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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. Mr Everyman

    From what is written here I know Sikhs believe in one God, tolerance, good deeds and follow the teachings of ten gurus. They believe the soul recycles, not following rituals or praying to odols. What is their church government like? Do they believe in theoracy? What do their Holy Scriptures say? Is there a supreme guru like a Dali Lama or Pope.?

    August 12, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  2. Madhu S Vashist

    I have lived through Punjab terrorists who killed mostly innocent Hindus and few Sikhs who were on the side of truth and those Sikhs laid their lives fighting against Sikh terrorists. At the same time I am a Punjabi and we are more Sikh than Hindu. Most of the time terrorism is peddled by someone with their own motives. I believe in Punjab which is a religion in itself and has Sikhism, Hinduism and Islam as part of it. Those who call Hindus terrorists, have no idea what is called terrorism and Hindus have stopped talking about Punjab terrorists (Sikhs) because they are scared of those events repeating again. Several poor Delhi commoners killed several Sikhs and those numbers are always inflated because that is a Punjabi tradition. Punjabis like Klingons are used to showing off and telling more than they have good in them.

    August 12, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Jeven

      Another Ignorant , what about you guys killed more than 150000 Sikhs even burnt them alive, not a terrorism my friend? if you guys going to repeat again again Sikh as a Terrorist expect some flashback too and should have big heart to absorb it or respect others religion and they would do the same to yours. there is no Sikh or Hindu terrorist as those comments crime against humanity have nothing to do with both region as both are peacefull religion but now a day what would you call Shiv sens and other terrorist organizations? few Sikhs organiosations are banned due to there action but why Shiv Sena Bajrang Dal RSS still free? different laws for different people in India,. Look what American did only 6 people got Killed and they are showing they are real democracy so learn from them rather support Modi for killing Innocent people. I hope Sikhs have gained there own country back in 1947 ( Greater Punjab)

      August 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • ADAM THE HUSTLER

      THERE ARE NONE SO BLIND AS THOSE THAT WILL NOT SEE. you sound like pakistani ministers, who always claim that they are the victims of terrorism , whereas the truth is that in reality they are the one promoting and participating in it.
      my advice to hindu exremist is stop burning sikhs and christians.

      August 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • promisebroken

      please watch this folks
      Oczkowska

      August 13, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  3. Find it out

    Wow, lots of posts, and no one getting to the gist of what Guru Nanak Dev's teaching as quoted by Mr. Johar himself. "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."
    Guru Nanak Dev was a spiritual guru and all his followers later on were identified as Sikhs. As far as their turban goes, that started from the last guru 'Guru Govind Singh Maharaj'. Sikhism was a spiritual movement and was dragged into politics by mughals who wanted to convert them and other 'Sanatan Dharm' followers. Before Guru Govind Singh, all the gurus who resisted were tortured/executed. But guru Govind Singh ji vowed to fight and he established the khalsa panth where -kachch,kripan, kesh, kada, kangha. so, it doesn't mean that anybody who doesn't follow khalsa panth and follows Guru Nanak's teachings is not a sikh. Also, there are many hindu families in punjab and North India who worship Guru Nanak for his teachings and spiritual guidance. Essentially, guru Govind Singh also said that people from Khalsa panth should resist not only conversion of themselves but of anybody who is being forcibly converted and rescue him/her or anybody being religiously persecuted. Later on, politics changed the face of this and today we stand spewing venom on each other. Everybody is giving a religious color to what happened in 1984, but no one mentioned 'bhinderwala' as to what was he doing with huge cache of arms inside the shrine considered holy to all people. and why specifically hindus were made to flee from Punjab in the time just preceding 1984. Bhinderwala and Indira gandhi both tried to play politics with people, both died and resulted in so many innocent casualities and we are still fighting in the name of religion. Grow up people. and yes 'Hindu – denial of truth' man u need serious help. Stop hallucinating, take a break and put a brake on your sewer spewing mouth.

    August 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Steve Billiter

      " Stop hallucinating, take a break and put a brake on your sewer spewing mouth" (Find it Out).

      We see who the hater is...do we not?

