A hijab, a turban, a beard: What aren’t you seeing?

Five Long Islanders open up about their faith, their lives and what people don’t know about them.

If all you see is a hijab, a turban and a beard, you’re missing the doctor, the businessman and the rabbi underneath.

When Uzma Syed, Bobby Singh, Patricia Mitchell, Matthew Payamps and Anchelle Perl get up in the morning, what they put on their bodies is in large part determined by their faith. What you may not notice is the creativity, emotion and pride weaved in.

These Long Islanders can face misconceptions and in some cases prejudice. But in a time of political divisiveness and harsh rhetoric, faith unites them all...

Jeans. Shirt. Turban.

As a teenager, two things happened to Bobby Singh that shaped the course of his life.

In eighth grade, his uncle put him in charge of a women’s footwear store in Hempstead, saying, “This is your store, you’re going to run it.” So in between classes and homework, Singh said he was in charge of hiring and training staff and changing the storefront display on a regular basis.

He said getting into business so early was “a blessing.”...

...“If you’re stranded anywhere, just look for a Sikh temple,” Singh said. “Just walk in and have a meal, end of story. There are no second questions. You don’t have to pray, you don’t have to bow down, nothing.”

“If you need money, if you’re stranded, ask for help and it will be given to you.”

Among the practices of Sikhism, Singh keeps five articles of faith with him at all times, sometimes referred to as the five Ks: kesh (uncut hair and beard), kangha (a small wooden comb to be used twice a day), kara (an iron bracelet), kachera (an undergarment) and kirpan (a small ceremonial knife).

Each item has particular significance. For instance, the kara serves as a reminder that “this is a hand of my Lord,” Singh said...

...“The first visibility that you’re looking at is a piece of cloth on my head: a turban. You’re looking at a beard right away. And that gives you the immediate perception of who I’m going to be versus who I really am.”

Putting preconceptions aside, Singh says that if you see a Sikh man walking on the street, “you can just start walking right behind him, because by second nature, he is going to protect you. Irrespective of who you are.”

A Sikh man “will give his life before anything happens to you,” he said. “And this is something that we practice, this is something that we teach our kids.”

“This is what I teach my [oldest] daughter every day, that no matter where you are, if you see your friends being oppressed, you have to just stand there like a shield.”

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