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. Nietodarwin

    Believe in the power of the lord and the bible. Fear not those evil atheists and satan worshipers who have now landed a machine on Mars (the RED planet!!!!!!!), to further commune with the devil. WE DON"T NEED SCIENCE AND TECHNOOGY WHEN GOD HAS TOLD US ALL WE NEED TO KNOW IN THE BIBLE

    August 6, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • AS

      dude not cool

      August 6, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • madi7

      Don't need 'Science & Technology', that's the dumbest thing ever heard!

      August 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • madi7

      Stay off Computers and Internet if you don't need Science & Tech..

      August 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  2. Not All Docs Play Golf

    I don't understand why there are people here attacking the Sikh religion when this was a gool old American ex-military probably western evangelical Protestant Christian Palin-worshiping NRA member who committed these murders.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  3. SM

    Having being raised around Sikh community until my 20s (when I came to US) and probably having more Sardar (Sikh) friends than any other, I am really saddened at the kind of dialogue being discussed here between Sikhs and Hindus.

    It's a shame that people start "Defining" my/your/their religion after such a tragic event.

    Ohh and BTW........Guns are for soldiers in a battlefield. Not that it matters now.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  4. palintwit

    I'd rather live next door to a Sikh than a teabagger. Teabaggers are filthy and they don't cut their lawns.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:47 am |

  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtX_R-V5Cws

    August 6, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  6. mokchya

    The best fact I just learned about Sikhs is that they do not have distinction or caste systems within. This is something that no religion has. You have baptists or catholics or whatever in christianity, there are a lot of castes and groups in Hindu and Muslims have Sunni or 'Something'. That is why there is a whole load of misunderstanding and conflicts within a religion,

    August 6, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Vish

      Yes, Gurunanakji was a great saint and fought for equal rights for fellow human beings. SIKH religion is one of the best religions in the world and killing innocents is brutal and SAD act. Sikhs originally came into existence as Hindu protectors from Muslim invaders in India. Every elder son use to become a Sikh to protect Hindus. What is not true is that there is still difference between rich Sikhs and poor Sikhs in Punjab, Poor Sikhs are untouchables and fight for their rights even today. Rich Sikhs keep them at a distance.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  7. TOMG


    August 6, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Get a CT scan.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • NicPayne

      A good person doesnt pray for death to their enemies. they pray for enlightenment for their enemies. Your prayer makes you equal to your enemies level of hate.
      hate begets hates

      I agree, you should get a CT scan

      August 6, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Bob

      CT Scan? This dude needs a new keyboard. His caps lock is broken.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  8. TOMG


    August 6, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • sandeep singh

      The towel covers my hair which I am keeping as a vow to upheld the required tenets of my faith. Vow to always be proud by not committing any thing bad as my towel is my crown that reminds me each second that I must remain worthy of this crown. Why did your grandfather wore a hat?

      August 6, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Hacksaw

      Please, dont worry about him. I believe he is trolling for hostile responses.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  9. Thomas

    You "Sikhs" killed former Prime Minister of India Ms. Indira Gandhi. Now, you people are claiming to be "Loving and Caring"

    August 6, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • sandeep singh

      Beant and Sat want committed this dastardly unsikh act of murdering a defenseless woman who they were suppose to protect. Anybody in Sikh history who ordered an attack on Golden Temple has been murdered, Mrs Gandhi should have known this fact before ordering the attack onnthe birthday of Gur Arjan dev who created he Golden temple and later was murdered by Mughal Jahangir at Lahore.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • SikhandProud

      Look up Operation Blue Star 1984 read it, and then try writing that comment again.

      Have a nice day.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Nat

      And Reagen was shot by...and Lincoln was shot by...and Kennedy was killed by.....and Oklahoma City was bombed by.....Most leaders are assasinated by their own people....Sikhs are considered one of the most peaceful religions on earth, much like Buddhists.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • James

      Please go check the history why she was killed. She killed more than 3000 sikh innocent sikhs before the matters were taken into hand.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  10. TOMG


    August 6, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  11. Skorpio

    Johar says "If you are Hindu, he said be a good Hindu," "If you are Muslim, be a good Muslim. If you are Christian, be a good Christian." The problem is to be a "Good Muslim" if that entails to imitate prophet Mohammed's immoral, violent, merciless, discriminatory and cruel conduct.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      You jst broadcast to the world your complete ignorance of Islam. Now, go back to reading your cereal box until Glenn Beck comes one.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      To be fair, apart from Moses, Muhammed is the most violent religious prophet, and we know Muhammed existed also, unlike Moses.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Duh...

