What Is the Religion of Sikhism? Is It a Branch of Islam?

Paul Tambrino, EdD, PhD
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Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino


Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.

Question #20 – What Is the Religion of Sikhism? Is It a Branch of Islam?

 

Sikhism is a little known religion in Europe and America as it is found almost exclusively in the Punjab, in the northwestern part of India.

Its adherents are neither Muslim nor Hindu but are a little of both. Another reason for Sikhism’s obscure fame is that it is one of the world’s youngest faiths as it dates only from the 15th century.

In one sense it is not absolutely new in that its basic conviction of monotheism is drawn from Islamic sources while most of its other doctrines are taken, with little change, directly from Hinduism making Sikhism an outstanding example of syncretism.

Yet Sikhism is not simply two old religions made into one; rather it is a genuinely fresh start believed to have been authenticated by a “new divine revelation” to its founder Nanak who was born about 1469.

Therefore, Sikhs maintain that their belief is the opposite of an intellectual reconstruction of faith arrived at after an academic analysis of other religions.

The doctrinal position of Sikhism has a very simple form in spite of its attempt to synchronize the insights of two widely different faiths.“Sikhism is not simply two old religions made into one; rather it is a genuinely fresh start believed to have been authenticated by a “new divine revelation” to its founder Nanak who was born about 1469.”

Sikhs (as do Christians, Jews and Muslims) adhere to a single central concept, the sovereignty of one God, the Creator.

Nanak called this god, the True Name to avoid any delimiting name for Him, like Allah, Rama, etc.

He taught that the True Name is manifest in manifold ways and in manifold places, but He is eternally one, the sovereign and omnipotent God.

The True Name inscrutably predestinates all creatures and ordains that the highest of the creatures, man, be served by the lower creation. This removed the Hindu tabu against meat-eating and thus created a tie with Islam.

On the other hand, Nanak subscribed to various Hindu doctrines. The True Name, Nanak held, created matter by drawing a veil of illusion over Himself.“Salvation for the Sikhs is not going to paradise after a last judgment, but absorption (in which individuality is extinguished) in The True Name.”

The world then is ultimately unreal; it is very transient, like a flash of lightening and so is man. He also retained the Hindu doctrine of the transmigration of souls along with the Law of Karma.

Salvation for the Sikhs is not going to paradise after a last judgment, but absorption (in which individuality is extinguished) in The True Name.

To be absorbed in the True Name man needs only to purify his heart and rest in the True Name within him. And that for me is the weakness I find in all other faiths except for Christianity.

None of the faiths of the world, other than Christianity, offer any assurance of salvation, nor do they offer any atonement for sin.

As Christians we are not citizens of this world trying to make it into heaven, but rather we are citizens of heaven trying to make it through this world.“None of the faiths of the world, other than Christianity, offer any assurance of salvation, nor do they offer any atonement for sin.”

Nanak continuously denounced both Muslims and Hindus for just going through the forms of worship without really thinking about God, or the True Name.

Thus, it is obviously not a branch of the Muslim faith. Nanak felt rituals were a positive distraction as it turned men’s thoughts away from the True Name to mere forms and motions of worship.

As to ascetic retreats from the world, Sikhism asks, “why go searching for God (the True Name) in the forest when we have found Him at home?”

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Image Credit

Raja Gulab Singh, c. 1830–40. India, Jammu. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of J. H. Wade 1925.1338

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