10 Ways Sikhism Differs From Islam

A Comparison of Sikh and Muslim Faiths

Smiling multi-generation Asian family
Sikhs are absolutely different from Muslims in several prominent ways. Hill Street Studios / Getty Images

Westerners often confuse the ethnicities of people from eastern cultures, especially when there are similarities in appearance. People of the Sikh faith, for example, are very often thought to be Muslims, based on skin color and the fact that Sikhs wear a peaked head turban, called a dastar, that at first glance can look like the kind of turbans wore by some Muslim elders or Afghani Muslims. 

Because of this confusion, Sikhs have been the victims of hate crimes and domestic terrorism targeting Muslims in a backlash following September 11, 2001, the Gulf War, and the emergence of global terrorist groups.

When people in Western countries come in contact with Sikhs wearing beards and turbans many assume they are Muslims.

However, Sikhism is a religion that is very distinct from Islam, with a unique scripture, guidelines, principles, initiation ceremony, and appearance. It is a religion developed by ten gurus over three centuries.

Here are 10 ways that  Sikhism Differs From Islam.

Origin

Sikhism originated with the birth of Guru Nanak in Punjab circa 1469 CE and is based on the guru's writings and teachings. It is a relatively new religion by world standards. The Nanak philosophy that teaches "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim" means that all are spiritually equal. This philosophy was propagated together by Guru Nanak— who was born of a Hindu family— and his spiritual companion Bhai Mardana—born of a Muslim family, as they conducted a series of mission tours. Guru Nanak compiled the writings of both Hidhu and Muslim saints, which are included in Sikh scriptures.

Sikhism originated in the area of the Indian subcontinent that is present-day. Pakistan.

Islam is a considerably older religion, originating in 610 CE with the Prophet Muhammad and his transcription of the Quran (Koran). Islam's roots can be traced to about 2000 BCE in the Middle East to Ishmael, said to be the illegitimate son of Abraham.

The Quran tells that Ishmael and his father Abraham built the Ka'aba of Makkah (Mecca), which became the center of Islam. Over the centuries, the Ka'aba fell into the hands of idol worshiping pagan, but in 630 CE, the Prophet Muhammad re-established leadership in Mecca and rededicated the Ka'aba to the worship of one God, Allah. Thus, the Islamic faith, unlike Sikhism, has a geographic center that is the focus for followers everywhere 

Different Concepts of the Deity

Both religions are regarded as monotheistic, but there are notable differences in how they define and visualize God. 

Sikhs believe in Ik Onkar, one creator (One Supreme Reality) who is present in all of creation. Sikhs refer to God as Waheguru. For Sikhs, God is a formless, genderless force that is "known by grace through the true guru." Ik Onkar is not a highly personal God with whom followers can have an intimate relationship, but a formless force underlying all creation. 

Muslims believe in the same God as worshipped by Christians and Jews ("Allah" is the Arabic word for God). The Muslim concept of Allah poses a very personal God who is all-powerful but infinitely merciful. 

Guiding Scripture

Sikhs accept the scripture of Siri Guru Granth Sahib as the living word of their divine Guru, as interpreted by the 10 historical gurus.

The Guru Granth offers instruction and guidance on how to achieve humility and overcomes egoism, thereby illuminating and liberate the soul from the bondage of spiritual darkness. The Guru Granth is not regarded as the literal word of God, but as the teachings of a divine and transcendent Guru who articulates the universal truth. 

Muslims follow the scripture of the Quran, believing it to be the word of God as revealed to the Prophet Mohammad by the Angel Gabriel. The Quran, then, is seen as the literal word of God (Allah) himself. 

Fundamental Elements of Practice

There are notable differences in how Sikhs and Muslims conduct the day-to-day practice. 

