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August 5th, 2012
06:20 PM ET

Explainer: Who are Sikhs and what do they believe?

By Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN)– Sikhism, the world's fifth most popular religion, is a monotheistic faith that believes in equality and service to others, Sikh officials say.

"Everyone is the same," says Raghunandan Johar, president of the Guru Nanak Mission of Atlanta. "There is no distinction, no caste system."

Navdeep Singh, a policy adviser to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, says Sikhs believe in freedom of religion, community service and inclusiveness.

At temples, or gurdwaras, where Sikhs hold services, everyone is welcome.

"You can come and be equal," he says.

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Doing good deeds is important for you to be with God after death, Johar says. Sikhs believe that if you don't live a life full of good deeds you will be reborn and repeat the circle of life and death.

There are 25 million Sikhs around the world, Singh says, about 700,000 of which live in the United States. Most Sikhs are in India.

Sikhs do not have a particular day of worship, he says, but due to the American work week, Sunday is a popular day for services. Johar says his gurdwara has formal services on Wednesdays and Fridays, in addition to Sundays.

At a typical gurdwara, the doors open up at 6 a.m. for prayers. A formal service includes the singing of hymns and a team of leaders who have studied the faith reciting from the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism's holy scriptures. That book, more than 1,400 pages long, includes writings from Sikhism's 10 gurus as well as writers from other religions.

It is an example of Sikhism's inclusiveness, Johar says.

"There is not a single word of hate in it," he adds.

At the end of the service, congregants pray for the "well-being of the world" then head to the langar, the community kitchen that serves meals for anyone who wants one.

10 years after Sikh murder over 9/11, community continues to blend in and stand out

"(Founder) Guru Nanak said that if you want to meet God, serve the poor people," Johar says.

Gurdwaras around the world variously incorporate clinics, schools, guest quarters and community centers, which Sikhs say is a sign of the religion's values of service and equality.

The first gurdwara in the United States was built 100 years ago in California, Singh says.

Most Sikh men don't cut their hair and wear turbans and beards. Many American Sikh women dress like other Westerners or wear the salwar kameez, a traditional north Indian garment of a long shirt and loose-fitting pants.

Sikhism emerged more than 500 years ago in Punjab, in what is now India. It was founded by Guru Nanak, a non-practicing Hindu who was against rituals and praying to idols.

"He received a revelation," Johar says.

Guru Nanak taught a message of love and that all religions were good.

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"If you are Hindu, he said be a good Hindu," Johar says. "If you are Muslim, be a good Muslim. If you are Christian, be a good Christian."

Sikhs, he says, are taught two other important things in addition to serving others and serving God: Work hard and never beg.

- Producer/Writer

Filed under: Belief • Houses of worship • Religious violence • Sikh

soundoff (1,169 Responses)
  1. Keith

    Don't put it past Eric Holder and this administration to "capitalize" on this incident. (Probably had weapons from Fast and Furious.) He willingly murdered hundreds of Mexican citizens and one U.S. Border Agent all in the name of manufacturing anti-gun sentiment. Wouldn't be surprised if Holder is behind this, also. This murderous administration will stop at nothing to advance their sick agenda. Look for more of these type of incidents to occur.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Keith

      "False flags" have been used for centuries as a means of influence-unfortunately, these innocent people have been killed. The REAL tragedy is that this adminstration already has a track record of killing innocents. Obama's probably upset that he can't use his drones here-yet!

      August 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Keith

      Since they failed at the UN with the Small Arms Treaty, they have to resort to plan "b".

      August 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • marinedad05

      @ Keith...

      Your brain is working overtime. What you need is some therapy.

      I suggest you buy a dressage horse. They come expensive, but not to worry. You can always deduct that as a 'medical expense' on your tax returns (if you file one).

