by Keith Carey
If you ever see a man with a large turban and a full beard, you are probably looking at a Sikh. With a population of about 25 million, Sikhs make up the world’s fifth largest religion, and there are more Sikhs than there are Jews. In the West, he is most likely a computer programmer, a businessman, or an engineer. If you want a special treat, go to a Sikh owned restaurant and enjoy the best Indian food found outside of India. In India, a Sikh is most likely to be a policeman, a soldier, a wealthy farmer, or in an urban context, a rickshaw driver or a businessman.
Before we go any further, let’s clear up some misconceptions about Sikhism. They are not part of Hinduism, though they believe in reincarnation rather than a future resurrection. They are not Muslims though they believe in one God of creation.
Their turbans have caused many misunderstandings. To an outsider, a turban is thought of as being like a hat, a simple headgear to be put on and taken off at will. Westerners are sometimes taken aback when Sikh restaurant employees and police officers refuse to remove their turbans to put on the headgear required for their job. To a Sikh, wearing a turban is part of their religious requirements, and it is disgraceful to remove it in public. They are required to never cut their hair, but instead leave it in the state God made it, and cover it with the turban. Likewise, they must not cut off their facial hair.
At all times Sikh men are also required to keep a kirpan, a sword-like weapon, to defend the defenseless. They have been known throughout their 500-year history to do just that, even for members of other religious communities. You can only imagine what happens when a Sikh tries to bring a kirpan to an airport! They aren’t trying to be difficult, but they belong to a religion that doesn’t fit neatly into other people’s expectations.
This relatively new religion was founded in the 1500s in South Asia’s Punjab Region, which now straddles Pakistan and northern India. Though Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, some Sikhs would note that their religion was also inspired by the principles of a Sufi Muslim mystic, who lived 200 years earlier. Guru Nanak was the founder, but there were 10 gurus who affected Sikh theology over a period of 239 years. The final guru, Gobind Singh Ji, established the Guru Granth Sahib as a sacred hymnal. He also introduced baptism into the Sikh religion as an initiation ceremony.
During the years these gurus lived, this newly emerging religion ran into serious conflicts with India’s rulers. This was the time of the Mughal Empire (1556-1707), and both Hindus and Muslims killed prominent Sikh gurus for standing up for religious minorities, according to an article entitled, “History of Sikhism.”
During this time, Sikhism militarized, and they have been a strong military force ever since. One of Sikhism’s gurus, Banga Singh Bahadur, raised up an army in the early 1700s that challenged the power of the Mughal Empire. For a short time, he liberated the Punjab from the Mughals, and distributed farmland to the local peasants. The Mughal emperor sent a military force that defeated and captured Bahadur. The guru was given the choice to convert to Islam and live, or retain his beliefs and face a cruel death. He chose the latter, and was martyred in 1716. The Mughals persecuted the Sikhs for the next 50 years. Sikhism was outlawed during this time. It may take time, but the Sikhs always seem to manage to rise above difficult circumstances.
Sure enough, the Sikhs shook off the Mughals in the 1760s, and Sikhs managed to form a Sikh Empire under the leadership of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. This short-lived empire included Kashmir and Ladakh, two regions to the north of the Punjab.
This Sikh Empire fell to the British in 1849. The British had the wisdom to befriend the Sikhs and recruit them into their military forces. Retired Sikh soldiers could look forward to being rewarded with good farmland. By the time British rule ended in South Asia, Sikhs made up 80 percent of the military force in that region. The British rewarded them by providing railroads and paved roads for Punjabi cities, and teaching the English language in newly built schools. Sikhs fought bravely for the British in both world wars. Eighty three thousand Sikh soldiers lost their lives in these wars.
Sikhs were among the patriots who helped India gain her independence from England after WWII. Soon their Punjabi homeland was divided between the western Muslim portion, which went to Pakistan, and the eastern Hindu and Sikh portion, which went to India.
