The Sikh faith (Dharam) is founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak – the first Sikh Guru - and nine other successive Gurus from 1469 – 1708. From 1708 onwards, the teachings of all Gurus are considered enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib – the sacred Sikh scripture, compiled by the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh. It teaches that all existence is the creation of God and attributed to the Word of God (Naam) and the Divine Will (Hukam). Humans are closest to and created in God’s image - their worldly existence affords them a precious opportunity to realise and connect up with God. All living beings have in fact a spark of the Divine which is latent in them. Humans need to overcome and control their self-centred ego, to mobilise Godly qualities of love, compassion, mercy, contentment, and humility. They are required to listen, reflect, understand and practice with commitment, the Word of God. They must exercise selflessness and be able to sacrifice for others and be conscious of their interdependence within all creation. Whilst human effort is important, ultimate transformation and salvation comes through God’s grace. Sikhs are urged not to escape from the world but to bring a spiritual dimension to all secular pursuits, as summed up in the founding charter for Sikh life: Naam Japo (remembering the Word of God in all you do), Kirat Karo (working with integrity, constantly acknowledging God’s presence), Wand Ke Chhako (sharing all you have with others). The concept of saint-soldier (sant-sipahi) inspires one to do battle with materialistic attachment and pride, also to stand up and fight for a just cause. To find God one must learn to love creation, hence meditation (simran) must go hand in hand with selfless service to others (sewa). A noble mind is balanced by a humble heart.‘Sikh’ means ‘learner’ or ‘disciple’ of the Guru, hence Sikhs refer to their faith as Sikhi (the path of learning), Gurmat (the Guru’s wisdom) or Dharam (a self-acknowledged duty towards the Creator and Creation).
The word 'Guru' conjures up for a Sikh, the ten consecutive spiritual luminaries who established the Sikh world-view, institutions and community. As 'disciples', Sikhs are required to take Amrit'. This initiation or baptism commits them to their daily practice. Joining the order (Khalsa), which was created in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, they pledge to wear the five ‘articles of faith’ which are constant reminders of cherished values and mark the bond of love between Sikh, Guru and God: Kesh (unshorn hair), Kangha (wooden comb), Kara (steel bracelet), Kashera (special undergarment), Kirpan (artefact to protect one’s own and others’ dignity and honour), plus the turban. They also assume the names of Singh (‘lion’ for men) and Kaur (‘princess’ for women). Such Sikhs are strictly prohibited from cutting hair from any part of the body; taking intoxicants such as alcohol, tobacco or drugs; and indulging in pre-marital or extra-marital relationships. Many also do not eat meat, fish or eggs.It is estimated that there are approximately 24million Sikhs in the world today, some 700,000 of which are in the UK. Most Sikh migrants arrived directly from the Punjab in the 1950s and 1960s, although a significant minority came from East Africa and beyond. In the region there are some 250,000, particularly in the West Midlands county, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. Whilst the Sikh faith is not a missionary one, it does allow conversion. In terms of festivals, as well as the anniversaries associated with the Gurus, there are Vaisakhi (the anniversary of the creation of the Khalsa order) - and Divali (the festival of light commemorating the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar.)
Places of worship are known as Gurdwaras (the abode of the Guru). All are welcome in the Gurdwara – when entering shoes should be removed and the head covered. All Gurdwaras have a communal kitchen from where Langar (hot vegetarian meals) are prepared and served by volunteers free of charge.
More information on the BBC website www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/
Local information on BBC Birmingham website www.bbc.co.uk/birmingham/content/articles/2007/06/14/sikhism_feature.shtml
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