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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. Bixy Keen

    What's really behind the killings? Idolatry, the basis of all sins. All believers are idolators, worshiping the creations of man. The Lord is what Is. Have no other God.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      You mean like the thousands of other gods that men created?

      August 6, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Bixy Keen

      W – T – F ??!?!?

      Peace...

      August 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  2. waaaaateverrr

    Sikhiism has a modern approach to religion without all the fairy tales and hocus pocus. Expect this incident to cause many people to discover Sikhiism.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Do they believe in one or more imaginary beings for which there is no factual vidence? If yes, their beliefs can hardly be called modern.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Harsh Truth

      Did everyone forget when sikh extremists killed 38 innocent hindus selectively on a bus enroute to a hindu pilgrimage in 1987 ?
      I ask people from this peaceful Sikh religion preachers openly as why were they killed if Sikh religion preaches peace? .peaceful religion? Seriously?....The first guruNanak came from Hindu family & these sikhs killed their own innocent Hindus where their first Guru originated from???? If you want people to trust your religion a little bit, first start going to Churches,Hindu temples & Mosques t & start loving people from other religion & then people may start thinking good about you....Here is the news to support my words if someone thinks differently.
      http://articles.philly.com/1987-07-07/news/26201526_1_punjab-khalistan-commando-force-sikh

      August 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • chander

      If bhindranwale is still alive then what is this? Isn't it fairy tale?

      August 6, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • waaaaateverrr

      sikhiism believes in god. But god is indescribable. God is the collective conciousness of the universe. Heaven and hell are states of mind rather than physical places.

      If you dont believe that consiousness prevades all of matter, than I suggest you study up on a little quantum mechanics experiment known as the double slit experiment dealing with wave particle duality of subatomic particles.

      Nanak sad rightly so, 500 years ago that life exists everywhere. He called into question a hindu vegetarian priest and said to him, the wood you use to burn the holi fire with contains countless microorganisms. How can you claim you have never killed a living thing.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Ingenious2

      @Harsh Truth / Chander

      Yes everyone remember that, but you need to sharpen your memory first and needs to do some research on before you say anything. My first advise to you is buy a book "Open Secrets" which is banned in India by Indian Government. This book was written by a retired indian intelligence officer. These extremist were raised by Sanjay Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh to defeat Akali Government. There are proofs that Bhindrawala was one of Gandhi's puppets but he realized pretty soon what is going on. There is also an evidence that he was paid by Indira Gandhi. Indian government supplied the russian weapons to these extremists but was labeled as ISI. There were events which occurred 9 years before 1987 massacre. 1) 1978, innocent sikhs were killed by nirankaris (Also one of Sanjay Gandhi's puppets). 2) 1984, 1000s of innocent sikhs were murdered by indian government without giving them chance to leave the complex. why these people were killed if bhindrawala was only target. 3. 125,000 youth is missing since 1984 in punjab, They were murdered by police/ army in fake encounters.

      So please do not mix religion and politics. That's what i love about America. They kept politics and church separate....

      August 7, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • jacob

      ok peaceful hindu. what is this then
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBw91wtO2AU&w=640&h=360]

      August 10, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  3. waaaaateverrr

    Sikhiism is the ONLY monotheistic religion in the world. All of the ancient old religions believe in an anti god (satan) who does the evil things. In sikhiism one accepts god's will even in times of misfortune.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • chander

      Then why are you guys protesting and crying so loudly?

      August 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • tallulah13

      They are protesting and crying because no matter what religion they follow, they are still human.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  4. J Schultz

    God Bless all the family's of those lost in Oak Creek WI. I did research on the Slkh religion. They are a peaceful group that believes in equally. How wrong for this terrible thing to happen. Pray for them......

    August 6, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • John

      Prayer to imaginary gods does nothing. You might as well have a tea party with stuffed animals. I will write to them personally, offering my sincere condolences. I hope many others do the same.

      No god or religion can justify such an antipathy of violence, even Christianity.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  5. Pam

    The message of all religions is to be compassionate and to live harmoniously and gracefully. Celebrate life together. Never be a cookie cutter. Be sympathetic and graceful towards all human beings. Any religion is not just a religion but a way of life. How we apply the teachings of our religion into our daily lives, so that we can protect and save other human beings. We can live peacefully. We are sorry for people's limited knowledge and ignorance about other religions. Only fools say "My God is Superior than Yours" or "My faith is better than yours". No religion ever teaches you to be violent. Religions must be tolerated...for every man must get to heaven in his own way. According to Paulo Coelho's Blog, " Be careful to leave your sons and daughters well instructed rather than rich for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  6. ArthurP

    Why the condemnation? He was just doing as God commanded.

