Members of the Amish community pictured in Canton, Missouri (Reuters)
Members of the Amish community pictured in Canton, Missouri (Reuters)

The Ohio trial of an Amish sub-sect accused of attacking rivals and cutting their hair has surprised observers in the US given that the accused belong to a traditionally conservative group who pride themselves on the importance of community and pacifism.

The Amish arrived in Pennsylvania from Europe in the 1730s and are perhaps best known for their 19th century way of life, shunning modern technology such as electricity and cars and sticking to their traditional rules which emphasise simplicity and avoiding stress.

They avoid any displays of self-exaltation or pride, such as taking photographs of themselves or seeking power.

The key to the Amish way of life is the idea of community and living separate to the rest of the world.

While the Amish do not completely avoid communicating with the outside world, a key part of their faith is the idea that salvation comes from living in a community of believers who live separately. They follow the Biblical text, "Be not conformed to this world".

The Amish do not live in cities but opt for rural communities and marry within their peer group.

With a population in the US approaching 250,000 - notably in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New York state - the Amish are divided into dozens of groups and districts, each with their own set of rules known as "ordung" (from the German for order).

Most Amish are trilingual. Many speak a dialect of German known as Pennsylvania Dutch at home, a variation of German during worship, and English when communicating with outsiders.

Speaking Pennsylvania Dutch among themselves is another way of keeping apart.

Another sumbol of separateness is their style of dress - they wear distinct, yet plain, clothing. The Amish are easily recognisable because of their old-fashioned clothes - void of any modern day accessories such as zips or Velcro.

The men wear straw hats and dark shirts and trousers with braces. The woman wear modest dresses with long sleeves and full-length skirts, aprons and a bonnet or cap on their head.

Once married, men are not allowed to cut their beards and women do not cut the hair on their heads. Hair is considered a scared religious symbol in the Amish community and cutting or trimming it is considered the ultimate humiliation.

Once married, Amish men never trim their beards (Reuters)
Once married, Amish men never trim their beards (Reuters)

The Amish also have their own private education system. A typical school has only one room and one teacher to cover all ages. Children are educated until the age 14. When they reach 16, children are given their first taste of the outside world and given permission to leave the communities. This practice is known as rumspringa, or "running around".

During rumspringa, Amish teenagers are free to visit neighbouring cities, drink alcohol and wear modern clothing before deciding if they wish to return to the Amish way of life.

Around 90 percent of adolescents choose to remain with the Amish communities. They are then baptised into the church.

The idea of avoiding conflict and a rejection of violence in the Amish community has made the case of the 16 accused of hate crimes, conspiracy and kidnapping in the Ohio hair-cutting trial even more of a surprise.

Amish way of life is the idea of community and living separate to the rest of the world (Reuters)
Amish way of life is the idea of community and living separate to the rest of the world (Reuters)