Sikh practices include:

  • Five essentials beliefs: one creator; ten historical gurus; the scripture of Guru Granth; the teachings of the ten gurus; the initiation rites of the tenth guru
  • Five articles of faith worn on the body by initiates: unshorn hair covered by a turban; wooden comb; steel bracelet; ceremonial short sword; specially designed undergarment

Islamic practices include:

  • Five pillars or fundamental principles: testimony; prayer; pilgrimage; charity; fasting
  • Six articles of faith and belief in: a sole deity (Allah); angelic beings the prophets of old; the Quran scripture; resurrection and afterlife; destiny and fate as the will of Allah
  •  

Worship Basics

  • Sikhs worship in a meeting place known as the gurdwara. The gurdwara is a place that welcomes all visitors, regardless of faith. Services include langar—free food from the guru's kitchen. Sikhs begin the day with meditation and recite daily prayers in the morning, evening and at bedtime.
  • Muslims worship in an official building of prayer and learning called a mosque, and they recite prayers five times daily. While visitors are welcome in the mosque, only the faithful participate in prayers and other ritual activities. 

Conversion:

  • Sikhism does not practice proselytism nor seek to convert people to the faith but will accept anyone who chooses to be initiated, regardless of background. Sikhism believes in defending the oppressed against the tyranny of forced conversion by peaceful means but is willing to take up arms if necessary.
  • Islamic positions on conversion very widely from sect to sect. Fundamentalists have a strong belief that Islam represents the one true faith, and therefore they believe that it is their duty to open the eyes of others to the truth—sometimes by forceful means. More liberal Muslims are less insistent on this position.

    Appearance:

    • Sikhism Keshdhari devotees and Armitdhari initiates do not cut or remove hair from the body face or scalp. Devout Sikh men and some women wear religiously mandated turbans in a variety of styles to cover and protect unshorn hair.
    • Muslim male devotees may wear a turban, or fez, and grow a beard, but they generally do trim hair on the scalp or body. Women devotees may wear hijab to cover hair on the head, or a burqa to cover the face and body. Women generally remove facial and body hair. Islamic religious headgear is almost always worn by Muslims in the Middle East, but it is controversial in some parts of Europe where there have been efforts to outlaw it. Islamic veils and headwear are gradually becoming less common in the U.S., possibly out of a wish to escape prejudicial reaction by non-Muslims. 

    Circumcision

    Sikhism is against ritual mutilation of the genitals, respecting the body as perfect in its natural state of creation. Sikhs do not practice circumcision for either male or females.

    Islam has historically practiced culturally dictated circumcision for male and females. While male circumcision is still widely practiced, female circumcision is becoming discretionary for many Muslims, except in North Africa, where it is still quite standard. For progressive Muslims, it is no longer a mandated practice. 

    Marriage and Status of Females

    Sikhism's code of conduct outlines marriage as a monogamous relationship, teaching that bride and groom are fused by the Anand Karaj ceremony the symbolized the divine sharing one light in two bodies.

    Dowry payment is discouraged.  

    Sikh women have equal status to men in every aspect of life and worship. Sikh women are encouraged to be educated, become community leaders, and are welcome to take part in every ceremony.

    Islamic scripture of the Quran allows a man to take up to four wives. In western nations, however, Muslims usually follow the predominate cultural practice of monogamy. By most standards, women have a subservient role in Islam when compared to their status in other religious faiths. Women are not allowed to enter the mosque where men worship, for example, and in many parts of the world, Muslim women are segregated, secluded, and are restricted in their education. Gradually this tendency is changing in progressive Islamic nations. 

    Dietary Law and Fasting

    Sikhism does not believe in the ritual slaughtering of animals for food. And Sikhism does not believe in ritual fasting as a means to spiritual enlightenment.

    Islam dietary law requires that animals that are to be eaten for food must be slaughtered according to halal ritual. Islam observes Ramadan, a month-long fast during which no food or drink may be consumed during daylight hours. Fasting deprivation is thought to purify the soul.

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    Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "10 Ways Sikhism Differs From Islam." ThoughtCo, Nov. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/ways-sikhism-differs-from-islam-2992956. Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2017, November 13). 10 Ways Sikhism Differs From Islam. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ways-sikhism-differs-from-islam-2992956 Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "10 Ways Sikhism Differs From Islam." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ways-sikhism-differs-from-islam-2992956 (accessed December 15, 2017).