      August 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  4. Raj

    For all the hatred shown by anonymous Hindus/Sikhs (we dont know who they really are). Here is what I have to say (from another post):

    Hindus really donot hate Sikhs and I presume ordinary Sikhs don't hate Hindus either. It's all politics of congress party which destroyed the trust that Hindus and Sikhs had for millenia. I don't know how by few disgurntled comments from few anonymous folks on internet gave you the "logical proof" that hindus hate Sikhs. For petes sake, the current prime minister of India is a Sikh. I must say ignorance sucks.
    As far as hatred is concerned, I believe the Indira gandhi assassination caused a havoc in India in which ordinary Sikhs were targeted. This was a shameful event in India. It seems it was the Congress party which instigated it. Does Congress party represent Hindus? Or the ignorants which attacked innocent Sikhs were representing Hindus?
    Western media is very quick to make any skirmish between 2 parties belonging to 2 different sects/religions (out side of western world) as a generalized conflicts between those 2 religions/sects. But you would notice, they will never label any conflicts involving westerners as religious conflict, it then becomes west Vs some other folks, not Christian Vs other folks. You see the double standard? We are all guilty of following this subtle conditioning in looking at other conflicts.
    Coming back to the Sikh hatred, its really all was caused due to Indira Gandhi assassination and the resulting Sikh terrorism in Punjab.
    I believe the thinking person knows that bonf between Hindus and Sikhs are age old and afteralll weren't the Hindu families "donated" their first born son to the Sikh cause to protect against barbaric Mughal attacks in centuries bygone? In essence they are the proud warriors!
    I think the lack of knowledge of history and tradition of India by both Hindus and Sikhs are the cause of misunderstanding and also the effort of fundamentalist Sikhs to project themselves away from Hindu culture to make Sikhs as another organized religion (like christinaity/islam) and in the process try to break India to get their homeland. This would definitely not fly well in India and any opposition towards that would make Sikhs feel that they are being hated. But if you want to break the country then your point would not be taken well. Be it India or any other country in the world.

    August 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  5. hollyy

    this more brutal guys
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMITlOw9UyY&w=640&h=360]

    August 12, 2012 at 1:13 am |
  6. okkk

    oh no

    August 12, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  7. singh

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apZ3GEULiZc&w=640&h=360]

    August 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  8. singh

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lUvq8xJHKY&w=640&h=360]

    August 11, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  9. xoxo

    lets see if hindus will call themselves victims of terror anymore when the reality is that they are the one who are terrorizing other religions. now three communities(muslims. christians, sikh ) blaming them of terrorist cant be wrong. after watching this video iam sure they are voilent and very barbaric.
    pundit law=sharia law

    August 11, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  10. Ashlynne Morocco

    I haven't read the article and I haven't read any of the responses because I just wanted to say one thing: We could discuss the difference between being a Sikh, Muslim or Hindu, but there really is no reason because we just should not be shooting anyone! COEXIST! I am an Irish/Italian Roman Catholic who left the Church so I would be allowed to love all human beings.

    August 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Jeven

      Thank you Sir, Yes we are all Human as you said, I am strong believer of Humanity,, People try to persue the Hindu Sikh debate are Iggnorant as no one have right to kill any one doesn't matter who they are,. I don't understand one thing every time some thing bad happen to Sikhs so many Hindu come forward to put bad comments any where you are, but when that happen to them Sikhs stand with them,. Why? so who is the most peaceful? In this hard time every one should stand with Sikhs for sake of the human value if your religion have thought you any. thank you again for being a human rather like other.

