Washington, D.C. (November 2, 2010) – The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) expressed concern over the White House’s announcement that President Barack Obama would not be visiting Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab -- the holiest shrine for Sikhs -- on his upcoming trip to India. According to some sources the decision was made due to concerns that photographs of the President with his head covered -- a requirement for all visitors to the Golden Temple -- could revive claims that he was Muslim. Yet, within a matter of days of the Golden Temple cancellation, the White House announced that the President would visit the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, the largest Muslim place of worship in Southeast Asia.
“Many of us are confused and concerned, to say the least, by the apparent contradiction. If President Obama’s primary concern is to allay continued rumors of his being Muslim, then why would he agree to visit a mosque after reversing his decision to visit the Golden Temple?” said Sheetal Shah, HAF’s Senior Director. “We regret the message this may send around the world. A visit to the Golden Temple, a place of pilgrimage for people of many faiths in India, would have helped educate a global audience about Sikhism, amongst India’s other Dharmic traditions, and provided the President an opportunity to witness India’s vibrant religious pluralism. We hope that the Administration will reconsider its decision.”
The President’s trip to India also coincides with Diwali, one of the most widely celebrated Hindu holidays. There has been no mention, however, of the President visiting a Hindu temple while there.
“It would indeed be a welcomed gesture for the President to include a visit to a temple especially if the Administration finds it appropriate to visit a mosque in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. It seems it would follow that he would extend the same courtesy to Hindus during his stay in the most populous country of Hindus,”” said Dr. Mihir Meghani, HAF Board member. “Through various public addresses, the establishment of the Faith Based Advisory Council and numerous White House celebrations, the President has articulated a commitment to religious inclusiveness. We hope he will continue this trend on the global scene, where it is imperative to foster a deeper understanding of the world’s faiths, their complexities and most importantly, the respective roles they play in ongoing conflicts and may play in reconciliation.”