The 1970s and 80s were a time of conflict between the Hindus and Sikhs of India. Despite owning some of India’s most fertile farmland, Sikhs felt marginalized and discriminated against. Some wanted to form a separate nation from India that they would have called “Khalistan,” meaning “Land of the Pure.” The conflict escalated in 1984 when India’s prime minister, Indira Gandhi, sent Indian troops to flush out militants from the Sikh’s Golden Temple in Amritsar during a festival. Many Sikhs were killed by the Indian military. Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguard assassinated her, and Hindus went on a rampage against Sikhs. Thousands of Sikhs were killed on the streets of Delhi before the violence subsided.
Since that time, India’s Punjab state has become one of the union’s most prosperous states. Using the new technologies offered by the Green Revolution, Hindu and Sikh Jats have managed to greatly increase the grain harvests and thus ward off starvation in this populous nation. Using the world’s trade language, English, many Sikhs have migrated to other parts of the world where they have made their fortunes by running businesses or serving in medical and high tech industries.
Like almost all major religions, Sikhism includes some high moral teachings, much like the ones we find in the Bible. Such teachings are a bridge for those who want to share Christ with their Sikh neighbors. Let us explore Sikh beliefs and how we can pray for them.
When Guru Nanak founded Sikhism, he was taking a stand against some of the excesses of Hinduism that he saw all around him. The Apostle Paul said that those who do not work should not eat. Likewise, Guru Nanak considered those who spent all their time praying and fasting, like the Hindu jogis, to be parasitical. Nanak stressed a good work ethic. This might partially explain why Sikhs are among the more prosperous communities in India.
One of Guru Nanak’s strongest teachings was that caste should be eliminated because everyone is equal. He taught universal brotherhood and love for humanity. His high regard for women gave them more respect than they had among their Hindu and Muslim neighbors. Thus, Sikhism gave dignity and worth to women and others who were considered inferior by the Hindu majority. These are all beliefs that we as followers of Christ would applaud.
We would also agree with Sikh teachings that lust, anger, greed, attachment, and ego all stand in the way of spiritual growth. We are not to waste our lives seeking material goods since our purpose is to seek oneness with God. We would also agree that the only one worthy of our prayers, praise, and devotion is the God, who created us.
However, we would not agree with their belief in reincarnation. Like the Hindus, Sikhs believe in re-birth after death. The kind of re-birth one could expect is based on virtuous deeds. By contrast, James 9:27-28 says, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”
Note here that the foundation of our beliefs is Jesus Christ. Even Muslims consider Jesus to be an important prophet, but the Sikhs give Him no place in their spiritual lives. They also deny original sin, which ultimately means that they do not need a savior. When a Sikh is baptized into their religion, they are being initiated into it. There is no symbolism of having their sins washed away like we have in Christian baptism.
Sikhs aspire to high moral teachings. Pray that these teachings will lead them to the God who holds us accountable for our moral behavior.
Pray that Sikhs will be convicted of sin, so that they will realize that they need a savior.
Sikhs are skeptical about miracles. Pray that Jesus will do miracles in their lives that they cannot deny come from Him.
Other than their hymnal, the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhs do not adhere to sacred literature in the same way that we would. Pray for millions of them to become acquainted with the gospels, and thus fall in love with Jesus Christ.
by Keith Carey
Dear Praying Friends,
You might notice some changes in the GPD. Not only are we binding two months into one, but we are also praying a little bit differently. Instead of simply praying for “Sikhs” this month, we are praying for specific Sikh people groups. Thanks to the Joshua Project web site, we were able to find names for different Sikh communities. It was much more difficult for the writers, but they did an outstanding job of explaining the difference between Sikh groups. There are some excellent web sites produced by the Sikhs such as Sikh Net and Sikhiwiki that help us to understand them better. If you read about Sikh theology, you will notice that we share many things in common. However, one thing that these noble people lack is Jesus Christ, the only one who can bridge the gap between God and man. That brings us to why we are praying for Sikhs, or any other religious community. Simply put, it’s all about Jesus Christ.
In His Name,
Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD