There are almost 30 million Sikhs in the world, including a million in America making Sikhism the 5th most popular religion in the world. Yet so little is known about Sikhism. Sikhs are regularly mistaken for Muslims because Sikhs wear turbans. In the aftermath of the recent jihadist attacks in France and USA, several Sikhs have become victims of hate crimes in UK and USA. A Sikh was recently stabbed to death in California. Very few people know that 99% of the people who wear turbans in America are Sikhs and they have nothing do with either the Taliban or ISIS, or any other radical Islamic organization.
Sikhism was founded in the 15th century by the First Sikh Son of God Guru Nanak in north-west South Asia in a region called the Greater Punjab. It started when Islam brought in by the Moghuls clashed with Hinduism in that region. The Moghuls forcibly started the conversion of Hindus to Islam under the threat of death. Millions of Hindus were killed, their temples destroyed and replaced with mosques. Hindustan, forerunner of today’s India was looted and plundered. Hindu women faced the brunt of the Moghul invasions with mass rapes or enslavement into Moghul harems or trafficked at slave markets. It was against this background that Guru Nanak raised his voice and condemned the forcible conversion of Hindus and other minorities to Islam. He was imprisoned for speaking up. After his release, he started his odysseys to travel around the world to promote the concept of “One God. We are all His children.”
Fast forward to 1666 and we realize that Sikhs worldwide today are celebrating the birth anniversary of the 10th and last Sikh Son of God Guru Gobind Singh. At a tender age of nine, Guru Gobind Singh witnessed the brutality of political and radical Islam when his father the 9th Sikh Son of God Guru Teg Bahadur was publicly beheaded in New Delhi. Guru Teg Bahadur had arrived with a party of three followers to plead the case against the mass conversion of the Hindu clergy to Islam. His three followers were either burnt alive or boiled to death or sawn into half, very reminiscent of the techniques used by present day ISIS.
After a century of persecutions including the violent torture and death of 5th Sikh Son of God Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Gobind Singh formed a guerilla army of saint-soldiers to not only battle against radical Islamic Moghuls but also Hindu rajas who feared Sikhism because of its liberation theology condemning idolatry and the caste system.
In a short span of 40 years, Guru Gobind Singh laid a strong foundation for the success of the army of saint-soldiers that eventually defeated jihadism in India because the army had a strong appeal beyond Sikhs among the larger Muslim and Hindu masses. In fact, Muslim and Hindu soldiers fought alongside Sikh troops to defeat tyrannical religious extremism because Sikhism had a clear message of the equality of religions and the Sikh Holy Scriptures contain the sayings of all faiths including Muslim and Hindu bards and minstrels that had found God-consciousness. The 6th Sikh Son of God Guru Hargobind is the only known spiritual leader who has built not only Sikh places of worship [Gurdwara – Gateway to God] but also mosques for Muslims and temples for Hindus.
Feminism in Sikhism was started by Guru Gobind Singh on April 13, 1699 when he made every Sikh female a Kaur, a princess. On marriage, they retain their last name Kaur and don’t have to adopt the husband’s name. The 3rd Sikh Son of God Guru Amar Das had banned Sikh females from the Muslim practice of wearing any form of purdah, the veil. He also prohibited Sikh females from committing sati, the Hindu practice where widows were expected to self-immolate on their husbands’ funeral pyres.
Sikhs wear turbans to stand out as saint-soldiers so that they could help anybody regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality or color. Unknown to many African-Americans, the saint-soldiers used to ride into the heart of Africa raiding slave markets to set them free because Sikhism is against any form of slavery and human trafficking. Sikhs fought gallantly in both the World Wars against Nazism and fascism in Europe and Japanese militarism in the Far East.