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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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. Ram

    One has to assume responsibility for all his/her actions and also face the consequences of all his/her actions during the lifetime. He/She must enjoy from the fruits of his good actions and suffer from bad actions. In both cases he/she has no real freedom from the laws and jaws of mortal life. Analyze the lives (not just few days or fews years, but the entire lifetime) of your friends, relatives and your family, you will surely see why they are suffering with sorrow or enjoying with pleasure.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  2. Sarah

    Sikhs were Hindus. "Many Hindu families would offer their firstborn sons to join the Khalsa Army to aid in this cause.[1]" "At the time of the Gurus, most North Indian families would remain "Hindu" while the eldest son was a "Sikh."[1] Hindus enlisting their eldest sons in the Khalsa was done for protection against the Mughals." Sources: wikipedia and all of my Indian friends / family

    August 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  3. Duh

    Religion is a distraction used by the nefarious to keep your attention away from their other hand that is stealing your wallet.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Religions were created by corruption of truth absolute by hindu, crooks of Egypt and Persia and imposed by force on humanity to justify hindu, criminal King's and their hindu sanatans, filthy goons as truth absolute, to make humanity their gentile, slaves, by use of truth as their justification to be, what ever hinduism, terrorism they committed against humanity against "HIS WILL" THE TRUTH ABSOLUTE.

      August 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  4. Maratha

    Everybody calm down....especially the "denial of truth" guy...prolly he is trolling to shoot up some temple and will end up on the news. Sikhism IS a religion, so IS Hinduism..I lived in deep S India and had Sikh neighbours and lived and played and had a fun friendship with Sikhs – nary an issue. To say that India will not exist without Sikhs is non-sense. There are may proud contributors to Indian society...including the Marathas, and the Tamils and the others....just do your research. The greatest danger to society today is ignorance – as exhibited by the shooter in Milwaukee and as exhibited by many on this board. The other greatest danger is for good people to stand by and do nothing. Good people should edcuate the ignorant and if needed, defend themselves from ignorant zealots. As Reagan said, PEACE THRU STRENGTH...

    August 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      your post is your hinduism, ignorance, South india is not of northern stock, but of African stock, hindu, enslaved by hindu's, pagans of Persia and ruled under hindu filthy hinduism,. racism, praying to a man as god is an insult to a human, specially an Enoch of Persian origin, married to his sister, labeled as Ram of hindu pagan Egypt. I am not to shoot any one, as you hind, absurd in your hinduism, ignorance, but a student of history, shooting not with guns but truth of history to eliminate hinduism, racism of hind, dark ages.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Word hindu drives from Latin word hindrance, negativity, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity. So is word Singh, they hind, absurd as a lion, but literal translation to be a self centered, as is word pig, same as in their hindu, ignorant claim Panja sahib, meaning all powerful itself of Persian origin.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Duh

      All religions = dark ages. The light we are able to see comes not from religion but from a bright future world without religion that is slowly pouring it's light upon us as we open our eyes to truth.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  5. Gill

    This Denial guy is a lot like India trying to change history and textbooks to reflect that sikhs are hindus and all of our accomplishments are hindus, they have posters in india labelling sikh gurus as hindu gods. Still to this day Sikhs are not recognized as a religion in India. Sikhism was born because we didnt want to pray to cows and figurines, and to defend against muslim invaders. When the British invaded India, punjab(sikh state) was the last to fall. Majority of all freedom fighters to end the british rule were also sikhs, they are a warrior religon that until this day defends india. Sikhs are a minority in india 3-4% but at one time made up 25% of soldiers and 33% of high officers. There would be no India if there was'nt sikhs to defend it.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  6. Rajesh

    SIKHISM IS NOT A RELIGION. IT IS WAY OF LIFE. IN OLD DAYS HINDUS WERE GUARD AT KING PALACES AND TO PROTECT THEM SELVES THEY START WEARING A TURBAN AND CARRYING SOME WEAPONS WITH THEM, EVENTUALLY THEIR CHILDRENS FOLLOWED AND THEY START GROWING HAIR AND COVER THEM UNDER THE TURBAN. NOW THERE ARE SARDAR(THE LEADER) OF GUARDS. WHEN OTHER PEOPLES MAKES MISTAKES THEY ARE POINTED TO SARDAR AND TELL THEM TO LERN FROM SARDAR (IN HINDI SIKH(LEARN) FROM SARDAR) AND EVENTUALLY THOSE SARDAR WHO WEAR TURBANS ARE IDENTIFIED AS SIKH MEANS (TO LEARN FROM SARDAR) AND INDIA MANY PEOPLES FOLLWED SPECIALLY WHO WORKD AT KING PALACES AND MANY SARDAR MADE THEIR DAILY LIFE STYLE WEARING A TURBAN AND SLOWLY THEIR FAMILIES FOLLOWED AND THAT IS WHAT WE CALLED SIKH TODAY.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Nick

