The word “Sikh” means “Seeker of Truth." Sikhism originated in Northern India and is the world’s fifth-largest organized religion. There are more than 25 million Sikhs throughout the world and over half a million in the United States. Sikhism was founded 500 years ago when a man named Nanak walked the South Asian subcontinent teaching that all paths lead to one God, all people are equal, and each of us can experience freedom through loving and serving others.
Sikhism stands for the equality of women and men and denounces any discrimination pertaining to gender, race, caste, creed, religion, or color. Many Sikhs can be identified by five articles of faith—most noticeably the turban—which express their commitment to upholding Sikh values. In the United States, 99% of the individuals you see wearing the turban are Sikhs.
Sikhs have lived in America for more than 150 years. We helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, served valiantly in every major world war, stood at the forefront of civil rights struggles, and were among the first responders on 9/11. Now, we are sharing our story.
Sikh values are American values.
We feel at home in America, a nation that traditionally celebrates diversity and religious liberty. Sikh communities foster love, equality, and acceptance of all. Like the U.S. Bill of Rights, Sikh scripture promotes ideals of equality and the freedom to pursue paths of peace and prosperity. And like the United States, Sikhs stand against injustice and inequality wherever it exists.
Since Sikhism’s founding, we have believed that women and men are companions with equal rights in every sphere of life. In the 1400s, pioneering Sikh leaders—including the father of Sikhism, Guru Nanak—worked tirelessly to reform and redefine the status of women in society. Today, Sikh women engage in the same religious, cultural, political, and secular activities as men. They also lead religious congregations. As Sikh scripture says: there is no function within religion or society that should exclude women. Women are a valued, life-giving force within our communities.
From woman, man is born;
Within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married.
Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come.
When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound.
So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.
From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all.
— Guru Granth Sahib, Sikh Scriptures, p. 473
Sikh scripture says that “there is light in all and that light is the divine one.” We believe that all people are created equal and are of equal value in the eyes of God. Just as we see the many differences in humanity—unique cultures, languages, skin tones and accents—we also see the spark of the divine in every human being. We celebrate the rich traditions and histories that color the perspectives of those who are different from us. We cultivate the commonalities that bring us together.
One God created all men;
All men are molded of the same clay;
Recognize the Lord's light within all, and do not consider social class or status;
There are no classes or castes in the world hereafter.
—Guru Granth Sahib, Sikh Scriptures, p. 349
Freedom of Religion
The freedom to choose and practice religion freely is at the foundation of Sikhism. We believe that there are many paths to God and many avenues to seek truth. In our book of scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, the words of Sikh Gurus appear alongside teachings from diverse leaders from many faiths, exemplifying our openness to diverse perspectives. Our belief in freedom of religion means that we don’t actively seek to convert others, but also that we welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds to our gurdwaras. Our commitment to religious tolerance and pluralism is so strong that many Sikhs have fought and even given their lives to protect the right of others to practice their religion freely.
God pervades all persons unseen;
He is the same in the Hindu as well as in the Muslim.
—Guru Granth Sahib, Sikh Scriptures, p. 483
Service to Country
As defenders of freedom and justice for centuries, Sikhs have developed a rich military tradition. Many carry a symbolic sword as a constant reminder of their commitment to serve and protect the oppressed. Throughout generations, Sikhs have dedicated their lives to courageously serving in the military, with more than 80,000 making the ultimate sacrifice fighting for allied forces in World War I and II.
While Sikhs have served with valor in every American war since then, our enthusiasm for military service has been challenged by mandates to cut our hair and remove our turbans, key elements of Sikh religious identity. Many Sikh groups passionately advocated for a shift in this policy, asking not to be forced to choose between deeply-held religious convictions and the honor of defending the freedom of fellow Americans through military service. In January 2017, a new directive was announced by the US Army which guarantees servicemen and women the right to religious accommodations including turbans, hijabs, and beards.
Equality of Opportunity
The American dream is fundamental to the identity of Sikhs in America. We believe deeply in the freedom to pursue one’s own success through hard work. In early days, our leaders spoke out against a caste system, which divided society based on birth or race and defined the destinies of all individuals. Both long ago and today, Sikhs have advocated that all people—regardless of background or socioeconomic status— are of equal importance and deserve equal opportunities to learn, work, fulfill their dreams, and have their voices heard.
The practice of sharing one’s skills, wealth or time to better the lives of others is a key pillar of Sikhism, known as Vand Chhako. At the heart of these actions is the idea of Seva, meaning “selfless service”—work performed for others without expecting anything in return. The tradition of langar, or “free kitchen,” is one of the many ways that Sikh Americans reach out our hands in volunteerism, weaving the threads of trust and respect that bind and strengthen our communities. Each week, gurdwaras across the country and world open their doors to people from all walks of life to share a meal together. This tradition of nourishing the community—Sikh and non-Sikh alike—began in the early days of Sikhism. At the first langar meals, hungry people from all Indian castes sat side-by-side to receive their food and eat together, a radical gesture at a time when strict social rules kept the poor and rich separate in all daily activities.