DELHI – His untrimmed beard and carefully wrapped turban set him apart in a crowd.
He isn’t Muslim, though many of his brothers in the faith are mistaken for followers of Allah.
The silver bracelet (kara) around his wrist reminds him and others of the commitment he’s made. He wears modest undergarments (kaccha), and carries a wooden comb (kanga) and a sword (kirpan) – some of the articles of his faith.
He is a Sikh man.
Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion and was founded in the 1500s in India’s Punjab state.
More than 500 years ago, Muslim descendants of Genghis Khan, known as the Moghuls, ruled India.
Forced conversions and violence were common. Sikhism began as a reaction to Islam and Hinduism, Bryan Evans* says. Evans is an International Mission Board (IMB) worker focused on ministry to Sikhs. Evans soon will start work on a doctorate in Sikhism.
The first of 10 gurus and the founder of Sikhism, Nanak Dev, lived at the same time as Martin Luther and John Calvin. During the time of the Anabaptists and the Reformation, Guru Nanak was trying to bring reformation to India.
Nanak disagreed with the way women were treated in Islam and Hinduism, Evans says. Women are considered equal to men in Sikhism.
Nanak observed the class divide, the caste system, and how it dictated interactions in daily life.
In Hinduism, a person’s caste is known by his or her last name. In Sikhism there are no castes. Men have the last name “Singh,” which means lion, and women have the last name, “Kaur,” which means lioness.
Photo by Kelvin Joseph
Sikhs and Hindus stand in reverence during a service at a gurdwara (temple) in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk district. Welcoming and hospitable, Sikhs emphasize equality in their religious traditions.
Sikhs have five physical symbols of their faith, known as the five Ks: Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (a steel bracelet), Kanga (a wooden comb), Kaccha (cotton underwear) and Kirpan (a dagger).
Sikh men cover their uncut hair with a turban.
“If you have things that set you apart, it’s easier to tell who you are. When you are set apart, you act differently,” Evans says.
Sikhs are monotheistic and do not believe in worshipping idols.
“Sikhs believe in reincarnation, like Hindus, but like Muslims, they believe there is one god,” Evans explains.
Sikhs believe a person’s actions dictate his or her standing in the next life. Sikhism is works-based and service is valued. Many Sikhs donate money to build temples, hospitals and schools.
There are three main ways Sikhs believe they can achieve salvation: through meditation, good works and by the grace of their god.
Sikhs worship in a temple, known as a “gurdwara.” Every morning, Sikhs serve a meal, called “langar.” The meal is free and for everyone.
Sikh temple services involve music from “ragis,” temple singers, who play the harmonium and an instrument called the “tabla.” Their scriptures are recited by one of the temple’s caretakers, who are called “granthi.”
Granthi also give a sermon. Temple services also include congregational prayer and “prasad,” an offering. Prasad contains flour, butter and sugar.
The 10th guru decreed that their scriptures would become the next guru and there would be no more living gurus. The Sikh scriptures are treated with the utmost reverence. Every evening, the scriptures are “put to bed” in air-conditioned rooms.
Learn more about Sikhs and how to share the gospel with them at sikhoutreach.org. Download a free one-page prayer guide concerning Sikhs at http://southasianpeoples.imb.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Prayer4_SouthAsians_Sikhs.pdf and find related information at southasianpeoples.imb.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is an IMB writer living in Asia.)