5 things you should know about Sikhs

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History of Sikhs
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1. How did Sikhism begin?

Sikhism was founded in 1469 by Guru Nanak in the Indian region of Punjab. Guru Nanak and his nine successors shaped the core beliefs of the religion during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Sikhs first arrived in the US in the late 19th century.

Sikh (often pronounced “seek,” but properly pronounced “sik-kh” according to the Sikh Coalition based in New York) means “disciple” in Punjabi.

2. What do Sikhs believe?

The Sikh holy book, “The Guru Granth Sahib,” teaches that there is one God, that men and women are inherently good and are equal before God, that everyone has direct access to God, and that the way to become closer to God is to be of service to our fellow human beings.

The Guru Granth Sahib is written entirely in poetry and it includes the hymns of many non-Sikh saints from diverse religious traditions including Hinduism, Islam, and Sufism.

Sikhs believe they have a duty to help the poor and the oppressed. Sharing with the needy was one of the three principles taught by Guru Nanak. The other two are “work hard and honestly” and “always remember God throughout the day.”

3. Why do Sikh men wear turbans?

Their Sikh faith forbids them from cutting their hair, as their hair is considered sacred. Sikh men wear turbans to protect their hair; the turbans also carry a symbolic value of their own. Men also grow beards. According to Sikh custom, hair is part of God’s creation, something that should not be altered, and many Sikhs believe that keeping their hair long allows them to take their minds off of their appearance and be more focused on God.

4. Why have they been subject to anti-Muslim prejudice in the US, particularly after 9/11?

In addition to long hair (kesh), Sikhs also wear metal bracelets, wooden combs for their hair, special cotton underwear, and a ceremonial dagger or sword (kirpan). The kirpan represents the fight against injustice, according to the Sikh Coalition.

Sikhs are not Muslim. But along with Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Sikhs have been the target of hate crimes in the US, sometimes from those seeking to attack Muslims. They mistake Sikh turbans and beards for those of men in some Arab cultures. The Sikh owner of a gas station in Mesa, Ariz., was shot and killed on Sep. 15, 2001, when, according to police, a local man mistook him for Middle Eastern.

The Sikh Coalition has reported thousands of incidents since 9/11that involve discrimination against Sikhs.

5. How do Sikhs live their faith?

Sikhs believe that all humans are equal, regardless of gender, religion, race, or ethnicity. One way that Sikhs express this belief is by offering free communal meals to anyone who visits Sikh places of worship known as gurudwaras.

Men and women worship together, but often don’t sit intermixed in the gurudwara. There is no official clergy within the Sikh tradition and the local
congregation generally leads the services, but administrative staff have become more commonplace.