Note: This article was first published August 8, 2012. Workers in South Asia have asked that we be in prayer for Sikhs around the world. As you learn more about their beliefs, pray that they will find the truth that is Jesus Christ.
His untrimmed beard and carefully wrapped turban set him apart in a crowd. He isn’t Muslim, though many of his brothers in the faith are mistaken for followers of Allah.
The silver bracelet (kara) around his wrist reminds him and others of the commitment he’s made. He wears modest undergarments (kaccha), and carries a wooden comb (kanga) and a sword (kirpan) — some of the articles of his faith.
He is a Sikh man.
Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion and was founded in the 1500s in India’s Punjab state.
More than 500 years ago, Muslim descendants of Genghis Khan, known as the Moghuls, ruled India.
Forced conversions and violence were common. Sikhism began as a reaction to Islam and Hinduism, Bryan Evans* said. Evans is a former IMB worker who served among Sikhs.
The first of 10 gurus and the founder of Sikhism, Nanak Dev, lived at the same time as Martin Luther and John Calvin. During the time of the Anabaptists and the Reformation, Guru Nanak was trying to bring reformation to India.
Nanak disagreed with the way women were treated in Islam and Hinduism, Evans said. Women are considered equal to men in Sikhism.
Nanak observed the class divide, the caste system, and how it dictated interactions in daily life.
In Hinduism, a person’s caste is known by his or her last name. In Sikhism there are no castes. Men have the last name “Singh,” which means lion, and women have the last name, “Kaur,” which means lioness.
Sikhs have five physical symbols of their faith, known as the five Ks: Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (a steel bracelet), Kanga (a wooden comb), Kaccha (cotton underwear) and Kirpan (a dagger).
Sikh men cover their uncut hair with a turban.
“If you have things that set you apart, it’s easier to tell who you are. When you are set apart, you act differently,” Evans said.
Sikhs are monotheistic and do not believe in worshiping idols.
“Sikhs believe in reincarnation, like Hindus, but like Muslims, they believe there is one god,” Evans explained.
Sikhs believe a person’s actions dictate his or her standing in the next life. Sikhism is works-based and service is valued. Many Sikhs donate money to build temples, hospitals and schools.
There are three main ways Sikhs believe they can achieve salvation: through meditation, good works and by the grace of their god.
Sikhs worship in a temple, known as a “gurdwara.” Every morning, Sikhs serve a meal, called “langar.” The meal is free and for everyone.
Sikh temple services involve music from “ragis,” temple singers, who play the harmonium and an instrument called the “tabla.” Their scriptures are recited by one of the temple’s caretakers, who are called “granthi.”
Granthi also give a sermon. Temple services also include congregational prayer and “prasad,” an offering. Prasad contains flour, butter and sugar.
The 10th guru decreed that their scriptures would become the next guru and there would be no more living gurus. The Sikh scriptures are treated with the utmost reverence. Every evening, the scriptures are “put to bed” in air-conditioned rooms.