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Sikhism is the fifth-largest world religion. One of the Dharmic religions, it was founded by Guru Nanak Dev in 16th-century India. The “guru-hood” or “prophet-hood” was passed down to 9 other gurus. The 10th guru finalised the Sikh holy scripture (Guru Granth Sahib) and made it the last or final (11th) guru. The Sikh equivalent of the Vatican, the Akaal Takhat dictates the interpretation of the scripture and the way Sikh practises are to be performed.

A Sikh is defined, according to the Sikh Rehat Maryada as one who fulfils the following criteria: 1) Believes in one immortal deity 2) Follows the teachings of the ten gurus 3) Accepts the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) as the final guru 4) Has been baptised 5) Does not owe allegiance to other religions

Most self-professed Sikhs though they are monotheist, do not fulfil these criteria i.e. though they are monotheist, they do not follow the teachings of the gurus and/or are not baptised. Therefore most self-professed Sikhs are "cultural Sikhs" or Sehajdhari Sikhs (non-observant Sikhs).

The Sikh religion promotes belief in a deity that is a more diluted in its interventionism and anthropomorphic characteristic versus the deity in Christianity and Islam, though in essence they worship the same deity. The god concept in the Sikh religion is not easily discernible due to the deity leaning more towards deism and pantheism. In the Guru Granth Sahib, the deity is referred to as “Waheguru" (meaning wonderful teacher) and other names such as Allah and Raam are also used.

Sikhs congregate in a "Gurdwara" (house of the guru, a Sikh version of a church or mosque) mostly on Sundays though it is said Gurdwara attendance must be daily. Non-Sikhs are allowed to enter the Gurdwara as long as the rules are followed (removing shoes, covering the head, not being intoxicated, etc). A Gurdwara mainly consists of a main room where religious teachings take place, and a dinner hall ("langar hall") in which free vegetarian food is distributed without discrimination (i.e. people of different religions or the irreligious).


Key Sikh literature

Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS for short): The composition of poetry from various authors, completed several hundred years ago. Though some of the authors were from Hindu or Muslim backgrounds, they shared the same worldview as the gurus and they behaved in accordance with the Sikh religion.

Sikh Rehat Maryada: Sikh code of conduct- this was authored by a committee of Sikh scholars on what they felt was consistent with the teachings in the Guru Granth Sahib, and was created almost a hundred years ago. The Sikh Rehat Maryada contains information about how to conduct birth, marriage and funeral ceremonies amongst other “DOs and DONT’S”.

Sakhees: Life stories of the Sikh gurus. Authored by various people, not always clear (sometimes by "witnesses", companions or followers).

Sikh way of life

As mentioned above, a Sikh is one who lives in accordance to the principles/teachings of the 10 gurus and emulating the three pillars of Sikhism:

1) Hard work

2) Meditation/prayer

3) Sharing

Sikhs are expected to be baptised and lead a life in which one wakes at 5am, bathes, prays, and adheres to the teaching in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Deadly sins (bujjar kurehat)

According to the Sikh Rehat Maryada, there are five sins that a Sikh must not commit, committing any of these acts makes one an apostate from the Sikh religion:

1) Hair removal. Cutting, shaving, trimming and waxing are not permitted- facial, armpit and pubic hair are meant to remain intact.

2) Eating ritually slaughtered meat (i.e. halal, kosher). There is a great deal of controversy regarding meat eating in Sikhism, many Sikhs view eating meat of any sort as a deadly sin.

3) Engaging in extramarital sex

4) Consuming drugs or alcohol.

Sikhs who have committed the above offenses are required to confess to the Sikh community, who then decide the punishment- community service is common.

The five Ks (panj kakkar)

These are the "five must-haves" for Sikhs- they must ALWAYS have these on, even in death. Most of the five Ks were conceived during the later development of the Sikh religion, in response to Mughal (Muslim) aggression, in which the Sikh religion began advocating the carrying of arms/weapons. The idea behind the 5Ks is for Sikhs to maintain perpetual readiness for battle.

1) Untrimmed/unaltered hair (kés)- long hair is seen as submission/acceptance of the deity's design.

2) Comb (kunga)- to maintain the hair.

3) Bangle (kara)- this items is meant to serve two functions: symbolically as an article of faith to remind the follower of their duties and also the omnipresence of the deity (symbolised by the circle), and as a defensive/offensive weapon. Bangles are present in various designs and can be blunt or razor sharp. The bangle can provide a degree of protection for the wrist and some designs permit it to be used as a sharp “frizbee”. The bangle is to be worn on both writs and must be made of iron or steel and not gold.

