The UK’s top diplomat apologizes for calling the Sikh Golden Temple a mosque, demonstrating prominence of religious illiteracy


Britain’s most senior diplomat, Sir Simon McDonald, has apologised for calling one of the holiest sites in Sikhism “the Golden Mosque” on Twitter after he was given a photograph of the Queen standing in front of it. He later apologised and corrected himself, saying “I was wrong: I am sorry. I should of course have said the Golden Temple or, better, Sri Harmandir Sahib”[1].

The Golden Temple was built in the 16th century by Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru, and is the chief place of pilgrimage for Sikhs[2].

The tweet provoked anger from British Sikhs on social media. Jasvir Singh, the chair of the organisation City Sikhs, said, “it beggars belief that one of the most senior diplomats in the country could confuse the world famous gurdwara, known colloquially as the Golden Temple, for a mosque. It is embarrassing and inexcusable”[3].

He pointed to the prominence of the lack of understanding that the tweet displayed; “Sikhs often find themselves confused with Muslims, and there is an obvious need to improve faith literacy in British society generally”[4].

Bhai Amrik Singh, chairman of the Sikh Federation, criticised Sir Simon for his “remarkable level of ignorance” which is “totally unacceptable” from someone in his position[5].

Dr Jasjit Singh, a researcher at Leeds University, wondered whether Sir Simon had been thinking of the Golden Mosque in Rochdale when he tweeted[6].

[1] May, 2018.

[2] May, 2018.

[3] May, 2018.

[4] May, 2018.

[5] Hughes, 2018.

[6] May, 2018.

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Hughes, D. (2018) ‘UK’s top diplomat ‘sorry’ over mosque gaffe’. i newspaper. 25th April. p. 8.

May, C. (2018) ‘UK’s top diplomat ‘sorry’ for mosque gaffe’. [online] 24 April. [Accessed 11 May 2018].