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. Elle

    Two years ago I accidentally rear-ended a Sikh man's car. It was my first car accident ever, and I was so scared and embarrassed. But when the man got out from his car he immediately asked if I was okay, and helped me fill out my information as we waited for a tow truck. I'm still amazed and how calm, kind, and forgiving that man was, and hope that I can be same way.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  2. SusieKj

    I think what perturbs me is that everytime a tragedy occurs, the aggressor's, or in this case, victim's religion is put up as so peaceful, so nice, so helpful, etc. and we are all told not to dislike the religion. Just a few weeks ago, a wedding was held up in England because a Sikh woman wanted to marry a Christian man and the "militant" Sikhs barricaded the church to prohibit the interfaith marriage. Islam was spread at the edge of a sword and yet we are to believe that those that continue in that vein are totally misconstruing their religious ideals. Christianity has shed blood and ruled politics for eons and yet we're supposed to feel guilty if we ask them to stay out of politics in a secular society. Theists all blame each other and think everyone else is wrong while they try to say their religion is somehow different than what we actually see in the world.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  3. Rettas Vegas

    The Muslin fear mongers of the TeaBaggers should take notice that hate speech can kill.
    Michelle Bauchman and her racist GOP pack (like in animals) members fill the mainsteam media with the Birther's, and those who say Obamas not a Christian(as if they knew one personally).
    He's not one of "us", who the hell do they think they are? Gods choosen religion, the only worship accepted on Gods green earth is how they epress it? And the best you have to offer Americans is the Great PanderBear, no thanks GOP, you can keep him!
    The GOP is not tolerant of religions that are different from Christian based faiths, which is sad, because our Nation stands for religious freedoms, now extreme Christians have highjacked the GOP! I'am an Independent, (in a swing state) woman voter, I'AM VOTING FOR OBAMA, a 2nd time!

    August 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  4. Jasvinder

    Ironic, that the Islamic state of Pakistan has wiped out millions of sikhs, because they are not muslims, but in the US, they are mistaken as muslims. Muslims in west, would nver wear headgear–because it's not fashionable. Sikhs do, because they are true believers of their religion. Public education is must.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  5. T.Brown

    Some call America the "Great Satan".Satan can rear his head in any country,any group and any race. l believe in protecting myself and those l love and care about BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY .ln the Bible there were David's Mighty Men who fought and killed to protect there own.What kind of mighty man or group would go into a group and murder people in prayer Supremacists are not supreme they are cowards, terriorists are just plain nuts put them together what DO YOU HAVE??? "SATAN"

    August 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • darth cheney

      Refresh my memory – when Jesus talked about what to do when you were struck on the cheek, did he say to turn the cheek or to avenge yourself BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY? I forget, you're obviously a Christian so why not remind me.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  6. cindy

    Sikhs have nothing to do with Muslims, and that shows how ignorant that skinhead was. Glad he is gone.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  7. Sy2502

    "They all wearin' them turbans. Must be a Muslim thing. Hot dang, who cares, they all look the same to me!"

    And these are the folks who feel like they belong to the master race...

    August 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • darth cheney

      Master baiters, more like...

      August 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Sikh Female Vancouver

      Oh Sy2502 –seems like you received a world class education. So is it safe to assume that you were born in a trailer park somewhere inbred and probably don't know who your father is? Oops – sorry, must be your Mom's brother... which would be your uncle. Surprised you know how to use a laptop, must have made the first trek to a public library to use one. Just to freak you out some more, the computer that you are using has been programmed by an Indian. And that call centre you are about to call to dispute your late payment charges will go to India. That math equation that you failed - all indian. Yes, we invented the 0 and if you know what that means, then you may have a slight tinge of intelligence without googling it. The ruler you beat your kid and wife with yes invented in india.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Sy2502

      Sikh Female Vancouver: you obviously have too poor and much below standards control of the English language to be in an English message board. There are things called "Dictionaries", I suggest you find yourself one, if you can, and look up "Sarcasm". That's what my post was. If your reading comprehension skills were up to par, you would have understood that I was actually criticizing the killer, not defending him. But after your gratuitously insulting reply, I almost wonder why I bother defending you and your folks.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  8. Indian

    Sikhism has no connections with Islam at all. It came from Hinduism and is a equally peaceful religion. Sikhs were foremost in fighting Islam terror in India. I know a lot of families in North India who have hindus and sikh siblings.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  9. Akr

    Very well written, however "the book" that is referred to, is not considered a book. It is actually Guru Granth sahib ji. This is the ultimate Guruji and is treated as a person would be.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  10. Reality


    Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

    "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)( As did Wade Michael Page the beyond-stupid, red-neck Christian)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
    Some added references to "tink-erbells".


