Sikh Americans hoping to eliminate the misconceptions about their religion and help decrease hate crimes against their community launched a ad campaign this week to show others that they're just like every other American. Called "We Are Sikhs," the ads feature Sikh Americans talking about what their faith means to them and the shared values between their religion and other groups.
"Sikh Americans have been making positive and significant contributions to American life for more than a century," Gurwin Singh Ahuja, co-founder and executive director of the organization responsible for the campaign, said in an official statement. "We run local businesses, sing our national anthem with pride, serve on local Parent Teacher Associations and lead Boy Scout Troops."
The $1.3 million campaign was launched by The National Sikh Campaign. The organization, based in the U.S., hopes to promote a better and more positive understanding of the community.
"We're the least understood major faith in the United States," Ahuja told The Huffington Post. "And that leads to a whole host of issues."
In the past 15 years, more than 300 hate crimes have been reported by Sikhs in the U.S., many of which have been attributed to misconceptions about the religion and its association with Islam after 9/11. In 2012, six people were killed by a gunman at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The event served as the catalyst for the current "We Are Sikh" campaign, Shawn Singh Ghuman, communications director for the National Sikh Campaign, told The Huffington Post.
The ads also touch on common questions about the religion. In one video, individuals discuss the meaning behind the traditional turban worn by males — known as a "Dastaar" — that is probably the most misunderstood aspect of traditional Sikhism.
"The hurtful part is that the turban actually represents the total opposite of what the media portrays," one man explains. "We're here to protect people, defend one another, give to each other. It's about having justice for everyone."
There are currently 20 million people who practice Sikhism, which makes it the world's fifth largest religion. It is a monotheistic religion that stresses the importance of good actions and an individual's internal religious state.
"Sikh values are American values," individuals state in the ad. "We are doctors, PTA moms, patriots. We are Americans."