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In TOS Space Seed, Lt. Marla McGivers identifies Khan Noonien Singh as a Sikh.

(Looking at Khan) From the northern India area, I'd guess. Probably a Sikh. They were the most fantastic warriors.

Lt. McGivers' assessment is supported with Khan's last name being Singh, which is strongly associated with ethnic Sikhs and at one point was mandated for all baptized men.

Sikhs are also traditionally followers of Sikhism, a religion in which one of its tenets is Kesh, the practice of growing out one's beard naturally. Guru Gobind Singh Ji explained this reason, noting in particular facial hair.

My Sikh shall not use the razor. For him the use of razor or shaving the chin shall be as sinful as incest. For the Khalsa such a symbol is prescribed so that his Sikhs can be classified as pure.

Does the fact that Khan is clean-shaven, in violation of Kesh, indicate that he is not a follower of Sikhism despite being an ethnic Sikh?

Khan Noonien Singh

I'm open to answers from any level of canon.

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    A character expresses an opinion that he could be a Sikh is not the same as a definitive statement he is. So the obvious conclusion is that he's not a Sikh and therefore not violating Kesh. Apr 10, 2018 at 3:22
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    @StephenG I've changed my question to ask if he's a follower of Sikhism, as opposed to an ethnic Sikh. Apr 10, 2018 at 3:23
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    shall be as sinful as incest. - Possible squickiness: TOS-era they were created by selective breeding, not genetic manipulation (that was a later retcon). Perhaps they crossed that boundary and it no longer mattered?
    – Izkata
    Apr 10, 2018 at 3:47
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    In the scene aboard the Botany Bay when Khan is being woken from suspended animation, McGivers says: MARLA: From the northern India area, I'd guess. Probably a Sikh. They were the most fantastic warriors. Later in the sickbay Khan says his name is Khan. Khan is not identified until later, after the dinner: KIRK: Name, Khan, as we know him today. (Spock changes the picture) Name, Khan Noonien Singh. Marla's assessment was not based on knowledge of his name. Singh is a popular name among non Sikhs as well. Apr 10, 2018 at 5:05
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    @Valorum What does God need with a starship? Apr 10, 2018 at 15:59

2 Answers 2

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This is addressed in the Eugenics Wars trilogy of EU novels, detailing the life and times of Khan.

He was raised in a Sikh family.

Although raised as a Sikh, albeit a fairly secular one, Khan was inclined to create his own traditions, and, as there was no one on Ceti Alpha V whose authority exceeded his own, he found it altogether proper that he officiate over his own wedding. “Do you take I, Khan Noonien Singh, as your lawfully wedded husband, to share the bounty and adversities of this brave new world as my one and only queen?”

To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh

He isn't religious (per se), but he does seem to believe in divine beneficence.

Despite his Sikh ancestry, Khan was not a religious man, but right now he gladly welcomed whatever divine assistance might be available. If not for me, he bargained, then for the injured Joaquin, who fell in my service.

The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh. Vol. 2

His lack of a beard was a conscious decision on his part to break with his (non-superhuman) ancestors.

“What’s up with the close shave?” she asked him glibly, stalling for time while she recovered from her shock-induced trip to dreamland. “The last time I saw you, back in eighty-nine, you were sporting a respectable-looking beard. I thought that was mandatory for all male Sikhs?”

Khan nodded, smiling appreciatively. “Very good, Ms. Lincoln. I applaud your cross-cultural erudition.” He thoughtfully stroked his smooth and stubble-free chin. “With all due respect to my heroic Sikh ancestors, however, I eventually came to the conclusion that I should not be bound by the traditions of the past. I am a new breed of human being, after all. A new and superior kind of warrior. Thus, on my twenty-first birthday, I shaved off my beard, in recognition of the revolutionary turning point that I, and the others like me, represent in the history of human evolution. Henceforth, I resolved, I would make my own traditions, chart a new path for mankind.”

The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh. Vol. 2

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  • Odd that he'd choose then, given that a twenty-first birthday is generally only significant to Americans.
    – OrangeDog
    Mar 15, 2022 at 12:16
  • @OrangeDog - This is, of course, in an alternate reality from our own.
    – Valorum
    Mar 15, 2022 at 12:52
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It is obvious Khan doesn't follow the rules bound with Sikhism. Yes, it is a tradition in Sikhs to trim their beards but in the end it's the will of the person if he wants it clean shaven or wants to follow the rules of Sikhism.

Also being an Indian I know for a fact that not all Singh's are necessarily Sikhs. Taking into consideration what Valorum has written that Khan was a indeed a Sikh then it should also be pointed that he doesn't wear a turban which is one of the most recognizable traits of a Sikh.

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    What that means is that he's not a very good Sikh, not that he's not necessarily one at all :-)
    – Valorum
    Mar 15, 2022 at 12:51

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