    If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you ... Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die. - Deuteronomy 13:6-10

    August 6, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  7. chander

    Sikhs are not peaceful religion as claimed by many sikhs here since yesterday. Any sort of violence is deploreabl in a civilized society, but when sikhs themselves preach hatered against the others it is okay, but not when they are the victims. Much he and cry has been raised by sikhs against hindus committing 'genocide' in Inda, but they forget what they are preaching in their temples in US and elsewhere. The latest incident was murder of a low cast hindu leader in Vienna, Austria, a couple of years ago. Please seach for "Vienna ravidas gurudwara attack" on youtube and see related videos too.
    Also modern sikhs claim that they are separate from Hindus, where they originate from, but they forget the muslims who used to kill the newly baptized sikhs from hindus everyday, their numbers were swelling despite killings by muslims due to the facts that hindus were converting their sons to sikhism to fight muslims at a higher rate. If sikhs claim that their numbers were going up due to the sacrifice or the heroics of any guru, they are still living in fool's paradise, like always. What today's sikh is following, is akali religion and not sikhism. If they claim they are peace loving creatures then please watch this video;

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DICDYAX_O1g&w=640&h=360]
    Where the modern guru of sikhs say that he will slaughter 5000 (five thousand) hindus in one hour if his vehicle impounded by police, is not released in one hour.
    You be the judge, if someone else is being killed it is okay, but when they are punished for celebrating the death of a Prime minister, it is genocide.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • J Schultz

      What was that supposed to be? Get real

      August 6, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Durga

      I'm a Hindu, Sikhism is a religion of peace. It came about 500yrs back as a group against Muslims. Like Buddhism ,sikhism is an offshoot of Hinduism. Pakistan with the help of America tried to confuse young sikhs and started demanding separate state but all those problems are long over and they are peaceful and hardworking people.Pleace do not spread lies.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • John

      I have an idea: let's replace all religion with peace and love.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  8. ArthurP

    America's great problem solver. The gun.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Kanageloa

      The great equalizer if you have the courage.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • ArthurP

      The shooter had a lot of courage then.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  9. Erin

    This past june I graduated from a catholic school in Canada. As a part of our graduation requirements, we are supposed to study world religions in our religious studies classes. I see so much ignorance on this comment thread. Before you critique and pass judgement, one must first gain an understanding of differing ideologies and faiths. The biggest thing I took from twelve years of catholic education is that God does not discriminate. He listens to all prayers no matter what denomination.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      What you took from 12 years of brainwashing is that there is a god, when no one actually knows that there is one. Thousands of gods have been created by man...why do you think yours is real?

      August 6, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Erin

      Certainly not brainwashing. I was free to choose my faith. I have concrete proof that there is a God. I dont need any. I feel that, through prayer, contemplation and questioning, that God is present, especially where least expected!

      August 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Erin

      *no concrete proof

      sorry 🙂

      August 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • John

      @Erin, which god do you feel present? How do you know it is not Allah? Do you allow the possibility it could be a god not created by mankind out of the myths of organized religions?

      August 6, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      So of the thousands of gods man has created, yours included, you asre sure that yours is the one true god?

      What are the names of the planets?

      What are the names of the days of the week?

      Named after gods that we accept as myths now, but once were just as revered as your flavor of the millenium.
      Men wrote your bible, men told you to believe or lse, men created all of the rituals you now perform...just as man has alwas done...

      Again I ask, why do you accept this one out of the thousands of gods men has created?
      If you understand anything abot psychology, brainwashing is the proper term for the "education" and the bible is , by definition, propoganda.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Erin

      I feel that God has made a huge difference in my life. I am still only a kid, but I feel his spirit through the Eucharist. I am not being critical of your beliefs. I request that you grant me that same respect.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Erin
      Simply asking why you believe in this one god out of the thousands that have be created.

      If you cannot explain your belief, is it true belief or is it easier to just go along with the choir?

      August 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Erin

      The thing about it is, God wasn't created by man. I believe that man was created by God. I don't see my faith as "going along with the choir." Catholic schools in Canada, at least in my provinces are paid for by the government. As long as there is a demand, the government will pay for school districts based on religious beliefs. I am one of the few kids at my school who attended mass on a regular basis. I did feel some judgement from others for my faith. I also see myself as more of a liberal when it comes to my faith. Most of my friends that do practice are much more conservative beliefs. I chose catholicism out of my own free will.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  10. Sherri

    If anyone would like to send a note of condolence, the address for the temple is: Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, 7512 S. Howell Ave., Oak Creek WI 53154
    I think it would be great if they were inundated by notes/cards of sympathy. Let the members know that others are thinking of them.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Erin

      Sherri,
      Thanks for passing that Information along. I am sure that the community will appreciate the support!

      August 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • John

      Thank you!

      August 6, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  11. xyz

    Sikhism is NOT i repeat NOT monotheistic!!!!

    August 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Blake.

      It is more of a panantheistic but certainly not polytheist

      August 6, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  12. Maria

    I'm fairly certain Sikhism is not the 5th largest religion in the world – a little fact checking needed?

    August 6, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • waaaaateverrr

      fifth largest by number of adherents. The only strictly monotheistic religion in the world. All other religions beleive in an anti god (Satan) as well as god.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  13. sanity

    A US governor is a Sikh–Haley of SC. I wonder why CNN didn't mention it...

