Sikh Faith FAQs

What does “Sikh” mean?

The word Sikh means student. According to the Sikh Rehit Maryada, a Sikh is defined as “any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal God; ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh;  Guru Granth Sahib; the teachings of the ten Gurus and has faith and belief in the Amrit initiation of the tenth Guru; and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion”

What is the Sikh faith?

The Sikh faith is the fifth largest world religion with over 25 million devotees worldwide. It is a monotheistic religion founded in 1469, by Guru Nanak. It holds as its basic tenets, the equality of mankind, the equality of men and women, and the fundamental equality of all religions. Guru Nanak rejected idolatry and the caste system, and taught that there is a universal, genderless and formless God, who is accessible equally to all, irrespective of their race or religion.

Born in the Punjab region of South Asia, Guru Nanak travelled far during his lifetime and taught the principles that have become the core of Sikh belief. Everywhere he travelled, a community of disciples arose, called Sikhs. The term Sikh literally means a student or disciple.

Towards the end of his life, Guru Nanak nominated a successor to carry on his teachings. This successor, the second Guru of the Sikhs, in his turn nominated a successor towards the end of his life. The evolution of the religion continued in this manner for a period of about 200 years, with a succession of ten living Gurus from 1469 to 1708.

Guru Nanak and his successors wrote extensively, choosing spiritual poetry set to music as the primary form of disseminating their ideas. The fifth Guru, Guru Arjan, put together the complete set of writings of the Gurus in the form of the Adi Granth. In the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan also included the spiritual verses of individuals from different social, faith and cultural backgrounds, thereby firmly entrenching within Sikh ideology and practice Guru Nanak's philosophy of the universality of humanity.

The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, took the final steps in codifying Guru Nanak's ideology within Sikh practice. He gave instruction that after him, there would be no more living Gurus, that instead the Adi Granth would become the 'Guru' for the Sikhs. The word 'Guru' itself means spiritual teacher or guide, and after Guru Gobind Singh, the Adi Granth became the Guru Granth, and is revered by Sikhs as such.

Guru Gobind Singh also created the contemporary ceremony by which an individual is formally initiated within the Sikh faith. This ceremony, called the Amrit ceremony, first took place in 1699, under Guru Gobind Singh's direction, and Guru Gobind Singh, in an act of humility, asked his disciples to formally induct him also through this ceremony.

A Sikh who has undergone the Amrit ceremony is called an Amritdhari Sikh. Both men and women are inducted similarly through this ceremony. Once inducted, an Amritdhari Sikh also adopts Five Articles of Faith.

Where do Sikhs come from?

The Sikh faith was founded by Guru Nanak in 1469 in Punjab. Punjab is located in South Asia and is currently divided between India and Pakistan. Although most Sikhs have their roots in South Asia, and Punjab specifically, there are Sikhs of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. It should be noted that Guru Nanak himself travelled across the world from China to the Middle East teaching his message of the universality of One God and the unity of humanity.

What do Sikhs believe?

Sikhs believe in One God who is the creator of the universe and resides within creation but is not limited to the creation. God is formless, fearless, and beyond birth and death. The purpose of human life is unite the Mind with God during one’s lifetime. This is possible through accepting the teachings of the Guru and following the “three golden rules,” namely, meditation on God’s name (nam japna), earning an honest living (kirat karna), and sharing one’s earnings with others (vand shakna).

What is the Sri Guru Granth Sahib?

Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the Sikh scripture containing the compositions of the Sikh Gurus and other saints and poets of diverse social, caste and faith backgrounds who united with God. The verses or bani are considered by Sikhs to be the divinely inspired word of God. The compositions of Sri Guru Granth Sahib are written in traditional musical measures or raags. The verses and hymns of Sri Guru Granth Sahib are reflections upon God and also establish moral guidelines for spiritual development and union with God. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is composed in 31 raags or traditional musical measures and spans 1430 pages, known as angs or limbs.

What is the Sikh language?

