On today’s Sikh turban day, Sikh organizations raise awareness for the turban as an integral part of the Sikh religion. Some awareness-raising might in fact be needed as studies have in the past shown that fewer than half of Americans can identify a Sikh man wearing a turban as either Indian or Sikh. Even fewer could come up with the correct reply when seeing a woman in a turban and only a quarter could place a child wearing a patka, a survey by the National Sikh campaign found in 2014.
Indian or of Indian descent was the most popular answer in the open-ended survey, but Middle Eastern and Muslim follow close behind. While also a rare answer in the survey, people attributed Hinduism with the pictures more often than Sikhism.
In a separate survey by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education fund, almost 50 percent of Americans said they associated someone who wore a turban and a beard with being Muslim. When shown a picture of a Sikh man with a beard and a turban, however, almost 40 percent reverted to the answer “Don’t know” concerning the person's background, while almost 30 percent chose Sikh. The person Americans associate most with wearing a beard and turban was Osama bin Laden (35 percent of answers), followed by former Iranian leader Ayatolla Kohmeini (14 percent) and American idol contestant Gurpreet Singh Sarin (3 percent).
The fact that the SALDEF survey used multiple choice while the survey displayed in the chart used open-ended questions might explain the discrepancy in the mention of the Sikh religion in connection to the pictures shown. The different results nevertheless highlight the uncertainty and confusion around turbans, Islam and Sikhism which is still somewhat common in the United States.