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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.

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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. Ian

    its sad to see that "god" in this country is primarily money and power. everyone's getting by dissing the rich of course because they wish they were rich. then they drink to feel better about themselves.

    August 7, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  2. Ian

    the idiot that wrote the bible is the unfailable truth is a dimwit...the bible has been changed over and over to fit the people..if you scare the people they wont show up and put money in the basket. i love these megachurches, non profit but the pastor makes $1M a year cuz hes a man of god, what a joke...

    August 7, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Who invited me?

      But of course.

      why else would they put "In god we trust" on our money?

      August 7, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Dee

      Such a one-sided argument. Anyone and everyone should google what siqhs have done to the world. THEN comment.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  3. Das

    Try to know the heart of a person not the body,, because your soul is connected to that heart not to the body and looks,,

    August 7, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  4. N

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy09cXwsz6w&w=640&h=360]

    August 7, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  5. N

    Watch Goja warrior video to understand how intelligent sikhs are

    August 7, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  6. Vijay

    Number of years Sikhs have been fighting Islamic Extremism : 300

    Number of Sikhs died in World War I and II fighting on the side of Americans : 83,005

    August 6, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  7. Jack

    Muslims are the problem. Always will be. Saudi Barbaria and Pakistan lead the herd.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • John

      Religion is the problem.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  8. Matthew

    Sikhs don´t believe in Jesus Christ, so they are worthless.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • pepsee

      You are talking like a Muslim and a probable terrorist.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Until you can prove that the god you believe in actually exists, you are in no position to judge.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Matthew

      Anyone who denies the existance of Jesus is worthless. I know because the Bible tells me so, and the Bible is the infallable truth, because it says that it is, and Jesus says so, and because the Bible says Jesus is right, and Jesus says the Bible is right.

      Because I totally delude myself I am incapable of seeing how this is circular logic and how it applies of every single religion in existance and that the faith that I was born into is exactly the same irrational bullshit that every other religion is.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • CC

      Why on earth are you going around and being hateful and sounding like an ignorant and intolerant fool????? People like you are the problem.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • A kaur

      Did Jesus Christ teach you that? I don't think so.

      August 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  9. Sikh husband

    Sikhism was founded because Hindus and Muslims were constantly fighting. Muslims were intolerant and destroyed Hindu temples, idols, images, etc.

    Thank God I left Islamic country for the U.S. for "freedom". Islam is violence.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Johnny

      Lies, you must know that the Hindus were also mad because the Muslims ate meat. State both sides of the story. The Hindus drove out the Muslims. They were both fighting with each other.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  10. Believe in God

    Sikhism is a cult religion, similar to Islam. They even look like Muslims!

    August 6, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • tallulah13

      All religions are cults, but in the United States, people are free to worship (or not worship) as they will.

      By the way, trying to rationalize hatred for a certain group based on their appearance is a cowardly, dishonest act.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Maya

      They "look" like Muslims? What does a Muslim look like?

      All religions are cults. Both Islam and Christianity are death-centered and degrade humanity.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Donjuvi

      And you? You are a Good Christian? Yes/? Because like the Sikhs, Jesus taught to love your neighbor and care for the poor. In essence social Justice. OH, wait you thought hate was a christian value.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Reply to Believe in God

      Apparently, you don't believe in anything – such as reading.

      If you knew any history, you would have found that Sikhs are good people. They helped in India against the the Muslims who started invading India from the Middle East. The brave and strong men usually from the state of punjab are generally the Sikhs. They defended India from the Mogul raiders and were tortured horribly protecting Hindus. For their services, the Moguls tortured these men dreadfully – boiling them in oil, quartering them etc etc.

      SO PLEASE DONT be such a jerk and try to actually read something in your life.