      "If a man or woman living among you...has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky...take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death." (Deuteronomy 17:2-7)

      Soo you know, Islam is no different than Christianity.. It is just extremism and hate that fuels the fire behind the strife, coming from statements like yours

      August 6, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  12. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Sounds like the Sikh religion puts western evangelical Christianity to shame on every level.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • madi7

      Evangelical Christianity? Where is it?? I don't see it.. Hope you are not talking about United States..

      August 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  13. sandeep singh

    A Sikh must carry a weapon so that she/he can become a saint as well a soldier. Saint to love everybody and soldier to protect the defenseless. The hair turban are all part of Sikh soldier uniform. Saint and soldier to be always towards truth, contentment, compassion, righteousness and patience and always away from lust, anger, greed, materialism, ego. Weapons are must for a Sikh not to be a violent but to defend and Guru Gobind Singh told his followers to never strike a weapon in anger or for greed materialism or other such things but defense and defense only.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  14. AGuest9

    Sikhs are hated by Hindus because they are caste-less. Just TRY managing a group of Indians! One won't accept management by another because he is the wrong caste, and won't work with another because he is "unclean". Sheesh!

    August 6, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Narasimha

      Sikhs are not hated by Hindus. Few people hate them. Maybe some people who happen to be hindus may hate Sikhs for personal reasons or due to personal selective experiences, but by and large Sikhs are well respected.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • ANT

      Ignoramus, Did you know that in many hindu families in the Punjab the oldest son is raised as a Sikh.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • patriot125

      Aguest9, you are totally ingorant. Did you know that hindu families made their first borns a Sikh? Hindus don't hate sikhs!. Guru Nanak, the founder of sikhism was a Hindu himself. Sikhism is actually Hinduism in it's true form. Learn something first before blurting out trash.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Tiger Singh

      Sikhs are NOT, REPEAT, ARE NOT HATED BY HINDUS! Guru Nanakji was born into a Hindu family. Hindus and Siksh inter-marry, there are many similarities in cluture, tradition and religion. A Hindu never thinks twice about going to a Gurudwara as something odd or different. The Prime Minster of India is a Sikh, that's in a country that is overwhelmingly Hindu. You need to do your research and get things right before posting something nonsens.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • madi7

      Don't generalize that stupid statement. Hindu's don't hate Sikhs.. I am Hindu and I respect Sikhs for their beliefs, good nature and patriotism.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Geet

      Your comment only shows your ignorance or some hidden agenda. Sikhs are pride of India and they are very well respected and love by Hindus. There may be some exceptions not because of religion but due to some personal experiences and reasons. I'm sure you don't know that Sikhs were originated from Hindus and every Hindu family used to raise their first son as Sikh when it was originated. I am a Hindu, I have great respect for the ten Gurus and Sikhism and I think world should learn a bit more about this religion and learn some beautiful things that are taught by the Gurus.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • AGuest9

      You never worked in MY office, then! Before you start calling people ignorant, sit in an EEO office for hours, trying to sort out issues with a project team!

      August 6, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  15. Francis

    I can't believe some of these posts about american religion. What religion is american? wasen't this country founded on religious rights? What religion are you going to exclude from that. Get real even christianity was brought in.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • AGuest9

      America was founded on religious FREEDOM, not rights!

      August 6, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  16. Shradda Maskey

    First of all, it is not justifiable to attack any individual because of his or her religion or faith; it is inhuman. Some one is Muslim does not mean they are anti-American. Now, here's something that Americans need to know something about;
    Sikhs may look like Muslims because of their turban or beard or their racial look, but they are in no way related to Islam. Actually, Sikhs emerged from non-violent Hindu sect as a way to encounter violent Islam. Therefore, almost all sikh leaders were crucified by Islamic Mullahs in the past.

    Mistaking Sikhs as Muslims is a blunder; it is a paradox that Sikhs are persecuted in many ways and harassed by Muslims for conversion.

    Learn the cultures and religions

    August 6, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Charlie

      Yes indeed however you are also misguided my freind, Sikhism is NOT a sect of Hinduism, it is entirely separate....please please people can we at leat just read a little Sikh history before we post! Dont just idly read and believe!

      August 6, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Mistaking Sikhs as Muslims is a blunder"""

      If that is indeed what occurred in Wisconsin, I agree with you. It just seems strange to me that someone would go on a murderous rampage against people he knows nothing about.

