"Apparent Muslim" a new at-risk group says Sikh leader

Apr 3, 2017

Simran Jeet Singh in downtown Grand Rapids after GVSU talk on racism, Islamophobia
Credit Mariano Avila / WGVU

The Sikh community is often a mistaken target of Islamophobia, which is why Simran Jeet Singh, a high-profile member of the Sikh community in the United States, came to West Michigan to discuss what he calls a new racial group in post-911 America. 

“Part of my religious identity as a Sikh is a turban, uncut hair, so I have a beard. And so for my entire life, growing up, people have perceived me to be Muslim, based on their stereotypes of what a Muslim looks like.”

That’s Simran Jeet Singh Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity University in Texas. He’s a practicing Sikh who came to West Michigan invited by Grand Valley State University’s Kaufman Interfaith Institute. Singh’s argument is that political tensions have created a new category of targeted people in the United States.

“There is a new racial category in post-911 America of the apparent Muslim--anybody who looks Muslim. And this brings together Muslim, Sikh, south Asians, Arabs, people who fit the basic stereotypes of what a Muslim looks like.”

These stereotypes are dangerous. Two years ago a Sikh man in Grand Rapids was shot in the face because of stereotypes. And just last fall, a Sikh store clerk was shot and killed in Jackson. But Sikhism and Islam are completely different faiths with different scriptures and everything—Sikhism is from Northern India, not from the Middle East. To understand it better, I asked Singh for a teaching within Sikhism that he thought would improve society if well understood.

“One of the things I love about the Sikh tradition is the emphasis on pluralism. That, in our tradition, one does not have to be of a particular religion to achieve enlightenment. The real path to enlightenment is through the practice of love.”