Most Sikhs speak Punjabi and Sri Guru Granth Sahib is written in the Gurmukhi script. That having been said, the languages in Sri Guru Granth Sahib include Persian, Hindi, Braj and others.

What are the rules Sikhs follow?

Sikhs follow the Rehit Maryada or Sikh code of conduct. The Rehit Maryada establishes guidelines for a spiritual lifestyle. This includes rising daily before sunrise for meditation and prayer and also giving one tenth of one’s income back to the community. In addition to basic rules of morality shared by people of all faiths, initiated Sikhs cannot cut or remove the hair on their body, use intoxicants such as tobacco or liquor, etc., eat meat or engage in extra-marital sexual relations.

What is the gurdwara & langar?

The Sikh place of worship is called the gurdwara or “door to the guru” and serves as the most important Sikh institution. Gurdwaras are open to all people regardless of gender, faith or culture. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is installed in each Gurdwara and the congregation engages in the contemplation and singing of verses along with discourses on Sikh history and spirituality. Each gurdwara contains a langar or free community kitchen where all persons are welcome to share a free vegetarian meal.

What are the Sikh articles of faith?

Sikhs who are initiated into the Khalsa commit to follow the rehit maryada or Sikh code of conduct. This includes a daily discipline of meditation and prayer and also wearing the five Sikh articles of faith or kakaars at all times. They are as follows:

1. kesh – unshorn hair symbolizing acceptance of God’s will; the hair must be kept covered at all times with a keski or dastaar (turban or head-covering) representing spiritual wisdom;

2. kangha – a wooden comb representing self-discipline; worn in the hair and used to keep it neat and tidy;

3. kara – an iron or steel bracelet worn on the wrist; the circle signifies the oneness and eternity of God and to use one’s hands for the benefit of humanity;

4. kachhera – cotton undergarment representing high moral character and restraint;

5. kirpan – a stylized representation of a sword, which must be worn sheathed, re strained in a cloth belt, and next to the body; the kirpan signifies the duty of a Sikh to stand up against injustice. Most kirpans range in size from 6 to 9 inches in length.

Do Sikhs ever remove their articles of faith?

The articles of faith are considered sacred and a part of the body. They remain on the person at all times. At home and while sleeping, most Sikhs wear a smaller turban.

What is the significance of the turban?

Significance of the Turban

To understand the spiritual significance of the turban, one must understand the history and philosophy of the Sikhs. 

Sikhs are vehemently opposed to the differential treatment of people for reasons such as gender, race, or religion, which is reflected in Sikh teachings, philosophies, and practices.  They believe in the abolishment of class distinctions (like a caste system of social hierarchy) and denounce the persecution of individuals on the basis of distinctions like race, creed, gender, ethnicity, belief, tradition or lifestyle.  Sikh Scripture remains universally unique in that it demonstrates many of the principles of equality that Sikhs believe in.  Women are given a significant role in Sikh scriptures, which are in many places written in the feminine voice and reflect a belief in a God who is referred to as both mother and father.  

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) inspired people to feel the presence of God through hard work, family, community service and defence of the downtrodden.  A cornerstone of his philosophy was the emancipation of women, who faced significant discrimination in 16th century India. 

In the society in which Guru Nanak lived, women were required to cover their faces before men, as a sign of humility and respect for men, who held a higher social status then women. Guru Nanak rejected this tradition, and stated that no woman should be required to cover her face before man, since God had created men and women as equals.  Both Sikh men and women were enjoined to cover their heads as a mark of respect and humility before God and in doing so the Sikh faith reinforced the fundamental equality of both men and women.

From the time of Guru Nanak, the turban became synonymous with the outward identity of a Sikh, and has continued to stand for the Sikh belief in gender equality, humility, and the supremacy of God. 

Over the centuries, the Sikh community developed and prospered under the leadership of Guru Nanak's nine successors.  This culminated in the creation of the present day initiation ceremony in the Sikh faith by the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.  For philosophical reasons outlined above, and the additional practical reason of covering the unshorn hair (one of the five articles of faith mandated by Guru Gobind Singh), the wearing of the turban is an integral component of the Sikh identity and a sacred article of faith.

