Crédit photo : Pascal Lautier

Sikhism: a religion between Hinduism and Islam


Recognised as the fifth religion in the world, very few people know about Sikhism. Sikhs precepts thrived under the influence of Gurû Nânak in 16th century North-West India. It was developed as an answer to the two majoritarian religions in India: Hinduism and Islam. Learn about this religion of 20 million adepts, advocating equality between men.

Sikhism today counts more than 20 million disciples referred to as “Sikhs”. It does not matter what is the adept’s race, nationality, cast or gender, as Sikhism strongly fights racial and social discriminations. Its adepts are easily recognisable to their turban and long beards, symbol of resistance against the persecutions they underwent from Hindus and Muslims in the 17th century. They are also distinguishable from the names they give themselves: Singh (“lion”) for a man and Kaur (“princess”) for a woman.

Born Hindi, Gurû Nânak was raised in a cast of merchants near Lahore in Pakistan. Living in permanent contact with Hinduism and Islam, he was neither convinced nor converted to one or the other, though he remained fascinated by spirituality. He considered religion a way to unite men. After a 20 year-long spiritual trip which took him from India to Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Mecca, Persia and Afghanistan, he founded Kartarpur “the city of the Creator” on his return. He gathered a community with “no Hindi or Muslim”, in Punjabi, on the right bank of the river Ravi in current Pakistan.

Gurû Nânak founded Sikh philosophy after a revelation from Waheguru (God). It is a true spiritual teaching developed within the Hindi tradition of “bhakti” (devotion). The guru assembles around him a community worshipping a unique and absolute God which represents the Truth. According to this belief, human race on Earth originates from this Creator, not because he casted them there after the original sin, but rather to help them “grow” within Sikh principles.


Before dying, Gûru Nânak had named his successor. Living examples of spirituality, nine gurus followed him to lead the congregation until 1708. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh, decided he would be the last and that religious authority would then be transmitted by the assembled Sikh community and the scriptures left by the five first gurus. As all religion, Sikhism has its own sacred book called Adi Granth.

Each guru participated in the development of the religion. Arjun Dev, the fifth guru, gave the Sikhs their holy place, the Golden Temple of Amritsar. The last and tenth guru, Gobind Singh, introduced a Sikh initiation ritual guaranteeing entrance in the “khalsa” (“the Pure”). This ritual forces men to respect the “5K”, the five distinctive signs of the Sikhs: the Kirpan, a double-edge dagger worn in remembrance of the values of duty and sacrifice for a fair cause; the Kesha, a tradition which urges men to constantly wear the Pagri – a turban – to hold their long hair; the Kangha (a comb); the Kara (an iron bracelet) and the Kaccha (short boxer shorts). Once the first five Sikhs were baptised, these “five Beloved” baptised the guru for the first time in the long history of religions.

From the 18th century until India’s independence in 1947, the history of the Sikh community is marked by rebellions and armed conflicts. The last guru led the Sikhs to wage war against the Moghols to put an end to the persecutions they were victims of. “Nothing prevents a man from drawing his sword once all other alternatives have been used”. Islam was well implanted in this region however it risked being surpassed by Sikhism. In the late 17th century, the pacifism advocated by Gurû Nânak was let aside in favour of armed conflict.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who had been withdrawn in the Punjabi mountains since 1716,  decides in 1750 to create an independent Sikh territory on his lands. An autonomous state which existed for half a century until the British decided to annex it. In 1919, the British slaughter Sikh adepts in the Golden Temple putting an end to their mutual cooperation. The number of persecutions increased during the Indian independence war: many Sikhs were killed, imprisoned or tortured. When, eventually, India became independent in 1947, the partition did not take into account the Sikh territory as Punjabi was divided between India and Pakistan. As soon as 1966, Indian Punjabi was again divided into three parts: Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjabi – where a majority of Sikhs still live today.

Independence claims from fundamentalist Sikh movements led, in 1984, to a violent and bloody repression from the Indian army in the Golden Temple. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, was killed, in an act of revenge, by two Sikh bodyguards. Four days of massacre followed in Delhi where more than 300 died.


Sikhism is closer to Hinduism than Islam as it retains Hindi theories of karma and reincarnation, even though Sikhism foundations are closer to Islam as it advocates monotheism. To believe in a unique God who represents the Truth, learn to read and understand the Gurmukhi or protect the poors, the weak and the oppressed by opposing injustice are strong principles of the Sikh religion.

Sikh disciples are invited to lead a true life i.e. to be honest, integer and submissive to God’s words in order to reach the “mukti” or “Liberation”. Have a life in conformity with your beliefs mean having a healthy life and healthy eating habits: alcohol, tobacco or lottery games are forbidden. By living a life of exchange and sharing, the adept can reach the ultimate goal of life: become a “sachiar” or, in other words, “grow by yourself”. Up early in the morning, they meditate God’s words. No idols, no goddess, only God, incarnated in everything. “I am Him. I, myself, am God”. The majority of Sikhs still live in Punjabi, their homeland.

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