Discrimination experienced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks forced Sikhs to defend and define their faith. Since then, this growing community has raised its profile in U.S. cities, workplaces and on campuses and stepped up its fight for civil rights. Sikhs, whose men wear turbans and beards, are often mistaken for Muslims. Sikhism, however, is a distinct monotheistic religion that originated in India in the 15th century and draws on elements of Hinduism and Islamic Sufism. Family and moral purity are prime values; the union of each human spirit with God’s is believed to end a karmic cycle of rebirths. There is a relatively small number of Sikhs in the United States, but worldwide, there are 20 million, making it the world’s ninth-largest religion.
The Sikh scripture is called the Guru Granth Sahib. The 10th Sikh Guru decreed that after his death the book’s teachings would be Sikhs’ spiritual guide. Sikhs show it the respect they would give to a human Guru.
Vaisakhi marks the Sikh new year, in April, and commemorates the religion’s birth. Like Hindus, Sikhs also observe Diwali, a festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil.
- The Sikh Coalition is an umbrella group established by several Sikh groups after the 9/11 attacks to protect Sikh civil rights.
- Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force is a news and information site for Sikhs run by an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
- The Sikh Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, Calif., that promotes Sikh culture, art and heritage, especially in the West and to young people.
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- The Sikh place of worship is called a Gurdwara, a punjabi word meaning gateway to the Guru.
- Sikh men all take the name Singh, meaning lion. Women take the name Kaur, which means princess. Sikh men who are Khalsa (initiated Sikhs) have uncut hair, carry a wooden comb and a steel sword, and wear a steel bracelet and cotton underwear.