      wow! You are 100% wrong about Sikhism. Sikhism IS a religion. Hinduism is also a religion. Sikhism is not an offshoot of Hinduism. Please, please, whoever is reading these posts, do not take these opinions (including mine) as truth. Please visit a Gurdwara, read literature, go to Sikhnet.com, sikhiwiki.com or any other well-established professional person or website to learn more about Sikhism.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Yes, sikh ism is a religion, hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu sanatans, filthy goons of hindu pagan Persia, borne out of hinduism, terrorism, raised on hinduism, criminality and preached in hinuism deception, their history speaks louder than their hinduism, lies, not of peace full as they claim like a goat but raised with nature of mid night jackles, read their history to be unlighted.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • jknight726

      Wow. You are so smart. Please enlighten me some more, oh great master of knowledge.
      Get over yourself. Thanks for trying, but WRONG.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Read history of Egypt and Persia, their beliefs in hinduism, racism, and you will be unlighted.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Think

      Rajesh, You should be a fictional writer because that's some imaginative story you wrote in your post, but I think you are getting carried away in your self created world which is first step to insanity. Obviously you are Indian hindu but hopefully you know how to google so please do so. But please be careful to not get carried away with your imagination and say that world wide web is really a spider web etc, etc....

      August 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Sarah

      Nick, you are incorrect. "many Hindu families would offer their firstborn sons to join the Khalsa Army to aid in this cause.[1]" "At the time of the Gurus, most North Indian families would remain "Hindu" while the eldest son was a "Sikh."[1] Hindus enlisting their eldest sons in the Khalsa was done for protection against the Mughals." wikipedia and all of my Indian friends / family

      August 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Aastha

      Rajesh, you seriously need to go back to school and repeat the class where they taught who founded Sikhism. Oh wait, may be you are still in school and not yet reached that class.

      August 10, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  7. Jay

    “Reflect O Human, of millions of years

    Time is writhing away

    Recognize Human Race as One.”

    August 9, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      All human are created equal, so much so Allah the merciful called every one his Khalifa, Assistant on earth, as "HE" commanded, I made you my assistant and gave you authority, "Choice", but you thank me not. No one denies human equality but hindu's, criminals, living by their hinduism, racism, denying right of humanity in their hindu filthy hinduism, racism of hind dark ages by faith. Deserving nothing less than to be eliminated from face of earth for well being of humanity, period.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  8. sathyavrath

    In India democracy is a sham and a failure, not sure about the US.

    August 9, 2012 at 6:03 am |
    • erkman

      Meh, not a complete sham. The rich tend to bully the poor, but for the most part its not bad.

      August 9, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • jimbo

      No philosophy based upon the myth that all people are equal is workable. Look at the mess the U.S. has become by so desperately trying to make it true.

      August 9, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  9. Ashok Matharu

    This HUNDU DENIAL of Truth guy is obviously a total illiterate and is clearly participating in this debate without any knowledge.
    It really does not matter where Guru Nanak Devji was or where he came from or whether he was a pagan or not.
    He is revered as an enlightened soul for the legacy and the philosophy he left behind for all to see and read and understand and which has evolved into this great religion which is Sikhism.
    Spend time understanding Sikhism as a religion and it's philosophy and try not to address your emotional grudges as a Muslim because Sikhism stood against the Muslims and bashed them out . This has nothing to with the religion but the right to live and associate freely under oppressive Muslim rulers and live democratically with equal rights for all.

    August 9, 2012 at 4:57 am |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Word hindu drives from Latin word hindrance, negativity, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity. So is word Singh, they hind, absurd as a lion, but literal translation to be a self centered, as is word pig, same as in their hindu, ignorant claim Panja sahib, meaning all powerful itself of Persian origin. To be hindu, illiterate is way of hindu's, ignorant s, if a hindu denire of truth had any education, knowledge of truth absolute, he would be a hindu gentile filthy slave of a pot head hindu sanatan, filthy goon to be his hindu filthy dog.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • brandonk

      You are totally wrong. Hindu derives from Sanskrit word Sindh which refers to the land across the Indus. It has nothing to do with Latin. And Sikhs, nowadays are totally unrelated to hinduism, instead coming from the Punjabi region of India. I very much respect the Sikh idea of englightened acceptence of all religion. It restores my faith in humanity... unlike some of the commentators on this blog.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, ignorant, Letter S always refers to essence of things, not high or law, if you are correct, what does word hanuman means? Sindhu is hinduism, absurdity of hindu sanatans, filthy crooks to hide true meanings of word hindu from their hindu gentiles, stupid slaves. This word does not appear in hindu literature before appearance of Islam in sub continent.

