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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. Jenisis Prophetess

    I am thoroughly disgusted with the events that took place yesterday morning. My heart goes out to these Sikh people. I am from NY and live in Queens where there are many Sikh ppl and have grown up around them my entire life. These ppl are not terrorists!!!! This is one of the most peaceful and laid back religions. Now although I am a proud American and a devoted Christian I believe that ALL ppl have the right to worship which ever way they choose. Even if I do not believe what you believe you should do ya thing because im gonna do mine. The level of apathy and ignorance towards others is what fuels the hatefire for tragedies such as this one. Mistaking these ppl for Muslims isnt even a good reason for murdering them so senselessly. Because although Muslim ppl arent in our good graces many times, not all of them are terrorists either. If we all took the time to learn about each other, this senseless ignorance-fueled violence would lessen. Even if you dont like someone or disagree with them no one deserves to be killed, its just wrong any way you slice it. To the victims as well as the murderer, may GOD have mercy on your souls...

    August 6, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Chris

      AMEN!

      August 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Mohammed_Islam

      We as human should be able to live together by helping each other, to be there when needed and respect each other to live this life with peace but when it comes to faith, we may have differences as Quran teaches with following verses….

      There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. [Al Quran 2:256]

      For you is your religion, and for me is my religion. [Al Quran 109:6]

      Peace to all!!!

      August 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  2. Avi

    Deep sadness over this tragedy, Sihks are the most beautiful of monotheistic faiths. Full of love and kindness. I pray others will learn something from them and join them in the light.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  3. Mohammed_Islam

    My Condolences for the families who lost their loved ones... I pray that the Almighty gives them patient in their lost and it would never happened to any other communities.... and may He help all the ill people regardless of their faith whoever has been involved with this evil action…

    Peace be upon all of you...

    August 6, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Mohammed_Islam

      The Quran teaches about killing others "whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." in following verse...

      Why people take others lives where they have not created any human? May be someone can escape in this life but every single soul regardless of your faiths will be standing in front of our The Creator to be held accountable... and there will not be any counselor talking on behalf of anyone... its all oneself and that’s it...

      Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. [Al Quran 5:32]

      O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah , through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer. [Al Quran 4:1]

      August 6, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  4. Nellore S. Venkataraman

    TO IGNORANT, HIGH SCHOOL DROP OUT HATE MONGERING RED NECKS:
    SIKHS ARE NOT MUSLIMS. DO NOT CONFUSE WITH OSAMA BIN LADEN TYPES.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Robyn

      Violence against a group of peaceful Muslims in their house of worship wouldn't be acceptable, either! Not all Muslims are "Osama bin Laden" types (almost none, in fact) any more than most Americans are like the shooter in this crime. That these articles keep underscoring that the Sikhs aren't even Muslims–with the slight implication that it would be somehow understandable if people had been shot in a Wisconsin mosque!–is a little scary to me.

      Deep condolences to the family and friends of the victims. My heart goes out to you all.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Chezjava

      He is right–Sikhs aren't Muslims. But Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and every branch of Christianity can be full citizens in this country. That's what makes the rich, diverse American mosaic. Tolerance is the foundation of our nation.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  5. Jim in PA

    Alternate headline: "Yet One More Thing That Rednecks Don't Know." Next up in the ongoing series; vaccines, evolution, macroeconomics, and climate science.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Lesliee

      What's wrong with you? Do you enjoy taking a tragedy and shameful act against a peaceful people, and try to make a comedy out of it? What's wrong with you??

      August 6, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • .

      The atheists need to come out of the closet and admit that they are followers of the modern day Pharisees that crucified Jesus and continue their evil to this day. They believe they have free will and a thinking mind, not knowing they were conditioned. Such jokes, every atheists on this belief blog.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Unfortunately...

