Majority of Americans unaware about Sikhs and Sikhism: survey

Washington: A majority of Americans are unaware of what Sikhism is and mistake Sikhs for Muslims despite the country being home to more than half a million of them, a latest study has said amid a rise in hate crimes against the members of the minority community since 9/11.

According to the study titled ‘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 per cent) 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 per cent of Americans said they know at least something about Sikh Americans, 62, 76 and 86 per cent 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 per cent of them recognised him as a Sikh. Far more believe that the person is Muslim (20 per cent), Hindu (13 per cent), or Middle Eastern (28 per cent), 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.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001, Sikhs have found themselves targeted by Americans who presume anyone in a turban must be a Muslim.

In August 2012, a white supremacist and US army veteran fatally shot six people and wounded four others at a Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin before taking his own life.

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.