      August 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  10. Ashok Matharu

    Hinduism,Denial of Truth
    This guy is obviously a total illiterate and is clearly participating in this debate without any knowledge.
    It really does not matter where Guru Nanak Devji was or where he came from or whether he was a pagan or not.
    He is revered as an enlightened soul for the legacy and the philosophy he left behind for all to see and read and understand and which has evolved into this great religion which is Sikhism.
    Spend time understanding Sikhism as a religion and it's philosophy and try not to address your emotional grudges as a Muslim because Sikhism stood against the Muslims and bashed them out . This has nothing to with the religion but the right to live and associate freely under oppressive Muslim rulers and live democratically with equal rights for all.

    August 9, 2012 at 4:35 am |
  11. sarum

    why are u people who came from india n hate the hindus?

    August 9, 2012 at 3:58 am |
  12. A Sikh

    For those interested in learning more about who the Sikhs are I think the following from BBC should be helpful.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM6C7ov6Yu8&w=640&h=360]

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XIZDj9hiWc&w=640&h=360]

    August 8, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  13. singh

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWzJFy64E4w&w=640&h=360]

    August 8, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  14. Darsh

    Just like earthworms come above the land after a rainy season, there are lot of "parasites" venting their hatred about Hinduism and Sikhism every single time when such story breaks out.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      There are no hindu's parasites around to spew their hinduism, absurdities, but hindu's ignorant s pretending to be, what they have never been, peaceful. They do not spare their own, but live by hinduism, racism of hind, dark ages, pretending to be in 21st century to hind fool humanity.

      August 8, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  15. singh

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Saragarhi

    August 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      nature of battle proves their subordination to defense of their hindu sanatan, criminal man god's British, hindu, terrorist Sikh's were none but hindu's traitors to their own people, not believing as they hind, lie of peace and love, but hinduism, terrorism and plundering of innocent people like their hindu, criminal santans, man god's British regardless of their religion..

      August 8, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  16. rtkMD

    My friend from Punjab, who comes from a Sikh family, explained to me that Sikhism was founded by those who felt the need to defend themselves from invading Muslims. He sees the founders more as warriors than worshipers. Ultimately, and sadly, most of Punjab was given by British to Pakistan, where no religion but Islam is tolerated. Any Sikhs disagree with this assessment?

    August 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Holy shrine of Sikhism are in Pakistan not in hindu, pagan india, all religions are tolerated in Punjab, but not pretending to be Muslim but they commit hinduism, corruption in violation of truth absolute.

      August 8, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Bains

      Your incorrect. Sikhism wasn't created due to invading Muslims. Sikhism was more of a "enlightenment" moment for Guru Nanak to realize and teach that everyone is same regardless of the differences. This realization likely came from him growing up around both hinduism and islam therefore developing an inner desire to essentially combine the two.

      August 9, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Aastha

      Yes, I disagree. The founder and the first Guru of my religion Guru Nanak Dev, was not a warrior. The Gurus became warriors to protect them and their fellow men (which included Hindus) from the Mughal invasion, which attempted mass conversion crusades in that era. Hence the warrior. And even today, I as a Sikh will stand up and say I will not change myself bcoz you want me to. I will change if it appeals to my conscience. That is Sikhism. No scripture of my religion talks of raging war or hatred. Yes, a large part of Punjab went to Pakistan. And yes, I believe they are my deserving neighbours. I have personally met Pakistanis who visited my city during exhibitions and shared our cultures. And no, I dont see them any different than me. They are as much a victim of political manipulation, religious bigotry and hatred as my own countrymen. So peace.

      August 10, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  17. singh

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeotBZf3XJM&w=640&h=360]

    August 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Word's mean nothing but deeds, hindu, criminal Sikh ism, was founded on hinduism, terrorism with nature of hyenas, Ask their hindu fraudulent claim of peace and love from their victims of subcontinent, they were nothing less than hindu criminal British to oppress, rob and steal from people of subcontinent like their hindu sanatans, filthy man god's British.

