President Obama may be skipping a trip to a prominent Sikh holy site in India due to worries that wearing the appropriate headgear may reinforce incorrect rumors that he is in fact a Muslim, rather than a Christian.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that plans to visit one of India's most famous attractions had been nixed after it became apparent that the president would be required to cover his head with either a traditional Sikh turban or a skull cap like some Muslims wear. Requests to wear an altered baseball cap were not initially approved.
"We have no problems if he wears a skull cap, the kind that Muslims wear to the mosque -- or any other cap that is modified to something similar," Giani Gurbachan Singh, head priest of the Golden Temple, told The Indian Express. "But we don't allow baseball caps or Army hats."
But that position is coming into question today, as different Sikh groups are pressing the president not to cancel his appearance simply over an issue of the proper attire.
"I am calling an emergency meeting with the other Executive Body members. We want to make it clear that he may wear anything to cover the head. It may be an appropriate cap also," Jathedar Avtar Singh Makkar, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the chief representative body of the Sikhs, told The Indian Express Wednesday.
"We have no objection to his wearing a cap. He is our revered guests and we are already in the process of welcoming him with full honours," a personal staff member of the body told the Express.
According to The Indian Express, many see Obama's visit as a great opportunity to bring visibility to a distinct religion that has often been lumped in with Islam, and don't want the president's worries about being seen as a Muslim at a Sikh holy site to deny this event:
Congress MLA Kewal Dhillon said in a statement that the US President's proposed visit was historic as it would give recognition and respect to the entire Sikh community living in India and across the world. Moreover, it would help clear the confusion over the various cases of mistaken identity whereby so many Sikhs living in the USA have been victims of brutalities in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He said that it would be "truly a huge loss to the entire Sikh community if the visit gets called off" and urged the SGPC to find a solution to the problem as soon as possible to ensure that the visit is not cancelled.
Obama has repeatedly had to defend himself after trips abroad and meetings with foreign dignitaries. The president took fire from certain media sources for his conduct in receiving Saudi King Abdullah, as well as Japanese Emperor Akihito.
A recent poll also showed that nearly one in five Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim.