President Joe Biden asked top Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to join him for a bipartisan prayer session hours ahead of his inauguration, AFP reports. Leaders in Congress were invited to attend services with him at St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington. The cathedral is where the funeral service was held for the only other Catholic […]
International Herald Tribune – October 21, 2010
A plan for Mr. Obama to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar appears to have foundered on the thorny question of how he would cover his head, as Sikh tradition requires.
The Golden Temple, a sprawling and serene complex of gleaming gold and polished marble that is the spiritual center of the Sikh religion, is one of India’s most popular tourist attractions. Revered by Indians of all faiths, it is a cherished emblem of India’s religious diversity. So it was no surprise when the gold- plated marvel was promoted as the likely third stop on President Barack Obama’s visit to India, scheduled for early November.
“To come to Golden Temple, he needs to cover his head,” said Dalmegh Singh, secretary of the committee that runs the temple. “That is our tradition.”
Mr. Obama, a Christian, has struggled to fend off persistent rumors that he is a Muslim, and Sikhs in the United States have often been mistaken for Muslims. Sikhism, which arose in the Punjab region in the 15th century, includes elements of Hinduism and Islam but forms a wholly distinct faith. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs in the United States have been occasional targets of anti-Muslim discrimination and violence — a Sikh was killed in Arizona a few days after the attack on the World Trade Center by a man who mistook him for a Muslim.
Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair, and Sikh men wear turbans that cover their heads in public. Visitors to Sikh temples, known as gurudwaras, are required to cover their heads and remove their shoes. Baseball caps are not considered appropriate. Sikh scriptures require that men tie a piece of cloth on their heads, not simply put on a hat that can be easily taken off, because the act of tying has spiritual significance. Most non-Sikh visitors tie on kerchiefs sold by vendors outside the temple.
For Mr. Obama, who will be seeking to cement the crucial but sometimes testy relationship between two of the world’s biggest democracies, the temple was one of several possible backdrops intended to convey the United States’ kinship with India. Mr. Obama will visit Mumbai and New Delhi.
H.S. Phoolka, a prominent Sikh lawyer in New Delhi, said he was disappointed that Mr. Obama would not visit the temple.
“We have worked so hard to establish in America that Sikhs have a very different identity than Muslims,” Mr. Phoolka said. “It is very unfortunate that even the White House is conveying the message that there is no difference between Muslims and Sikhs.”
2010 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.