Scandal! Sikh man removes his turban in order to follow teachings of his faith!

As we all know, religious doctrines are bad. Thus, breaking them is good. That seems to be the implication of a bizarre news item -- a piece of aggregation, actually -- sent to your GetReligionistas the other day.

The key, as in many mistakes involving aggregated news, is that the writer appears to have spent zero time or energy investigating the facts of the story. In fact, it appears that the AOL desk didn't even pay that much attention to the New Zealand Herald story it was slicing and dicing. The goal was a conflict-driven click-friendly headline: "Sikh man breaks religious rules, removes his turban to help an injured boy." As a reader noted:

The title and the bulk of the article attempt to create a conflict between the "rules" of religion and real compassion. On the plus side, the article does note that "the Sikh religion makes exceptions for taking off a turban in emergencies," yet it still plays up the phony conflict.

Let's look at two pieces of this short item:

A New Zealand Sikh put religion aside and took off his turban to help an injured child.
The New Zealand Herald reports 22-year-old Harman Singh saw a 5-year-old boy had been struck by a car outside of his home Friday. Despite religious beliefs not permitting him to remove his turban and show his hair in public, Singh didn't hesitate to take off his headdress and cushion the bleeding child's head.

You have to love the "put religion aside" reference and the reference to "religious beliefs not permitting him to remove his turban." The key word is "permitting."

Now, clearly, removing the turban is a very serious issue for a Sikh, as anyone who has covered a story about this faith knows (click here for some background information). Under certain conditions, Sikhs will resist all efforts to remove the turban -- especially efforts to shame them or attack their faith. However, the story seems to ignore the fact that this faith has other values and doctrines that can transcend this key element of its piety.

The AOL story, just a few lines later, even shares information that blows up its own framework about religious rules. Singh notes that:

... the Sikh religion makes exceptions for taking off a turban in emergencies, but members of the Indian community, and people all over the planet, are praising Singh for his actions.

Wait a minute. You mean there are OTHER doctrines relevant in this crisis? You mean that other Sikhs know that and, thus, are not criticizing this man? There is the key: If other members of the faith do not see this action as a violation of their doctrines, then why say that Singh was putting religion aside and violating rules that did not permit him to remove the turban?

The actual Herald story did a better job of balancing these doctrinal issues. The word "protocol" seems a bit strange to me, but perhaps it is more common in this context on the other side of the world.

Harman Singh did not think twice about removing his turban to cradle the bleeding head of a 5-year-old who had just been hit by a vehicle on his way to school.
Mr Singh, 22, was at home when he heard car wheels screeching, and then a commotion, and ran outside to investigate. "I saw a child down on the ground and a lady was holding him. His head was bleeding, so I unveiled my turban and put it under his head."
Members of the Indian community last night praised Mr Singh for his action, considered a hugely significant act of humanity by breaking strict religious protocol to help a stranger. ... Mr Singh acknowledged the rare step he took to help, but said that protocols of his faith did not restrict certain actions in an emergency.

Another plus was a quotation from another Sikh who was present at the scene:

Gagan Dhillon said he was on his way to work when he saw the accident and stopped to help.
"There was enough help as there was, but being a Sikh myself, I know what type of respect the turban has. People just don't take it off -- people die over it.
"I saw him [Mr Singh] with no head covering and thought, 'That's strange'. But then I saw one hand was underneath the boy's head supporting it and his siropao [turban] was stopping the bleeding. ... He didn't care that his head was uncovered in public. He just wanted to help this little boy."

The bottom line: Is it a conflict with one's religion when a believer violates a crucial element of his faith in order to follow a higher, more urgent doctrine in a crisis situation? If there are no Sikh critics of this man, where is the conflict that justifies a statement that Singh was not PERMITTED to take the action that he took?

Bizarre things happen in the world of quickie, click-friendly news writing.

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