      If you doubt me, just ask Romney for advice on this. His damn horse cost $77,000, and add annual maintenace.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:41 am |
  2. Myrna Minkoff-Katz

    So, the suspect is white, bald, in his forties, wears a 9/11 tattoo, and is a member of a far right extremist hate group. This is already known, yet the FBI, the Oak Creek police, and news outlets are withholding this information.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Observer

      It never seizes to amaze me how some people manage to make everything political. I guess these stories bring out the idiot in some people. What an ignorant fool.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  3. Myrna Minkoff-Katz

    Sikhs are targeted as "Muslims", which they are not, because they wear beards and turbans. Michelle Bachmann and the Tea Party haters are clearly very dangerous anti-American terrorists, and must be punished.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • GUEST

      and its ok ok to target muslims ?

      August 6, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • Greg

      Its not ok to target any faith! Sikhs just want to be left alone. Sikhs have noting to with muslim extremist and are attacked in Pakistan(original home of the sikhs). Most muslim don't wear turbans and sikhs are required too. Its sad when your being attacked by both sides.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Hindu

      Hopefully one day we will all be educated enough to understand that religion is the biggest fraud pulled on mankind. It is therefore OK to 'target' any religious group and inject some sense in them. My way of targeting would be non-violent but the modus operandi may differ.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • James Buchanan

      The sad, sick, screwed up part of the whole mis-identification with Muslims, the Sikhs have been targeted for genocide by Muslims twice in their history because they wouldn't surrender to Allah.

      How's this for a karmic knife between the ribs?

      August 6, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  4. Myrna Minkoff-Katz

    These atrocities are the direct result of extreme rhetoric by the republicans on the far right.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • n2w

      true – also, I love the reference Confederacy of Dunces 🙂

      August 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  5. Myrna Minkoff-Katz

    Michelle Bachmann and her dangerous rant about religious minorities is to blame. She should be arrested for crimes against humanity.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Keith

      What if it was Eric Holder or Janet Napoitano who were responsible? Would you arrest them on the same basis?

      August 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  6. Evarin

    I've never had much use for religion, but i've always had a lot of respect for Sikhs. Their values are ones all religions should seek to adopt, not just pay lip service to from time to time.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  7. Mr Dope Man

    The skihs caused 9/11.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Aditya

      The sikhs are not at all related to 9/11, nor have been ever blamed for the same by anyone. Their attire may confuse some people, but please do search for what Sikhs really are.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      what a retard you are

      August 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Edward

      Too much dope man.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • oodoodanoo

      And you cause herpes. What the hell is a "skih", anyway?

      August 5, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      go easy on the sikhs man. we may need the sikhs a few decades from now. when we run out of moslems, who we gonna gas and drone to death? the chinese are too strong and the communists are dead, the south americans are all on drugs.

      sikhs, ugly looking fockers, worshipping the moon god. ideal for our purpose some decades from now. let's get more of these fockers in here. ideal for blaming our economic woes upon. easy to herd and gas by the millions.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:07 am |
  8. Norah

    I just sent this to Don Lemon:

    Dear Mr. Lemon:

    Hi. Don't get me wrong, because you are one of the anchors who doesn't usually annoy me (high praise, actually), but I think you may have missed the mark in the discussion today with Mr. Singh of the Sikh Council. 

    Perhaps I missed him or you saying something about this as I am swamped with grad school and working while CNN is on in the background, BUT:
    Mr. Simgh seemed to imply that this is likely an attack due to misplaced hatred of Muslims (and mistaking Sikhs for Muslims). First of all, there does not seem to be evidence backing that up (although it certainly has been true in other crimes following 9/11) as of yet.  With their religious holiday right now, os it possible the lowlife who did this did mean to target them specifically as Sikhs? 
    Second, and perhaps more important, shouldn't targeting someone because of religion be wrong no matter what religion s/he is or isn't? It would be equally wrong to target someone who is Muslim , etc. specifically because of religion (or shoot anyone for just about any reason altogether). 

    Also, please emphasize we send out our prayers to all affected. This is not just a crime against Sikhs, but also affects the people of Oak Creek, of Wisconsin, of our country, etc.  

    As a New Yorker at the time of the 9/11 attacks, I know it seemed a bit odd when the whole country said "We are all New Yorkers'" but shouldn't we have the same solidarity here?  I do imagine I would take this even more personally if I were Sikh, but, too it would affect me even more if I were in the local community of Oak Creek.  This crime offends me as me, regardless of my background, and my prayers go out to all affected by this violence. 

