Sikhism – The word Sikh (pronounced “Sikh”) means ‘disciple’ or ‘learner.’ The Sikh religion was founded in Northern India in the fifteenth century by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and is distinct from Islam and Hinduism. Sikhism is monotheistic and stresses the equality of all men and women. Sikhs believe in three basic principles; meditating on the name of God (praying), earning a living by honest means as well as sharing the fruits of one’s labor with others. Sikhism rejects caste and class systems and emphasizes service to humanity.
Turbans are worn to cover our long hair and with respect to God. Sikhs have unshorn hair, beards and moustaches. The Sikh faith teaches us the humanitarian principles of freedom, equality, and justice – the same principles this great democracy is founded on. There are about 25 million Sikhs in the world. Sikhs have been in the United States for over 100 years. Sikhism recognizes the universal truths that underlie all human endeavors, religions and belief systems. The universal nature of the Sikh way of life reaches out to people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds, encouraging us to see beyond our differences and to work together for world peace and harmony.
History and Beliefs
The almost 25 million Sikhs worldwide constitute the fifth largest religion in the world. Despite almost a million Sikhs living in North America (USA and Canada), Sikhs are often confused as Arabs or Muslims. Sikhs arrived in North America in 1897 and played a pivotal role in the opening of the West and construction of the Panama Canal in 1904. In 1906, Sikhs established their first gurdwara, or place of worship, in the United States. 700,000 Americans and Canadians are Sikh and nearly every major city has a Sikh place of worship and community center.
The Sikh faith is five hundred years old. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, taught a message of love. He spoke of a universal God, common to all mankind, not limited to any religion, nation, race, creed, color, or gender. The Sikh religion is strictly monotheistic, believing in one supreme Creator, free of gender, absolute, all-pervading, and eternal. Sikhism views lfe not as a fall from grace, but a unique opportunity to discover and develop the divinity in each of us. Human rights and justice form a cornerstone of Sikh belief, and Sikh history features countless examples of Sikh Gurus and their followers making tremendous sacrifices for the cause of religious freedom and justice. More recently, Sikhs have been some of the most highly decorated soldiers of the British armed services during both World Wars. They played a significant role in the memorable battles of El Alamein in the Burma-China front and also in the allied assault in Italy. In India’s struggle for independence from the British, over two-thirds of all the Indians who were sentenced to life imprisonment or death were Sikh. This is in spite of the fact that Sikhs form less than two percent of India’s population
The Sikh Identity
In 1699, the tenth and last living Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, summoned his followers to the town of Anandpur in Punjab; over 80,000 came. According to history, Guru Gobind Singh appeared before his people, flashed a naked sword, and demanded a head. He repeated his call until five Sikhs volunteered. These five individuals came from different parts of India and from different castes. To these five, and subsequently to many others on that historic day, Guru Gobind Singh bestowed a new discipline, a creed to his Sikhs. The Guru initiated these five in the new order of the Khalsa and then, in a dramatic and historic gesture, they in turn initiated him.
For the past 300 years, male Sikhs have been easily recognized by their long unshorn hair covered with a turban. Notably, in traditional Indian society only males of high caste or the elite, ruling class wore turbans. In requiring all Sikhs to don turbans, Guru Gobind Singh envisioned all individuals as noble. Sikh women adhere to the same life style, symbols, rules and conduct, but relatively few choose to wear turbans. Young Sikh boys, instead of wearing a turban, often cover their uncut hair, which is tied in a top-knot, with a simple piece of fabric.
The Sikh Way of Life
Sikhism is a practical religion and Sikhs are a pragmatic people. The emphasis is on a leading a worldly, successful life as a householder and a contributing member of society, but with the mind attuned to an awareness of God. Sikhism rejects all distinctions based on caste, creed, gender, color, race, or national origin. For Sikhs, God is not found in isolation or by renouncing the world, but is attained as an active family member and member of one’s community. The word “Sikh” means student. Therefore, a Sikh is and remains a student of the meaning of life. The core values of Sikhism are derived from three equally important tenets: an honest living and an honest day’s work, sharing with others what God and life have given, and living life fully with an awareness of the divine within each of us. Sikhism enunciates a philosophical concept termed Miri-Piri, which means living a life with an active, strong sense of commitment to the world and humanity, governed and directed by a strong foundation and underpinning of spirituality. Thus, the Sikh ideal is to strike a perfect balance and integration of these two states of existence.