      August 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  18. Ashok Matharu

    This ongoing discussion seems to have veered off course. Are we discussing who and what are Sikhs or are we discussing political and personal aspiration of Sikhs as individuals or small groups or the community as a whole. As individuals, like any others, Sikhs also have misgivings, as small groups they too have aspirations but as a community they too are proud of their rich history and their great religion and traditions. When individulals and small groups misbave that does not mean that the whole community condone their actions. But when the whole community is hurt then they have the right to react and take appropriate actiion.
    When their holiest shrine, the Golden Temple was attacked and disgraced by the Indian Government and thousands massacred then the community had the right to react and Indira Gandhi had to be eliminated. HOW would the Catholics have reacted had the Vatican been desecrated and attacked and innocent Catholics killed. Surely at the time Indira Gandhi could have sorted this out by other more peaceful means. She did not and got what she deserved.
    Sikihism is a distinct and separate religion with Hindu and Muslim cultural background because it was formed by converts from these people. This does not mean it iis either an offshoot of Hinduism or Islam and nether did it come about to protect Hindus. However, it did come out openly against Hindu oppression by Muslim rulers.
    It has a very rich and proud history which is full of the oppressions and sacrifices which it had to fight against and make and yet survive against all odds because it is a great religion.
    It believes in all pervading formless creator which is self existent, without animosity, fearless and which exitsted before creation, during creation and will exist evermore and the aim of every Sikh is to attain union with this formless creator by love, good deeds and honest living and ever remembering the creator in whatever and everything. In other words you as an individual are part of this all pervading energy, like a drop of rain is part of the same water in the oceans.
    Sikh scriptures state that there are billions and billions of stars and galaxies and universes and the whole creation is teeming with life. The scripture Also has word upon how all was created. All this written down more than 500 years ago..
    Yes Sikhs keep long hair and beards in the image God created.. Is there any median or prophet ever depicted without hair and beard and turban? So wearing turban over long hair and keeping a beard should not make one weird or different but whole.
    Sikh philosophy is written by the Sikh gurus themselves and Sikhs believe it is the word of god, this is unlike bible or Quran which were not written by the founders of these religions but written many years after the founders had long gone.
    Sikism believes in the equality of all irrespective of belief, cast , creed or colour and considers all religions as different pathways leading to the same creator. Sikhism does not believe in imposing its beliefs on anyone by force.
    It is a great religion and I am proud to be a Sikh.

    August 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, lair, Sikhism is founded by none other than Persians, hindu, denier of truth absolute, Nanik, not his real name but a Persian hindu, pagan like Mirza of gurdaspur. 1857 Brithish were defeated by Muslim and hindu forces and they retreated to Lahnow for help from Shiite Muslims and hindu, criminal Sikh's of Punjab, They were reinforced by hindu criminal forces of Sikh and Shiite forces and attacked Shah Jahan Abad, New dehli, Muslim and hindu forces were defeated because of hinduism, treason of these hindu criminal , pagan 's and so called Muslim shiits. They benefited and participated in hinduism, terrorism of hindu criminal British and made regardless of belief their slave. Their claim of being peaceful are nothing but hinduism, absurdity, they robed Kashmir of their wealth and slaughtered 2 third of population or forced them to abandon Kashmir, hinduism, criminality named as Sikh ism was founded on hinduism, terrorism and it is nothing but fraud of Parsiees of Persia along with hindu Mithra sim, savior ism of hindu pagan Persia. Noting but cross between hinduism, paganism and Islam, or with its own nature,like hyaenas, cross between wolf and a dog with the nature of hinduism, deception, with face of a goat but nature of a Jackal.
      Word hindu drives from Latin word hindrance, negativity, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity. So is word Singh, they hind, absurd as a lion, but literal translation to be a self centered, as is word pig, same as in their hindu, ignorant claim Panja sahib, meaning all powerful itself of Persian origin.

      August 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • rocky mountain

      Very honest and objective post.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  19. jacob

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XIZDj9hiWc&w=640&h=360]

    August 8, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Traitors to their own people and sell out to oppress locals, nothing to be proud of , people of subcontinent had to endure slavery of 200 years OF SLAVERY because of these hindu's, traitors, with blood of innocent on their hands. SHAME, SHAME AND SHAMEON YOU, HINDU, CRIMINAL SIKH'S.

      August 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  20. Rutgers

    With connivance of Badal-BJP alliance, Hindu extremist organizations, motivated by their inherent hatred, are wildly active in hurting feelings of Sikhs. So many events have happened in past few weeks that indicate towards rise in this trend.

    August 8, 2012 at 1:26 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.