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. llk

    All of this discussion is missing the human tragedy of the killings. I wish for love and compassion for everyone affected by this act of hate and intolerance. And also pray for the highest good for all.

    August 7, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  2. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I find it ironic that this white supremacist that was so proud to display a swastika and uphold the doctrines of Adolph Hitler would also be a stern supporter of Mitt Romney who is now corting the Jewish vote. Mitpocrisy.

    August 7, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • PimpBot2000

      So if I support Romney, I am a racist also? The far left condems the treatment by Israel of the citizens of Palestine, so Carter is anti semitic by your standards.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  3. Dino

    "The Army trained Page first as a mechanic for the Hawk anti-aircraft missile system, then as a psychological warfare specialist" He was trained in psyop, coercive persuasion, mind control. Part of the "training" most likely involved mind altering drugs, hallucinogens. This shooting comes only weeks after a person involved in a neuroscience doctoral program shoots up a movie theater.

    August 7, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • brian

      Dino, PsyOps doesn't include "mind control" and "coercive persuasion." It's more about PR – dropping flyers on the enemy urging them to surrender, things like that.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  4. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Wade is just one less vote for Mitt Robmoney and the domestic terrorist establishment better know as the GOT militia.

    August 7, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  5. palintwit

    I'd rather live next door to a Sikh than a teabagger anyday. Teabaggers don't cut their lawns and they like to defecate in their shrubbery.

    August 7, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  6. TG

    Sikhs are hindus who try to pretend that they are not Indians. They live in a state that is a part of India but yet I am amazed that they feel that they are different from Hindus. Whatever happened in Wisconsin was a tragedy but these Sikhs set themselves up by not giving up their turbans and seclude themselves. They can asssimilate themselves in the culture and be proud that India has given them a place to live and many top positions in India are held by sikhs but they don't want to be called Indians. So next time somebody talks about Sikhs, they are hindus who worship a hindu " Gurunanak Siingh"

    August 7, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Jennifer

      They ARE NOT hindu's, its a different religion. Pick up a book for once you hateful mormon and learn the difference....

      August 7, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Liberal

      TG: If they were born here, then they are American and have the right to wear whatever they want and pray however they wish. THAT is the American way. Your insisting they need to stop wearing their turbans and assimulate themselves into our society is as ignorant as ignorant gets. If I went to live in India, I would not stop wearing my Western dress. Why not? Because I prefer my Western dress and as a human being it is my right to wear whatever I wish to wear. Just because I wouldn't wear a Sari, doesn't make me a criminal or a potential murderer. It just makes me...ME. If anyone has a problem with that...then...that is really their problem.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Danger Kitty

      You're a disgusting piece of work.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • sikh

      You are hindu idiot. You are still a dirty Hindu because you behind was saved by Sikhs from Muslims rulers during the Mugal Raj. Be thankful to Sikhs that India is still a Hindu country.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • sb226

      TG I would like you to stop wearing your redneck confederate flag hat and mullet. Please learn to blend in and be Ameracuhn! That's what being born in this country means. It's all about conforming.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • geta

      Hello you are wrong .....not one world is true that you write...when in India Hindu people treat other lower cast people like they have any kind HIV they acutely hate them ..They dont sit with them or even talk with them...I dont know why some HIndu people want take a credit from Sikh put under their own... Sike who treat all people same..sikh love Hindu and Muslim or Christan Jews
      Too all people ......>please try to read Sikh holy book GURU GRANT SAHIB

      August 7, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Paresh Joshi

      Growing in India I had so many sikh friends,neighbours in Mumbai. They are such a friendly and amicable people.
      I really feel this incident as one in family. I am also surprized at so many antiseminal remarks pretending to be coming from Hindu indians. Not sure who is trying so hard to spread the hate.
      Heartfelt condolences to the family of victims.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  7. The Yokel

