National Sikh Campaign Members

National Sikh Campaign publishes survey results showing the majority of Americans have no knowledge about Sikh Americans.

Having lived on American soil for over 150 years with a national population put at 200,000 – 500,000, and a staggering 25 million following globally, it is a thing of great shock that almost 60% of a total 330 million Americans know absolutely nothing about the Sikh faith, a recent study has revealed.

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What’s more? A survey commissioned by the National Sikh Campaign (NSC) and conducted by Hart Research Associates, uncovers that only 11% of Americans have a close friend or acquaintance who is Sikh, while 31% have never seen or interacted with someone who is Sikh.

As the minority, Sikhs have continued to face widespread hate-based attacks and condemnation from the general American population, most especially after a “turban-wearing Osama Bin Laden” (who actually happens to be a Muslim and not a Sikh) launched a deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. back in 2001.

Sikhism, a monotheistic faith that teaches equality, honesty and the importance of good acts over rituals, among many other beliefs, originated 500 years ago in Northern India, and is said to be practiced by a staggering 25 million faithful worldwide, making it one of the largest organized religions in the world.

The lack of familiarity with individual Sikhs has been pinpointed as a main reason for the lack of understanding of Sikhs and Sikhism, the HRA survey suggests.

The research, titled Sikhism in the United States: What Americans know and need to know, which was carried out in 2014, was aimed at examining how Americans view Sikhs today.

Three focus groups consisting of white Americans with mixed levels of education and a nationwide survey of 1,144 non-Asian Americans, were analyzed.

Here are some key statistics from the survey, as obtained and adapted from a Huffington Post publication:

  1. 60% of Americans admitted to knowing nothing at all about Sikh Americans. This is as compared to 76% who say they know at least something about Muslim Americans, and a further 86% who know something about Jewish Americans.
  2. Just 11% of Americans have a close friend or acquaintance who is Sikh, while just 31% have ever seen or interacted with a Sikh person at all in their life.
  3. Only about 16% – 34% of Americans are most likely to know Sikh Americans personally, or at least have some knowledge of the faith.
  4. 11% of Americans associates the image of a turbaned man with Sikhism, while 20% assume he is Muslim.
  5. 17% of Americans think they have much in common with a Sikh woman in a turban, compared to 30% who feel they have something in common a Sikh woman with long hair and no turban.
  6. 10% of Americans, after viewing images of Sikh Americans, offered the reaction that “they are human beings just like me and they deserve respect.”
  7. 66.7% of Americans rate their feelings as highly favorable to a description of Sikhism and Sikh history in America.
  8. There was a 17.5% increase in number of participants who report “warm” feeling toward Sikh Americans after taking the survey.
  9. There was a 47% increase in the number of women who believe Sikh Americans hold American values after taking the survey. Americans age 65 and older also increased in that category by 45 percentage points.

The official report on the NSC survey can be found here.

The report points out that although there are over 500,000 Sikhs in the US; Sikhism remains largely misunderstood there. The NSC is urging Americans to educate themselves about the faith, in the hope of seeing perceptions change.

At a time that the Sikh community is acting to educate the majority that are unaware and build an image of Sikhism that is understandable to the average American, several leaders from other faiths have thrown their weights behind them in solidarity.

In a show of interfaith support, Rachael Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said “We are the quintessential immigrants, and we know what it’s like to be in the minority and to be misunderstood, so we completely understand and support the idea that the Sikhs need to do a national educational campaign, in terms of being entirely unknown in the U.S. and being mistaken for terrorists and bad people.”

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