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

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  3. jagga

    Why are sikhs always in news now a days? May be violance in Delhi( Rakabganj Gurdawara) or in Sirsa(fight between dera and sikd people) or in England ( attack upon General)

    November 26, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  4. karamjit

    Sikh's have come from Hindu's and Muslims have come from Sikh's. so stop fighting people.


    October 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
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  7. rksandhu

    Sikhs were actually hindus who formed the khalsa to fight the atrocities of the moghuls who invaded india and were killing their children and women and forcing people to convert. So it was the hindus themselves who formed an army to protect their own people from the muslims. As for the bombing of the Golden temple, it was the fault of the sikh terrorist who were instigated by Pakistan who used them to try and break up india. These terrorist had no regard for the holy place and used it to store arms and as a fort thinking that since its a religious place, the army will not go in. After they refuse to give up arms and kept attacking the army, Indira Gandhi had no choice but to order the army to go in and kill the terrorist. I am a sikh and as a sikh one should always stand by the truth and not change facts to benefit oneselfs. Those terrorist were a disgrace to sikhs. They let the pakistanis influence them which resulted in many innocent people dying. In any case, in every religion there are good and bad people. Sikhism is no different. We have the good and the bad as well.

    August 25, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • kuldeep Singh

      Sikhs are different from Hindus, and they are no where associated to hindus. Hindus on other hand try to call them hindu as they want to spread hindu mindset.

      October 1, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • sidhuripu

      Sikhs and hindus are not the same ..... and I would like to clear something that sikhism is totally diffrent religion

      The biggest diffrence is that when a true sikh sees death in front of him he looks into his eyes fearlessly. A true sikh is not afraid of death where as a baniya, kareyad and majority of hindus are going to wet there pants

      I am sorry If u felt bad but this is a truth and you can't deny it

      January 22, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • preetb

      Sikhs have nothing in common with hindus. The only common thing is that sikh gurus were born in hindu families but they called hinduism a study religion and left. In fact back in 1947 it was proposed that sikhs should start serving beef in their temples since the idiot hindus would not stop calling them hindus. Religion is a way of life. If my dad is hindu but i choose to be an athiest then i would be an athiest NOT HINDU.

      March 12, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  8. Tricia

    This whole thing is sad. I overheard a bigoted coworker outright call Sikhs, Muslims, and 'like all Muslims they are terrorists'. Honestly, the ignorance is astounding in America.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Puneet Singh


      November 18, 2012 at 5:32 am |
  9. Thomas Klimchuk

    O yes and other peacefully reglion But how do they explaim the bombing of an Air India jet then?

    August 17, 2012 at 4:39 am |
    • Emerson

      Because the loudest, dumbest idiots always speak for everyone...Just like every Christian reveres that guy who shot Dr. Tiller in cold blood in full view of his congregation, because (the Christian) shooter wanted to show opposition to the taking of life by taking life.

      August 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  10. Johnson

    This is one of the most peaceful and beautiful religions on earth. If only the Baptists could learn something from them we would have a much stronger country.

    August 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  11. naam

    IN SIKHISM all the practices related to body are rejected.. do not touch the body,, because the body does not know the meaning of life.. mind is devided into 2 parts the higher mind the intellect and the lower mind or animal mind.. hit the higher mind daily with prayers,,, then automatically the body will follow the clean mind.. animal or lower mind is already there we cannot do anything about it because it s qualities came from our past lifes.. it s always the body follow the mind not the other way round. mind and body must be trained like how we cook vegetables,, slow and steady..if any harsh incorrect method is used the indicator PRIDE will start s to rise.. for the soul only NAAM will take us towards humility,, to bring down our noses.. POWER WILL TAKE YOU towards PRIDENESS

    August 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  12. naam

    actually everything is inside of us in meditation we raise the soul from the lower chakras till to the 10th gate..the real spiritual gates are located above the eyes...you cannot reach the 10th gate without first raising the serpent fire or kundalini.. beyond the 10th gate the journey continue where we will hear sound of bell ,, sound of drum and etc... but how to know if the mind is completely surrendered or not yet... the melodies will change from STRUCT to UNSTRUCT MELODIES... unstruct melodies means,, the EGO or haume is already surrendered completely...

    August 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  13. iluv_USA

    Message to Sikhs. USA is a great country & we Sikhs love this country. Sikhs need to play their role in removing Ignorance prevailing amongst racist or militant groups by reaching out to militant groups, connecting with them & informing them – that i) We are NOT Muslims. We were born out of Hinduism as a part of anti-fanatic-Muslim movement in India 5 centuries ago. This is a fact & by revealing a fact you are NOT giving a message that it is OK to kill Muslims ii) Killing any human is wrong – whether Muslim or Sikh or any other.

    Daily prayer of Sikhs calls for “good, well-being, benefit, welfare, benevolence for EVERYONE i.e. all humans, animals, birds, nature etc. We believe in community service. Many Sikhs wear turban & have beard. Sikh turban is NOT Taliban or Muslim turban. Sikhs served in World Wars I & II. Just like American people, Sikhs have suffered at the hands of fanatic Muslims; from 15th century till now. Hindus suffered at the hands of fanatic Muslims since the last 11 centuries. It is real tragic that we Sikhs are misunderstood & mistaken as Muslims. Sikhs have no enmity with mainstream peaceful Muslims or any other religion.

    August 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
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  15. SikhAmerican

    I am a Sikh American male , having been in this country for the last
    10 or so years. First I would like to thank the American people for
    thoroughly supporting the sikh community through this difficult ordeal.

    I proudly wear my turban everyday. There's been only two times
    when I have had problems wearing my turban in public- both times I was
    called "Bin Laden" . I got over it, even though at that
    time it was shocking and painful.
    But I give kudos to this great country, USA, which has given me and my family so much! I originate from India, and it is a big difference in the behavior of people there and people here. You may be surprised to know that there is more discrimination in India( amongst themselves) than it is here in the USA.
    I run my own high tech engineering business in Michigan. I am proud to say that I go to work everyday with my turban, and I have never been discriminated against . In fact, I would say that my clients are more likely to associate with me , as they remember me better , meeting me at conferences and other sessions.
    As has been noted on different forums, 99.9% of people in the USA who wear a turban are SIKHS, not muslims. In fact, the Sikh religion was formalized hundreds of years ago to counter the threat of the Mughals converting the native Hindu population to islam.
    Once again, I thank the American public for the love, respect and support !

    August 13, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  16. promisebroken

    lets watch this video and then decide what went wrong and why sikhs feel betrayed.
    i am only accusing the govt here and not any common hindu or their religion but truth needs to be heard

    August 13, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • sophia

      Do as you would be done by. or put in simple words =Treat others as you would expect them to treat you.
      so basically sikhs were betrayed big time. power corrupts people

      August 13, 2012 at 1:24 am |
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  17. Christopher Maritnez

    Your story is good, but incorrect on one point. Not all Sikhs have a prohibition against cutting their hair and shaving their beards, just the Singhs. Other Sikhs, like the the Udasis and the Sahajdharis do cut their hair and shave.

    August 12, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Deep Singh Gill

      Christopher, you are somewhat correct in that the Udasis and Sahajdharis dont really abide by the true Sikh way of not cutting your hair but as in all religions you have a group of people who dont do what they are supposed to do and that the make their own "rules" so to speak. Those people are techinically Sikh people but they arent really. There just a bunch of people whos decendants were sikh people but now they are just people with a 'religion'. LONG LIVE THE KHALSA. WAHE GURU JI.

      September 12, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  18. Rollin rock

    Hindus in India have Burnt and desecrated Christian Churches and Holy Bibles, Mosques and Holy Qurans, Gurudwaras (Sikh Temples) and Guru Granth Sahibs (Holy Book of Sikhs)......These are not made up statements, these are matter of fact, reality and can be found anywhere on the net..... Just Google it.....read and experience the intolerance of RSS, VHP Shiv Sena....cannot deny the reality.
    Christians are guilty of the same....just look into the history of the Crusades, WWII etc.
    Muslims are guilty of the same....look not only into Crusades but in the recent times the Wahabiesm of Saudi Arabia, Intolerance in Iran etc etc....

    Judaism, Buddism and Sikhism are the only three organized religions in the World that have never burnt a Holy Place of Worship or any Holy Book....Open to Correction....If refuting post links please.

    America has responed with so much love that put India to shame....the way Indian Government responed after 1984 the most tumultuous time for Sikhs ....in present memory....I personally lived thru. that horror in Punjab.....Today I feel so Proud to Be an American, infact every Sikh feels the same I promise you. Its like we suddenly found Home far away from what we thought was our Home. It took 24 years for Indian Government to acknowledge and apologize...and it took 2 hrs for US Government to express sorrow and shame....and seeing the National Flag of the most Powerful Nation of the World standing Half Staff....was profoundly moving.

    I do not mean to stir up anything....History is History....We can learn from it but cannot Deny it....Global World today requires Awareness, Tolerance and Love for All

    August 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Neha

      There are blacksheep in every community. None of the religion preaches violence, its we the people who are responsible for the chaos ,not the religion and not the Holy books.
      Yes Buddhist have never burnt any holy books and worship place but what you will say they have burnt live children and women in Burma.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:40 am |
    • Simran.M

      Yes, I agree with you Rollin Rock. That is really the plight of the Indian Govt, but it hasn't changed and I dont see it changing any time soon. With the talent and dedication that India has, it is a shame that we still are fighting for reasons so petty. But then, that is what it is.
      And definitely, the action taken by the American govt and the solidarity shown by the American people was commendable. Feel at home where you are.

      August 13, 2012 at 5:39 am |
  19. peace

    i think what sikhs want is justice for 1984 genocide bcoz they believe that hindu leaders who incited and promoted riots are still free and havent been punished for their crimes against humanity. sikhs donot hate hindus but they want justice.
    They feel betrayed by the same brothers, who they fought for and died for. bcoz 96% of people who died for independence of india were sikhs.
    i call for my hindu and sikh brothers to remain united and at peace.

    August 12, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • hinduism, denial of truth

      Who will punish hindu terrorist Sikh's for their hinduism, treason to help defeated British and slavery of locals for 200 years, including hinduism, theft and robbery of local's by hindu sikh's, regardless of their religion.

      August 12, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • India first

      What 1984 ? What about the Air India Bombings and targetted killings of Hindus in Punjab. Sikhs in US & Canada are not Indians and India has nothing to do with them. They are targets in the West because of their violent attire... But that's their problem.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • jagga

      No religion tells lie but sikhs say they are not hindus. Guru nanak was born in hindu family and he was hindu. They should accept it.

      November 26, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • sidhuripu

      I would like to clear something that guru nanak dev ji made a seprate religion from hindus therefore sikhs are not hindus or muslims........

      January 22, 2013 at 11:08 am |

    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 5:30 pm |
    • Jai Bharat

      Christians are friends of India and 100% patriotic – they'll receive 100% protection. But can't say the same about the Sikh traitors.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:28 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.