      August 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  11. amarjeet

    Sikhism was founded & written in scripture “Guru Granth Sahib” is most simple with all world class virtues & values of universal brotherhood, casteless, freedom of thought & actions in keeping with highest moral standards of humanity & society. There is not a single instance of attacks by Sikhs on any other religion or religious place of worship. Certainly Sikhs were born out of Hindus but their faith is more similar to Christians in abstaining from worship of idles. Sikhism does not support divorce, abortion or illegal pregnancy unless with consent of husband or on medical advice. However DNC is very common to control & plan family. Sikhism does not practice hate & any other social distinction. All are welcome in worship place with covered head as a mark of respect to God inside the worship place with exception of kids who stand exempted like in Christians. Sikhism embrace all as human beings & you can find richest data of across other religions in marriage field. However boyfriend culture or change of partners is looked down upon. Castes have taken hold on Sikhism of late. Conversion from other castes has resulted into extremism & distorted the religion with political leaning & self-interests making departure from principles of Sikhism. All castes hate others & are at time deadly in results like domination by land owners over the working class in Punjab. Most working class has left villages in Punjab in India to other states being very hard working & welcomed by others. There are vast & acrimonious castes in Sikhism as now. There are fights in Punjab as well all over the world in religious places for domination of religious places & corruption. There are so many types of Sikhs now. There are Narankari, Mazbhi, Ramgariah, Jat, Khatri, Arora & thousands of others hurting very adversely the founding scripture contents & simplicity of human life. Sometimes the acts become shameful to watch & participate in religious ceremonies causing loss of faith in Sikhism by most educated category & diverting to other religions for opening their hearts. However by far the Sikhism is peaceful unless tarnished & torn by politics unbecoming as per Sikhs scriptures. Recently a Lady Minister in Punjab was imprisoned for killing her daughter who fell in love across to other caste. A father killed his daughter who fell in love with a Mazbhi Sikh appeared in Times of India. Most Sikhs welcome girls from across from other castes or religion with parents’ consent & are by far the most conservative class of old practices. However it is breaking up with education & economic reasons. Hindus are most conservative & constricted class. So many temples are not open to Christians or other classes including poor. You can see the respects & dignity of poor in India in front of Hindu temples on each Tuesday.

    August 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      hinduism, absurdity, value means, limits and hindu pagan Nanik denied every one of them, a hindu, out law.

      August 11, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  12. jacob

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

    August 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  13. liberal

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn7m3HsKN5c&w=640&h=360]

    August 10, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • liberty

      @liberal : There are bad elements in every religion be it Hinduism, Christianity, Islam or any other. This is a sad occasion where a community has lost important members. Please share your goodwill with the community and stop inciting hate against others. I am sure you can find incidents of bad human judgement and cruelty in all religions and faiths. That does not mean you need to brand or generalize. All whites are not white supremacists, all Muslims are not Al-qaeda, all Hindus are not RSS and VHP and all Sikhs are not part of the Khalistan movement. Please be responsible and cognizant of what effect your words can have.

      August 11, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • jacob

      @liberty
      well ur "pundit law" is just same as "sharia law". under PUNDIT LAW , you allow hindu extremist to go on rampage to kill other minorities when u feel like and there is nobody to stop them. being a largest democracy in the world , there are more crimes and riots committed against minorities in india. why every time a mob goes out , kills innocents in thousands , still no one gets punished. is this ur way of doin justice in india?

      August 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  14. lst

    From reading comments on this article, It's apparent that Hindus really hate Sikhs.

    Didn't some of the Sikh Prophets sacrificed their lives trying to protect Hindu's right to be Hindus.

    August 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • OrdinaryMan

      Yes you are correct, Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur Jee gave martyrdom without any hesitation or without any fear to protect Hindus from than Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb from being converted to Muslims, else today all would have been Muslims.

      Sadly today's Hindus neither recognize the Sikhs nor respect there faith.

      August 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • OrdinaryMan

      Yes you are correct, Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur Jee gave martyrdom without any hesitation or without any fear to protect Hindus from than Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who was forcefully converting Hindus to Muslims, else today all would have been Muslims.

      Sadly today's Hindus neither recognize the Sikhs nor respect there faith.

      August 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Raj

      1st, Hindus really donot hate Sikhs. It's all politics of congress party which destroyed the trust that Hindus and Sikhs had for millenia. I don't know how by few disgurntled comments from few anonymous folks on internet gave you the "logical proof" that hindus hate Sikhs. For petes sake, the current prime minister of India is a Sikh. I must say ignorance sucks.
      As far as hatred is concerned, I believe the Indira gandhi assassination caused a havoc in India in which ordinary Sikhs were targeted. This was a shameful event in India. It seems it was the Congress party which instigated it. Does Congress party represent Hindus? Or the ignorants which attacked innocent Sikhs were representing Hindus?
      Western media is very quick to make any skirmish between 2 parties belonging to 2 different sects/religions (out side of western world) as a generalized conflicts between those 2 religions/sects. But you would notice, they will never label any conflicts involving westerners as religious conflict, it then becomes west Vs some other folks, not Christian Vs other folks. You see the double standard? We are all guilty of following this subtle conditioning in looking at other conflicts.
      Coming back to the Sikh hatred, its really all was caused due to Indira Gandhi assassination and the resulting Sikh terrorism in Punjab.
      I believe the thinking person knows that bonf between Hindus and Sikhs are age old and afteralll weren't the Hindu families "donated" their first born son to the Sikh cause to protect against barbaric Mughal attacks in centuries bygone? In essence they are the proud warriors!
      I think the lack of knowledge of history and tradition of India by both Hindus and Sikhs are the cause of misunderstanding and also the effort of fundamentalist Sikhs to project themselves away from Hindu culture to make Sikhs as another organized religion (like christinaity/islam) and in the process try to break India to get their homeland. This would definitely not fly well in India and any opposition towards that would make Sikhs feel that they are being hated. But if you want to break the country then your point would not be taken well. Be it India or any other country in the world.

