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.

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"(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. Nell

    All the blaming is not worth a hill of beans. In the US we can say almost anything, except cry fire in a theater! In a political climate such as this, tempers are flying, not because of the economy. It's because Obma is hated for the color of his skin, therefore, people are crazed with envy and hate. That's the bottom line folks. NO jobs, look at all the money that's being tossed away like sand in your hand, can you see all the jobs that coud be created with just a little of this money?It's the American voter who has all the power. Use it!

    August 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  2. Sikh Female Vancouver

    Remember the Sikh Riots in 1907 in Bellingham Washington. For those of you who don't know where Bellingham Washington is, it is where the DC Sniper was located. Please read the attached article where many Sikhs were forced out of Bellingham Washington due to racism and pushed towards Vancouver, Canada – where I am from.... 100 years later... http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/bham_history.htm

    August 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  3. Sikh Female Vancouver

    SWED – I agree... Why aren't the headlines saying: CHRISTIAN TERRORIST??? This is exactly what it is. If it was a Sikh, Muslim, Hindu doing the killings it would be repeated over and over again – so why not the same treatment. Why don't the headlines say "WHITE CHRISTIAN TERRORIST". And just to give a bit more education to those that disagree... Indians from the North of Indian are also considered caucasian. Caucasian does not refer to the colour of the skin, but refers to bone structure. So it is not correct to say Caucasian male. But Anglo-Caucasian or white male would be correct....

    August 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      i haven't heard that he was Christian. Could be a Nazi Deitist.... He is a white extremist so that pretty much cancels out a Chrisian lifestyle.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • sam

      WD – are you serious? Skin heads and white supremacists are hands down some of the most extreme chrisitians out there. You can pretend they don't identify that way, but it won't change the facts.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  4. Aditya Varma

    Sikhs are very hard working people and one of the most vibrant religions in India. I am Indian and I have many sikh friends.
    These are people who work hard for the betterment of their community and people around them.
    Gurudwaras (Holy shrines of the Sikh) is a place which is open to people of all religions. They never discriminate any person based on cast and creed. I hate to say that people do not understand their contribution to the society.

    My heart goes out to those who lost their loved ones. Let us show some support to the real people who deserve it.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  5. Swed

    Why don't this killer is referred to as a Christian TERRORIST by media?????
    If the same this is done by any Muslim headlines in ever media "ISLAMIC Terrorist" or "ISLAM Fundamentalist"
    come one communal morons wake-up unless it gets too late and nothing will be left in this peaceful world.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Lekarshi

      There is a reason for that. Christianity doesnt have at least at the present time a concept of fighting for a religious cause. For example this guy was more White than Christian, it appears. But islamic terrorists are fighting for islam, to dominate the world by converting people to islam or force people to think on the lines of sharia or not accept the way certain groups of people live. I think the list is endless. Now there are some very nice muslims, but they dont have the voice against the jihadists and the fundamentalists. muslim nations are in peril, pakistan for example is run by fundamentalists, iraq, iran, syria problems everywhere. The Sikhs are a great people, but they didnt do a smart thing. When the British offered them Independence they should have taken it, the worst thing was assimilating with India. The Sikhs would have made a Singapore out of Punjab. Hopefully one day they will be free, so will the rest of non-hindi speaking India too.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Swed

      Lekarshi, you too speak like media, then why Andreas Brevik, the Norwegian mass murderer never mentioned as a Christian Terrorist even after he accepted that he was is fighting for Christianity as a Knight Templar, At-least, US should have mentioned him as a Christian terrorist in media if not Norway did, why these double standards. Coming to your point Islam never forces anyone to become a Muslim, its bad humans who do that in the name of religion same as Christians who come to India and spread Christianity by giving funds and greed to the poor and low caste Hindu people in India and they do the same thing in Africa and they get paid for that. Even if bad Muslims, forces anyone to become a Muslim that person will never accept Islam whole heartedly so their is no point of accepting Islam even they convert whole world which is a not possible by a Human. So chill and long-live universal brotherhood which is my wake-up call.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  6. trex


    August 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Mikmak

      TREX, Even if Sikhs looks like Muslims in their appearance no one has right to kill any innocent human what ever religion they belong to.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  7. Karen Bains

    Just to clarify the American misconceptions. All Sikh men don't wear turbans. Orothodox Sikh men wear turbans, but many of our Sikh men still identify as being Sikh without wearing a turban. This is the same where a Jewish man wears a yarmulke (beanie). It is usually orthodox jews that wear these, not all Jewish men are wearing these beanies.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  8. Swed

    My dear friends, the so called Worlds biggest democracy is now becoming racist why is this so? whats is going on in our lovely world first it was in Norway and now its in USA. These stupid Supremacist Group should first understand Christianity never allows to Kill any human being nor any other religion allows it.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • phred

      Really? Explain the crusades then...

      August 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Mikmak

      What is their to explain about crusaders, they are mass murderers killers looters etc.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Swed

      Crusader are ignorant selfish killers who killed innocent humans in the name of religion and most importantly all where not Christians they where few Zionist wearing the mask as a Christians.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  9. Karen Bains

    I'm from Vancouver British Columbia which has a large Indian Sikh population. Sikh's have been in North America for over 130 years. The first Sikh temple was in Chicago Illinois. Sikh's initially came to the US to help with the railroads and lumber mills in Oregon. Although many of them were highly educated they were not allowed to practice their professions – so a lot of them worked as farmers in California. This is why a large number of sikhs own farms in Yuba City. In the US the large Sikh populations exist in California (Bay Area and Yuba City), New York, Boston, Virginia and Chicago. In Canada they are in Vancouver and Toronto. Most Sikh's are rooted from the Punjab stated of India. Bobby Jindal Governor of Louisiana and NIki Haley Governor of South Carolina are both Indian and both born Sikhs.