    August 6, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  14. alumette

    I think most Sikhs are peaceful people who love their families and friends as they enjoy worshiping their religion, yet, I can recall two particular Sikhs bodyguards of Indira Gandhi who had no problem slaughtering her on the grounds of her property. Peaceful people ? sure, but there is always a crazed person or two who will be willing to show the world a different side. Humans have isolated violent behavior and we may as well accept that reality.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • jay

      yaa they did gun down indira gandhi, but maybe u dnt know she blew up the golden temple, slaughter 100s of innocent men women and children. she had it coming.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  15. Lu Ann

    Sounds like a nice religion – too bad the shooter didn't check out the difference between Sikh and Muslim before he decided on a massacre. God bless those that died and sending prayers to those hurt and friends and family suffering.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Bill Maher Nails It

      While he was at it he could have checked out Christian beliefs:

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAvDtPz33w0&w=640&h=360]

      August 6, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  16. p gibson

    the world's fifth most popular religion.

    Of course most Americans can manage counting up to three; four maybe.

    But five – it looks like you're going to have to educate the Americans one more time on the"other" religions not like yours.......(five IS a high number).

    So you may ask, "wouldn't it be easier if we just massacred everyone else so we wouldn't have to count to five ?"

    Yes, that's the basic plan for the Americans. They did it to the Native Americans about 1000 years ago – that was CLEARLY a good use of politics, shame, basically running them all over the country until they died of exhaustion. No "pagans" to deal with, probably; a clean slate.

    That worked really well, also.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Guest2

      Actually, Sikh's are yet another religion that secular America hates. You hear all the time the negative comments by Americans about "7/11 store owners, cab drivers, call center operators". America will eventually hate them just like it's starting to hate Christians, Muslims, and jews. If you believe in God, you are to be hated here...It's just the way we are these days...

      August 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Grampa

      Response to Guest2:

      " If you believe in God, you are to be hated here...It's just the way we are these days..."

      Only by others who believe in God. I don't see American Athiests going around slaughtering people.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  17. peasmaker

    Chinese are going to overtake America in every aspect. China the Great.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • alumette

      Your opinion. They are driven by competing with the West as they enjoy showing they are better. Not so.....they kill innocent animals without scruples or conscience. That shows a psychopathic persona. Not a good thing. In the end, they will not win, anything. Money is a transient and elusive commodity. It comes and goes. Humanity stays.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  18. M

    Husein Obama,

    what a Msulim is:

    A person who kills innocent people without even thinking any thing.
    Has no believe in humanity.
    Treats ladies as animals.
    Keeps as many wives as they want.

    Thanks to american who teach these muslims a good leason and to Osama bin Laden, he should have been killed to pieces (A real muslim creep)

    August 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • M.

      Dude, You are an as*. I'm ashamed to even share the first letter of my name with you.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Aaron_of_Portsmouth

      What is a prejudiced person? A person who insists on prejudging a whole group based on the action of a minority.(See also stereotyping).
      What is a religiously intolerant person? A person who insists on painting an entire religion with one broad stroke of a crooked paint brush.
      As a Baha'i, I could theretically say all Muslims are bad because of the treatment of Baha'is in Iran-but that's untrue and therefore I won't. As a black person, I could say all white people are evil based on the practice of slavery and lynchings in this country-but that is so far from the truth, and so I won't.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Chat Pata

      Dude. You are fogetting that it was a Christian that killed these Sikhs. The same bloody religion that killed 6 million jews. The same bloody religion that wiped out Red Indians from North America and South America. The same bloody religion that wiped out Bushmen from New Zealand. The same bloody religion that wiped out aboriginals from Australia. The same bloody religion that massacred millions in Africa, and enslaved the survivors to be sold like cattle. This was not the first instance of Christian killing of Sikhs. During the British rule General Dyer had ordered the encircling of a Sikh procession at Jadianwala Bagh, and killed hundreds of unarmed Sikhs in cold blood.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • savvybeoche

      you're an awful person!

      August 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • ToniD

      Willful ignorance is not, and has never been, an American value.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Jerry

      @Chat
      Bushmen are from Africa. Maoris are from New Zealand.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  19. weeellll yes.

    folks that should be living in india.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • James

      Where would christians be living then, in what is now called Iraq? Certainly not in America according to your logic.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • M.

      By your logics you shouldn't live in the US either unless you are a native American.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • savvybeoche

      you're an awful person, too!

      August 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  20. James

    The time to educate people on religions is at school and at home. Instead of banning all religious teaching or mention of religion/god in school, there should be a course in comparative religion so that everybody has an understanding of religions that are different to his/her own and also learn to respect other religions.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • J

      Excellent point. Thank you! It would be wonderful to educate everyone about all religions. Then, people would realize they are all variations on the same exact theme.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • M.

      Good point. i was actually able to take a philosophy class that did teach that.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Karam

      i found the net to be a great starting point
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/

      August 6, 2012 at 7:34 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.