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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.

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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.

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"(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. TOMG

    WHEN THE TIME IS UP FOR THE HUMAN FORM BEING , THEIR HEART ORGAN WILL BE GIVEN BACK TO THE FIRE ELEMENT , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  2. TOMG

    THE ONLY PEOPLE POST HATE IN THIS KIND OF STORY IS THAT THEIR ANAL CAN NOT RELEASING OUT OF THE HUMAN WASTE THAT ALL , AMEN KARMA HELL WORLD , AMEN

    August 6, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  3. Peter Trussle

    HINDU GODDESS PANCHALI
    This goddess was married to five brothers. Which one would become the legitimate father of his child should she have one? Dr Charles (renowned author and an authority on India) says that instances of incest are common in Hindu scriptures.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Kumar

      Mr. Trussle,
      Please read the text before you comment. Panchali (Draupadi) is the leading leady in our epic Mahabharata. She is not a goddess. She ends being the wife of five brothers because of a misunderstanding by their (groom and his brothers) mother.
      I wouldn't even bother responding to rest of the text. We all can pick and choose facts to our liking to support a viewpoint. Does not make it a reality.
      Furthermore, what has her life to do with the senseless killings in Wisconsin.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  4. TOMG

    ALL HUMAN WASTE NEEDED TO GOING ALONG SIDE WITH ALL THE HUMAN URINE , AMEN KARMA FULL OF HELL LIFESTYLE ARE NOW THE DAILY HELL LIFE , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  5. arshi93

    I am a Sikh and devastated by this news. However, it's sad when I come online and see people saying cruel stuff. As I read comments, I realize some people believe its not "trajic" if a Mulsims get killed. Thus, they are also human beings just like us. I ask again, are all Muslims bad? Even if eleven year old Muslims get shot? Wrong. If one is bad in a nation, not all are bad in a nation. If one is good in a nation, not all are good in a nation.
    Please stop bashing about Muslims, like they are peice of trash that we can randommly kill if we want. All Muslims are not terrorists. At there are terrorists from each nation, each person who kills somebody is a terrorist. So in conclusion, they're terrorists in each nation besides Muslims.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • A Sikh

      Spoken like a true sikh. May waheguru bless you with peace and further enlightenment.

      August 7, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  6. sathyavrath

    Sikhs tolerant? Since when??? Google Sikh terrorist organisation banned by India, EU and the US. It about 2 pages long. There is a sect in Punjab, called the SUCCHA SAUDA, akin to what Shias are in Islam. Sikhs vow to kill him and his followers because they say he is heretical. And it seems ok for a Sikh MP to equate Indians from the Far East of India with dogs, but wont take some silly joke about them lying down. They also want the state to bend rules to suit them. Like not patting their turbans during a security check. Like they can guarantee everyone is not a Sikh imposter, who may carry a bomb in his turban instead of his shoes....if Sikhs want to us to be tolerant to them, why have no Sikhs spoken out against the intolerance by Sikhs in India???

    August 6, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  7. TOMG

    WHAT THE HUMAN FORM IN THIS TWENTY- FIRST CENTURY ERA ARE REALLY NEEDE TO EAT MORE OF THIER HUMAN WASTE AND DRINKING MORE OF THEIR URIEN INORDER TO HAVE THE GREAT AWAKENING FROM THEIR OWNSELF ANAL TO HAVE MORE PEACE IN THEIR HELL LIFESTYLE AND MORE HARMONY IN THEIR LIFESTYLE ALSO , AMEN KARMA FULL OF WASTE AND URINE HELL WORLD , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  8. Kris

    It is sad to see that even on a story like this people post hate.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • arshi93

      Absolutely right.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  9. TOMG

    ALL RELIGIOUS ARE STARTING OUT FROM THE HUMAN ANAL AND THE VIRGINA HOOOOOOOOOO AND THE PENIS DIC , AMEN KARMA BABY FULL OF IT ARE COMING IN THIS STUPID CIVILIZATION ERA OF HELL WORLD , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  10. TOMG

    ONLY THE SUN SOLAR POWERFUL IS THE ONLY GOD AND SO DOES THE MOON LUNAR POWERFUL GOD ALSO , AMEN KARMA WORLD FULL OF CAUSE AND AFFECT , AMEN

    August 6, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  11. Gill

    Who cares this is just another round of stupidity until somebody else down the road does it again somewhere else..

    August 6, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  12. Nietodarwin

    When will CNN do a story on the history of religious upbringing and indoctrination of these various mass murderers? Most are white christians. Religion damages people, and then the religious damage more people. This murderer was created in a church when he was a child. RELIGION IS CHILD ABUSE.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Why are more religious populations more violent?

      Murder rates are lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread (Jensen 2006; Paul 2005; Fajnzylber et al. 2002; Fox and Levin 2000).

      And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon (Ellison et al. 2003; Death Penalty Information Center, 2008). Furthermore, although there are some notable exceptions, rates of most violent crimes tend to be lower in the less religious states and higher in the most religious states (United States Census Bureau, 2006).

