Headscarf headache to cancel Obama Temple visit

October 19, 2010

Ask any travel agent, globe-trotter or gap-year student: The Golden Temple in Amritsar, north India, is both a site of pilgrimage for Sikhs and a must-see on any tourists’ Indian itinerary.Sikh devotees gather to pay their obeisance at the holy Sikh shrine of Golden Temple on the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh in Amritsar, India. REUTERS/Munish Sharma

But India’s most famous foreign tourist, U.S. President Barack Obama, who will tour the country next month, may have to forego his visit.

It was supposed to be Obama’s only religious appointment on the 4-day trip to India, but a politically-sensitive row over the required headwear for the temple threatens to derail his plans.

According to local media reports, the President’s team has balked at the idea of Obama wearing a headscarf or skullcap — required for any visitor to the holy site — due to fears it may feed rumours circulating about his alleged Muslim beliefs.

The sight of droves of foreign tourists sporting colourful headscarves, most provided by the Temple, is as much a part of the dazzling experience as the temple itself.

Reportedly, the President’s aides proposed a modified version of Obama’s now customary baseball cap as a compromise. But sports caps fall foul of Temple regulations, placing him in a delicate position.

The White House is hoping to use the trip to strike firmer bonds with New Delhi, but officials are wary of any negative press back home with the crucial U.S. mid-term elections barely a fortnight away.

Ever since Obama, a Christian, declared his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency, groups have claimed that he was born and raised as a Muslim, citing his middle name “Hussein” and his Kenyan heritage.

Despite White House statements and press investigations rubbishing such claims on a regular basis, in August a poll showed 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009.

The President has a need to be wary about tricky foreign customs and the perils of appearing pro-Muslim in the predominantly right-wing U.S. press.

In April 2009, the President was criticised for bowing to King Abdullah during a visit to Saudi Arabia, described by the Washington Times as a “shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate”.

The world’s most powerful man faces a tough choice.

President Obama can embrace the local culture at the risk of a political storm back home, or politely decline Amritsar’s invitation and pass up one of India’s most unmissable sites.


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I thought Obama was cool. Knowledgeable of other cultures. But, turns out, he’s just another political diva. Sad commentary on the level of political discourse in the U.S, if the people can’t tell the difference between a Sikh temple and a mosque.

Posted by jet225 | Report as abusive

headscarf looks more like a bandanna and less like a Muslim cap. So his entourage need not have worried too much. Unless they thought a bandanna might make him look like a San Fransisco hippie or punk to the home crowd but I wouldn’t like to believe that either since I don’t think our president has any visible tattoos

Posted by Windturner | Report as abusive

So let me get this straight, a Christian(Obama) may be wearing a scarf(required for visit) to a SIKH temple but yet is afraid of being associated as a MUSLIM??? Americans really need to be educated about the rest of the world and not their center of universe.

“18% of Americans Believe Obama is a Muslim” – How Ignorant is the American Race??? No wonder what every other country thinks of the US?! Unfortunately the media has a lot to do with it.

People there is a difference between “fealty to a foreign potentate” and respect. Get it straight!!!

Posted by jsingh01 | Report as abusive

I think this is ridiculous too. But the comments here are mostly anti-American and how stupid we are for not knowing the difference between sikhs and muslims and how foolish we are for thinking that Obama is a muslim.

The vast majority of Europeans and Chinese and the great peoples of Africa and the Arab world do not know the difference between sikhs and muslims. I can promise you that that is true. Secondly it is interesting that Americans are accused of ignorance when it comes to “other cultures” when some of you commenting do not know the next thing about the differences in the religions in American. Would you be able to tell me the what makes Mormons and Catholics and Armenian orthodox people difference. What is Hasidic Judaism versus reform or Litvak Judaism. If you can do that then you can continue to ridicule the American “race.”

Posted by Savage67 | Report as abusive

Since when is the US press “predominantly right-wing”? That statement is so false it might be funny if it was not so sad. Anyone who knows anything knows that the lame stream media is about 85% pro-Obamunist. Check out http://newsbusters.org/.

