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Who are Sikhs? What do they believe?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A man reacts outside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wis. where a shooting took place on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 (Credit: AP/Jeffrey Phelps)

Imagine receiving this message on Twitter: “Victims in Sikh Temple asking: Do NOT call cellphones, they are currently in hiding and ringer may give up their positions.”  When gunfire erupted yesterday around 10:30 AM at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee,  people hid in the basement, in closets and in bathrooms.  A shooter later identified as a 40-year-old white male killed six people before a policeman returned fire, killing the gunman.  Police expect to release more information later today.

Who are Sikhs?  What do they believe?

Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest religion, with some 30 million adherents.  More than half live in India, where the movement was founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak.  Around 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S., primarily in California, New York City, New Mexico and Virginia.

“Sikh” means “disciple.”  Sikhs consider themselves to be disciples of God and followers of the “ten Gurus,” the founders and early teachers of their religion.  All initiated Sikh men wear a bracelet known as the “kara,” carry a sword called the “Kirpan,” wear cotton shorts as underwear, and carry a small wooden comb for keeping their hair clean.  Sikhs do not cut their hair; men wear it under a turban while women wear a scarf or turban.

Like Hindus, they believe in the existence of one supreme, eternal reality that is immanent in all things.  They believe in reincarnation but reject miracles.  They teach tolerance of other religions, believing that there is only One God who is the same God for all people of all religions.  They strive to live in such a way that they can merge with this God.  Central to their practice is the recitation of seven prayers a day—five before 6 AM, one between 5 and 7 PM, and one between 8 and 10 PM.  They reject hedonism, materialism, egotism, greed, wrath, and lust, as well as intoxicants, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, narcotics, and sexual relationships outside of marriage.  Women are equal with men and are able to participate in any Sikh function.

Sikhs are peaceful people.  But so were those killed at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Columbine High School, the 9-11 attacks, Virginia Tech, and a movie theater in Aurora.  Such violence is proof that Satan is alive and active, a murderer (John 8:44) who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

Benjamin Franklin warned us: “He that’s secure is not safe.”  Tragedies like yesterday’s shooting remind us that self-dependence is folly.  Tomorrow is promised to no one, so I’m choosing today to “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).  Will you join me?