What is Sikh? Community pushes for better understanding

OAK CREEK, WI - AUGUST 10:  A man grieves as community members pay respects to the six victims in the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin at the Oak Creek High School August 10, 2012 Oak Creek Wisconsin. Suspected gunman, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, allegedly killed six people at the temple on August 5 and then killed himself at the scene. He was an army veteran and reportedly a former member of a white supremacist heavy metal band. Three others were critically wounded in the attack.  (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
A Sikh man grieves as community members pay respects to the six victims of a mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Aug. 10, 2012. Credit: Darren Hauck/Getty Images

In the wake of an attack on a Sikh man near Columbia University, Sikh community leaders are calling for more education about their religion.

Prabhjot Singh is a professor in international and political studies at Columbia University as well as a medical doctor and community health organizer. He was reportedly attacked at 110th Street and Lenox Avenue about 8 p.m. Sept. 21 by a group of about 15 to 20 youths on bicycles who shouted “get Osama” and “terrorist.”

Sikhism is an independent religion, unrelated to Islam or Hinduism, that originated in and around India about 500 years ago, community advocates explained at a press conference on Monday.

But according to a Stanford University study sponsored by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 70 percent of Americans misidentify turban-wearers in the U.S. as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto, when the vast majority nationwide — more than 90 percent — are in fact Sikh. The study found nearly half of Americans believe Sikhism is a sect of Islam and associate turbans with Osama bin Laden more than any named Muslim or Sikh figure.

“Where are they getting these images from? Where are they getting these stereotypes from?” demanded Amardeep Singh, program director at the Sikh Coalition, noting the young people who attacked Prabhjot Singh called him Osama bin Laden. “It’s from their parents, it’s from the media. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. He’s not randomly being called ‘bin Laden.’ There’s a whole system of information that’s being disseminated that makes people think ‘bin Laden,’ instead of doctor, community activist, community health worker, professor. Instead they think ‘terrorist.’”

Amardeep Singh pointed to a survey released earlier this month that found more than 50 percent of Sikh kids in New York City suffer bias-based bullying.

“If we can’t get this right in New York City, where are we gonna get it right?” he said.

Amardeep lauded the “really robust” section on LGBT issues in the city schools’ new Respect for All curriculum, geared at promoting appreciation for diversity and pluralism, but rued the absence of any information on Sikhs, Asians and other minority groups.

The Sikh Coalition, which Amardeep said was “born the day after 9/11,” tracks attacks on Sikhs. No statistics on such attacks are available from the FBI or the NYPD, though the FBI agreed in June “after a tremendous amount of advocacy” to start keeping track of specifically Sikh attacks starting in 2015, Amardeep said.

He said the “animating event” for the FBI’s decision was the Oak Creek massacre, when a neo-Nazi opened fire on a group of Sikhs in Wisconsin.

In discussing the role of the media in shaping the American public’s understanding of Sikhs, Amardeep pointed to CNN’s coverage on the one-year anniversary of the Oak Creek attack.

“The way that most people get their information on people with a turban and a beard is really through images they see on TV,” he offered. “CNN on that night broadcast images, on the one-year anniversary, of terrorists in Yemen with turbans and beards.”

Along with greater education of young people in schools, Amardeep is pushing for more Sikhs in the public eye. His younger brother is a councilman in Hoboken, N.J., representing a community that is about 80 percent white. But because of his brother, people in Hoboken don’t see a turban and think “bin Laden,” he said.

“When people think Sikh in Hoboken, they literally think, like, community leader, person who’s contributing to the welfare of the community,” he explained.

But without people like his younger brother, he said, “What you’re left with as our spokesperson is effectively bin Laden.”

Who are the Sikhs?

Information provided by the Sikh American Legal Defense Fund.

  • The word “Sikh” means student. Sikhs consider themselves students in the meaning of life.
  • Sikhs believe in one god, equality and freedom of religion, and they place a high value on community service and outreach.
  • The core values of Sikhism are derived from three tenets held in equal importance: an honest living and an honest day’s work; sharing with others what God and life have provided; living life fully with an awareness of the divine within all people.
  • Sikhism is the only religion that requires men to wear turbans.
  • The Sikh turban is meant to represent a commitment to equality and justice.
  • Sikhism is unrelated to Hinduism or Islam.
  • Ninety-nine percent of turban-wearing people in the United States are Sikhs from India.
  • Sikhs have been in the U.S. in relatively large numbers for more than 100 years.
  • There are roughly 700,000 Sikhs in the U.S. today, out of a worldwide population of 25 million.
  • Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion.
  • Male Sikhs all use the last name “Singh,” which means “lion.” Women all use the last name “Kaur,” meaning princess. This stems from a guru called Gobind Singh and was intended to free Sikhs from the caste system.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.