      But then again, a number of Amish girls were killed a few years back, and their killer knew very well what they were about. He was suicidal, religious, and off the deep end emotionally.

      I think we ought to wait and see what the real motive was here, too. Anger? Did he lose his job to a Sikh or was fired by his Sikh boss? Did he suspect that his lover was fooling around with a Sikh? Or was it something imaginary?

      August 6, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • RB

      Charlie, Sikhs may not be a sect of Hinduism, depending on how a sect is defined. However, Sikhism did emerge as a reformation of Hinduism. Sikhs fought against the Muslims (Mughuls) in India. There are still several Sikhs who very seriously observe Hindu festivals.Sikhs are highly respected in India, you may not know that the current Prime Minister of India is a Sikh. I am from India and probably know more about Sikhism than you. It is true that after 1984 some of the Sikhs, especially in US, Canada etc. consider themselves separate from Hinduism, mostly due to how religion is understood in these countries, i.e., every religion seems to want to highlight their differences from other religions and consider their religion the most true, best etc.
      You probably need to learn a lot more about India and its religions.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • A Sikh

      Just because you are from India you know more about sikhs? My dear I am a Sikh and I can tell you that you don't know anything about sikhism or truly just dont want to accept the reality.

      August 7, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  17. Dott

    Why are these people here? Why are they not in their own country? How do they get approved to move to the USA? Just wondering. 700,000 here – why do they come to America and not accept the American customs and religions? Still wondering.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Norm

      You should attend one of their services and ask them for yourself instead of "still wondering".

      August 6, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • TAC

      Dott, I know several people who are born and bread on US soil who also have to Sihks. I'm also not sure why that matters. If these people came here legally, they may be here for the ability to maintain their own religious freedoms. These people were lawfully exercising their faith when a Christian shot them. I'm not so curious about how the Sihks got here as curious where he came from.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Matt

      They are accepting American religions and customs, "The right to freedom of religion" is an American custom.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • jim

      They are here because they want to be here, and our country was FOUNDED on people being able to come here if they were persecuted in their own "country". Sikhs have no 'country', they are a tiny minority in India compared to the Hindu population. Along with Buddhists, Sikh are probably the gentlest, kindest, most 'human' religion in the world. Try not to display your ignorance in the future, please.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Dan

      Probably because they have their own religion and because the USA doesn't require (nor should it require) people to "change into something else". They come here for the same reason why your ancestors did (and they didn't become native Americans with their tribal religions): freedom and opportunity.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Southerner

      Dott, They are here like Europian Americans(so called whites or cacausians) , African Americans , Hispanic Americans.....for a better life. Basically they are also immigrants like all of us(unless you are native Indian).They are peaceloving and hard working people.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Guest

      What part of the article said they did not accept American customs? You must have read a different article than I did. Besides, if they are doing good works and serving people, who cares where they come from? I'm a Christian, and if they are truly living the faith that's described in this article, I would be glad to call any of them a friend.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Leo

      There is no "American religion," and the fact that you even suggest such a thing screams of your ignorance. There has never been a legitimate "test of religion" to be allowed admittance into this country, and I hope there never will be. Maybe YOU should leave. Our country was founded on various freedoms, including freedom of religion, as its cornerstone. Clearly, you don't agree with our nation's core principles. I guess you should find another place to live.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • AGuest9

      @Dott (and many others on this thread): Is American History I (Pre-Civil War) no longer taught in public schools?

      August 6, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Sherry

      Anyone who disses other religions should go to their temple and learn what they believe because speaking with ignorance is pretty embarassing. America is a great country where it accepts, respects and provides opportutnies to people from different countries. People like you make America look bad to the world.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • ANT

      Why did you people leave the squalor of europe and come here to spread disease and death ................ you need to go back to your own country.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Jack Ryan

      That is what the native Americans are still wondering about you dott.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • kara

      @Dott why are you here? Do you think your ppl found this country? please don't speak on matters you simply dont understand. you are one stupid individual. We come to this country to become doctors and lawyers whereas you are born and raised here and cant even graduate from high school. such a waste.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Auslanders raus, eh Dott?
      "Give your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"
      No addendum saying "as long as they're white and Christian".