      Finally, of the top 50 safest cities in the world, nearly all are in relatively non-religious countries, and of the eight cities within the United States that make the safest-city list, nearly all are located in the least religious regions of the country (Mercer Survey, 2008).

      From: http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

      Coorelation is not causation, but if religion were true wouldn't you expect the opposite?

      August 6, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • jk6411

      How about taking wealth/poverty into consideration?
      People in wealthy regions are less likely to be religious. Rich people don't look for God.
      People in poor regions, on the other hand, are more likely to be religious. Usually it's the poor, disenfranchised people who are more likely to look for God.
      But where there is poverty, there are more murders too.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • John

      It could be worth studying why this coorelation exists.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  13. palintwit

    It's a safe bet the shooter owned a copy of Sarah Palin's infamous 'crosshairs' poster.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • fbrillo

      And...I bet he has a Ted Nugent cd or two as well.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  14. TOMG

    POWERFUL EARTHQUAKE NEED TOBE COMING SOON 16.O AND HIGHER PLEASE , AMEN .
    AND THAT WILL BE SOLVING MANY DEVIL MING AND EVIL MIND QUESTION OF FULL OF KARMA HELL LIFESTYLE ARE NOW DAILY , AMEN YES , YES , YES . AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  15. TOMG

    ALLAH IS THE SAME AS THE ATOMIC BOMB , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  16. Nietodarwin

    The Tea Party and xstian right will not be very upset by this killing. Here's their logic, it's BIBLE LOGIC (Well, they will think it's a shame about the WHITE MALE killer having to die, but so many "rag heads" are dead, that it just must be God's will)

    "This is God's will because the atheists and evil ones are landing on another planet ('another planet" is a LIE made by satan, The Earth and Moon are the ONLY planets, because God created them 6000 years ago, and SO LOVED THE WORLD that he sent his only son) Well, JUST READ YOUR BIBLE or I have a MAGIC MAN who can explain this to you. Blessed be the lord, and his holy works, womb Mary, liar satan, virgin birth, THOU SHALT NOT, he that believe, everlasting life, hell fire, OK let's switch to speaking in tongues ((*%&$*&^(&*&(*#$#0*9*&65465465()&(*^(^)(^*%(&%(Y*&^ Amen praise be

    August 6, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • SteveO

      You sir know nothing about the Christian faith.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      YOU sir are wrong. I was raised in it. I know that Muppets and Darwin make more sense than belief in some resurrection. I know the earth is more than 6000 years old. I know that "faith" is a word which means "I don't know and can't prove the answer so you'll just have to let me manipulate you." I WAS JUST BEING SARCASTIC in the last post. I could go on for pages. Go get your bible, roll it up, and stick it.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • your mom

      listen atheists are not evil, we all have different beliefs. Saying that an atheist is evil is like saying anyone with a different religion of your's is evil. And explain to me how and what atheists did to make them selves evil? You sir are very, very Stupid

      August 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  17. Sailor101

    This is a great piece, full of good information and some of the comment are very good. I have always liked/respected the Indian population here in the US (Hindu and Sikhs) very hard working, they all make an attempt to learn English (most of them already speak English before even coming here) They keep thier property clean and neat in appearance. I do wish they would try to mingle and assimilate more into American culture and make connections with other Americans. I realize that is hard because on the average Americans are reluctant to give outsiders a chance, some ignorant Americans see Sikhs as Islamic Middle Easterners which reflects on those of us who know the difference. My thought and prayers go out to the victums and thier families that have suffered in this tragedy.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • JeffCAN

      Thanks for your comment.
      Happy to know there are Americans out there who can show some
      tolerance and compassion.
      We need more people like you.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  18. blessings

    There are many paths to God. God doesn't turn anyone away, as long as you love everyone as you love yourself. There is no hatred in God. There is no exclusiveness in God. My prayers are with the victims and their families, and yes, with the poor misguided soul who caused this tragedy.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      But there is "hatred in atheists" SORRY, the record of HISTORY pretty much shows that your "God" is NOTHING BUT HATRED.
      Sweet and touching IGNORANT POST. To quote Romney, "Put up or shut up" Go bless behind closed doors.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • A Sikh

      Neitodarwin,

      I haven't studied the Bible so can not give you any feedback.

      However, based on the sikh faith, the first Guru said that there are thousands of Galaxies and there are Universes beyond this universe. All creation is the one's creation. All religions are not the same, but their interpretations are very many.

      I have equal respect for all religions and atheists as well. one does not need to agree with the other to respect the other or their views.

      Regards,
      A Sikh

      August 7, 2012 at 3:41 am |
  19. Nietodarwin

    Most honest xtian song, (from The Good War and some good songwriting, with a whole new twist today)

    PRAISE THE LORD AND PASS THE AMMUNITION. All religion is poison, most of it lethal poison.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:04 am |

  20. [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAvDtPz33w0&w=640&h=360]

    August 6, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Bill

      Great video!

      August 6, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      Ausgezeichnet!

      August 6, 2012 at 10:20 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.