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Mistaken Identity

See also, Narinder Singh's response A Misrepresentation of Sikhism.

The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2001

Photo: The Sikh Salutation: Sat Sri Akal!

Sikhs must never be confused with sheiks, although they have been lately. Indeed, soon after the Sep. 11 attack, a man shot and killed a Sikh gas-station owner in Mesa, Arizona, believing, apparently, that he was an Arab Muslim from the Mideast. Though both may sport turbans and beards, they are poles apart in their beliefs and taboos. . . . Like Hindus, Sikhs resent the killing of cows but don't object to eating pork. Sikhism is a branch of reformist Hinduism. The two groups have close ties; conversion from one to the other is common. . . . When [Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak] died in 1539 there was a dispute among his followers: Muslims wanted to bury him because they thought he was one of them; Hindus wanted to cremate him in the belief that he remained a Hindu to the end. Nanak's teachings were a blend of Hinduism and Islam. He rejected Hindu polytheism and idol worship and accepted Islamic monotheism. He rejected the Hindu caste system and asceticism.

It is clear that Nanak wished to set up a community apart from Hindus and Muslims. . . . Sikh history is a long saga of bloody conflicts with the Muslims. When the British partitioned the region, almost half the Sikh population found itself in Pakistan. Muslims drove them into India, killing hundreds of thousands. In their turn, Sikhs drove Muslims out of towns and villages in northern India with as much slaughter. How ironic that, of all people, Sikhs should be eyed with suspicion simply because they resemble Osama bin Laden and his progeny.