    August 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  10. HearTheTruth


    August 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  11. Jaswinder Singh

    Thank you Pakistan for taking care of our temples in Pakistan which are very sacred to us. Thank you to all muslims who enable us to perform pilgrimage to Pakistan every year from india and all over the world.

    August 6, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Swed

      Why do you people support Hindutva extremist groups if you really like Muslims and Pakistan, why do you support BJP, Bajrangdal, VHP etc all extremist groups in India. Sitting in USA and thanking Pakistan and killing Indian Muslims in 2002 Gujarat massacre by supplying swords from Punjab what is this??????

      August 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • American7786

      My heart goes out to all Sikh community. You all are in my prayer in our holy moth of Ramadhan. May God be with you all and protect all religious people and places.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • idiot

      Sure you are not jaswant singh you are a paki in name of a sikh

      August 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  12. essohg72

    Would this be enough to start talking about gun control or do we need another horror movie to again bury our head in the sand.....

    August 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Mikmak

      It cant be stopped as the Government needs to shut down million dollars of companies making huge amount of weapons and supplying to whole world hahaha so forget about your thought.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  13. Joe Smockeroodie


    August 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  14. sperry23

    I note that there is not a single word about the Sikh bodyguards who assassinated Indira Ghandi on 31 Oct 1984. There may not be a word of hate in the founder's writing, but there is hate in the hearts of many Sikhs, especially in India.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • anne202

      Yes, Sikh bodyguards did assassinate Indira Gandhi but i do not think it it is fair to accuse all Sikhs for the actions of a few. Furthermore, one should look into the horrible genocides and tearing down of Sikh temples that were ordered by Indira Gandhi that most likely fueled the anger of those Sikhs.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Swed

      Not all but most of the Sikhs have hatred towards other religions especially towards Muslims in India, If you remember in 2002 Gujarat massacre the rioters got huge amount of weapons like swords from Sikhs state "Punjab" which where used for massacre. In India Sikhs are allowed to keep Swords as it is their Religions Law of-course not to use it for Killing but to defend. However, as a human we should loving each other instead of hating a particular community or religion which will end the humanity

      August 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Boxster

      There are bad elements in every religion. Majority of Sikhs are friendly, some Sikh Terrorist Groups like "Babbar Khalsa" and "Khalistan Commando Force" are still trying to comeback .....

      August 6, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • J

      Swed, don't fume hatred. Sikhs don't have strife with any faith. Your story is fact less and in fact there are reports of Sikhs protecting Muslims in Gujrat. Why don't you tell the other part of the story? That India's Gujrat is a hindu supremacist power stronghold and the Muslims were killed for practicing their faith?

      Hindutva and Hindu supremacy is one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world and they simply blame Islamic terrorists. However they are responsible for killing Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, and low caste Hindus over the last 50 years. Combined, the death number of these 4 groups is well over 400,000 dead.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Mr. Singh

      Indira Gandhi ordered the attack on Darbar Sahib (Golden Temaple) the place of worship in 1984 and massacred thousands of innocent Sikhs. Indian gov't called it Operation Blue Star. Yesterday, the police shot the gunman to death who was killing innocent people in the Sikh Gurdwara. However, in India justice system works a lot differently, or I must say there's no justice for minorities in India. There was/is no justice system in India to bring Indira Gandhi to trial and punish her. Even today, the Gov't officials who were directly involved in anti-Sikh riots in Nov. 1984 are roaming freely and holding gov't posts. Now, coming back to the assassination of India Gandhi, there was no better way to bring her to justice.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • American7786

      She initiated the attack on Golden Temple. The holliest place of Sikhism. What they did was in response, so they did not initiated the fight, they fisnihed it.I may not agree with their actions, but it is understandable.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Nero

      Seriously? You think this is worth mentioning? 1 incident in 500 years... Christians and Muslims have more incidents than we can count, but the one that sticks out the most in my mind is the inquisition and 911. Anyways, they are still human and that means they are not perfect... oh and neither are you. I'm an atheist, I don't believe in fairy tales, so I think you are all sick... no just the sikhs.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Ramnath Prasad Goenka

      You cannot compare Indians in India to America. The chosen, the few who have crossed are blessed and do not think in those primitive ways.
      "sperry23" is either writing from India or lives in New Jersey. Please do not comment further, we have enough to worry about.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  15. Andrew

    Instead of studying the particular type of "furriner" why not raise the alarm on whitehate, skinheads and militia nuts, CNN? The danger is from these armed sociopaths, not friendly brown people.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  16. brown

    Very sad, the true cost of ignorance.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  17. CW

    Work hard and never beg? Don't tell that to Obama.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • REG in AZ

      CW you are truly a sick individual.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm |


    August 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  19. the voice of reason

    Why does none of this supprise me in this country? Remember the inscription on the Statue of Liberty?? Also the quote from Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some are more equal then others"

    August 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  20. DIANA

    Thank you Michele Bachman for this attack. Her witch hunt as well as all the crazy Teabaggers screaming Sharia Law, they inspired this nutjob to go after anybody who looked foreign to him. I bet NOBODY from the Republican side will say that they need to tone it down.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • mikaman3000


      August 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Steve - Dallas

      No flaming, pl;ease.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Jeff

      Trying to tie this to Michele Bachman is a little bit of a stretch. Don't get me wrong, I think she's nuts and the things that come out of her mouth frighten me, but the broad paranoid delusion about Islamic covert operations taking over the country has a lot of crackpot promoters.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
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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.