THE BLOG
08/04/2014 12:28 pm ET Updated Oct 04, 2014

The Spirit of Shanti and Salaam (Part 2): American Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus Standing Together

Co-authored by Manpreet Teji

As Americans of all backgrounds continue to try to achieve the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, members of three growing religions in the United States have a unique opportunity to stand together for equality and shared human dignity.

Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs together make up less than 3 percent of the American population, but they have become increasingly prominent in the American social fabric, thanks to the advocacy efforts of all three groups in the wake of 9/11 and the similar experiences members of each religion have faced in being recognized and respected in the United States. They have been victims of violence, too, as exhibited by the attacks by members of all three groups over the past decade.

While the post-9/11 era has created a shared sense of struggle, the experiences of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs actually dates back to the early 20th century, when laborers from colonial India were brought to work jobs that whites wouldn't do. A number entered the United States through Angel Island, where immigration officials would try to find excuses to reject them from entry. Americans often failed to distinguish between them, as Indian Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were all classified as "Hindoos." In 1907, the Bellingham riots in Washington targeted Sikhs (mistaken for Hindus), who were driven from the town by mobs of white men. Throughout much of the 20th century (until the end of the Asian Exclusion Act in 1965), all three groups struggled -- often together -- to deal with systematic discrimination, isolation and marginalization. Much of that history, however, has remained in the shadows, though groups such as South Asian American Digital Archive and the Smithsonian's "Beyond Bollywood" exhibit have tried to underscore those shared stories.

Today, Muslim-Americans, Hindu-Americans and Sikh-Americans have a unique opportunity to work together to combat racial and religious profiling, hate crimes, along with bullying in the classroom. That's why in honor of the legacy of civil rights champions from half-a-century ago, we are working to find a common thread of advocacy in which members of all three faiths can strive for equality and pluralism in America.

This isn't to downplay the differences, or occasional tensions that come up within our communities, often as a result of conflicts that continue to flare up across the South Asian region. Too often, our communities fail to see the common ties that bind us, including the shared struggles to acculturate while maintaining a semblance of our respective faith and cultural traditions. The generation of immigrants -- whether they were Muslim, Sikh, Hindu (or Jain, Zoroastrian, Christian or Buddhist) -- wanted better lives for their children, and in many ways, we have inherited an opportunity to grow up and be educated with each other. With that opportunity comes a greater possibility: the chance to stand with one another to fight hate and injustice.

School bullying is one of the key platforms in which we can stand together. Already, groups representing our communities have undertaken campaigns to fight bullying. The Sikh Coalition, Hindu American Foundation and Islamic Networks Group have all undertaken anti-bullying campaigns, but perhaps more can be done to coordinate anti-bullying efforts from an interfaith perspective. We can share resources, conduct joint trainings and presented a unified voice that religious bullying is unacceptable. After all, our communities feel this shared pain because we are often confused for one another. As a result, we have an opportunity to stand up with and for one another.

Similarly, as Pew surveys show continued negativity towards Muslims in the United States (and only lukewarm feelings towards Hindus), Sikh Americans continue to deal with the memory of one of the worst hate crimes in modern U.S. history. Nearly two years ago, several Sikhs were killed at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This tragedy demonstrates hate crimes, negative attitudes and racial profiling continue to be our shared burden as marginal communities in America. One sign of hope is that people are less likely to view minorities in a negative light if they have even one friend from that community. This underscores the need to come together and ensure that we speak as one.

As we remember the sacrifices of civil rights leaders in their fight for equality, we have the unique opportunity of inheriting their legacy and adding to the ongoing struggle to make this country a more perfect union. We hope our communities will embrace this challenge.