    "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
    Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

    "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

    And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

    "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

    "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

    "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

    For added information see the review at:


    August 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  11. peasmaker

    Sikhs are also called as Sardars. Sardar's are nice people. Search for sardar jokes. I am sure you all would enjoy them.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • jasjit

      Sardar jokes are crude and demeaning. It is a a mainstream Hindu communities idea of poking fun at a group of people (Sikhs) without whom they would be under Islamic rule from the Mughals. If the main stream Hindu community was so strong why were they not able to get rid of the Mughals from India? Why did it take a minority religion, which to date, makes only 1.9% of Indias population, to wipe out the Mughal empire in India?

      Sikhs are a distinct people who have their own culture, history, language, scripture..all the building blocks of a separate community. They were only ruled by the British for 98 years, and even then, they played the majority role in securing freedom for present day India. Had Sikhs knowns that the present Hindutva Indian Governmetn would kill their people and then poke fun of their accomplishments, they would never have fought for such a nation.

      India may stand and condemn this act of violence, but India has attacked more Gurdwaras in one day (52), than any other nation in the world.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Krishna

      I am a Hindu and have tremendous respect for Sikhs. Do not disparage hindu community for the nutty sayings of few in this forum. Hindus and Sikhs have strong bonds and nothing can change this fact

      August 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  12. Kebos

    "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."

    And as for the atheists......they"re good already! :^)

    August 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  13. Dennis

    When my first wife died my neighbor just appeared at the cremation to give me a hug.
    That meant the world.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Ranjit Singh

    I am Christian and a white male, believe in white supremacy.
    Like to kill everyone who is not a Christian, but then there are whites who are not Christian, I will end up killing so many whites.
    I will only kill those who are not white, but then there are so many Christian who are not white. I will end up killing so many Christian.
    Oh, maybe I should kill only those wore turban and have long bearded. But then there are so many Christian and whites who wear turban or have long bear. Jesus wore turban and kept long hair non white and was long bearded too.
    I am confused.
    Maybe I should kill myself?
    I am an American and I came to America 100’s of years ago. I don’t own this land. No one has given me right or transferred a deed on my name of America.
    America belongs to everyone regardless race, color, religion, or nationality, and if I will have problem with that maybe I should look for another planet to migrate.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Wolf

      Very well said.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • essohg72


      August 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • ME II

      I can understand the anti-white-supremacist stuff, but I didn't understand the rest. Was it supposed to be anti-American?

      August 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  15. M

    Really a sad event!!!

    Sikh religion has no connection with Muslim religion. Actually it was formed from Hindu religion to fight against Muslims.
    Sikh religion came from hindu religion. Guru Nank Dev, a Hindu spiritual leader started Sikh religion. Guru Gobind Singh established Sikh army to fight against Muslims. Every Hindu family has to give their elder son to army. The army was given 5 signs i.e long hair, beard, comb, sword, and iron-bangel to distinguish from others. So this is how Sikh religion came to existence. All Sikh Gurus were Hindus.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Aks

      No, Sikhism is a separate religion with many differing points from Hinduism, the most important being the belief in one God and that all men and women are created equally, no worshiping idolatry or caste systems. Albeit some of the Guru's were born into Hindu family's as the Sikh faith was only in it's beginning phases of forming, there is no connection between Hinduism and Sikhism in terms of its tenets and to say anything different is incorrect.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • mteksolution

      I am a Hindu from India and I can tell you that Sikh people are the nicest people in the whole of India if not in the world.

      Growing up in the Indian Army , I had the opportunity to mingle daily , with Sikh people and wow God created them and then he broke the mould.

      They always take care of you, feed you and love you. BTW they also have the best tasting and the most nutritious cuisine ever.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Swed

      Go and kill yourself before you kill any innocent human by joining Hindu extremist in the name of religion you idiot

      August 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • meenusaab

      I would highly doubt that some one who is ready to give his life for his cause wont even do a little bit of research before he embarks on his most important project, he cant end up in a wrong address, he was not expecting al quaida to be hiding in sikh temple, he was there for sikh people, why? i dont know only one who knew is dead...

      August 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • M

      Yep, now it is different religion with some points differing from Hindu religion. But that's how it came to existence from Hindu religion to fight against cruelities of Muslims.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Ekam

      M......Thanks for your comment. I would request you that in future, please check the facts before you write anything, you don't know. Sikhism is a separate religion which was founded by Guru Nanak.He was born in Hindu family but did not practice Hinduism. Sikhism believes in equality of all irrespective of caste,race,color,gender.Sikhs are Saint Soldiers which means they are spiritual, recites hymns, read scriptures and when need arises they pick up the weapon and fight for weaker sections of society who could not defend themselves from any kind of injustice, torture,cruelty.Sikh would never ever hurt an innocent human.

