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Who are the Sikhs?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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Sikhs are followers of Sikhism, a religion which originated in the Punjab region of India. Today, Sikhs can be found all over the world, although the largest concentration of Sikhs remains in India. Adherents of Sikhism are often very recognizable due to the religious requirement that they refrain from cutting their hair, with men wearing distinctive turbans to cover their hair, also in accordance with religious scripture.

Sikhism has its roots in the 15th century, when the first guru, or spiritual leader, first began to organize and codify the religion. Guru Nanak took elements of both Hindu and Muslim belief, integrating Hindu ideas about karma with Muslim monotheism. Nine more gurus followed Guru Nanak, with Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 fully codifying Sikhism, and creating the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scriptures of Sikhism. Sikh scriptures include writings from the gurus, along with testimony from Muslim and Hindu prophets.

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One of the fundamental ideas of Sikhism is the idea that all people are equal, regardless to race, class, creed, or cultural origin. Sikhs also believe that they have a duty to protect people who are poor or in need, whether or not they are fellow Sikhs. The saint-soldier precept of Sikhism states that Sikhs should devote their lives to prayer, contemplation, and modest living, but that they should also be prepared to fight or even lay down their lives for those in need. As a result, many Sikhs have military training, and they are in fact heavily represented in the Indian military.

Sikhs are specifically directed not to renounce the world, seeking instead modest lives filled with prayer, honest work, and consideration for others. Sikhs are also directed to integrate charity and service into their lives, helping those who are less fortunate, and they practice tolerance and love for all mankind, even praying for all mankind as part of their daily prayers.

The word “Sikh” comes from the Sanskrit shishya for “learner” or “disciple,” and many Sikhs consider themselves life-long students. Sikhs do not proselytize, but their temples or Gurdwaras are open to all, and they are happy to talk to curious people about their religious faith. In communities with a large Sikh population, it is also common to see Sikhs active in various charity efforts in the community, and many Sikh temples host regular vegetarian dinners which are open to the whole community.

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