    Peace.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  9. Bharat

    Please remember this is just an unfortunate incident and it's time for calm. Let's not getting into the bashing mode of disrespecting any particular religion. One thing is for sure, no religion teaches hatred. A moment of silence is needed at this hour. Extremely sorry for the victims.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • pograndma

      You have apparently not heard of the Westboro Baptist Church...

      August 5, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • the voice of reason

      Haven't read the bible lately, have you?

      August 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  10. Baiju

    Please correct the name Guru Nanick to Guru Nanak. This could offend a lot of people. Appreciate it.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  11. Sherry

    CNN should proof read the article. It is guru NAnak and not nanick. Terrible quality of journalism.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • pandapocalypse

      And a sentence fragment for you it is!

      August 5, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  12. Tommy Johns

    Sikhs believe firmly in auto erotic asphyxiation.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Joanne

      I think you need to get your facts straight. You are certinally not educated about the sikh faith and shouldn't be a part of this blog.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  13. Jose M. Pulido

    People can beleive any thing they want but God can only save for an eternal life all those who believe in Him and accept His Son Jesus as their Savior. Therefore, with the exception of Christianity, all other ideologies and religions are a waste of time, souls and resources.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Dev

      ldi0ts like you are responsible for all the hatred that exits in the society

      August 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Dan

      ...and it's that level of smugness that pushes so many of us away from your cult. Good luck with the recruitment numbers.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      weak-minded scared christard.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Edwin

      Why is God so impotent that he cannot decide to save anyone He chooses to save? I thought God could do anything. Or is it simply that God does not WISH to save the others, because He is offended by the fact that they were too ignorant to choose correctly?

      Either way, this God does not seem to be a benevolent, all-powerful being...

      August 5, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Leo

      Wrong.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • old golfer

      What makes your book any more correct than any of the other hundreds of religious books? Nothing. Point of fact, God gave man reason. Man gave man religion, all religion. Quit pushing your book on others. Most of us are capable of finding our path in this life.

      August 7, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  14. Rev. Rick

    Our condolences to all those that lost a loved one in this shooting. Our prayers are with you and your families .

    August 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  15. Jessica

    This is a good article about Sikhism. Mr. Almasy incorrectly spelled the name of the first Sikh Guru and founder of the religion though. It is Guru Nanak, not Guru Nanick.
    It breaks my heart that this Gurudwara was attacked. My thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of those killed and injured and to the entire Sikh community. I am a White (for lack of a better term) American and married and Indian Sikh. The Sikh community has welcomed me with open arms and accepted me as one of their own. This is such a tragedy.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • NeelaKandan

      Im sorry to bust your image... Not sure if you are really "Jessica" but I take your word for it.
      Sikhism was a militant resistance movement that came up in the 15th century in the Punjab/Haryana region of India which is the North-Western states of India and also it includes the region of what is now called Pakistan. The whole region was the entry point of all invasions into India starting in the 11th century first by the Mongols (Central-Asia) and then followed by Mughals (muslim invaders).
      Hindusim is not a religion in its strictest terms like Christianity,Islam or Judaism. It has no founder or one holy book. It is a poly and pantheistic body of belief systems with origins as old as the civilization itself from which other 'religions' like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism sprang up. There was no 'unified' 'Hindu' response to foreign Islamic invasions. It was left to every individual 550+ kingdoms scattered of what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to fight against Islamic invaders.The Punjabi-Indian clan lead the resistance against Islamic atrocities against Hindus and took to violent methods to save themselves and their communities. They dont cut hair but wear their turban and always carry a dagger (weapon) for protection. They swore to cut their hair after they got rid of all muslim invaders.
      In moments like these when majority of americans are ignorant about other faiths and media wonderful job of keeping it that way, people representing their faith try to invent and whitewash their own history to 'promote' their religion as peace-loving and what not!. Sikhism was a dire necessity in the 15th century for Hindus to use militancy in order to survive the atrocities of Islamic rule over most parts of India.
      If Sikhs are so 'peace-loving' why do they carry weapons at all times (it is also permitted by the Indian government). Sikh community of Punjab and Haryana have the lowest male-female ratio over all other Indian states/ethnicites and also honor-killing of women is a wide-spread epidemic of their community.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Edwin

      Neela: I think the fact that you doubt even the name of a poster - without any clear reason to doubt it - says a lot about your state of mind. The fact of the matter is this: Jessica has had a good experience with Sikhs, and she has felt accepted by them.