4) Kirpan (sword)- this is the equivalent to the 2nd ammendment of the US constitution with the key difference being that carrying arms/kirpan is mandatory. The kirpan is not meant to be just a “symbol” or article of the Sikh religion as its key purpose is as a weapon for defensive or offensive purposes. The kirpan may also be used for other functions such as “blessing food” during ceremonies. 5) Baggy (or boxer) shorts (kashera)- the kashera must always be worn even while bathing or having intercourse- "constant preparedness" (for battle) being used as a justification and are comparable in function (though not design) to Mormon underwear.

Afterlife and Salvation in Sikhism

Sikhism puts forward the idea that the human form is a chance to escape perpetual reincarnation by living according to the ways of Sikhism, non-Sikhs continue to undergo reincarnation. Though it is expected for Sikhs to maintain a constant lifestyle adhering to a set of principles, a form of salvation similar to Christianity is present within the scripture to escape reincarnation. In Sikhism, salvation is by faith and meditation and not by works alone:

"ਰਸਨਾ ਉਚਰੈ ਗੁਣਵਤੀ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਪੁਜੈ ਦਾਨੁ ॥"

"The tongue which chants these Praises is worthy; there is no charity equal to this." SGGS p49.

"ਪੁੰਨ ਦਾਨ ਚੰਗਿਆਈਆ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਾਚੇ ਕਿਆ ਤਾਸੁ ॥"

"You may give donations to charity, and perform good deeds, but without the True One, what is the use of it all?" SGGS p56

"ਕਿਛੁ ਪੁੰਨ ਦਾਨ ਅਨੇਕ ਕਰਣੀ ਨਾਮ ਤੁਲਿ ਨ ਸਮਸਰੇ ॥"

"Giving donations to charity, and performing various religious rituals are not equal to the contemplation of the Naam." SGGS p566

"ਜਿਨ ਕਉ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਨਾਹੀ ਹਰਿ ਸੇਤੀ ਤੇ ਸਾਕਤ ਮੂੜ ਨਰ ਕਾਚੇ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕਉ ਜਨਮੁ ਮਰਣੁ ਅਤਿ ਭਾਰੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਵਿਸਟਾ ਮਰਿ ਮਰਿ ਪਾਚੇ ॥੨॥" "Those who are not in love with the Lord are foolish and false - they are faithless cynics. They suffer the most extreme agonies of birth and death (reincarnation); they die over and over again, and they rot away in manure (dirt)." SGGS p169.

"ਕਾਮਿ ਕਰੋਧਿ ਮੋਹਿ ਵਸਿ ਕੀਆ ਕਿਰਪਨ ਲੋਭਿ ਪਿਆਰੁ ॥ ਚਾਰੇ ਕਿਲਵਿਖ ਉਨਿ ਅਘ ਕੀਏ ਹੋਆ ਅਸੁਰ ਸੰਘਾਰੁ ॥ ਪੋਥੀ ਗੀਤ ਕਵਿਤ ਕਿਛੁ ਕਦੇ ਨ ਕਰਨਿ ਧਰਿਆ ॥ ਚਿਤਿ ਆਵੈ ਓਸੁ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਤਾ ਨਿਮਖ ਸਿਮਰਤ ਤਰਿਆ ॥੪॥"

"When you are under the power of sexual desire, anger and worldy attachment, or a greedy miser in love with your wealth; if you have committed the four great sins and other mistakes; even if you are a murderous fiend who has never taken the time to listen to sacred books, hymns and poetry- if you then come to remember the Supreme Lord God, and contemplate Him, even for a moment, you shall be saved." SGGS p70.

Superstition and Sikhism

The religion condemns palm reading, astrology and magic in general- but does not go to the point of advocating killing of those who engage in activities. Instead, the Sikh gurus appeared to have had a "rationalist streak", by exposing those who used astrology and magic to extract money from the gullible. However, this general condemnation for superstition does not extend to reincarnation, ghosts and angels which are taught to exist according to Sikh scripture.

Sikhism vs Science (abiogenesis, evolution, big bang)

Sikhs in general do not view evolution, abiogenesis or the big bang as contradictory to the Sikh religion. The Sikh scripture has no mention of Adam and Eve, Noah or the flood. It is possible for Sikhs to have objections to science, archaeology, etc, if a challenge to any of the Sikh doctrines, stories, etc, is posed- in which case the religion takes precedence.

