Who Are The Sikhs?

Sikhism was founded by the first guru named Guru Nanak Dev in the early 1500’s in the Northern region of India. There was tremendous political, economical and religious strife during that time especially between the Hindus and Muslims. As a result, there were many wars and riots over differences in religious practices. Guru Nanak Dev’s mission was to create equality and tolerance among the two religions. One of his most famous sayings, “There is no Hindu and there is no Muslim,” displays the unity that he believed that people should have for one another independent of religious beliefs. Guru Nanak also worked to abolish various cultural practices which separated people such as the caste system, which is a hierarchical system based on religious, social and economical status.

The Sikh people belong to the state of Punjab in India but can be found all over the world. They are present in very large numbers in the UK, USA and Canada, especially southern Ontario and British Columbia. Sikhs immigrated to Canada as early as 1905 where they were occupationally found in positions in the army, in mills and railways. Sikh is a religious term whereas Punjabi is a cultural term, as not all Punjabi people are Sikhs. Punjabi people can be Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Christians. In Abbotsford, Sikhs make up about 89% of the South Asian population and mostly speak the Punjabi language. Most Sikhs can be identified through the wearing one of the five articles of faith, called the 5 K’s, which include: uncut hair covered in a turban, steel bracelet, iron dagger and wooden comb.

 

What Do They Believe?

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, meaning that they believe in the existence of one God who is the creator, holy, just and the supreme truth. They believe that there is only one God and that all the different religions worship the same God despite fundamental differences in theology. They believe that God cannot be born or die, as there is a separation between the creator and created and only creation experiences an earthly life. There is a concept of sin in Sikhism however, it is not part of our nature but it is used to label activities which are considered to be wrong or immoral. Sikhism does not have a general consensus on the existence of heaven or hell as a physical and eternal place but there is a strong belief in reincarnation and the karmic cycle. Sikhs believe in the importance of being a good person and doing good works to eliminate the consequences of sin that they are experiencing in their lives.

Sikhs also follow the teachings of their ten living gurus who were considered to be enlightened spiritual teachers. The gurus were appointed in succession and taught others how to live out the Sikh faith. The first few gurus were peaceful and pacifists but as the persecution from the Islamic rulers increased many of the later gurus adopted teachings emphasizing honouring their faith and helping the defenceless using weapons. There are no human gurus today as the Sikh scriptures, called the Guru Granth Sahib, are considered to be a living guru. Sikhs have a tremendous amount of respect and reverence for their written scriptures as shown by not allowing dust to touch their scriptures or for it to be kept it on the floor.

Sikhs place a great emphasis on equality and treating others with respect and dignity. Sikhism does not have a concept of evangelism and conversion between faiths as they believe that all religions lead to the same God. They believe converting between religious belief systems as being redundant and unnecessary. Sikhs place an importance on community service and abolishing barriers which cause divisions in society such as the caste system or differences in economical status. The gurus started the practice of having a free community kitchen where food is served throughout the day to people of all walks of life.

How Can We Connect With Our Neighbour?

The best way to engage Sikhs is through the building of relationships and friendships. Sikhs are family and community oriented people who value spending quality time with people they care about. Sikhs love having people over to their house for tea or for a meal as they place a high regard on hospitality. It is important to be aware that when a Sikh person invites you over to their house there is no scheduled end time as leaving after an hour would be a sign of disrespect to them and shows that you did not enjoy your time with them. It is also better to get together at someone’s home rather than a public place, as Sikhs consider it be a great privilege to be a guest in someone’s home. It shows that they are valued because they are being invited into a more intimate setting.

Sikhs have conservative family values so getting to know a Sikh should be kept gender-neutral. A Sikh woman would feel the most comfortable sharing her life and interests with another woman. The Sikh community does not commonly support platonic adult friendships as they are not normative for them. It would be considered disrespectful to build an intentional and meaningful relationship with a Sikh individual of the opposite gender. It is important to engage Sikhs based on their own established physical and emotional boundaries and not to try to introduce any western ideals that they may feel uncomfortable with.

It is also a great idea to learn a few phrases and conversation starters in the Punjabi language. Language is a good connector of people and most Sikhs will notice when someone whose first language is not Punjabi has taken the time and effort to learn their language. It shows genuine interest in the culture and heritage. Sikhs would feel greatly respected if you try to converse with them using a few phrases in Punjabi even if it is not perfect. Below are some resources to learn more as well as a sheet for learning conversational phrases in Punjabi:

Gospel Conversations with the Sikhs in the Fraser Valley

Sikhism 101- Overview

The Sikhs of India – A Prayer Guide

Basic Punjabi Phrases

Sikhs have a great sense of pride in their culture and heritage. They would love to show different aspects of their culture to people who are interested. It is great to ask them questions about their temple, sikh parade, how they perform weddings or what is the meaning behind Diwali and other cultural festivals.

Sikhs tend to have an open mind when it comes to spirituality and prayer. The Sikh view of God is that it is the same God that is worshipped in all religions so they would not turn down any request to receive prayer for any circumstance or struggle that they are going through. Be willing to pray for them if they need it. Many Christians in India and Pakistan have come to faith through answered prayers and Christ revealing Himself through dreams and visions.

I hope this guide provides some clarity and insight into the Sikh worldview and theology. If you have any specific questions that were not answered by this guide, feel free to email questions and/or comments to  idaniel@northview.org.

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