      Lesilee, Jim isn't joking. The killer here was a knuclkewalking lout of the anointed American ignoranti who probably thinks – er, thought – that anyone who wears a turban is Muslim.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Joking about tragedy is a good thing.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Mohammed_Islam

      The person is an Army veteran and I would expect he would know this diff... who knows may be he's got mentally ill after came back from wars killing innocents... we see there are lots of veterans are mentally ill... O our Lord, help these veterans to be cured from any kinda illness...

      Peace!!!

      August 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  6. JennB

    Two types of sikhs – "real" sikhs and the 3ho cult: http://www.rickross.com/groups/3ho.html

    August 6, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  7. DVZ

    Sikh Brethren,

    You are welcome in our country. I'm personally sorry for the hate and ignorance of a very small fraction of my fellow Americans.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • bluemalak

      From what the article says, I honestly do not understand why anyone would target these people????

      August 6, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • John

      @bluemalak, ignorance.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Mammacat

      @DVZ Nice thought, but what makes you think this is "our" country as opposed to theirs? Many of these folks are 2nd and 3rd generation Americans. They don't need your "welcome" into their own home. It is every bit as much their country as some white dude's.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  8. Oscar Pitchfork

    TOMG, YOU'VE JUST GOT TO STOP EATING PAINT CHIPS AND THE STUFF AT THE BOTTOM OF THE DUNPSTERS!!!!

    August 6, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  9. Sabio

    To TomG & Nietodarwin: You two folks have enough hate & anger in you for half of the world's population!! IT's types like YOU who go out & commit mass murder. The vet who commited these murders was also full of hate & vengence because life wasn't "fair" to him. You two are time bombs........just waiting to go off. Since YOU are the ONLY one anywhere in the world who is "correct" why don't you go out & kill everyone else. I'm sure it will make you feel better. Hope you have a bang up hate filled day!

    August 6, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  10. Say it As You See It

    India's Mahatma Gandhi and American Jerry Sandusky: Strange Bedfellows

    What do these two have in common???? Terrorizing boys !!!! Shame. Let us bring their memories down and their legacies trashed. Let us knock their statues down and their thoughts erased.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • ME II

      What? Gandhi terrorizing boys? Where'd you get that?

      August 6, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • no

      Ghandi wasn't a Sikh. So you're only equating him with this article because he is Indian, which is just blantantly racist.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  11. TOMG

    HELL IS HELL SIMPLE AS THAT , BECAUSE THE DEVIL MIND AND THE EVIL MIND HAVE BEEN EATTING SO MUCH OF THE HUMAN WASTE AND HAVE BEEN DRINKING TOO MUCH OF THE HUMAN URINE THAT WHY , AMEN . KARMA HELL WORLD ARE NOW DAILY , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Lesliee

      Don't pay attention to this guy. He's nuts. There's no "there" there to speak to.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  12. Wade Michael Page should have watched this video before murdering those innocent people


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

    August 6, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • georgex

      Thanks makes a lot of sense.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  13. TOMG

    IT TOOL FULL OF THE HUMAN WASTE AND FULL OF THE HUMAN URINE TO CREATING THE DEVIL MIND AND THE EVIL MIND OUT INTO THIS KARMA WORLD , AND NOT FROM THE EGGS AND SPERMS THAT USE TO CREATING THE GENIUS MIND SUCH AS ALBERT SEINSTEIN AND THE GENIUS THOMAS EDISON HUMAN BEING TYPE , AMEN KARMA HELL WORLD BABY , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Blue Guitar

      ????What language is that???? (It's not English!)