Wearing of the Turban 

For practicing Sikhs, the turban is essential to their identity, and removing it is inconceivable.  The turban not only serves a spiritual function, as noted above (ie. to reflect the Sikh belief in gender equality, humility, and the supremacy of God), but also serves the practical function of covering, and keeping in place the uncut hair of a Sikh. 

The turban is not a religious symbol but an article of faith.  While items like a crucifix or other jewelry are optional, the turban is mandatory and cannot be removed. Symbols are simply representations of the real object. The turban has a religious significance but it is much more than just a symbol.  The identity of the Sikh is reflected in the wearing of the turban. 

The turban is not like a hat in that it cannot simply be put on and taken off.  It is carefully tied every day.  It is worn at all times indoors and outdoors by observant Sikhs.  There are various styles and sizes of turban. Younger children often wear a patka which is a square piece of cloth tied on the head. At home or for sleep, a smaller turban or keski is worn in place of the larger turban.  Depending on personal preference, wearers choose different colours or fabrics for the turban. 

It is inconceivable that Sikhs who keep their unshorn hair would not cover it with a turban. 

As the turban is such an integral part of the Sikh identity, being forced to remain without it is tantamount to asking Sikhs to do something which is completely against their beliefs. Sikhs believe that God is everywhere, and as a sign of respect for God, and a reflection of their humility and belief in equality between men and women, Sikhs wear the turban everywhere. 

Just as an individual would be extremely embarrassed in having to appear in a state of undress, a Sikh would feel a similar level of humiliation in being forced to remove the turban.  Bodies across Canada such as police forces and the Canadian Border Security Agency hold the removal of the turban to be tantamount to a strip search. 



Le Turban et La Foi Sikhe 

Qu’est ce que la foi Sikhe? 

La foi sikhe est la cinquième religion du monde avec plus de 22 millions d'adhérents dans le monde entier. Il y a environ 10 000 sikhs au Québec. La foi sikhe est une religion monothéiste fondée en 1469, par Gourou Nanak, le premier de 10 gourous sikhs. Le mot «sikh» signifie étudiant, et les sikhs sont des élèves ou disciples des gourous. La foi sikhe a comme base, une croyance en un Dieu unique et l'égalité de chaque personne, peu importe leur sexe, leur classe, leur race ou leur foi.  

Après la mise en place de la religion par Gourou Nanak, la religion a traversé une période d'évolution de plus de 200 ans, qui a abouti à la création d'un groupe nettement distinct de disciples qui étaient identifiables de vu par leurs articles de foi.

Les trois règles fondamentales de la foi sikhe sont de se souvenir de Dieu en tout temps, de gagner sa vie par des moyens honnêtes et de partager cette vie et ses ressources avec d'autres.

Il est important qu'un sikh vive et incarne les valeurs de la foi sikhe, ce qui rend la manifestation externe des croyances essentielles. La foi sikhe est intrinsèquement porteuse d’un message de vie, avec l'idéal d'une vie de travail, de pratique religieuse et de charité. L'identité sikhe est une manière pratique et visible de reconnaître un individu qui s'est lancé dans cette voie. Ainsi, les articles de foi, portés par un sikh sont intrinsèques à l'identité des sikhs.

Signification du Turban 

Pour comprendre la signification spirituelle du turban, il faut comprendre l'histoire et la philosophie des sikhs.

Les sikhs sont farouchement opposés aux différences de traitement des personnes pour des raisons telles que le sexe, la race ou la religion, ce qui se reflète dans les enseignements, les philosophies et les coutumes sikhes. Ils croient en l’abolition des distinctions de classe (comme un système de hiérarchie sociale des castes) et dénoncent la persécution d'individus sur des différences de race, de croyance, de sexe, d’appartenance ethnique, de tradition ou de mode de vie. Les Écritures saintes sikhes restent universellement uniques, car elles illustrent plusieurs des principes d'égalité dont les sikhs croient. Les femmes sont données un rôle très significatif dans les Écritures saintes sikhes, qui sont dans de nombreuses sections, rédigé dans la voix féminine et reflètent une croyance en un Dieu qui est mentionné comme mère et père.

