Have you met any Sikhs recently? They are often easy to spot, at least the men, with their turbans and long beards. Perhaps you have a Sikh family living in your neighbourhood. Although originally from India, many Sikhs have migrated around the world. The 2011 Census reported there to be 2,962 Sikhs in Wales.
The beginning of the religion of the Sikhs (Punjabi for ‘disciples’) can be traced to a line of ten teachers (gurus) beginning with Guru Nanak (1469-1539). These gurus preached that to be saved from the endless cycle of rebirth one must live a life of devotion to God – the ‘Formless One.’
As more and more people embraced the teaching of the gurus, several traditions arose, including the wearing of the five emblems – the panj kakke (five ‘k’s) –
- kes (uncut hair)
- kangha (small wooden comb)
- kirpan (sword, now merely symbolic)
- kacha (breeches)
- kara (bracelet)
What Sikhs believe
Sikhs believe in the oneness of God. All people, no matter their ethnicity, social level or gender emanated from this one source and are therefore considered equal. They use terms that are drawn from both Hindu and Muslim traditions. They call God Allah (from the Arabic) as well as Parbrahm (from the Sanskrit Para Brahman, meaning the highest formless one).
Sikhs believe that human groups have developed their religious customs and institutions in different ways due to the different settings in which they live. They profess to regard all religious traditions as equally valid while condemning idolatry and injustice. The idea that God can be incarnated (take on human flesh) is rejected as that is thought to contradict belief in the oneness of God.
God is understood to be in control of all things according to his hukam, the divine order. Human beings, therefore, must submit to God’s will without any doubt or questioning.
At the same time, Sikhs believe that people should do righteous deeds in order to attain truth. Although they believe in karma – the idea that one’s deeds are preordained – they also believe that one can attain mukti (liberation of the soul from human existence) by doing good.
Sikhs believe that the gurparsad, the grace of the guru, can override the law that you get what you deserve. Acts of devotion to God may strike out the consequences of any bad actions that may have been committed and so many Sikhs will spend time meditating on God’s name.
How Sikhs worship
Sikhs worship God both individually and communally. Seriously minded Sikhs will rise early, take a bath, and recite the prescribed hymns and prayers.
Sikh communal gatherings at the gurdwara usually take place on a Sunday. Central to the service is the reading of the Sikh scriptures – compositions of the gurus collected centuries ago in a book called Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The book is central to the service because it is seen as the living Guru. At the end of the service all the participants share sacred food (karah parsad).
Afterwards, the congregation eat a meal called the langar together. This is a very important aspect of their communal life, one which they are keen to share with visitors.
Sikhs also meet together on festival days and days for honouring particular gurus.
How Sikh life is changing in the modern world
As with all communities, the Sikh community is attempting to work out how to adapt to life in the 21st century. Some have become more devoted to their tradition while others are seeking to interpret the tradition more loosely, allowing them, for example, to drink alcohol.
Still others, especially Western intellectuals, are giving more attention to how the scriptures and myths came about. This must surely result in a greater openness to both atheism and the gospel.
Social ties, however, remain strong. Values of honour and shame dominate decisions about marriage and career as well as considerations of beliefs and ultimate commitment.
Ten tips for sharing Christ with Sikhs
- Feel free to tell your neighbour that devotion to your Guru Jesus is the most important thing in your life. Tell them that Guru Jesus was the Formless One who took on human form for our sakes. Show them how this is taught in the Bible, e.g. in John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:5-11.
- Treat your Scriptures with the utmost respect. Feel free to give a Bible or a portion of the Bible, such as the Gospel of John, to your friend and offer to read it with them.
- Don’t attack Sikh beliefs. Anyone whose most deeply held beliefs are under attack would defend those beliefs vigorously even if they have doubts themselves. A frank exchange of views will emerge as trust is built up.
- Invite your neighbour to tell you about what they consider the most important issues in life, their family and their community. Feel free to visit the gurdwara with them. You can watch the service and, though you might not want to eat the sacred food, do join them for the langar meal, for not to do so would likely cause unnecessary offence.
- Go out of your way to show elderly folk respect. The Bible teaches us to honour our father and mother (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3). It will speak volumes if you show you are different from others in the neighbourhood.
- Be sensitive to Sikh rules about eating and drinking. Find out if they eat meat if you invite them to your home for a meal, and don’t serve alcohol.
- Don’t tell your friend you want them to ‘convert to Christianity’. They will consider that as an invitation to abandon their family and community, rather than an act of devotion to Guru Jesus.
- Ask them if they have any questions about your beliefs and practices. The more you understand about what the Bible teaches, the easier you will find it to help others understand the truth, so make the most of every opportunity to study the Bible yourself.
- Share the story of your own spiritual journey with them. It will be very appealing.
- Pray for your friends, that they would come to devote their life to the greatest Guru of all, who is the Word become flesh, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).