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Metro Detroit's Growing Sikh Community Struggles To Gain Acceptance


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Sitting in the barber's chair, TejKiran Singh was torn. As a Sikh man, he had never cut his hair and kept it wrapped in a turban. But, tired of the laughs and insults from others, he decided to cut it in 1999.

For months afterward, he was wracked with guilt. "I didn't sleep well for a really long time," Singh, 47, recalled.

So, in 2005, he decided to again grow his hair and beard and wear a turban, in keeping with Sikh traditions. Singh's challenges are reflected across metro Detroit as the Sikh community grows.

In recent months, the community of roughly 2,000 metro Detroit families has gotten increased attention after a Sikh student in Canton was found with a kirpan, a small religious dagger, in school, prompting the district to enact a new policy this week. While schools have made accommodations for other faiths, this is thought to be the first case involving a Sikh kirpan in metro Detroit.

As with some Jewish men wearing kippahs and Muslim women wearing hijab, the unique appearance of Sikh men has made them targets. But Sikhs say it's worse for them because so many are unfamiliar with Sikhism.

Inside a Sikh temple in Canton on Thursday night, the melodious words of a priest praising God in Punjabi could be heard. Outside, a sign reads: "God is One."

Sikh community opens its temples to educate others

Kanwal Singh couldn't take it anymore.

For about a year, the Canton teenager had tried living in metro Detroit wearing a turban over his uncut hair -- as mandated by his Sikh faith.

But the stares and insults were too much.

"Terrorist!" Singh remembers some students in his high school blurting out at him. And so, in 2007, he got his hair cut and shaved his beard -- one of many Sikh boys and men who are giving up their articles of faith to avoid discrimination and harassment. Singh and others say a majority of young Sikhs in metro Detroit have cut their hair out of fear.

"You get a haircut because you want to fit in," Singh, 19, said Thursday evening inside the Gurdwara Sahib Singh Sabha of Michigan. The Sikh temple (gurdwara) in Canton is the biggest in Michigan.

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