In the wake of the recent Sikh Gurudwara attack in America in which 6 people died and many left wounded (including a policeman) someone awhile ago commented, “Why do Sikhs have to grow long beards and hair and look like Arabs and Muslims?”
After 9/11 there have been more than 1000 attacks on Sikhs all over the USA primarily because people mistake them for Arabs, Muslims and the Taliban. Even the recent attack bears testimony to the cost that Sikhs have had to pay for someone else’s “holy” war.
The person, although, laughingly suggested that Sikhs should stop flashing symbols of their religion and should look like “normal” people, I thought, well, why should someone change his or her identity because of someone else’s actions? In fact, the retort is not as easy and simple as it may seem.
Personally, I don’t believe in religious symbols. For an identity, I don’t need to grow a beard or wear a turban. For me, what’s more important is how I live my life and how I treat people around me. For that I don’t need to look a certain way. My this attitude partly stems from the fact that I have personally encountered people lavishly displaying their religious symbols while indulging in most perverted and immoral activities.
But there are certain people who need such symbols. Hindus have their own symbols. Muslims have their own, Christians their own, even Orthodox Jews look quite different. Muslim rulers used to kill Sikhs by thousands just to make them cut their hair short and renounce their religious affiliation. Sikhism came into existence due to a relentless persecution of Hindus by Muslim rulers. Historically Sikhs have endured the most bloodcurdling tortures to stick to their way of life so just a few attacks aren’t going to deter them.
Religious identity and symbols in many cases don’t just represent a cultish personification. They are a statement. They are a declaration. They give you a sense of purpose. Again, I don’t relate to this philosophy of religious symbolism, millions of people do. When the Pope comes out of his Vatican aboard all decked up in his ecclesiastical grandeur, he’s not just spreading a spiritual message, he is also exercising religious symbolism.
So what about confusion between Arabs and Sikhs? I think this is a price that you have to pay for being who you are, religiously. That’s a conscious decision you have to make. Islamic terrorism is a reality. The politics of the day is such that it breeds and encourages Islamic terrorism. Even the so-called intellectuals and academics sympathise with fanatic Muslims fighting all sorts of imaginary holy wars.
Many Sikhs look like Arabs, and this is the reality one has to deal with. My maternal uncle used to look like a hardened Talibani due to his long nose, strong build, lopsided turban style, long beard, slightly jaded clothes, extremely fair hue and crystal eyes. In fact he looked like a Mongol. If you put him in one of the trenches in Afghanistan, until he spoke, no one could guess that he was from Jalandhar.
Should you change your outer, religious appearance to not look like a particular community? It’s your personal preference. I will, in a blink of an eye. To me the security of my family is more important than making a religious statement. But I’m saying this while comfortably sitting on my chair, expressing my thoughts. Circumstances change people, they change your outlook. People are not being butchered on the streets for being of a certain religion. There is no danger of me being arrested and thrown to the gallows or spiked wheels or boiling cauldrons for being a Sikh.
Historical perspective is greater than personal perspective. Millions of people gave their lives so that they could display their religious symbols. Why did they do that? Was it a mass mania or was it something that lesser mortals like me cannot understand?