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

      From everything I've read I think I would rather have them here than you. Please leave.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Deep

      um, probably because they were needed here since there is a shortage of educated people here, um like doctors, engineers, scientists, business enterpreneurs who understand technology, pharmacists, nurses etc etc

      August 6, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • goulab

      They are here because this is a free country. They perform jobs that many Americans like you, Dtt, would not do. Like cleaning motel rooms and toilettes. And where did you come from, is your name White Eagle or something like that? I doubt it. You are a prejudist ignorant person, you dont know what you are writing about. Educate yourself, go to church, learn compassion towards your fellow man, then comment. Dott.......,.,.,

      August 6, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • marcus

      Are you being serious? Why are any of 'us' here? In case you don't know, there were people here before Europeans or Africans stepped foot on this rock. They had communities, societies and religions, but said Europeans and Africans did not adapt to their cultures and religions, they eliminated them (the Euros that is). By your logic, no one should be here apart from those original inhabitants.
      So again I ask you, why are we here?

      August 6, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Nat

      Hey Dott: They are here for the same reason the Scotts, Russians, English and everyone else is here...because it is America. Sikhs and Indians provide some of the best computer scientists, bioligists, doctors, etc in our Country. Most are middle to upper class. they arrive here legally and work to get their citizienship. I am always disgusted when someone slurs legal immigrants because for some reason we forget we are ALL descendent from immigrants except the American Indians.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • madi7

      Dott, per your stupid logic, one should change his/her religion every time he/she moves to a different country... do you have a religion??May be I should ask, what is your current religion?? hahaha... You are probably born and raised here but probably you don't know that this country is only made up of immigrants from different parts of the world..

      August 6, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  18. Myrna Minkoff-Katz

    So now we know that the massacre was committed by a right-wing extremist not unlike the Tea Partiers.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • AGuest9

      Don't be fooled. There is Tea and Rush ALL over this.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  19. Edward

    What I read is that they believe that no person is to be mistreated and that they practice that by not mistreating anyone. This is essential to their "equality" belief, their "freedom of religion" belief and their "inclusivness" belief. I also read that they believe that all people should help the person who needs help the most to get the most constructive help which is critical in their "community service" belief.

    Many times it's the words that we use to describe what we're looking at that keeps us from understanding what we see.

    Imagine those two things in a religion and people actually practicing it;

    (1) Guaranteeing no person is mistreated.
    (2) Guaranteeing the person who needs help the most get the most constructive help.

    You can put only those two things in a "spiritual" text or "religious" text and spend the next 5,000 years explaining to people why it is critical to do this and how to go about doing this. And those two things stated as written will be the only two lines of text you'll need.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  20. eg

    Such a whitewashed article. It asks "what do sikhs believe", and spends 90% of the article saying and reiterating that they do NOT believe in castes. Guess what, atheists do not believe in castes either. Not believing in castes hardly defines what a religion is.

    Here's the deal: Sikhism is yet another backwards cult, an offshoot of Hinduism with a little added violence, that may or may not have been justified back then. They still think they are some kind of soldiers, but to be fair, while they may hold some antiquated notions such as honor killings, they pose minimal risk to westerners at this time.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • dj

      what did you expect from a write whose last name originate from Hungary.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Greg

      Yea what a backward cult!! Don't they know the world is just 10,000 years old and Evolution doesn't exist!!

      August 6, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Sylvia Feldman

      And what have YOU done in the service of others and for the poor lately? Why don't you work on developing some humanity?

      August 6, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • zenfool

      Crap! Our society has YOU to deal with now, too. We need more Sikhs......

      August 6, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • TAC

      I don't ever recall hearing about an atheist entering a temple and shooting anyone.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • jim

      Sikh do NOT believe in 'honor killings'.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Singh

      Sikhs believe in equality, food and shelter for all, fight to protect and not to take advantage, be fearless as well as compassionate. Sikhs are taught to be human first, embrace all religions and never discriminate. They believe that GOD is too big to come and visit the Earth, a tiny planet of a single star. Instead they have teachers who educate people to be nice and connect with GOD in whatever way one feels good. They are energetic and fun to be with. Whenever you want to eat for free a delicious meal, come and see for yourself. You will be welcomed. No one will ask you why you are here.
      And does reading one small article tell you all about a religion? I wonder how much time it took you to complete a grade in school, if you completed one?

      August 6, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • madi7

      What country are you from eg?? I am an Indian and looks like you know a whole lot about Sikhs even more than me.. Don't post just because you want to post, know something before posting... Sometimes staying quiet is better than speaking as it might show how dumb u r.. it applies to you...

      August 6, 2012 at 11:04 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.