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Majority of Americans unaware about Sikh and Sikhism: Survey

A majority of Americans are unaware of what Sikhism is or what a Sikh looks like and this despite the country being home to more than half a million of them, a latest study has said.

Washington: A majority of Americans are unaware of what Sikhism is or what a Sikh looks like and this despite the country being home to more than half a million of them, a latest study has said.

According to the report 'Sikhism in the US: What Americans know and need to know', many Americans have never heard of the religion and only 11 per cent of them have a personal acquaintance or friend who is a Sikh.

The majority of Americans (60 percent) admit to knowing nothing at all about Sikh Americans and knowledge of Sikhism is substantially lower than for other minority religious groups in the United States.

While only 40 percent of Americans said they know at least something about Sikh Americans, 62, 76 and 86 percent said they knew something about Hindu Americans, Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans respectively, according to the study conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the National Sikh Campaign.

When shown a photo of a male Sikh wearing a turban, only 11 percent of them recognised him as a Sikh. Far more believe that the person is Muslim (20 percent), Hindu (13 percent), or Middle Eastern (28 percent), the report said.

The study commissioned by National Sikh Campaign to provide Sikhs a foundation for awareness-based initiatives that dispel the misperceptions that have driven the dramatic rise of hate-based violence against Sikhs since 9/11.

The report is the most comprehensive study every conducted on the Sikh-American community.

"This landmark study will help the Sikh community by giving us the ability to educate Americans in a way that is both relatable and effective. It also allows us to see which demographics are most receptive to our messaging as well as those who we need to target the most to prevent misunderstanding," said Gurwin Singh Ahuja, co-founder of NSC.  

"We want to make sure that we pave a way for a conduciv environment for our future generations so they don't have to take off their turban to hide or to feel sorry for their identity," said Rajwant Singh, a co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign.

Researchers found that when survey respondents were given information about Sikh history and beliefs, their impressions grew from "neutral" to "warm". Groups with the most significant change in views included Republicans, Hispanics and Americans ages 65 and older.

"When people learn this information, it creates a fundamental change in the way they think about Sikhs and it's transformative," said Geoff Garin, president of Washington-based Hart Research Associates, whose survey was conducted in August and September 2014.

Joshua DuBois, former faith outreach adviser to President Barack Obama, joined other Christian and Jewish leaders at the announcement of the campaign and recalled traveling to Oak Creek with first lady Michelle Obama.

"Sikhs are beautiful threads in the tapestry of this country," said DuBois, the founder and CEO of Values Partnerships, citing their contributions to the US military, the medical community and youth service projects.

"I've seen what happens when we don't know the Sikh story. I've seen firsthand what happens when ignorance and bigotry reigns. But a new day is dawning in America because we're finally getting to know our Sikh brothers and sisters," he added.