    A number of you here have commented on the history of the Sikhs. One said they protected the Hindus from the Muslims (but failed to mention the history of the Moghul Empire that tried to conquer India). Another mentioned the Air India bombing ( 9/11 makes ALL Muslims evil?) and then there is one that mentioned Indira Gandhi's assassination (why pray tell was she assassinated but for the attacks on the Golden Temple). Each religion in its history has faced oppression one way or another. The Moghul Empire were beheading people,sawing them in half by way of scaring people to convert. Sikhs were of the warrior clan that took up arms to fight the Moghul Empire. The aeroplane bombing was a terrorist act no doubt (just like the Munich Olympics Massacre or the 9/11 incident or even this attack by white supremist are all twisted acts of violence in the name of religion but never EVER condoned by the religion it is said to represent. Heck we can go back all the way to the Crusades, also an act in the name of religion but not condone by the Church but by the people that ruled at the time. One person mentioned the Kirpan (the dagger) again have you seen this 3 inch dagger?it is a symbol of the warrior similar to the cross that Christians wear (a symbol of Jesus Christ dying for our sins). Where Christianity was a religion of peace that was in a time of war similarly Sikhism was a religion of warriors in a time of oppression. Now don't get me wrong but Sikhs were actually farmers when they started out. Just that the Moghul war was what shot them to prominence as a warrior clan that even caused the Sikh till today be involved in wars (WW2 the British used them very well) (today a lot of security guards,bouncers,policemen,army personnel are Sikhs). So yes, you have your points regarding the violent upbringing of a religion but then which other religion allows you home and board even if you are a Muslim (the so-called sworn enemy of Sikhism?).

    August 7, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Elizabeth

      The warrior caste in India had centuries of training. Sikhs see everybody as equal, but many are descended from the warrior caste, as are the gypsies, who left India, and speak a language based on Punjabi. It might be a good idea for Americans, all Americans, to learn something about all the major religions. That doesn't mean convert, but just know what your neighbors are thinking and doing. When the Supreme Court enforced ignorance, it was going to cause strife, and sooner or later death. Culture and religion must be in our school curriculums. Many people also do not know that Sikh doctors in the United States are some of the few who will see Medicaid patients because of their belief in service to others. Every doctor takes an oath of service, but the Sikhs actually do it. Every Christian takes an oath of service at their Baptism and if they attend either a foot-washing service or even Holy Communion, but how many actually do it? The Sikhs offer free food to any person, but lots of ignorant Americans can't tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim. Just beware, this peaceful group of people also has a few fringe fanatics, and they have centuries of warrior training.

      August 7, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  8. Lo

    Uncontrolled male aggression is creating an unpredictable and chaotic world.

    August 7, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Jennifer

      it wasn't religion the guy was a skinhead...

      August 7, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • John

      Then why did the shooter talk about a religious war?

      August 7, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  9. Bill Maher Nails It


    August 7, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • anthony


      August 7, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • LarryB

      I don't even like Maher. He's too obnoxious for my taste, so I don't listen much to him. However, he hit a home run with this one!

      August 7, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  10. Reality

    The brutal effects of significant stupidity!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 7, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Liberal

      Unfortunately, there are far too many uneducated Americans who have given up critical thinking for playing follow the greedy 1% lying leaders. Hence, all the wars and hatred in this country amongst the so-called "Christians" for anyone that is not a Christian or their BRAND of Christianity. Fortunately, there are true Christians who believe and practice Jesus' teachings..."LOVE THEY NEIGHBOR". The Right-Wing Republicans and the Tea Baggers have hijacked the Christian religion and turned it into a hateful war machine against women and anyone that is not like them.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Liberal

      Unfortunately, there are far too many uneducated Americans who have given up critical thinking for playing follow the greedy 1% lying leaders. Hence, all the wars and hatred in this country practiced by the so-called "Christians" for anyone that is not a Christian or their BRAND of Christianity. Fortunately, there are true Christians who believe and practice Jesus' teachings..."LOVE THEY NEIGHBOR". The Right-Wing Republicans and the Tea Baggers have hijacked the Christian religion and turned it into a hateful war machine against the middle class, the poor and women of our country and anyone that is not like them.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  11. Newyorker

    Wait, so not all turban-wearers are Muslims? 10 years after 9-11 and dumb as sh!t white supremacists still pick on the dude with the turban. Sheesh.