Gourou Nanak (1469-1539) inspire les gens à ressentir la présence de Dieu à travers le travail acharné, la famille, le bénévolat et la défense des opprimés. Une pierre angulaire de sa philosophie était la libération des femmes qui faisaient face à une grande discrimination en Inde au 16e siècle.

Dans la société dans laquelle vivait Gourou Nanak, les femmes étaient obligées de couvrir leurs visages devant les hommes, en signe d'humilité et de respect envers les hommes, qui détenaient un statut social supérieur aux femmes. Gouru Nanak a rejeté cette tradition et a indiqué qu’aucune femme ne devrait être obligée de couvrir son visage devant les hommes, étant donné que Dieu avait créé les hommes et les femmes égaux. Les hommes sikhs et les femmes ont été donc invités à se couvrir la tête en signe de respect et d'humilité devant Dieu et de cette manière, la foi sikhe a renforcé l'égalité fondamentale des hommes et des femmes.

Depuis l'époque de Gourou Nanak, le turban est devenu synonyme de l'identité externe d'un sikh et a continué de supporter la croyance sikhe dans l'égalité des sexes, l'humilité et la suprématie de Dieu.

Au cours des siècles, la communauté sikhe a développé et a prospéré sous la direction de neuf successeurs de Gourou Nanak. Ceci a abouti à la création de la cérémonie d'initiation actuelle dans la foi sikhe par le 10e gourou, Gourou Gobind Singh en 1699. Pour des raisons philosophiques expliquées ci-dessus et de plus une raison pratique de couvrir les cheveux longs (l'un des cinq articles de foi mandatés par Gouru Gobind Singh), le port du turban est une partie intégrante de l'identité sikhe et un article de foi sacré.

Le port du Turban 

Pour les sikhs pratiquants, le turban est essentiel à leur identité, et l'enlever est inconcevable. Le turban sert non seulement une fonction spirituelle, comme indiqué plus haut (ex. pour refléter la croyance sikhe de l'égalité des sexes, l'humilité et la suprématie de Dieu), mais également une fonction pratique de couvrir et maintenir en place les cheveux non-coupés d'un sikh.

Le turban n'est pas un symbole religieux, mais un article de foi. Alors que les articles comme un crucifix ou d'autres bijoux sont facultatifs, le turban est obligatoire et ne peut pas être enlevé. Les symboles sont simplement des représentations de l'objet réel. Le turban a une signification religieuse, mais il est bien plus qu'un symbole. L'identité des sikhs se reflète dans le port du turban.

Le turban n'est pas un chapeau, car il ne peut pas simplement être chapeauté et enlevé. Il est enroulé avec soin tous les jours. Il est porté en tout temps par les sikhs pratiquants autant à l’intérieur et qu’à extérieur. À la maison ou pour dormir, un plus petit turban ou keski est porté à la place du plus grand.

Il est inconcevable que les sikhs qui gardent leurs cheveux longs ne les couvrent pas avec un turban.

Comme le turban est partie intégrante de l'identité sikhe, les forcer à rester sans celui-ci équivaut à demander aux sikhs de faire quelque chose qui est totalement contraire à leurs croyances. Les sikhs croient que Dieu est partout, et comme signe de respect pour Dieu et le reflet de leur humilité et leur croyance en l'égalité entre les hommes et les femmes, les sikhs portent le turban en tout temps.

Tout comme un individu serait extrêmement embarrassé d'avoir à se présenter déshabillé, un sikh sentirait le même niveau d'humiliation en étant obligé de retirer son turban. Des organisations partout au Canada, telles que les forces policières et l’Agence des Services frontaliers du Canada maintiennent que enlever le turban équivaut à une fouille corporelle (nue).


What is the significance of the turban’s colour and style?

