About Sikhs

What is a Sikh?

The word Sikh means “student”, “learner”, and “disciple”. So by that definition, anyone who considers himself or herself a seeker of truth is a Sikh. But in a technical sense, a Sikh is a person who (1) believes in Oneness and it's immortality (2) accepts and respects the political and spiritual authority of the previous ten Sikh Gurus (3) accepts and respects the spiritual authority of the current and eternal Sikh Guru, Shri Guru Granth Sahib (4) recognizes the establishment of the Khalsa Panth and (5) does not owe any allegiance to another faith or religion. 

Who is the founder of Sikhism? 

The founder of Sikhism is a man named Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak was born in the year 1469 in the region of Punjab that is now in Pakistan. From a very young age, he was always contemplating and questioning others on the essence of Divine and how to connect to the Oneness. Then at the age of 30, he obtains enlightenment and begins on his life mission to help others (regardless of faith) connect to the One Divine. This continued until he retired and passed on the Guruship to one of his disciples Bhai Lehna (renamed Guru Angad). Over the next 200 years, the Guruship continues to be passed along until the last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji. Near the conclusion of his life, instead of passing on the Guruship to another disciple, Guru Gobind Singh passes spiritual authority onto the Sikh holy scriptures (the Sri Guru Granth Sahib) and political authority onto the collection of initiated Sikhs known as the Khalsa Panth. 

What are the Sikh Holy Scriptures?

The holy scripture of the Sikhs is called the “Sri Guru Granth Sahib”. Because it holds the position of being the final and eternal Guru of the Sikhs, it is treated with the utmost reverence and not like an ordinary book. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib is written in a script known as “Gurmukhi” and contains several languages from the Indian subcontinent (the most prominent being Punjabi). Its verses are poetic in nature, and most are set to musical melodies known as raags. Anyone who is capable can read from the Guru Granth Sahib.  

What is a Sikh place of worship called?

A Sikh place of worship is called a Gurdwara, which means “the door to the Guru”. A Gurdwara is open to people of all faiths, nationalities, cultures, and races and can be visited any day of the week. At the Gurdwara, Sikhs come to pray, sing the One’s praises, and participate in a free community meal called “langar”. During langar, everyone sits on the floor next to each other in order to show that all are equal. 

Before going to the Gurdwara, there are a few rules you should know.

- In a Gurdwara, it is required that all (male and female) cover their head. Be sure to dress modestly as well. 
- Shoes must be removed while inside a Gurdwara. Gurdwaras usually have stations where you can place your shoes until you are ready to leave.
- Cigarettes and alcohol are not allowed on the Gurdwara premises. It is best to keep them at home before going there. 
- When going inside a Gurdwara, it is considered respectful to bow to the Guru Granth Sahib. If you are not comfortable doing so, that’s okay! Just sit and quietly settle on the appropriate side of the Gurdwara.
- Parshad is a sanctified delicacy made from flour, butter, and sugar. When parshad is being passed out, be sure to accept it with both of your hands.

Who or what is God in Sikhism?

Sikhism is a non-dualistic faith, meaning that there is no separation between the creation and the Creator. Guru Nanak expands on the characteristics of the Divine in the first few lines of the Sikh holy scriptures called the “Mool Mantar”. In English, it can be translated as the following: the One manifested itself into creation, it’s essence and identity is Truth, it is the creative force behind everything, it contains no fear, it contains no hate, it is not contained by time, it is not born and does not die, it is self-existent, this is known by the Teacher’s grace. It should also be noted that since the One is formless within Sikhi, it is also without gender.

In the Sikh community, the Divine is often referred to as ‘Waheguru” which means “Wondrous Enlightener” or “Wow Teach”. The Divine is also referred to as Akaal Purakh (The Timeless Entity).

What is the purpose of life according to Sikhism?

The purpose of life (according to Sikhism) is to remove the veil of duality (the idea that we are separated from the One) and to become one with the Infinite in this lifetime. This can be accomplished through activities such as naam simran (constant remembrance and praise of the One), seva (selfless service), and the study of Gurbani. 

What are the sources of evil in the world?

The Panj Chor (otherwise known as the five thieves) are what causes suffering and disorder in this world. They are...

Kam (Lust)
Krodh (Anger)
Lobh (Greed)
Moh (Attachment to worldy things)
Hankar (pride or sense of self)

Once these are brought under submission, a person becomes in tune with the Divine. 

What does Sikhism say about gender?

In Sikhism, the One does not discriminate on the basis of gender, and both males and females have an equal opportunity to connect with the Infinite. That being said, the role a person can play in the Sikh community is not restricted by what gender you are. The reader should be aware though that this is not always put into practice in some Sikh spaes.

Why do Sikhs wear a turban and have hair?

The Khalsa tradition requires wearing the 5 Ks. 

Kesh - uncut, unshorn hair
Kirpan - a small dagger or sword
Kachera - Loose-fitting white cotton undergarment
Kara - Iron or Steel bracelet
Kanga - Small wooden comb commonly worn under the Turban (Pagri)

The duty of an initiated or Khalsa Sikh is to follow a saintly lifestyle while also protecting those who are unable to defend themselves and upholding justice. This uniform makes it easier for a Sikh to stand out in order for those who are in need of assistance to recognize us. 

What are some common misconceptions people have about Sikhs?

Due to lack of study by those outside the Sikh community, most just assume that Sikhism is a mix between the faiths of Islam and Hinduism or a branch off of Hinduism. This is incorrect. Sikhism is its own distinct faith and should be viewed within the context of when and where it developed. 

There is also a misconception that Sikhism is an ethnic religion and only people of Punjabi descent can be Sikhs. This is incorrect as well. Though a vast amount of the world’s Sikhs are of Punjabi descent, there are Sikhs who claim ancestry from other parts of India as well. You can also find historical Sikh communities outside of India in countries such as Afghanistan.  And over the past few decades, there have been a  growing number of western converts to the faith. 

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