      August 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  15. liberal

    what is SAFFRON TERRORISm,. why the govt of india has said that it pose more danger to india than any other terrorism. wikipedia it. u will be enlightnened.
    why in just 60 years of independence history of india, the hindus havesalughtered their own population and minorties 4 times. 1984 sikh, 1992, 2002 muslims, 2008 christians and the govt has turn blind eye to it. aall who died were innocent civilians.
    whereas in america , minorities feel more safer.
    GOD BLESS AMERICA

    August 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Raj

      You Sir are so easily make it a Hindu Vs Sikh Vs other religion cause? Its easy, isn't it? Sitting at home and blabbering filth.
      When the 9/11 attack happened and Sikhs were killed, did you say it was a Christian Vs Sikhs issue?
      Even in the attack on Sikh temple by a white christian fanatic, are you or your media calling a Christian Vs Sikh issue?
      Nope, you wouldn't call it because its not necessary. But You would say it's hindu Vs Sikhs, etc as a sweeping generalization sitting far away (or with an agenda to denigrate Hindus) and judge on an entire religion of Hinduism.
      Such double standard is pretty obvious my friend.

      August 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • liberal

      I do not want to make this, hindus vs christians or hindus v/s sikh. i am just sharing info as everybody else is. my question to you mr RAJ is that why killing inncoent civilians? why burning them alive? why not let the judiciary handle this? why goin out on streets and killing children and women?
      tell me if any of the info i wrote above is wrong please.
      and please also answer about the killings of innocents in 84, 92, 2002 and 2008

      August 12, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  16. Bill Maher Nails It

    It is impossible to refute his logic.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAvDtPz33w0&w=640&h=360]

    August 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes otherwise rational adults into believing in imaginery friends like children do.

    August 10, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  18. Douglas

    Sikhs should wear their tubans with pride and without fear. Please stop trying to apologize for the white supremacists who disrupted and desecrated a solemn religious service. It is time for the white supremacists to change or leave and go back to their "native lands". We don't weant them here any more.

    To my Sikh brothers and sisters – I stand with you in solidarity against white supremacist fascism.

    The temple leader is a national hero, as is the police Lt. who risked his life to save Sikh citizens worshiping peacefully.

    Up with America and down with racism and bigotry!

    Best,
    Douglas

    August 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  19. liberal

    one should repect the democratic and liberal values of ameria. it is the greatest democratic country in the world.
    i would like to ask some questions to fanatic hindus as wll. you guys have radical extremist too such
    ur own main oppositon leader of the country who is a hindu with his extremist went to demolish babri mosque in 1992.
    u guys demolished the sikh shrine golden temple in 1984
    u guys burnt churches and killed christion missinary graham staines and his kids in 1999
    u guys thousands of christians in 2008 and burnt many churches
    u r country is only democratic by the name only. but the truth is that u guys are terrorizing the minorities in ur own country and killing them at free will

    August 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  20. manu

    hinduism, denial of truth.. my friend...... it saddens me to see what hate can do to ones soul.. i Dont blame you why you think this way.. its just the world has generalized Muslims as a religion of violence and hate.. and this is wrong.. and also retaliation to mass community is wrong... i was not there when Persians and other invaded India, so i dont want to judge either them or Indians on their actions. their act was done in the past.. we live today.. and we shape our and others future.. A human is smart to learn from his mistakes and live better... i humble request is stop making these comments.. if you want to make a change.. first step is to change yourself.

    August 10, 2012 at 6:00 am |
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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.