      Most importantly every Sikh prays for the welfare of universe(Sarbat da bhala). Sikhism don't teach any kind of hatred against any religion.

      i hope, this info adds to your knowledge.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • M

      I never said "Hindu and Sikh" religion are same. Sikh religion came from Hindu religion and this is a fact. Seach for "Sikh history", you will find it. Guru Nank Dev doesn't like few rites and rituals in hindu religion so he wants to eradicate them. He was Hindu by birth. Guru gobind Singh started Sikh army (Khalsa Panth) to fight againt cruelities of Muslims.
      No religion teach hatred for others. These are few political people who brings hatred among different religions.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Sand

      Everyone should agree that Sikhism is a different religion than Hinduism.
      Though what M said is also correct. The initial Gurus came from Hinduism and later most of the soldiers were elder sons born into Hindu families. Sort of every family had to contribute to protect from invaders...

      August 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  16. Camty

    The Sikhs are people mistaken for Muslims by the racist GOP base that hates all religions–except Christianity. The racist base of the GOP hate Muslims more because of 9/11 and they still think Obama is a Muslim. This is why the right winger and FORMER white-power band member decided to attack the Sikhs because they wore turbans and he thought they were Muslims because only Muslims wear turbans in their sick sad world.

    And of course, the GOP is not racist....only democrats are racist because they started the Klan 150 ago and his white-power band performed in dive bars frequented by racist democrats. All right wingers have friends of different races, gay, women, and they embrace all faiths and do not stage protests at Mosques.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Steve

      To Camty, the anti-republican race baiter: Oh, go spew your hateful talk somewhere else. As a conservative that has been driven to the Republican party by the liberal democrats, I know that conservatives promote freedom of religion and abhor violence in the name of religion. The murderer has been caught and will be convicted. Hope he rots in jail for life. The only thing you have right in your invective is that Sikh's are confused as Muslims frequently, but by most americans, not just Republicans.

      I have no idea what you are trying to say in that second paragraph.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  17. Bill Maher Nails It

    There might have been a different result had this murderer watched this video first.


    August 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Presto88

      Bill Maher is an idiot!! I have seen and heard enough of that blow-hard. Why would I want to listen to him some more?

      August 6, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  18. yenn her

    Nice teachings.......love is the key Jesus is the way...

    August 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • John

      Based on what? Your faith? How is your faith any different than the Sikhs' faith, or faith in Allah, or anything else?

      Even if we knew for fact that there is actually one true religion, which is not rational but let's say that it's true, all believers are in the minority. Any believer of any religion must assume, statistically, they are wrong and are going to some other religion's version of hell.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Camty

      This is the type of right-wing nonsense that led the the racist white-power band member to attack these people in their place of worship. Thanks for proving the point people who are tolerant of "others" have been making all day. Gold medal for you!!!!!!!!!

      August 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  19. T.Brown

    In 1985 l met this lndian man who wore a turban and told me he was a Sikh.We worked at a flower farm he fulltime, me part time . This man was a gentleman he spoke softly but with authority we spoke about his growing up in lndia and my growing up black in America. We had similar experiences, THIS MAN TAUGHT ME TO HAVE PEACE WITHIN MYSELF even though there was much preduice around us.l would come to work early and just watch him walking through the garden in a meditative state and would ask him questions about this or that . I remember hating wasps and bees that would fly by and would try and kill them every chance l got...he stopped me and said why agrivate those around you and bring attention of the others to swarm up and attack you...fade in and out between them and watch them give you way, be at peace everything has it's place and space..for the most part from what l know these Sikh are gentle people unlike some other lndian groups who are pushy and a pain in the ass. l pray peace for them.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Ramnath Prasad Goenka

      Wow! so true. An absolute description of the reality. Funny but true.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Jane2u

      There are pushy and pain in the *** people in every community including yours and mine...

      August 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  20. SaddenedAmerican

    There is nothing "supreme" about white supremicists or Hindu supremicists or Arab supremicists or Hutu supremicists. It's one thing to celebrate your culture, but that does not make it supreme. I for one love many cultures. There is so much beauty in seeing the different takes on humanity.

    And then we have these idiots. We should stop calling these people supremicists. They are really inferiorists. They have an inferiority complex clearly. Their so lacking in confidence in their own culture they feel threatened by everyone else's. They end up so lacking in self confidence they lose the ability to recognize humanity.

    I'm saddened and ashamed that any American, particularly a former soldier, would not hold dear the principle our country was founded on "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." I hold this supreme.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Paula

      Very well said.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • steph

      Thank you.....very well said!

      August 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Very well put. What our Maker truly meant for our lives.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
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About this blog

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.