The terrible shooting last weekend at the Sikh Temple in Milwaukee prompts me to offer a few words on the Sikh religion. First of all — Sikhs are not Muslim . . . . .
The Sikh religion began in the early 1600’s and today is found mainly in the Punjab area of India. The three tenets of the religion are: equality of humankind; universal brotherhood of man; and one supreme God (though there is belief in the teachings of 10 gurus or teachers). All Sikh men have the name “Singh” and all Sikh women are named “Kaur.” There is a belief in reincarnation and there is an emphasis on ethics, morality and values. Sikhs abstain from alcohol, drugs and tobacco and they do not believe in “miracles.” During WWI and WWII, Sikh regiments served bravely in the British Army – suffering more than 200,000 casualties.
Generally, Sikhism has had cordial relations with other religions though there has been strife in India with Muslims (after the partition of India in 1947) and Hindus (over possible creation of a Punjabi state). There are 5 exemplars of faith which all begin with the letter “K”: Kesh – uncut hair that is wrapped in a turban; Kanga – a wooden comb; Katchera – cotton underwear worn to remind one of purity; Kara – an iron bracelet symbolizing eternity; and Kirpan – a curved sword of varying lengths. It’s the Kesh (and turban) that gets Sikhs confused with Muslims among the uneducated.
The Hindu greeting in Hindi is namaste (one recognizes divinity in the other person). In the Punjabi language – and among Sikhs – one says sat sri akal (“God is the ultimate Truth“). Both phrases (offered with hands together) sound pretty ecumenical to me . . . .