      "The Sikh Khalsa rise to power began in the 17th century during a time of growing militancy against Muslim rule. The creation of a Sikh Empire began when Guru Gobind Singh sent his brave Sikh general, Banda Singh Bahadur along with some hundred Singhs to punish those who had committed atrocities against Pir Buddhu Shah and avenge the murder of his youngest sons. Banda Singh, with a large group of Sikhs, advanced towards the main Muslim Mughal city of Sirhind and, following the instructions of the guru, punished all the culprits. "

      August 6, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • pepsee

      Hey Believe in god, you sound so uneducated.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • moon

      you are right.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Sikh Female Vancouver

      U are one idiot. Sikh's and Muslims look like 'white people' . Do you know Sikhs are caucasians. They are considered indo-caucasian and your sorry ass is considered anglo-caucasian. the only thing that separates you and me is the colour of our skin. Google it if you wish. If you take away my skin colour and switch it to white I will look like a white person. Caucasian is based on physical features and bone structure not on colour. Get an education you dumb American. Look beyond your 50 some states. We invented the 0, the ruler to whoop your ass, any genius mathematical equation. and the computer you are using, yes my fellow indians programmed it. go ahead and complain about me or anyone and you will receive an Indian on the other end of the telephone ready to create any accent to appease your sorry self. They can speak with a Boston accent, NY Accent, Cali acccent or for you - even a trailer trash accent with the sound of a lisp with a few teeth missing.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  11. Jack Cooper

    Article says Sikhs believe "work hard and never beg".
    So what does Sikhism say about welfare fraud?

    August 6, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • tallulah13

      If you're worried about welfare fraud, you should look into the more fundamental branches of mormonism.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Sikh Female Vancouver

      U are one idiot. Sikh's and Muslims look like 'white people' . Do you know Sikhs are caucasians. They are considered indo-caucasian and your sorry ass is considered anglo-caucasian. the only thing that separates you and me is the colour of our skin. Google it if you wish. If you take away my skin colour and switch it to white I will look like a white person. Caucasian is based on physical features and bone structure not on colour. Get an education you dumb American. Look beyond your 50 some states. We invented the 0, the ruler to whoop your ass, any genius mathematical equation. and the computer you are using, yes my fellow indians programmed it. go ahead and complain about me or anyone and you will receive an Indian on the other end of the telephone ready to create any accent to appease your sorry self. They can speak with a Boston accent, NY Accent, Cali acccent or for you – even a trailer trash accent with the sound of a lisp with a few teeth missing.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  12. waaaaateverrr

    atheists fear sikhiism because its a scientific modern religion that they cant fire their conventional, you guys believe in fairy tales shots at

    🙂

    no fairy tales in sikhiism. Scientifically accurate since 1469

    🙂

    August 6, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Sorry, sparky, this atheist doesn't fear sikhism or any other religion. As an American, I support religious freedom, even as you insult me. Not the best way to make friends.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • waaaaateverrr

      sikhiism supports your right to not believe in god tellulah. However, atheists should take a look at Sikhiism as they have a modern idea of god and the concepts of heaven and hell are states of mental being rather than physical places.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      waaaaaaat t f
      A modern view of mythical beings created by men millenia ago is an oxymoron.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I find what I've heard about sikhism to be compelling. But my disbelief in (any) god is not something I can change without evidence. I seek truth, and without evidence there are no true answers.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Balrog

      You don't seem all nice with your atheist baiting. That alone makes not want to be a Sikh.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Maya

      Believing in God is not "scientific" because the existence of God is an untestable hypothesis.

      As an atheist, I do not fear Sikhism. I don't have any problem with religious people unless they try to get public funds to support their religion or try to legislate their morality.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • CJA

      Why would an atheist fear any religion? Actually Sikhs make more sense than most others.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • John

      Anyone who thinks a religion is either modern or scientific is in complete denial.
      Religion is the anti<bthesis of science and rational thought.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • God

      What is scientific having long hair?