    August 7, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • LarryB

      Doesn't this sort of prove that "white supremacy" is a fallacy? The Sikhs come out of this looking a lot more noble than we whites do.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  12. j0eschm0e

    Sikhs, he says, are taught two other important things in addition to serving others and serving God: Work hard and never beg.....
    I guess wade page was a lazy liberal and didnt want to work hard.

    August 7, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • julibear

      wow, Joe, really? Really? So many things wrong with that, starting with untrue and inappropriate.

      August 7, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • anthony

      it sounds to me he was more of a 2nd amendment chest pounding tea bagger republican then a liberal

      August 7, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Liberal

      JoeShmoe: I am Liberal/Progressive and have been a hard worker my entire life and have never begged for anything. Never needed to because I HAVE worked hard my entire life. The difference between you and me is...I am educated. It is apparent Wade Page believed the Muslims were the evil-doers of 9/11. He couldn't have been more wrong but, if he was right, that would make him no different than them.

      On another note: My deepest condolences to the victims of this Sikh community. This is America, where people of all religions have the right to worship here without being harassed. Anyone that does not agree with this is very UN-American.

      August 7, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  13. YeahOkay

    I worked for a fellow who was a Sikh, he proudly wore his turban and kept his beard very long, though he usually wore it with hair pins in it to keep it up. He was very wealthy, lived in a 20 plus thousand square foot "palace in Boca Raton and he would constant;y remind people of that. He was prone to calling others disparaging names and pointing out he buys people all the time and he is control. I confronted him one day after he was running his mouth and told him I would drop him on the spot if he kept it up, he almost wet his pants. Every religion has it's bad apples that don't really practice what is being preached (most people I know that call themselves Christians are living a lie) unfortunately it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch.

    August 7, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • reallydude?

      "a few bad apples can spoil the bunch" so when you threatened him..."i would drop him on the spot" did that make you feel better?

      August 7, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  14. Archie Bunker III

    On the UK news sites i see pics of Sikh's burning USA flags.

    August 7, 2012 at 6:36 am |
  15. dallas daniel hessler junior

    i apologize-

    August 7, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • j0eschm0e

      no... obama will appollogize

      August 7, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  16. Isma'il

    I am sure if I wanted to marry their daughter they would object on the grounds " He' s not like us".

    August 7, 2012 at 5:19 am |
    • ensense

      Well every body except a Muslim would do the same. because once you marry his daughter you would put her in a burka and make her sit at home and recite the Koran the whole day. so don't be surprised.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • kaur

      NO, they cant because our Guru said marry the same religion ...make sure he is Sikh...any white guy or black guy who is sikh
      then they can....i hope you understand me....thanks
      Sikh is very brave people they always stand for their right or other rights....they treat everybody equal ..that most important thing in this world ...We all know GOD is one...

      August 7, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  17. zayed

    Can anyone help me understand for the sake of logic, why sikhs promote themselves to be peace loving when they themselves originate to protect hindus from the supposed muslim invaders by adopting gurella methods of warfare fought in those days. it sounds hyberbolic

    August 7, 2012 at 3:23 am |
    • Not a muslim ... and not a christian either

      Are you saying that there's a group of religious people that don't practice what they preach? Inconceivable!

      August 7, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • Human

      Sikhism was established to protect people (Hindus) from the atrocities meted out to them by Muslims....that is the first step for peace...Muslims were killing Hindus mercilessly,looting them,raping their women...read the Indian History !

      A little surfing on Google shall answer all your questions regarding Sikhism !

