Reflecting the low level of awareness about Sikhs in the US, a new research on Monday said an overwhelming majority of Americans associate turban wearers with slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The study, 'Turban Myths', conducted jointly by the SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defence and Education Fund) and Stanford University, revealed that 49% of Americans believe Sikhism is a sect of Islam; while 70% cannot identify a Sikh man in a picture as a Sikh.
As if this was not enough, 79% cannot identify India as the geographical origin of Sikhism, said the report released in Palo Alto, California.
It found that 70% of the Americans misidentify turban wearers as Muslim (48%), Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto. This is quite contrary to the fact that almost all men in the US who wear the turban are American Sikhs, whose faith originated in India.
"This research is critical to our community and confirms our real, lived experiences," said Jasjit Singh, executive director of SALDEF.
American Sikhs suffered the deadliest act of violence against a religious minority in August last year when a white supremacist stormed a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and shot dead six worshippers.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Sikh Americans were targeted because of their turban.
"We also know that we most effectively bridge these perception gaps when fellow Americans come to know us as the teachers, doctors, coaches, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours and community servants we are," he said.
"This study provides a roadmap for creating mutual understanding and recognition of shared values that can help us build an American community larger than ourselves, and one that includes Sikh Americans as full participants," he said.
The study was overseen by Stanford University researcher and Peace Innovation Lab co-director Margarita Quihuis. It involved surveys, social science research and extensive interviews of persons in the Sikh and civil rights community.
"The bottom line is that these misperceptions are caught, not taught. Good people make associations based on imagery and messages all around them from the grocery store to the digital world. In this case, the American Sikh community has an opportunity to fill those perception gaps with the truth, in a constructive way to foster peace," Quihuis said.