      August 6, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Jesus Christ Superstar

      Dude, try using the bathroom if you have too much human waste

      August 6, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  14. Sheikh Abar Al Huseine

    Please don't compare Muslims to Sikhs or Hindus as the Muslims consider that as an insult.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • etherBunny

      Fanatics of any belief are an insult. If you choose to believe in something that's up to you. It does not provide anyone with a right to subjugate or denigrate others in anyway.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Jay SS

      Umm okay .. in that case : Please don't compare Sikhs to Hindus or Muslims as Sikhs consider that as an insult.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Jack

      I'd be insulted if you called ma a muslim too! they are lowlifes

      August 6, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  15. TOMG

    AND THEIR LIVERS ORGAN WILL BE GVIEN BACK TO THE WOOD ELEMENT , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  16. Balbir

    Guru Nanak as a 'non-practicing hindu who was against rituals and praying to idol' is an inaccurate description. His quality is not 'not believing in rituals and idols' but believing in 'service, single formless god, self respect, trust on guru than self etc'. He was a great philosopher during the difficult time of turk and lodi islamic invasion in India. His reason for finding a new religion is not because he opposed others, but he wanted to guide everyone towards god and service to human than anything else. Its like saying 'guys, u all are missing the point of ur religion, it is god that matters'. Thats why Sikh religion is not against any other religion in modern sense. All scriptures are written by gurus from then on and they have just philosophies for the betterment of people. Though it became a religion on its own, when Guru Nanak had the revelation, he did not say its a new religion, it was very well in tune with hindu advaita philosophy. When he got more followers later who trusted in guru's (his) words than scriptures, it became a religion. Even now, gurus have more prominence and importance, which is the beauty of sikh religion, which is also the case in hindu religion. Sikhism is about peace and unity, and they will lay their lives for people and to protect the innocents. Every sikh has strong sense of honor, loyalty, patriotism and social commitment.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Hank

      Then why do Sikhs carry daggers and swords and alongwith with Hindus massacred millions of Muslims in 1947 in India????? Please be honest and tell the truth to the public. Don't try to hide behind falsehoods.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • neal

      when you have 600 years of muslim rule which contains forced conversion, treated like second class citizens, abduction of women and children, desecration of temples.. leads to lack of trust.. so yeah.. there is a reason why muslims are hated in india and sikhs carry daggers... well plz educate yourself on muslim ethics and values or even read the koran.. its a religion of peace

      August 6, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Jugaad s.s

      Umm Hank ... have you heard something called google ? And 1974 was a bad time in which both sides committed atrocities .. And your numbers are wrong (obviously).

      August 6, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • defygrav12

      Hank– Are you really asking someone to explain the motivations of an incident that happened almost seventy years ago? Really? Then let me ask you a few questions– if Christianity is all about love, explain the Crusades. Explain the Inquisition. Explain why there are white-supremacists who practice everything but Christ's acceptance.

      Don't attack a group or faith as being untruthful based on the actions of a long-past generation of worshipers.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  17. TOMG

    AND THEIR KIDNEYS ORGAN WILL BE GIVEN BACK TO THE IRON OR THE METALLIC ELEMENT , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  18. Peter Trussle

    Hindus and Sikhs have been at "Daggers End" throughout their history in India. Killing each other. The best jokes in that culture I hear from my friends are based on Sikhs and their culture and vice versa on Hindus. Sikh men are jokingly referred to as 'Sardar Ji".

    August 6, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • JUSTSOYOUKNOW

      SARDAR JI (JI is a mark of respect). Sikhs are also called Sardars in India. It is usualy to suffix JI in India even to Names Mr, Trussle Ji,,,
      Yes, of course there are jokes about sikhs,, ljust like there are jokes about Poles, Russians , Jews etc..
      India's Prime minister is a Sikh, Past presidents have been Sikhs, the chief of defences services are almost always Sikhs...
      So Please do not comment on something that you do not have any knowledge.,..Makes you look like a fool...which may be you are..

      August 6, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Alex

      A 'Paki' trying to drive a rift between Hindus and Sikhs. Run Paki, a drone is looking out for you!

      August 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  19. TOMG

    AND THEIR STOMACH ORGAN WILL BE GIVEN BACK TO THE SOIL OR THE SAND ELEMENT , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  20. TOMG

    AND SO DOES THEIR LUNGS ORGAN WILL BE GIVEN BACK TO THE WATER AND THE AIR ELEMENT , AMEN .

    August 6, 2012 at 10:43 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.