Perception are often deceptive. What appears, is often not what it is. Our mind generalizes and sometimes overgeneralizes the certain ideas that it holds dearly in its kitty. Since, the time I have grown a beard, I have been often asked by people, who either knew me quite good otherwise or were acquaintances, if, I had turned into an observant Muslim. I have been living in Europe for past three years and by the time I started ‘bearding again’, I would get these curious looks from the fellow citizens (often white), wondering if I was a Muslim, and if so how should they behave. Not in a bad or discriminating way most of the times; rather a cautious approach, as if scared. Sometimes, there were questions from people of middle eastern origin or Turkish, who would ask me the same question in an expectant way. One time, at a conference, I was asked by a bearded Turk, if I was a Muslim. The hand shake was warm and a glint in the eyes told me that he would be much happier to know if I was one. I said, No. I am not. For the rest of time he gently kept ignoring me, probably thinking that I was an apostate! or I was a Muslim turned atheist.
I hail from a village in Punjab, India; where, beard and turban were a part of traditional living and also enmeshed into the religious tenets of the relatively new religion called Sikhism founded by the first master, Guru Nanak Dev. Although, I do not subscribe to any organized religion or identify with it; still, I like to don a beard at times. I love my beard and sometimes I wish it was long and flowing. The one that reflects aged wisdom and hides a contended smile beneath the thick whitened mustache. My people, If I could take the liberty and pride in association with the brave who fought oppression during the days of Mughal empire to the start of British Raj, are used to this idea of bread and a mustache to be something that marks a manhood and also a sainthood, if you happen to drape yourself in the clothes of saffron color and various markings on your forehead. The color in the inset is the color adopted by Sikhism. The soldier adorns this color to remind him constantly that his duties as a devout Sikh are also to be a saint in daily life. When, a Sikh is not fighting he is singing the hymns in praise of Waheguru or the God.
The cauldron of civilization called the Indus valley was churning out a lot of traditions and value systems since 3000 B.C. or may be still further back in history. The tradition of Hindus revered the wise men of yore known to them as Rishis. These were the people who received the wisdom of Vedas (as is popularly known). With the advent of the new religion of Sikhism during the early middle ages and its teachings that combined the idea of sainthood and a soldier into one single unit, a new path was established, that of a virtuous fighter who defends the weak and never becomes the oppressor, if only to go astray from the teachings of the ten Gurus. Sikhism, in its true essence, never asks about your religion and welcomes one and all to its fold without any need for conversion. This is not tolerance of other religions, it is the acceptance of the fact that all are the creation of this cosmos and the same energy, which everyone calls with a different name. There are no infidels. Their is nobody else to fight except ones own shortcomings and the social oppression when the need arises.
A beard does not make anyone anything. It is the man behind those bristly and sometimes sparse beards that are capable of certain actions. Sadly, the beard has become a matter of identification with a certain religion, particularly in the west; and more so if you are a brown man walking around with a thick beard. Maybe a day will come when the beard shall command a respect or at least an admiration and not cautious and confused looks. I am brown man with a beard and I am not a Muslim.
Some pictures of Sikh soldiers: