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. Satan

    So is the dead attacker going to be labeled a Christian terrorist? Because that is exactly what he was.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  2. Jade

    Muslims are to blame for this. If they weren't such terrorist filthy pigs, people wouldn't want to shoot them. Sikhs paid the price for Muslim parasite filth.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Satan

      Kill yourself already.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  3. ananana

    Violence is really bad so is ignorance and both together is a disaster....
    A guy with a 9/11 tattoo enter a Sikh temple and kill..it seems to be a hate crime against the wrong target ..Really ???
    go read some book Americans that might help educate you and keep you busy.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  4. Human

    The need of the hour is for muslim liberal leaders to come forward and call for peace and forgiveness in their community.

    In an indirect way, poor Sikhs got attacked beacuse of what muslims have been doing around the world and how they are perceived as a community.

    Violence is never justified, but is often used by hateful muslims to represent their twisted ideology. A true muslim would never kill or harm anyone, but true muslims are in very short supply and bad muslims have taken over.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • ananana

      so are good rational americans....

      August 6, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Jade

      True. If Muslims weren't so darn evil people wouldn't want to shoot em. Terrorist filth.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • ananana

      it seems that good rational americans are also in short supply

      August 6, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • sandeep singh

      They won't as they are dividers too. Us and rest

      August 6, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  5. Neal

    Jesus is part of the Judeo – Christian myth!

    August 5, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  6. Ruhi Mann

    Isn't America and Americans about putting our religion, race, and other differences aside and come together as one? We are suppose to be an example to the rest of the world, if a superpower like America is having such ignorant crimes within itself, of course the world will mock us. As an American and Sikh I am devastated that such heinous crimes are being committed by the people of the USA, please educate yourselves, America stands for freedom and equality not for ignorance. Right now with the recession going on, and such crucial times we must come together as one like we always have and not let these hard times get to us, please wake up America.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  7. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    If they had not come to the USA and stayed in their slums this would not have happened.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Bob

      If ur white race has not come to the US the red Indian race will be saved and u think US belong to u, what a joke

      August 6, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • kyle britt

      ? Everybody came here from somewhere!

      August 6, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  8. Maggiemae

    This is awful. Now we can count places of worship into the "no longer safe to visit list" It is just tragic. To those of u spewing hatred – give it a test, would u please? Have some respect for the dead and their families and friends.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  9. Joseph Price

    Sikh's in general are good down to Earth people. I can't imagine why anyone would want to open fire in a Sikh temple. They have been nothing but kind to my people(Baha'is) My thoughts and prayers go out to the Sikh Global Community and to those affected by this tragedy.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  10. Josh

    Very sand day! May the souls of those who passed rest in peace. May we all unite for tolerance, peace and growth.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  11. Krishna

    First of all we should all come together as Americans to condone these attrocities. I am a hindu, a US citizen and have visited sikh temples(gurudwara). They are one of the finest religions of the world and have been a strong defenders of hinduism when India was under the occupation of Islam. The comments about insensitivity of the past Indian government in flushing out the terrorists from the golden temple while appropriate should be reflected in the fact that India as a country now has a Sikh Prime Minister. In any case, we cannot take some segments of the Sikh community advocating for seperatism and generalize that to the entire community. We should see this act for what it is..a mindless act of terror!

    August 5, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • unfortunate typo

      I think you meant "condemn" not "condone"

      August 5, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • Jade

      Yeah the shooter got it wrong. He thought they were Muslims. Muslim terrorists are the ones he wanted to shoot but sadly the Sikhs got it instead. It's sad, they paid the price for the animal Muslims.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Krishna

      yes, sorry i meant condemn instead of condone

      August 6, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  12. tssdddd

    Can writer of this article explain what is non practicing hindu?

    August 5, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  13. Rational Sikh

    No offense to muslims, but Sikhs have nothing in common with muslims. Sikhism is an offshoot of hinduism and many north Indian Hindu Punjabi families have sikh relatives and vice versa. In many hindu punjabi families, in old days, the tradition was to make the eldest son a "sikh" and the other sons "monas" or "hindus". That explains the term "hindu sikh" and the interconnected between hindu and sikh punjabis!

    But, regarddless, all of us (everyone) from India is a proud "indian" and respectful of other cultures and religions.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      muslims and sikhs (and christians, and many others) share a delusional belief in imaginary beings. When carried too far, these cults seem to feel the need to demonstrate who's god is the toughest, therefore they all share the potential for commiting terrorism.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Daniel

      @HotAirAce: Seriously? I'm agnostic, and I disagree with lots of religious claims; however, this is NOT the time to bash religion. The Sikhs are being very peaceful about this... There are no Sikhs calling for "Death to America," they simply wish that the killer is forgiven. WOW. How radical and delusional.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Greg

      Rational Sikh you do know guru granth sahib have many verses from muslim scholars.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  14. countrans

    Sikhs are terrorists, they started this a long time before the Muslims did, they have terrorists cells in India, UK, USA and Canada.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Every religion has its extremists. On the whole, Sikhs are fairly peaceful.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • arshi93

      Wrong. Are you saying me, an eighteen year old girl, is Sikh terrorist. Are you saying my mom and dad are terrorists? They work day and night for us. They pay taxes, we donate money, we do charities for our cities. Are we still terrorists? We celebrate happily for each holiday, even if it's not our religions. Are we still terrorists? Are elder man and woman terrorists? If you don't know anything about us, please don't make false analogies.
      There is good people and bad people in each nation. If one is bad, all are not bad. If one is good, not all are good. This is life.
      So please don't call us terrorists. We are not. Simply, how would you feel if somebody calls you a terrorists? It hurts when innocent people are called terrorists.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      They may be "mostly" peaceful but Sikh extremists did take down Air India 182.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Sarina

      Who are you to say that all Sikhs are terrorists? Let's say the shooter of this tragedy is Christian, so then with your logic....Christians are terrorists?

      August 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Christians have terrorized mankind for about 2,000 years.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • liveandwrite

      I've read a lot of mentions today about the Air India bombing and how it was committed by Sikhs, but no one seems to mention that most of the Canadian victims on that flight were Sikhs themselves from the Greater Vancouver area.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  15. arshi93

    Why are we all arguing? If there was a terrorist attack done by Sikhs, IT wasn't done by these victims. There are bad and good in each nation. There is always something disastrous from each nation. After this tragedy, where still fighting? Can't we, for God's sake, just find peace in this world for just a minute?

    August 5, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Maggiemae

      Well said, Arshi03. All this hatred has no place at this time. Show some support for the victims and their
      Families, friends, and fellow congregants. Their lives have been changed irrevocably and not for the better. . R u so inhuman that u can't open u r heart for even a few minutes.?

      August 6, 2012 at 12:09 am |

    Gurpreet, you are a hindu who hates dalits, all lower caste indians and you are evil for taking this tragedy as an opportunity to talk nonsense. LOOK AT INDIA, and LOOK at before Wisconsin, Hindu Inida attacked SIKHS at their holiest temple in Amritsar. Hindus in India are the weakest ppl, Sikhs gave their lives to save HIndus and were killed by weakling hindus and now hindus want to call sikhs hindu. Sikhs are not muslims or hindus. Sikhs are peaceful, but will fight injustice, and that is why they fought muslims and saved hindus. 1200 years of foreign rule, hindus couldnt eve fight, sikhs took over after 1200 years or muslim and british rule

    August 5, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Krishna

      I am a hindu and have immense respect for Sikhs. I recommend that we all avoid bringing irrelevant issues into this debate and focus on coming together as citizens united in condemning this tragedy. Let's avoid criticizing each other's beliefs and learn to respect each other otherwise the terrorist would have succeeded in their mission of spreading hatred

      August 5, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • tssdddd

      I agree what Gurpreet has written is wrong, but it does not justify what you are saying. Khalistani terrorists had taken refuge in Golden Temple at Amritsar and were organizing their activities from there. So it was necessary to eliminate them.But I agree the operation was badly manged and there was lot of collateral damage. But it lead to the end of terrorism in Punjab. You must not defend terrorists like Bindrawale.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Gurpreet Singh bagla

      No am i sikh but i am not a blind sikh like you..fact is sikhs have supported separatism in India, terrorism in India and canada..they have terror grups banned in US/UK/INDIA/Canada....Sikhs unfortunately killed lots of innocent sikhs and Hindus in 1980 in Punjab during movement to create a separate nation out of India, with help from ISI. So Indian govt finally flushed terrorirst out of punjab and golden temple,,,but then we killed Indian PM and so we were punished by congress party workers( not by hindus)...later sikhs bombed indian airways plane by a terror act....

      BTW indian PM is a sikh...so stop blaming Indian govt...and try not to teach sepratism to young kids in US and canada and please remove those BS terrorirrts posters from sikh temples, which glorifies them as martyrs.

      On behalf of sikhs, I apologize to Indian people for spreading terrorism in name of a khalistan nation.. all sikhs are ashamed of those terror activities.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  17. asb

    So many ignorant comments and incorrect information about Sikh history being spewed by some people here. The least you guys can do is shut down your anti sikh propaganda machines for 2 minutes, i mean 6 innocent people are dead because of this incident..

    August 5, 2012 at 11:19 pm |

    Gupreet Bagal is a Hindu who doesn't want Sikhs to be looked as victims for being killed by a murdere randomy shooting at their temple, but instead he wants to talk about terrorist. Look at the terrorism of Hindu Indian government, who is attacked and killed at their holiest temple, Golden Temple, the indian hindu government is no different than this gunman in wisconsin, but worst. Sikhs have fought for the freedom of Hindus, the west, and are willing to give their lives for anyone in need of help and freedom, that is demanded of them. You are a disgusting person for taking this tragedy to talk your nonsense. there is no difference between hindus and muslims. hindus talking nonsense, and muslims staying quite as they always do unless its an "islamaphobe" issue

    August 5, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Josh

      This person along with "gurpreet" is a Pakistani trying to spew divisiveness.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Gurpreet Singh bagla

      What you sow is what you reep....First remove terrorits posters glorified as martyrs from sikh temples and then call this attach a terror attack....you sikhs for last so many years are preaching hatred to young kids against people of India and selling them day dreams on Khalistan. You bombed kanishka Indian airways plane over atlantic ocean, at that time you felt like lions...today you are feeling like goats and Begging american " oh we are sikhs not muslims...leave our %%%"

      Remember what you sow is what you reep.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  19. Gurpreet Singh bagla


    Visit any Sikh temple in US and look around the temple, you will find terrorists with AK-47,RPG are branded as Martyrs. Sikhs in US present terrorists as martyrs and heroes in front of young sikh population and teach them about separatist moment and give them false dream of a Khalistan Nation carved out of India.

    Is this a religion of peace? Its a religion of hatred and extremism.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • arshi93

      You should be ashamed for bashing about this in a sad tragic day. If you believe in God, then you should love all religions. Past is past. Stop being racist.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Shannon

      Yo "Gurpreet" u need to calm down wih ur remarks... its just like quebec wanting their own country..independent state in Canada....their white..catholic..christian..indian people live there too....does that make them a cult...seriously u need to open a book and go to school

      August 5, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Alicia

      Your comment is absolute slander and ignorance. I have been to India and visited a number of Sikh temples. I've also attending wedding ceremonies in US Sikh temples. There is no such thing happening in any Sikh temple I've ever seen. Sikhs are great people with a wonderful accepting religion. Shame on you for making such a racist, hateful comment on such a tragic day.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Josh

      This person is a Pakistani using a false name to spew divisiveness.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Josh

      Absolutely stupid comment....it's unfortunate that on such a sad day there are completely dumb comments like this. We are not stupid. May the souls of those passed rest in peace. May we work together for a more tolerant plural and progressive country and world.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • kyle britt

      Sikhs are a valiant people with no use for the caste system or the inhumanity of Sharia. Muslims and Hindus alike find them distasteful because the will not be subordinated to dogmatism.

      They are detested because they have become so fierce in defense of their beliefs. Their toleration of others is in such sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism. Militant Sikhs are a product of external pressures.

      Leave them alone and you have a great neighbor. Pee in their mud puddle and you have a death wish!

      August 6, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Gurpreet Singh bagla

      @Shanon: Did people of Quebec killed and bombed canadians for a separate country? well sikhs did and they still dream of getting a khalistan..which is imposible as they will get a laat on gands from Indians....they teach separatism to young kids and they put khalistan logos in sikh temples...lol day dreaming

      August 6, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Gurpreet Singh bagla

      "Pee in their mud puddle and you have a death wish!" sounds like a terrorist. Religion of peace my foot.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • jacob

      imuy buenas!
      to my knowledge sikhism is a very peaceful religion.
      i read some commenets about air india bombing here and in my mind, theres no doubt that it is promoted by radical hindus.
      i wanna put some light on extremism in hinduism as well
      1)on jan 22 199, graham staines, australian christian missionary was burnt alive with his two young kids in india bcoz he was preaching about christiany and lot of low caste hindus were converting to christianity bcoz theres no caste sytem in christianity
      2) hindus mob burnt alive innocent sikhs in 1984 and they are burning christians and their churches and houses even today and nobody is there to stop them bcoz its theire govt and police. what a pitty
      3) they have caste system where people who do low jobs likecleaning sewage are not aloowed to go to temples and drink water from the same well where in sikh religion and in christianity theres now caste system. everybody is equal

      August 8, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  20. truman

    Thanks CNN fo this Article, In US we should know all the other believes and their good things, One should not be killed because he is having long beard and wearing a turban. we all should respect each others' faiths and make this world a better place for living. no religion is teaching or allowing to kill any person.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:16 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.