11, Sikhs do not feel safe in America. Because they wear a turban and do not cut their hair, they are often mistaken for Muslims, for no fault of their own. After 9/11, when a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment washed over the country, leading some to confuse the long beards and turbans worn by many Sikh men as a representation of Islam. Others viewed it simply as an opportunity to attack individuals they perceived as being “un-American.” Male followers of the Sikh faith frequently cover their heads with turbans — which are considered sacred — and forgo shaving their beards. They are also highly misunderstood by a majority of Americans, according to a 2013 report called “Turban Myths” published by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Stanford University. Trump’s statements have “legitimized” nativist impulses and resulting in more profiling and vandalism and intimidating incidents.
According to the Sikh Coalition, there were more than 300 cases of violence and discrimination against U.S. Sikhs in the first month after the 2001 attacks. The hatred peaked more than a decade later, when a white supremacist named Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and opened fire on a crowd of worshipers, killing six and wounding three before taking his own life.
There are about 750,000 Sikhs in the United States with half of them living in California. The word Sikh means ‘disciple’ or ‘learner.’ The Sikh religion was founded in Northern India in the fifteenth century by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and is distinct from Islam and Hinduism. Sikhism is monotheistic and stresses the equality of all men and women. Sikhs believe in three basic principles; meditating on the name of God (praying), earning a living by honest means as well as sharing the fruits of one’s labor with others. Sikhism rejects caste and class systems and emphasizes service to humanity. Turbans are worn to cover their long hair and with respect to God. Sikhs have unshorn hair, beards and moustaches. The Sikh faith teaches us the humanitarian principles of freedom, equality, and justice – the same principles this great democracy is founded on. There are about 25 million Sikhs in the world. Sikhs have been in the United States for over 100 years.
On January 20, a major news organization had depicted a Sikh’s picture while reporting Trump’s statement against Islamic terrorism. “We will unite world against radical Islamic terrorism”, Trump says – tweeted NBC News. The organization later removed it following protests from the Sikh community. If the President and his staff can’t distinguish between a male Sikh or a male Muslim how is the average American to know?