      Whatever your agenda - whatever grudge you have against Sikhs - does not change the fact that they appear to be nice at least some of the time. Both Jessica and CNN's reporters have very good opinions of SIkh people... I tend to believe them more than you right now (no offense intended).

      August 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • bhola

      Neela ii do not know what u want to say , At one place you say they carry weapon for protection and at other place you say how can be peace loving when carry weapon?.Sikhism started in 15 th century ,and check the history that from Nanak till last Guru it remained peace and peace Only in 17 th century defended the supressed community from invadors and no body can whitewash it . so just educate yourself first and then comment unless u have hidden agenda or u like the prepators of this tragedy

      August 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • tepeters

      A friend past on this quote form another on facebook; good advice for anyone debating about any significance to what Sikhs or anyone calls his religion. "I was gonna post something that would tell you the difference between Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims but I realized that you don’t need to know anything about somebody’s religion to know that you shouldn’t shoot them" .. Eric Parsons

      August 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  16. Baljinder Kaur

    I born and raised as Sikh. My religion taught me Love everybody as you love yourself. We believe in Peace, love and Equality. I am very disappointed with this incident. Every time there is a bloodshed anywhere, we got blamed for it. People hate us like we are enemy of the World. People need to know about foundation of our religion. Our GURUS lost their lives for Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Nobody can deny the Existence and truth of Sikhism. It is not shameful only for a Sikh, but also for every human being in the world. Attack a Temple, GURUDAWARA, or a Church can't fade the Glory of GOD. I pray to GOD please give strength to families who lost loved once. Forgive sins of GUNMAN

    August 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  17. Understanding problem for Americans

    For those Americans who do not understand Sikhs, then one answer go to a place called " Makindu" in Kenya, this was a very isolated place I. The bush, poor place hardly any farming 40 years ago, it started as a small Sikh temple , open to all religions, gave food day and night free for all those making long trip from Nairobi to Mombasa, survived just on donations, I have seen no white, black, even gujus, Muslims or infact even Chinese, ever been discriminated at this place, such is the power of this temple, that today, farming and hospital developed over the years has been the landmark of Sikhism , and no politician even Obama, or even Kenyan politicians can touch the progress that this simple temple in the bush, so please do not underestimate what Sikhs do in this world, ALKESH

    August 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  18. Sukhpal Singh

    Ok please correct the MAIN mistake with this story! Guru NANAK is spelled wrong!! PLEASE CORRECT THIS!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  19. Snap Dreezy

    Smelly mo fo's need to start believing in deodorant and bathing. Peace.

    August 5, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Pass me that Islamic bean pie.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Hail

      Snap Dreezy? Just guessing your black. Please dont talk about smell brah..yalls hair smells like a straight mess...believe that haha.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    August 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Danny

      Yes it does!
      You go to a church.... you pray... and It gets you killed!

      August 5, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Celia

      Hmm is that so? I was raised as an atheist and turned out pretty good and now I am raising my 3 children without religion.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • truth be told

      To confess to denying your children eternal life is a confession of the worst sort of child abuse. I am ashamed to share this planet with you.

      August 5, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      Atheism is absolutely wonderful for children and all other people. I would not recommend it nor Christardanity for say a begonia plant however. Atheists take more responsibility for themselves than those that can be forgiven from a confession. Atheists have stronger minds for greater contribution to society. They spend less time on make-believe things. Religious people are weak and have much fear, but if they leave the make-believe stuff behind, their brains can be re-vitalized. It's a fact. It is written.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

      Use rationalism and reason! Science and construction actions change things!

      August 6, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • John of Gaunt

      Stalin was an atheist. He slaughtered more people than Hitler. Just saying. Don't be an idiot and claim that it's religion that's responsible for the world's greatest atrocities.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:57 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.