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Myths and Realities

Sikhism is a distinct religion with its own scripture. Sikhs’ turbans and beards are sacred. And women and men are equal. Challenge your own understanding about Sikhs and Sikhism below.

Turbans are sacred for Sikhs.

For Sikhs, the turban symbolizes religious commitment, integrity, humility and spirituality. Because Sikhism requires that the turban be worn at all times in public, being forced to remove it is a source of humiliation. It is akin to exposing an intimate body part.

Turbans are a mandatory part of Sikhism, not merely a cultural custom or clothing choice.

Turbans and beards signify radical beliefs.

The vast majority of men wearing turbans and beards in America are practicing Sikhs. Though members of many religions also wear beards and turbans, Sikh turbans are distinct from other turbans in that they are peaked and cover a head of long hair.

Though Sikhs in the U.S. are mistaken for Muslims, Sikhs are neither Arab nor Muslim, although being Muslim is also not a justification for being the recipient of hate crimes. Following 9/11, there has been an increase in hate crimes and racially motivated violence against Sikhs, Arabs, Muslims and other South Asians.

Sikhs believe in reincarnation.

Sikhism believes that when a person dies, his or her soul is born again in another body—human or animal, depending on deeds in past lives. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion and Sikhs believe that it is only through finding God that a person will leave this life cycle of rebirth.

Sikhs don’t cut their hair.

Sikhs believe that hair is a gift from God, and that humans should retain what God has given them. For Sikhs, wearing uncut hair is one of the five Ks, or articles of faith, and demonstrates religious devotion.

Only Sikh men wear turbans, not women.

Although Sikh women can wear a scarf draped over their hair and are not required to wear turbans, many do wear turbans regularly. Because a Sikh woman’s hair may be coiled on a different part of her head than a man’s, she may wrap her turban differently.

Sikhism is a cult.

Unlike in cult religions, nobody is forced to become a Sikh. On the other hand, anyone who wants to become a Sikh can become one—one does not have to be born into the religion. Sikh temples, or Gurdwaras, welcome all people regardless of their religious background or beliefs. Sikhs are also allowed to visit places of worship outside their religion, such as mosques, churches or synagogues.

Sikhism is one of the world’s major religions. There are 23 million Sikhs in the world today.

Sikhs do not celebrate secular holidays like Halloween.

Sikhs celebrate many religious and cultural holidays, but there are no restrictions on them observing secular holidays as well. Sikh Americans often celebrate holidays like Halloween, birthdays and the Fourth of July.

Sikhism is a non-violent religion.

Sikhs espouse non-violence and do not believe in using force over peaceful means. Sikhism is against war based in religion, proselytism and terrorism. Sikhs can participate in war when they believe it is a last resort. Thousands of Sikhs fought in World War I and II, for instance, and for India’s independence against the British.

Sikhs are not allowed to smoke or drink alcohol.

Sikhism emphasizes eating simple food in moderation. It bans alcohol, drugs, tobacco and other intoxicants.

Some Sikhs also do not eat meat, believing that a “simple diet” constitutes vegetarianism.

Sikhism believes in the superiority of men over women.

Sikhism explicitly practices and promotes complete equality between genders, as well as among races, religions and classes. From its founding, Sikhism banned practices such as wife burning (sati), veiling of women (purdah) and female infanticide.

Learn about the history of Sikhism >>

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