None necessarily. Although traditionally Sikh turbans are white, black, blue and yellow/ orange, many Sikhs wear other colours and shades to suit their personal preferences. It is a personal choice. There are several styles of Sikh turbans and these too are chosen as a personal preference.

What is the Kirpan?

The kirpan is often described as a dagger or a miniature sword, which is what it resembles, but that description is so far removed from the purpose of a kirpan as to make it misleading. The kirpan is an article of faith that plays a role in the Sikh religion that is similar to that of a Christian cross, a Jewish Star of David, or a Muslim hijab, with one crucial exception: it is not optional. As has been noted in Canadian jurisprudence,

“The kirpan as one of the five k’s is thus far more than a religious adornment.  Mandated to be worn always, it is an integral part of the Khalsa Sikh’s person and cannot be properly compared with a cross which a Christian might choose to wear.  Not wearing the kirpan at any time, day or night, constitutes a grievous transgression for a Khalsa Sikh.”

The word kirpan is a combination of the words grace and honour.  The kirpan is worn by initiated (Amritdhari) Sikhs, both men and women, and is one of five articles of faith, often called the 5Ks. Sikhs wear them as a reminder of their commitment to the tenets of their faith including justice, charity, morality, humility, and equality. These articles of faith are:

  1. kesh -- unshorn hair symbolizing respect for God’s will; covered at all times with a keski or dastar (turban)
  2. kangha -- a wooden comb representing self-discipline; worn in the hair it reminds the wearer to rid oneself of what is morally undesirable;
  3. kara – an iron or steel bracelet worn on the wrist; the circle signifies the oneness and eternity of God and to use one’s hands to benefit humanity;
  4. kachhera – cotton undergarments representing high moral character and fidelity;
  5.  kirpan – a stylized representation of a sword, which must be worn sheathed, wrapped in a cloth belt, and worn next to the body; the kirpan signifies the duty of a  Sikh to stand up against injustice.

Kirpans must be made of iron or steel and most range in size from 15 to 22 cm (6-9 inches) but sizes do vary depending of the preferences of the wearer. Some have elegant, ornate hilts and sheaths. They must be held securely in place with a fabric belt (called a gaatra).  The gaatra is worn across the torso, keeping the kirpan next to the body.

Canadian Courts have accepted that,

“[t]he Kirpan is also the symbol of sovereignty and dignity.  I suppose in a similar way…that in the Canadian parliament below the speaker’s chair we have a mace which is an undoubted weapon and a reasonably brutal one.  But this mace goes far beyond the aspect of being a weapon, but is instead a symbol of authority, a symbol of dignity, a symbol of sovereignty as it were the body that is involved.”

We all handle blades of all sorts daily, in public. Letter openers, scissors, knives in restaurants, kitchen knives, nail files, Swiss Army knives, scalpels, saws, ice skates… the list is long. It grows longer if we add forks (which are still found on airplanes) and other sharp, pointy implements. But we assume these tools will be used for their intended purpose, and we don’t assume our neighbours and coworkers are dangerous.

What prevents Sikhs using an article of faith for violence is that very faith, coupled with the same social customs that we all observe. Of all the blades used in daily life, kirpans are the least hazardous because they are sacred: they come with a philosophy that is an integral part of how Sikhs practise their faith. It’s not just a talisman or a piece of jewelry. Removing the kirpan is a serious matter for Sikhs. It is done rarely and only under extreme circumstances – Sikhs even wear the kirpan while sleeping and bathing. 

The idea of a Sikh attacking someone with a kirpan is far more frightening, horrifying, and repugnant to those of our faith than to anyone outside it.

What about Sikh women?

Women are considered completely equal to men and have the same rights and obligations. As such, Sikh women follow the same religious code of conduct. The Sikh Gurus were well before their time and declared that gender discrimination was wrong and spoke out against practices such as ritual impurity, the burning of widows (‘Sati’) and mandatory veiling of women.

But I know Sikhs who don’t wear turbans or keep their hair?

Just as in any community there are different levels of observance. Many people who self-identify as Sikh do not keep the Sikh articles of faith. That is a personal choice and each person progresses on their spiritual journey at a different pace.

