The Sikh faith is a distinct religion revealed through the teachings of ten Gurus (messengers of God), the first of whom was Guru Nanak Dev Ji who was born in 1469 CE in the Punjab, India.

In 1708 the tenth and the last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, vested spiritual authority in the Holy Sikh Scriptures (Guru Granth Sahib Ji) and temporal authority in the community of baptised Sikhs (Khalsa Panth).

Sikhs strictly believe that there is one god, who is both transcendent and immanent (present in all things and everyone). Although above human comprehension, God can be realised and experienced through contemplation and service. The object of a Sikh's life is to develop consciousness of God and to receive God's grace through truthful living and selfless service in the context of a family life. A Sikh's way of life is guided by the following principles:

  • Remembering and praying to God at all times
  • Earning a living by honest means
  • Sharing with the poor and needy
  • Selfless service to God and his creation
  • Treating all human beings as equal.

Baptised Sikhs wear five articles of faith:

  • uncut hair (Kesh)
  • a small wooden comb (Kangha)
  • an iron/steel bangle (Kara)
  • a short sword (Kirpan), and
  • special shorts (Kachhera).

These articles have deep spiritual and moral significance, forming part of the Sikh Code of Ethics and Discipline. The articles of faith must not be removed.


Attitudes to healthcare staff and illness

Most Sikhs have a positive attitude towards healthcare staff and are willing to seek medical help and advice when sick.


Religious practices

Sikhs pray in the morning and evening, and are also expected to recite hymns whenever they have time in the day. Some privacy for prayers will be appreciated.



Sikhs who have taken Amrit (baptised) are vegetarians. They will exclude from their diet eggs, fish and any ingredients with animal derivatives or cooked in animal fat. Dairy produce is acceptable providing it is free from animal fat e.g. cheese made from non animal rennet. It is essential to avoid contamination with meat at all stages of preparation, storage and serving. Some Sikhs will only eat food prepared by their own families. Non-vegetarian Sikhs will only eat meat that has been slaughtered according to their own rites (Ohatka) and not halal or kosher rites.



Sikhs do not fast.


Washing and toilet

Sikhs prefer to wash in free-flowing water, rather than sitting in a bath; and they will appreciate having water provided in the same room as the toilet, or with a bedpan when they have to use one. Sikhs will want to wash their hands and rinse their mouth before meals. The uncut hair is kept clean and neat by washing regularly arid combing normally twice a day. If the patient is not well enough, nursing staff may assist in washing and combing and such help will be welcome.


Ideas of modesty and dress

Some Sikh women would prefer a female doctor when being examined or treated. Sikh women should be accommodated in mixed wards only in emergencies. A Sikh woman may find it difficult to accept an X-ray gown because it is short.

As mentioned above, the five articles of the Sikh faith must not be removed. Baptised Sikh men always have their uncut hair in a turban, and baptised Sikh women will also cover their hair. You should be particularly sensitive about removing the turban, as it is worn to maintain the sanctity of Kesh (hair) and is treated with the utmost respect. Sikh women wear a long Punjabi scarf (chunni) for the same purpose.


Death customs

In the final stages of illness a Sikh patient will be comforted by reciting hymns from the Sikh Holy Scriptures. A Giani (priest) from the local Gurudwara (Sikh place of worship) or another practising Sikh may do this with the patient. Most Sikhs are cremated although babies who are stillborn or die around the time of birth may be buried, and the body of a stillborn baby should be given to the parents to perform the funeral rites. The child should simply be wrapped in a plain white sheet to await the arrival of a relative who will perform the Last Offices. Cremation should take place as soon as possible after death, and friends and relatives will prepare the body the night before the cremation at the funeral parlour. After death and identification, the body or parts of the body should be covered with a plain white sheet or shroud. If the condition of the body permits, the eyes and mouth should be closed and limbs straightened with arms placed straight beside the body.


Birth customs

The birth of a baby is a happy occasion. The baby may not be named for several days as the initial for the name is obtained from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (the Sikh Scriptures)'. The family may also have the baby baptised by having Amrit (holy water) placed on the tongue by a family member or baptised Sikh.

A Sikh is likely to have a personal name (common to both sexes), a middle name (Singh 'for all males and 'Kaur' for all females), followed by a family name


Family planning

Sikhs have no objection to family planning.


Blood transfusions, transplants and organ donation

Most Sikhs would have no objection to blood transfusions and may receive transplants or donate organs for transplantation. However, with regard to transplants, especially the donation of organs, the decision rests with the individual or their family, or both. In the absence of close relatives, a medical officer in charge may take whatever action he or she considers necessary to save the patient's life.