      August 7, 2012 at 4:26 am |
    • dave

      go away

      August 7, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • anthony

      why do Christians or Muslims hide under the banner of peace loving? these two major religions gave us the Crusades, the spanish inquisition, 9/11. they do more to spread hate of anyone different then any other organized religions? And yet these are the among the two largest religions by numbers on the planet.

      August 7, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  18. huh

    What do Sikhs believe? That their mythology is better than your mythology.

    August 7, 2012 at 3:12 am |
  19. citizenn

    All I can say is that I have known quite a few members of the Sikh faith, and they were good people.

    August 7, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "All I can say is that I have known quite a few members of the Sikh faith, and they were good people."
      Most are. Just as most christians, muslims, hindus, jews, and adherents of any other religion are.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • John B good

      Sikhs are like the complete opposite of Islam.

      August 7, 2012 at 2:35 am |
  20. John of Gaunt

    This paints a pretty rosy picture of Sikhism, which also has a strong tradition of endorsing militant and violent doctrine, not mentioned here. Also not mentioned here is its treatment of women. I don't know if Guru Nanak approved of aborting girl fetuses, or beating wives, but both are pretty standard in Sikh communities. Yeah. Great peaceful religion. Ask them about the bombing of Air India Flight 182. Ask them about turning a blind eye to Babbar Khalsa, a terrorist group.

    August 7, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Krishna

      John of Gaunt: None of the things that you mentioned have anything to do with the religion itself. The point of the article is to explain the tenants of the religion. As with all religions, it's individuals who tarnish a group by acting foolishly in the name of God. SIKHISM has never 'endorsed militant and violent doctrine' – PEOPLE have endorsed it. SIKHISM did not bomb Air India Flight 182 – PEOPLE did. Sikhism is a peaceful and inclusive religion, and it's a travesty that some people are ignorant and violent. That said, the individual who attacked these people was not a Sikh.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:28 am |
    • John of Gaunt

      Krishna – Actually, there is a problem with the religion itself, which demands one wear a dagger (kirpan) in order to defend the rights of the oppressed. Thing is, "rights of the oppressed" can mean many things to many people, as it did to the leaders of the Khalistan movement who supported a militant uprising in Punjab, and which, when confronted by the Indian government, resulted in the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and the bombing of Air India Flight 182. It's a militant religion, and shares many characteristics with Islam.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Jay Crandall

      John of Gaunt: NO Religion ever has been all sweetness and light EVER. Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Taoist, Confusian, it doesn't matter who, they all have a dark side to them. However, having said that, my neighbors are Sikh, and I find that they are outstanding people, friendly and willing to lend a hand if needed. I am not religious in the least, and if pressed, would probably admit I lean more toward Darwinism than any established religion. All I can say is get to know a few of these folk before you smear them all with the Brush of Intolerance...

      August 7, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • aceofspades

      sikhs are not forced to carry a kirpan or wear turbans. our religion gives us the right to choose. i am a follower of sikhism but i do not have a turban or a beard and yet i go to the gurdwara on a regular basis. we do not force our religion on people. and as for the air india bombings, there are bad people in every community, just because this white person killed 7 people at a gurdwara im not gonna stereotype every white person and say they are nothing but racist people who believe in white power because thats not true. this was just one guy who unfortunately killed all these people. who have to judge people on their actions, not label everyone based on their beliefs, race or religion.

      August 7, 2012 at 4:40 am |
    • Greg Ballantyne

      Its always the people, never the religion. What is the religion without its followers? The religion IS THE PEOPLE. The followers DEFINE THE RELIGION. I know in this case the violent crime was perpetrated by a psycho against the group, and I am not condemning Sikhs. Far from it, I have good friends who are Sikhs and respect them. I say in general we have to stop giving a pass to psychotic belief systems (religions) whenever a psycho acts in the name of one. It is the nature of religious belief systems to produce these psychos, after all religious belief requires a level of psychosis in the believer. Until we as a species can recognise our popensity for psychosis, we are doomed to be ruled by it.

      August 7, 2012 at 9:34 am |
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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.