The differences and the similarities between any two religious or spiritual traditions can be very subjective, based on the orientation of the writer and how broad or narrow the focus. This essay is written from the perspective of a Sikh writer and is meant to have a broad view but with a somewhat limited depth.
There are too many issues of doctrine and philosophy that can become very complex very quickly. To keep this short, it is assumed that some generalizations will be made where necessary. In this discussion, the term Sikhism will be replaced by the term Sikh Dharma so as to bring emphasis on the idea that the path of a Sikh is more than simply a set of beliefs and rituals, and is rather a way of living to uplift spirit and express the highest destiny of the soul.
Sikh Dharma is an evolved path with unique spiritual teachings and practices that are based in the essential truth of the Oneness (Ek Ongkar) of all things with the primal divine quality (God or Waheguru) expressed and contained in all. It is not based on any pantheon of gods from another tradition but sees the divine everywhere, in all things and within everyone, not personified but present throughout the universe.
Islam is an Abrahamic tradition. Islam, Judaism and Christianity are referred to as the Abrahamic faiths because they all accept the tradition of a God that revealed himself to the prophet Abraham. Muslim theologians generally agree that God is One, and that this is His most important quality. Sunni Muslims believe that “There is No God but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God” (La Ilaha Illallah).
Sikh Dharma is accepting of all spiritual traditions, forgoing proselytization and every Gurdwara (Sikh temple) across the globe, invites anyone to attend and partake in free food after each service.
Islam teaches that Islam is the only path to God. The acceptance of other paths is a controversial subject in Islam and remains a topic of active debate. Those in favor of Islamic liberalism point to Qur’anic verses stating that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:25, 10:99, 18:29) to argue that Islam supports tolerance. Meanwhile, a number of Islamic countries maintain laws that make conversion from Islam to another religion illegal, or that make the construction of churches, synagogues, temples or other non-Islamic houses of worship illegal.
Sikh Dharma has the Siri Guru Granth Sahib which is not only a sacred text comprised of poetic compositions by the Sikh Gurus and by mystic poets from both Hinduism and Islam, it is also revered as the living embodiment of the light and consciousness of the Guru. This consciousness manifests in the meaning and in the very sounds of the words as they are recited aloud.
Islam has the Qur’an as their sacred text. It is believed to be the word of God as dictated to Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel beginning in 610 AD. Thus the Qur’an is considered to be the Word of God manifested on earth in the form of a book. The central message of the Qur’an is that there is one God, the creator of all. Humans should focus all of their attention on the worship of God, and avoid the temptation of allowing the mind to wander from an exclusive focus on worship of the Lord. There are passages that revisit stories and teachings first appearing in Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The Qur’an is seen as a guide for mankind and a holy object by adherents of Islam.
Sikh Dharma teaches that all people are equal with no separation of status based on faith, race, origin or gender. Guru Nanak’s first essential teaching was that “there is no Hindu and there is no Muslim.” Stating that as there can really only be one God, so then all people are worshiping the same God and are therefore one. All people are welcome into all areas in a Gurdwara, even the most sacred, Siri Harimander Sahib, the Golden Temple.
In Islam, adherents of the more conservative schools of Islamic thought reject the notion that diverse societies are a positive environment for Muslims and believe that Muslims are of higher status than non-Muslims, who are sometimes referred to as idol-worshipping “non-believers” or “infidels.” Meanwhile, those in favor of Islamic liberalism reject this view and argue that Islam supports the idea of tolerance and that Muslims can embrace diverse communities. Certain areas of mosques are restricted solely to Muslims, and non-Muslims are not permitted to travel to the city of Mecca.
Sikh Dharma teaches that women are equal to men and that all people, regardless of gender, can participate in all aspects of worship practices and in all aspects of life. In India and some other places around the world, the cultural realities of being a patriarchal society sometimes does not equate to women being treated equally, even though the teachings are very clear that it should be so.
Islam typically does not allow women equal status as men, both in spiritual practice and in everyday life. However, in recent years Muslim activists have created movements in the United States and around the world that assert the rights of women in mosques and Islamic life. Islamic feminists maintain that Islam, correctly understood, does not support gender inequality. Thus, any practices or texts that appear to discriminate against women are being interpreted incorrectly or are by definition un-Islamic.
Sikh Dharma sees the relationship between humans and the divine as one based in absolute love – love from the person in gratitude to the divine; love from the divine in acceptance of the diversity and perfection of the creation.
Islamic theology generally contends that the Qur’an provides specific guidance for how the faithful should behave. The sin of shirk, or associating created beings with God and worshipping them, is the foundational sin. God’s mercy is expressed through prophets and scriptures sent to earth as reminders to call forgetful humans back to the exclusive focus on worship of God in their lives. It is generally believed that those who ignore these reminders and guidance from God will go to hell, while those who follow the Lord’s guidance will enjoy paradise after they die.
Like many of the world’s major religions, Sikh Dharma and Islam have had a sometimes turbulent history, especially in what is now known as northern India and Pakistan. In the time of the Gurus beginning in the 16th century, tyrannical rule over this area by Islamic Mughal conquerors involved severe repression and forced conversion to Islam. Sikhs were often left no choice but to take up arms to resist this practice, both to maintain the integrity of the Sikhs and the fledgling Sikh faith and to defend other faith communities under assault.
There are some areas of agreement between these two traditions. They both are monotheistic. They both revere their scriptures as being divine. Both embrace a householder life, as opposed to a celibate or monastic life. They both reject the practice of separation by caste. Finally, they both encourage the giving of donations for the needy.
This post used A New Introduction to Islam (Second Edition), by Daniel W. Brown, as a reference for information about Islam.