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Sikhism: Introduction

World Faith

Sikhism: Key facts

Information: This section contains a brief summary of the history and key teachings of Sikhism. A version of this article was originally published on the website www.faithnet.org.uk.

Picture of a Sikh gentleman wearing a turban

Founded by Guru Nanak in the Fifteenth Century CE in the Punjab region of India, Sikhism is one of the youngest of the major world religions.

Sikhism is centred around the idea of the Guru. The word Guru means 'teacher'. The word Sikh originally meant 'disciple', although now 'Sikhs' are commonly understood to be those who practice Sikhism. A key teaching in Sikhism is the idea that there is one God (Waheguru), who is the true Guru of everyone.

The unity and oneness of God is a theme permeating through all aspects of Sikh belief and practice. Sikhs not only believe in the equality of all people, but also all religions.

Sikhism also teaches that God (Waheguru) has spoken to humanity through The Ten Gurus. The last guru is the Guru Granth Sahib, and are also Sikhism's sacred scriptures. This has replaced the need for human gurus to teach and lead Sikhs, and is now considered to be the last and Eternal Guru.

The first collection of sacred writings was known as the Adi Granth ('first collection'). This was later added to by the last humans guru Guru Gobind Singh (1675-1708). It contains not only Sikh writings, but also hymns written by both Hindus and Muslims. This later compilation is the Guru Granth Sahib.

Sikhism is not the only tradition whose sacred texts include writings from other faiths. For example, the Bible contains both Christian and Jewish writings.

In the Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), the Guru Granth Sahib takes place of honour at the front of the room. When Sikhs enter the Gurdwara they take off their shoes and cover their head as a sign of respect to the Guru Granth Sahib. However, although Sikhs hold the book in high honour, they do not worship it.

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To show their devotion to the Sikh faith many Sikhs wear the Five K's. These are visible signs of a person's commitment to the teachings of Sikhism and to God. The five Ks are:

  • Kes (uncut hair, which is covered by the turban)
  • Kangha (carrying a small comb)
  • Kara (wearing a bracelet, symbolising the eternity of God)
  • Kirpan (carrying a small dagger)
  • Kaccha (wearing special shorts, important for when Sikhs were fighting)

Like Hindus and Buddhists, Sikhs believe in the idea of samsara; the notion that our souls are reborn many times until we achieve freedom from this cycle. In Sikhism this occurs when a person is united with God. Concentrating on, and chanting (repeating), the name of God is an important part of achieving salvation.

The sign of a person finding God is expressed as a desire to serve others. Sikhism is a faith in which right conduct and truth are interlinked. A person cannot be said to know the truth unless it can be seen to be evident in their behaviour. This is why sewa (service to others) is very important.

The importance of sewa can be seen whenever anyone enters a Gurdwara. For no matter who you are you will always be invited to eat a meal, which is prepared each day by volunteers. This was something Guru Nanak instigated, as he believed it was important to show hospitality to those who had travelled to her him teach.

Sikhs believe in equality of all people, and all religions. In the Gurdwara both men and women sit on the floor, and eat Kara Parshad (holy food). This shows not only equality, but a sense of community and fellowship as well.

Many Sikhs came to Britain during the 1950's and 60's, as a result of labour shortages in the country. Many Sikhs also fought with the British in World War I.

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