Religious literacy challenges ignorance, discrimination, conflict, and exclusion. This ignorance can manifest itself in the “Islamization” of other identities, when non-Muslims are assumed to be Muslim. Faith identities are primarily seen as religious-based identities through which individuals confess their belief to a deity and pledge allegiance to a set of traditions. These identities also embody many cultural and ethnic forms.
For example, the anti-Muslim hate Sikh rhetoric is not a new phenomenon. It has been happening for a long time and reached its peak after 9/11–and continuing on a high since then. It varied from insults, discrimination, and ‘Hello bin Laden’ to mass shootings. Since 9/11, Islamophobia has spread and targeted groups indiscriminately. Sikhs, who wear a turban as an article of faith, have often been mistaken for Muslims, therefore labeled as a “legitimate target.”
The first victim of a 9/11 “revenge killing” was Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh-American gas station owner. On September 15, 2001, he was shot dead in Arizona. The perpetrator mistook him for an Arab Muslim. In 2012 in Wisconsin, another shooter stormed the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin Oak Creek, Killing 6 at a Sikh Temple Near Milwaukee.
This global phenomenon led Britain’s first turban-wearing Sikh MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi to call for a change to the definition of Islamophobia to include ‘perceived Muslimness’ which he says would protect other groups from persecution. Canada has the second largest Sikh population in the world, outside of India so this concern is relevant and local.
Many Sikh parents are finding it extremely difficult to explain to their children why they are being targeted with Islamophobic attacks, when they themselves are not Muslim. Nonetheless, Sikhs warn against saying ‘We’re not Muslim’ as defence. Saying, ‘Don’t hate me, I’m not a Muslim’ is not a response Sikhs tend to make. Their own religious consciousness allows them to have the awareness of how saying this would demonize another religious group.
To engage with fellow members of our society, we need to recognize that assuming an individual’s Muslim identity based on race is racialized Islamophobia. It is common for anyone with Brown skin to be targeted for being Muslim–this includes Arabs Christians, Latinos, Hindus, and many others. The perpetrators fail to separate radical terrorist groups from Muslims. This is bigotry and shows the palpable need for a society that embodies religious literacy.