Posted by CamForPrez | Report as abusive

@savage67….do you know the world religions…i can tell you the differences as you ask…but mormons are a sect ,part of christianity…judaism is one religion…sikhism and islam are also world religions..so your question is absurd..i agree americans have poor general knowledge…

We know vatican is your holy city..Islam holy cities mecca and medina dont even allow unislamic people..similarily Amritsar is Sikhism holiest city but the difference is everybody’s allowed..Queen Elizabeth has been here..2 canadian PMs have been here

@Obama…please dont miss this visit..personally i think ..people both in your entourage and indian entourage..will try absurd reasons to offset this visit..as they had done during Queen’s visit….and also ponder that sikhs have been mistakenly shot dead as muslims in your part of the world.

What political storm it creates i dont know but, paying obeisance and politics are 2 different things..and anyway God is bigger than any Obama…everybody is a human in his eyes

Posted by khalsa | Report as abusive

Some of us know more about Islam than Obama knows and we can see he is a sympathiser who thinks highly of Islam and lowly of Christianity. His refusal to visit the Temple in case he has to wear funny head gear does not show what people think about him. It shows what he thinks about people. What a coward! What an ignoramus!

Posted by Weknow | Report as abusive

Obama is unfortunately proving to be a typical cowardly politician rather than a man who would stand for truth and justice. Obama is conveying an unmistakable message to the world that Americans are ignorant, stupid and bigoted.

Posted by Teg | Report as abusive

1. The article says the president’s “team” balked at the idea.
2. There are a substantial number of people who already think he’s Muslim, and trust me, some of the media here would ride that horse as far as possible if they thought they could use it against him.
3. People everywhere are ignorant of “other’s” beliefs, values and lives. Americans may be more insular than other cultures when it comes to knowing about outsiders, but we are far from alone in our ignorance.
4. How does anyone who comments here think it’s helpful to berate others? We don’t learn anything by holding so tightly to the way we see things that we can’t be open to what others can teach…no matter where you live.
5. I don’t see how the president is proving to be cowardly, though I do think the fact that his team’s reluctance to allow him to wear the head gear IS reflective of American ignorance and American arrogance. We seem to want everyone who comes to America to play by our rules, but don’t seem to want to extend that same courtesy when we leave our shores. The president should be able to visit, to wear the traditional, required head covering. Arrogant, ignorant people will criticize him, but in my opinion that shouldn’t stop him.
6. How does knowing more about Islam than the president does show you that he thinks more highly of Islam than of Christianity? “Funny headgear”? Really, you call the president an ignoramus, then use that derogatory term? Interesting….
7. Frankly, some of the comments here cement our image as unaware, ignorant and arrogant.

Posted by qcirish | Report as abusive

It looks as if his visit to India would be partially a failure, if he does not visit the holy city of Sikhs. The foreign dignitory visiting the USA were even invited to have a meal in George W’s texas ranch. How come mr Manmohan Singh did not invite him for a meal in the Amritsar city or the University. Sorry, is there a law university in Amritsar, fellows?
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

If you guys blame Obama, it is not going to help. Why does’nt the Indian Prime Minister, or to be precise, the Amritsar local community invite him for a town hall meeting? he likes such meetings specially with students. after the town hll meeting he would be willing to meet the holy place.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

[…] Obama cancelled a trip to the Golden Temple in India, an iconic Sikh gurdwara dating back to the 16th century, because […]

Posted by The Sikh Temple Shooting, The Media & The Letdown | The News Burner | Report as abusive

I have lost a degree of respect for President Obama. Had he gone to the temple despite his aides worries he would have shown his endeavour to change. Maybe there would be less attacks on innocent Sikhs like the subsequent shooting at the US Temple.
BUT I also feel for him. America is a great nation but still, as with any part of the world, it contains uneducated people, also some ignorant people, a percentage of naive folks, and many other categories who just reveal human traits on a macro level. And I am sure there was the danger some in the US would have interpreted a headscarve as a show of US weakness.
Its just the sorry state of humanity.

Posted by Romansing | Report as abusive