1. Who wears the turban and why?
Practicing Sikhs choose to wear the turban as an outward reminder of their personal commitments to God. Nearly every American you see wearing a turban is a Sikh. Each carefully wraps the turban cloth around his or her neatly-combed long hair each morning, knowing that this emblem of peace, righteousness, and social responsibility is often misunderstood by others. Despite social stigmas, Sikhs who wear the turban choose to be recognizable, putting their ego aside to wear a constant reminder of their responsibility to serve others and follow God’s word.
2. Who are Sikh Gurus and why are they important?
Sikh Gurus are spiritual teachers who share wisdom and guidance from God. The first Guru was Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism in the late 1400s. Nine subsequent Gurus built on Guru Nanak’s foundational revelations through the early 1700s, when Guru Gobind Singh completed the compilation of the Sikh holy book and declared this sacred text the final Guru—Guru Granth Sahib. Gurus are central to Sikh religion because through their teachings, Sikhs receive guidance and wisdom to draw nearer to God. Learn more about the Gurus.
3. How are women treated in the Sikh community?
Standing up for women’s independence and status in the community was a core focus of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. From the beginning, the Sikh religion has emphasized the role of women as equal, valuable contributors in every sphere of life. Sikh women have the same rights and responsibilities as men, and are welcome to take on all leadership roles within Sikh religious services and communities.
4. What text do Sikhs follow and where did it come from?
The Sikh holy text is the Guru Granth Sahib. It is the repository of all Sikh spiritual heritage, written in Punjabi by the Gurus who led Sikhism in the early days of the religion, beginning in late 1400s. The book is addressed as Guru, because it is an authoritative spiritual guide. Granth means “large tome or book,” and Sahib denotes its sacred status. Its hymns are written in poetic form, called shabads, and are sung and recited by Sikhs as the source of both guidance and inspiration for their lives. There are 3,000 shabads in the Guru Granth Sahib, all recorded directly by the Sikh Gurus.
5. How do Sikhs view God?
Sikhs believe in one supreme God who is the creator of all things, whom they address as Waheguru. Described in Sikh scripture, “God is One. He is the Supreme Truth. He the Creator, is without fear and without hate. He is immortal. He is neither born and nor does He die. By Guru's grace He shall be met. Chant and meditate on His Name. In the beginning, He was the Truth. Throughout the ages, He has been the Truth. He is the Truth now and He shall be the Truth forever." Sikhs believe God loves all people and is always present, and our purpose on Earth is to draw closer to God.
6. Why do so many Sikhs have the last name Singh or Kaur?
The Sikh Gurus sought to abolish the Indian caste system that assigned value and rights to individuals based on the families they were born into. As part of the movement to end caste discrimination and promote equality among all humans, followers of Sikhism were encouraged to adopt common last names, leaving no identifiable differences between individuals from rich or poor backgrounds. Men were instructed to adopt the last name Singh, meaning lion, and women were encouraged to use Kaur, meaning princess. The use of Kaur, as opposed to adopting family names in marriage, promotes women as individuals with value and identities existing independently of their relationships with men.
7. Why don’t Sikhs cut their hair?
Sikhs refrain from cutting or removing our hair out of a deep personal devotion to God. We believe that our bodies were made by God, and we must be willing to accept God’s gift without altering it. Sikhs take great care to keep our long hair clean and tidy using a comb called a kangha. The kangha is carried with Sikhs always and represents the importance of living with cleanliness and discipline.
8. Where do Sikhs worship?
The Sikh version of a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue is a gurdwara. The gurdwara is a central gathering place for those in the Sikh community to pray, sing, learn, and connect. (visit your local gurdwara here)! The main worship area is adorned with colorful, ornate fabrics and rugs, featuring the holy book prominently at the front of the room. Another important space in the gurdwara is the large langar, or “free kitchen,” where meals are served to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike following all services in a spirit of communal nourishment. Gurdwara buildings feature four doors facing each of the cardinal directions, symbolically welcoming people from every corner of the world.
9. How many Sikhs are in America and where do they live?
Sikhs traveled to America from India beginning in the late 1800s in search of democracy and opportunities to work hard to support their families. Today, there are approximately half a million Sikh Americans, most of whom live in major cities along the east and west coasts in states like New York and California. There are more than 300 gurdwaras, Sikh houses of worship, in the United States, situated in big cities like Los Angeles and small rural farming towns alike (visit your local gurdwara here). Sikh Americans have made major contributions to society, from heroic military service to civic leadership and scientific advancements.
10. Do Sikhs believe in heaven and hell?
Sikhs do not believe in heaven or hell as destinations—for Sikhs, heaven can be experienced by drawing near to God during life, while the suffering and pain caused by ego is considered hell on earth. In Sikhism, spiritual acts are positive experiences with affects felt on earth and after death, rather than sacrifices made in order to collect a reward that is waiting until after death. The main purpose of life, according to Sikhism, is to become one with the God. This is pursued by a life focused on remembering the Creator always, earning an honest living as a householder, and sharing one’s abundance with the less fortunate. In death, we believe we become one with God and the universe.