      August 7, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  13. waaaaateverrr

    nanak, the founder of sikhiism was born into a hindu family, however he rebelled against hindu beliefs and the worshipping of idols.

    if being born in a hindu family would make nanak hindu, than jesus should be considered jewish.

    being born in a family that believes in a certain religion has no link to what you practice n preach.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • True American

      .what's wrong with Chander's video? In the video, the modern sikh guru Bhindrawala is preaching to kill 5000 hindus if Govt doesn't release the impounded vehicle in an hour. Here's the video again in case America missed it.
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DICDYAX_O1g&w=640&h=360]
      Bottom Line....Sikhs need to start showing love to other religions by visiting Churches, Hindu Temples & mosques if they want are so peaceful !! I have never seen a Sikh person going to a Hindu Temple from where their religion has originated..If sikhism can't respect their mother....ummmm.....sorry it won't have respect from other religions !

      August 6, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • waaaaateverrr

      True american,
      you are chander

      to be honest with you

      the positive coverage the sikhs and their exemplary lives are receiving worldwide today. Six sikhs would gladly give their lives up for that exposure. These six have sacrificed for the future of the sikh philosophy. The future of the sikh philosophy is in America and the western world. Your attempts to eliminate it have failed in India. 🙂

      August 6, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • @TrueAmerican and Chander

      You need to get your facts straight. Bhindrawala was not a Sikh religious leader nor a "modern Sikh guru". He was a Sikh terrorist with extreme views. Why do you think the Indian gov was after him? Sure he cried that Hindus needed to be killed, but he did not what so ever represent the Sikh people.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • CJA

      You mean Jesus was NOT Jewish? I think most people think he was. The stories we have about him have him doing all kinds of jewish things like passover.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • chander

      So if you revolt against your father, it is not your father anymore. You were fallen from the sky, not born

      August 6, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  14. waaaaateverrr

    this incident woke up the sleeping giant

    the sikh religion

    Sikhiism has escaped Indian govts attempts to persecute and eliminate it

    August 6, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • moon

      so what will sleeping giant do now. Kill americans as they killed innocent and and unarmed hindus in India.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  15. waaaaateverrr

    do you see anyone crying or protesting chander?

    perhaps this was god's will that someone would be offended by the sikh turban so much that they would shoot a sikh philosophy center thereby giving national attention to a philosophy that was being kept under covers because of the language barrier.

    All sikhs accept this as a day that America woke up to the Sikh philosophy. Not a day of mourning. I have seen the victim's families being interviewed. Its the reporters that cry. not their next of kinnnn

    August 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Bill Maher Nails It

      Perhaps you are a fucking asshole.

      Today is a day of mourning because innocent lives were lost due to an ignorant shithead who was so arrogant to think he was born into a part of the world that happened to choose the one true religion, and that violence, contrary to his own religion, could fix human suffering.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • pepsee

      What a stupid guy this whatever is.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  16. True American

    Most of us would strongly agree with Chander's messages after watching the video he posted below ...Good job chander.....I also want to see Sikhs first start visiting Churches,Mosques & Hindu temples.Thanks for bringing the truth in front of everyone !

    August 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Bill Maher Nails It

      My name is not Chander, but thank you!

      August 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • waaaaateverrr

      you dont even have to enter sikh gurudwara,

      you can read about and apply sikh philosophy to your life just by reading about it online

      🙂

      August 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Actually, "True" American, you can only speak for yourself. Stop trying to claim authority you don't have.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  17. JohnnyYuma61

    Sikh and tired

    August 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  18. I have an idea:

    Let's replace all religion with peace and love. 

    August 6, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • tallulah13

      That is a beautiful thought, but sadly religious fanatics of every stripe prefer more destructive actions.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • pepsee

      I am your ally.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • John

      @Pepsee, love needs no allies.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  19. Bill Maher Nails It

    The world would be a better place if more people watched this short clip.

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

    August 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  20. waaaaateverrr

    Nanak was also the man who said the earth is not the center of the universe.
    He also tried to explain to people that their are countless earths and planets at a a time when saying this was illegal because it contradicted the ancient religions (hinduism, christianity, and islam) view of the universe.

    Sikhiism does not fear science, but considers it a study of god's endless creation.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:24 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.