The Sikh identity: the cover and content are not separate

Various styles of the Sikh turban (

Various styles of the Sikh turban (

Today, the Huffington Post published an essay by Jalees Rehman, M.D. , that discussed the figurative judging of books by their covers, especially in the context of Muslims and their beards:

Choosing an outward appearance that is compatible with one’s faith is a personal decision. However, we have to constantly re-evaluate our priorities and make sure that the time, efforts and resources devoted to the outward appearance should be in some measure of proportion to its actual importance within the faith.

I was immediately reminded of a recent post on the Sikh Coalition’s blog, in which the author discussed the significance of Vaisakhi in 1699.  In this post, excerpts of writings from various historians were quoted, and specifically, one from J.D. Cunningham, who was a contemporary of the Sikhs in India around 150 years after the Vaisakhi of 1699:

“A living spirit possesses the whole Sikh people, and the impress of [Guru Gobind Singh] has not only elevated and altered the constitution of their minds but has operated materially and given amplitude to their physical frames. The features and external form of a whole people have been modified and a Sikh chief is not more distinguishable by his stately person and free and manly bearing than a minister of his faith is by a lofty thoughtfulness of look which marks the fervour of his soul and his persuasion of the near presence of the Divinity.”

Cunningham observed that the outwardly appearance of the Sikhs as conferred by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 was a significant contributor to their psyche.  The physical aspects of the Sikh identity – and especially the overt ones such as uncut hair, turban, and sword – are not only an expression to the outside world about who we are, but serve as an influence inwardly about who we aim to be as a follower of the Sikh faith.


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