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What Is Sikhism? The Basics of Sikhism in 10 Questions, 10 Definitions, and 10 Quotes

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Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He is the editorial director for Renew.org as well as an online adjunct instructor for Ozark Christian College. He has a bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). His books include the Popular Handbook of World Religions (general editor), Real Life Theology: Fuel for Effective and Faithful Disciple Making (co-general editor), Mirage: 5 Things People Want From God That Don't Exist, and The Atheist's Fatal Flaw (co-authored with Norman Geisler).

What are the basics of Sikhism? Sikhism is a monotheistic religion arising out of India which sought to show that God transcended both Islam and Hinduism. It was founded by Guru Nanak, whose leadership passed through a succession of Gurus, until the tenth declared that the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, was the final Guru. Sikhism has been persecuted throughout history but has retained a religious and cultural identity known for seeking mystical union with God and activism toward the world.

What are the basics of Sikhism? 10 Questions

  1. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in the AD 1400s in what Indian state? Punjab
  2. Although Hinduism was the dominant religious force in the area, the rulers over the area belonged to what religion? Islam
  3. Sikhism began when Nanak experienced the ultimate reality as something which transcended both of the religions he grew up around. Although Sikhism was a monotheistic religion, Nanak retained belief in karma and reincarnation from what religion? Hinduism
  4. Sikhism seeks a transformative union with God that goes beyond competing religious identities such as Hindu and Muslim. In addition, Sikhism officially rejects what Hindu system of social identity (even if forms of it are still used in practice)? caste system
  5. The 10 men who have led Sikhism throughout its history are called what? gurus
  6. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh decided that the 11th and final guru would not be a person, but a book containing almost 6,000 hymns written by Sikh gurus as well as Hindu poets and Muslim Sufis (mystics). What is the book called? Adi Granth, or the Guru Granth Sahib
  7. What Sikh military order did Guru Gobind Singh form? the Khalsa
  8. The word Ekankar is made of three words: (1) ek (“one”), (2) aum or om (the Sanskrit meditative syllable said to reflect God’s essence, and (3) kar (“only one”). Thus, Ekankar is a word for what in Sikhism? God
  9. What is another word for God in Sikhism that means “the true name”? Sat Nam
  10. Sikhs often play a visible and significant role in the Indian diaspora (a word referring to Indians living outside the country). Unlike monk-centered religions in which the point is to renounce the world, Sikhism’s role in the world is one of what? activism

What are the basics of Sikhism? 10 Definitions

  1. Sikh – Punjabi word for “disciple”
  2. Guru – the leader of Sikhism, considered the “embodiment of Divine Light”
  3. Gurdwara – a Sikh place of worship meaning “residence of the guru”
  4. Amrit – a “baptism” ceremony involving drinking sacred water
  5. Khalsa – the Sikh military order; a word meaning “pure ones”
  6. Singh – a word meaning “lion” which is used almost universally as the last name of Sikh males, who are recognizable by their turban and unshorn hair
  7. Kaur – a word meaning “daughter of kings” which became the common last name of Sikh females
  8. Kirtan – devotional songs used in communal singing
  9. Langar – the shared kitchen in the Gurdwara from which all people eat together on the floor, expressing unity and equality
  10. Golden Temple – the most sacred Sikh shrine, located in Amritsar, India

The Basics of Sikhism: 10 Quotes

Teachings about God from the Adi Granth/Guru Granth Sahib

“One Universal Creator God. The Name Is Truth. Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image of the Undying, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent. By Guru’s Grace. True In the Primal Beginning. True throughout the Ages. True Here and Now. O Nanak, Forever and Ever True.”

– Guru Granth Sahib: Jup, Section 1, Part 1

“Chant the Name of the Lord, O mind, and you shall be emancipated. The Lord shall destroy all the sins of millions upon millions of incarnations, and carry you across the terrifying world-ocean.”

– Guru Granth Sahib: Raag Bairaaree, Section 17, Part 2


The Basics of Sikhism: “Chant the Name of the Lord, O mind, and you shall be emancipated.”


“You gave us our soul, breath of life and body. I am a fool, but You have made me beautiful, enshrining Your Light within me. We are all beggars, O God; You are merciful to us. Chanting the Naam, the Name of the Lord, we are uplifted and exalted.”

– Guru Granth Sahib: Raag Basant, Section 29, Part 14

“The Naam remains; the Holy Saints remain; the Guru, the Lord of the Universe, remains.”

– Shri Granth Sahib: Mundaavanee, Fifth Mehl & Raag Maalaa, Section 45, Part 1

The Birth of Guru Nanak

“The astrologer on seeing the infant [Guru Nanak] is said to have worshipped him with clasped hands. He declared the child should wear the umbrella, the symbol of regal or prophetic dignity in the East. At the same time he regretted that he should never live to see young Nanak’s eminence, worshipped as he should be alike by Hindus and Musalmans, and not merely by Hindus as in the previous human manifestations of the Creator.”

– Life of Guru Nanak, Chapter 1, from The Sikh Religion, Volume 1, by Max Arthur MacAuliffe

The Teachings of Guru Nanak

“I have no anxiety regarding death, and I have no desire for life. Thou, O God, art the Cherisher of all living things; our breathings are taken into account. Thou dwellest in the holy; as it pleaseth Thee, so Thou decidest.”

– Guru Nanak, in response to his father who tried to dissuade him from his spiritual mission, in Life of Guru Nanak, Chapter 8, from The Sikh Religion, Volume 1, by Max Arthur MacAuliffe

“There is but One Name, One God, One Light in the three worlds….There is but one shop, one Merchant above all; the dealers are many.”

– Guru Nanak, in Life of Guru Nanak, Chapter 8, from The Sikh Religion, Volume 1, by Max Arthur MacAuliffe


The Basics of Sikhism: “There is but one shop, one Merchant above all; the dealers are many.”


The king again inquired if he were a Hindu or a Muhammadan. The Guru continued his enigmatical replies: “The True Guru hath solved the problem of the two ways. It is he who fixeth attention on the One God, and whose mind wavereth not, who can understand it.”

– Life of Guru Nanak, Chapter 8, from The Sikh Religion, Volume 1, by Max Arthur MacAuliffe

The Death of Guru Nanak

“The Musalmans who had received God’s name from the Guru, said they would bury him after his death. His Hindu followers on the contrary said they would cremate him. When the Guru was invited to decide the discussion he said, ‘Let the Hindus place flowers on my right, and the Musalmans on my left. They whose flowers are found fresh in the morning, may have the disposal of my body.’…When the sheet was removed next morning, there was nothing found beneath it. The flowers on both sides ere in bloom. The Hindus and the Musalmans removed their respective flowers.”

– Life of Guru Nanak, Chapter 17, from The Sikh Religion, Volume 1, by Max Arthur MacAuliffe

Historical Summary of Sikhism

“It is a pure, lofty monotheism, which sprang out of an attempt to reform and to simplify Muhammadanism and Hinduism, and which, though failing in this attempt, succeeded in binding together, like Judaism of old, a whole race in a new bond of religious zeal. The Sikhs became a nation by reason of their faith,—and a fine nation of stalwart soldiers.”

– Dorothy Field, The Religion of the Sikhs, Chapter 1: The Sikh Gurus)

2 Questions about Sikhism for Christians to Consider

  1. As a minority religion in every country they have a presence, Sikhs have endured persecution for their beliefs, yet they continue to encourage a resilient and proud identity. How can a group decide to let persecution make them stronger, not weaker?
  2. What are a couple of similarities Sikhism has with Christianity? A couple differences?