What is the traditional Sikh greeting?

The traditional Sikh greeting is “Waheguru Jee Ka Khalsa Waheguru Jee Kee Fateh” meaning the Khalsa belongs to God and all victory belongs to God. A shorter greeting that is often used is “Sat Sri Akal” meaning Timeless God is Truth.

What is the Sikh attitude towards non-Sikhs?

Sikhs believe that all persons are equal. Freedom of religion and conscience are core Sikh values. Everyone has the right to believe in and practice the faith of their choice and no one is condemned to hell simply because of their religion. The Sikh Gurus taught that loving God is the greatest religion of all and people must be judged on their actions, not on the labels of race, nationality or caste.

What do Sikhs believe about the afterlife?

The focus of the Sikh faith is to find happiness and unite with God in this life through meditation on naam (the name of God). The soul continues to be reincarnated until it becomes one with God. Sikhs also believe in the doctrine of karma, whereby each action has a reaction and each person must bear the consequences of their own deeds.

What are the origins of Vaisakhi?

Although Vaisakhi has traditionally been a harvest festival in Punjab and across South Asia for centuries, the day has a very special significance for Sikhs.  On Vaisakhi Day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh created the Order of the Khalsa. The Khalsa are those Sikhs who have accepted the Sikh initiation or “khande kee paahul” and commit to live their lives in the service of humanity and the spirit of equality and compassion. The founding of the Khalsa was a seminal event in Sikh history which gave the Sikh faith its final form.

How did Guru Gobind Singh create the Khalsa?

Guru Gobind Singh summoned the entire Sikh community to Anandpur Sahib in Punjab on Vaisakhi Day.  During the large gathering, he called for a Sikh who would be willing to sacrifice their head for the faith.  The call was answered by five Sikhs who were lead, one by one, into a tent. The five Sikhs who stepped forward are known as the five beloved ones, or Panj Pyare:

•           Bhai Daya Singh

•           Bhai Dharam Singh

•           Bhai Himmat Singh

•           Bhai Mokham Singh

•           Bhai Sahib Singh

Guru Gobind Singh then dressed them in the same clothing as himself, and prepared the amrit or nectar of initiation.  He knelt by an iron vessel, filled with water, and stirred it with a double edged sword while reciting verses from the Sikh scriptures.  Guru Gobind Singh’s wife, Mata Jeeto jee added sugar crystals to the water to sweeten it.  When the Amrit was prepared, it was administered to all five Sikhs.  Upon initiation, they were given the name “Singh” or lion.

Guru Gobind Singh then asked for the five to initiate him in the same way and declared that any Sikh who wished to be initiated into the faith would follow the same rite and receive amrit from five initiated Sikhs.  Sikh women like Mata Jeeto jee who received the initiation were given the name “Kaur” or princess.

What is a Nagar Keertan?

The word nagar means town and keertan is singing of hymns.  A nagar keertan refers to a Sikh parade that is lead by the Punj Pyare (the five beloved ones, who represent the first five Sikh to have been initiated) and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib or the Sikh scripture, which is installed in a decorated float.  The congregation

follows the parade while singing hymns and verses from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, along with displays of the Sikh martial art gatka and distributing free food (langar).  The nagar keertan begins and concludes with a religious service and the serving of langar.

What is the significance of the orange and yellow colours?

Yellow and orange are the traditional colours of Vaisakhi.  They represent the spirit of rebirth and sacrifice of the Punj Pyare but are also a colour of joy and celebration.  When Vaisakhi is celebrated in Punjab, the golden yellow wheat fields are ready to be harvested.

Who can participate in Vaisakhi celebrations?

Everyone.  The Sikh faith considers all persons to be equal, regardless of gender, race, nationality or class.  Sikh gurdwaras are open to all people.  The langar or community meal is also offered to both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. 

Is there any special dress I should wear?

The only requirements to visit a Sikh gurdwara are that visitors take off their shoes and cover their heads.  Any intoxicants such as tobacco products or liquor are also not permitted on the premises.