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Sikhism is a religion founded in India around 1500 CE. It ranks fifth in terms of worldwide membership (about 26 million). Contrary to popular belief, Sikhs are not Muslims. Sikhs look distinctive because they are forbidden to cut their hair unless absolutely necessary (such as for medical reasons), instead keeping it wrapped up in turbans.[note 1] Khalsa Sikhs are also required to keep certain items with them at all times, including a comb, undergarments (this is interpreted by most Sikhs as simply wearing underwear, which was once considered a very hygienic thing to do as opposed to the norm), and the kirpan, a ceremonial knife.[note 2]
Sikhism's stated values more or less boil down to "be a good person and do good for other people", and they espouse a system of absolute equality between genders, religions, and races. The men take the name Singh ("lion") and women take the name Kaur ("princess") to disassociate themselves from the Indian caste system, in which family names can identify a person as belonging to a particular rank.
Sikhs do not believe in heaven or hell (although they do believe in a form of reincarnation), but do hold that paradise can be found on earth by doing good deeds and helping others. Sikhs are not supposed to have faith in any meaningless rituals (fasting, idol worship, going on pilgrimages etc.) and think that any ritual or practice which cannot be explained rationally should be discarded, although this has not stopped them from having rituals and gatherings of various kinds. Sikhs do not proselytize, but anyone who willingly converts to Sikhism is to be accepted, regardless of race, gender or nationality. Sikhs are forbidden to consume alcohol or other intoxicants. Sikhs debate attitudes to eating meat: some feel that a vegetarian diet is best, as it does not harm innocent creatures, while others have no problems eating meat. Their only dietary law is that any meat that is eaten is to be from an animal killed instantaneously rather than being slowly bled, making it akin to a reverse kosher.
Sikhism includes among its articles of faith the requirement that baptized Sikhs carry a weapon at all times. This usually takes the form of a ceremonial dagger called a kirpan (which may or may not actually be usable as a weapon), though some have been known to wear swords or other weapons. This is considered important enough that in India as well as in several European countries Sikhs' knives are often exempted under certain circumstances from laws against the public carrying of weapons.
If you ever find yourself hungry in a strange land, seek out a Sikh temple. All Sikh temples are required to serve meals to anyone who is hungry, regardless of their faith. Usually they will serve vegetarian foods and drinks in an attempt to appeal to most people (as almost everyone eats veggies but not all eat meat); however you may find some that do offer meat in rare places.
Obviously, Sikhs are not Muslims. Unfortunately, this is irrelevant to some Islamophobes—who see a bearded, brown-skinned man in linen headgear as a looming terrorist threat. The irony in this is that Sikhs would help them if they were hungry.
Sikhs do not practice circumcision, making Sikhism one of the few religions in which the body is considered sacred, and actually consistent on the matter. Sikh holy scripture does not specifically mention homosexuality, and opinion on it varies, with younger generations being more accepting.
- It should be noted, however, that some Sikhs cut their hair and there is usually no friction between them and other Sikhs.
- Bans on even dull knives present problems for Sikhs who wish to fly.
- "Sikh Religious Philosophy"
- About Sikhism
- Web Desk (December 13, 2015) "Sikh athlete mistaken for Muslim becomes victim of racist meme"
- Devjyot Ghoshal (November 16, 2015) "Once again, the internet is confusing a Sikh man with a Muslim terrorist"