Interfaith relations in Sikhism

Though critical of some aspects of many religions (i.e. the caste system in Hinduism, burial vs. cremation in Islam), the Sikh religion does not bear enmity against people of other faiths. Citations from the SGGS are often used to state that Hindus should be good Hindus, and Muslims should be good Muslims- how this would be possible considering the opposed views that these religions have with respect to each other is not something well explained in Sikhism. Often Sikhs use the 9th guru (Tegh Bahadhur) as an example of a Sikh standing up for the rights of non-Sikhs to being entitled to their own religious views (or freedom of religion).

According to the Sikh Rehat Maryada, interfaith marriages between Sikhs and non-Sikhs are not permitted and special emphasis is placed on Sikh women marrying non-Sikh males. Despite this, Sikhs marrying non-Sikhs do occur but are rare. To challenge this, devout Sikhs have attempted to sabotage marriage ceremonies performed in gurdwaras to "preserve" the Sikh tradition when an interfaith marriage is about to occur.

Apostasy, Shunning and Atheism in Sikhism

There is no penalty for leaving the Sikh religion; no violence is advocated in the Sikh literature against those who leave the faith). Similarly, those who left the Sikh army even during warfare were not punished. Apostates (in Punjabi the word is "pateet") are seen as "lost" or "fallen" from the righteous path. However, those who leave the religion are meant to be shunned or excluded from the family house and community. They are to be avoided and all contact must be broken from them (according to the Sikh Rehat Maryada). Though violent punishment for apostasy does not officially exist in Sikhism, it is not unheard of for highly devout Sikhs to take the harsher route in which the apostate is evicted from the house or even physically punished. Commiting any one of the five deadly sins in the Sikh religion renders one automatically an apostate.

Sikhs must not have any associations with those who would marry off their sons or daughters in matrimony for money, one who participates in "honour" killings, infanticide. It should also be noted that this list extends to:

i) Sikhs that have eaten from a non-Sikhs plate

ii) One who dyes their hair

iii) Those who have used drugs (i.e. alcohol, marijuana, cocaine)

iv) Anyone who generally engages in practises which contradict the teaching of the gurus

Though the Sikh scriptures are not inherently violent, a few questionable verses exist which need further examination regarding atheists:

ਜੋ ਸਿਰੁ ਸਾਂਈ ਨਾ ਨਿਵੈ ਸੋ ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਡਾਰਿ ॥

"Chop off that head which does not bow to the Lord." SGGS p89.

ਜੋ ਸਿਰੁ ਸਾਂਈ ਨਾ ਨਿਵੈ ਸੋ ਸਿਰੁ ਕਪਿ ਉਤਾਰਿ ॥ ਜੋ ਸਿਰੁ ਸਾਈ ਨਾ ਨਿਵੈ ਸੋ ਸਿਰੁ ਕੀਜੈ ਕਾਂਇ ॥ ਕੁੰਨੇ ਹੇਠਿ ਜਲਾਈਐ ਬਾਲਣ ਸੰਦੈ ਥਾਇ ॥

"The head which does not bow to the Lord - chop off and remove that head. That head which does not bow to the Lord - what is to be done with that head? Put it in the fireplace, instead of firewood." SGGS p1381.

Sikhism and "proofs of god"

The Sikh scripture puts forward various arguments to there being a deity which include arguments from justice, meaning of life, and fine tuning, which are common. The moral argument which is frequently used by Christians and Muslims, is seldom used by Sikhs. This may be due to the Sikh religion teaching that one should not expect rewards for moral behaviour but should be good for goodness sake.

So-called scientific miracles which are typically used by Muslim apologists (and to a lesser extent, Christian apologists) are also used by Sikhs(example 1,example 2). A common example would be to claim that the big bang theory is mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib, predating Hubble's discovery. This is done by using slight-of-hand tactics where the words expressing the vastness of the universe, are reinterpreted to vaguely reference the expansion of the universe (example).

ਕੀਤਾ ਪਸਾਉ ਏਕੋ ਕਵਾਉ ॥

"You created the vast expanse of the universe with one word." SGGS p3.

ਬਿਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਮ ਜਨਮੁ ਬਾਦਿ ॥

"Without the Beloved Lord and Master, life is meaningless." SGGS p1190.

External Links


Sikh Rehat Maryada (The Code of Sikh Conduct & Conventions). (2006). Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Comittee. Ludhiana (India): Sikh Missionary College.

BBC- Sikh weddings crashed by protestors objecting to mixed faith marraiges

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) online with original Gurmukhi and translations to English and Hindi.

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