Fearing backlash over their appearance, US Sikhs join hands with Muslims to fight prejudice
Last week, a gurdwara in Orange County, California.
Chicago: Across the US, Sikhs and Muslims are banding together to defend their respective religions. Someone bent on harming Muslims wouldn't understand — or care — about the distinction between the two faiths, they say, and both also deserve to live in peace.
So they plan educational sessions and rallies. They successfully pushed the FBI to track hate crimes against Sikhs. They speak to lawmakers and support each other's legal action, including a lawsuit filed over a New York City police surveillance program targeting New Jersey Muslims.
"We are in this fight together," said Gurjot Kaur, a senior staff attorney at The Sikh Coalition, founded the night of September 11.
There are more than 500,000 Sikhs in the US.
Sikh men often cover their heads with turbans — which are considered sacred — and refrain from shaving their beards.
Reports of bullying, harassment and vandalism against Sikhs have risen in recent weeks.
Last week, a gurdwara in Orange County, California, was vandalized, as was a truck in the parking lot by someone who misspelled the word "Islam" and made an obscene reference to ISIS.
A Sikh woman said she recently was forced to show her breast pump before taking her seat on an airplane in Minneapolis because another passenger thought she might be a terrorist. Several Sikh football fans said they initially were not allowed into Qualcomm Stadium to watch the San Diego Chargers game against the Denver Broncos last Sunday because several of them were wearing turbans. Schoolchildren say they've been bullied.
For most Sikhs, much of the backlash has been frequent stares or comments and occasional online insults.
Former NCAA basketball player Darsh Singh said he has heard insults throughout his life, including recently when someone recently yelled "Osama!" at him as he was crossing a street in Phoenix.
Then last week, a photo making the rounds on Facebook showed the former Trinity University basketball player — the first turbaned Sikh to play in the NCAA — with the caption: "Nobody wants to guard Muhammad, he's too explosive." A friend came to his defense with a lengthy post —saying, "do the world a favor and educate yourself" — which got tens of thousands of likes.
Madihha Ahussain, a staff attorney at the national group Muslim Advocates, said people who are misinformed about both religions not only are "blaming entire faith communities, now they're blaming multiple groups for the acts of a couple individuals."