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The Sikhs of Kenya

Population: 7,000
Religion: Sikhism (Khalsa)
          More about the Sikhs



Location: Sikhs are located in major towns all over Kenya. Sikhs in Kenya are estimated by different sources to have a population of 7000 to 21,000. They are part of a worldwide ethno-religious people numbering about 22 million. Sikhism is now the world's fifth largest religion. There are 37 Sikh temples in Kenya

History: Sikhism began as a result of a blending of the mystical aspects of Hinduism and Islam. In 1469 Guru Nanak began to teach "living truth" that combined Islamic and Hindu teaching. All his followers worshipped together without regard of caste, creed, race or sex and without ritual. Nanak taught that all prayer comes from a sincere heart and is to be accompanied by a pure life. Nanak taught love and forgiveness. Many of his teachings are similar to Jesus' teachings in the gospels.

Identity: A unique ethnic community developed from the religious fervor produced in the followers of Guru Nanak. The Sikhs originated in Pubjab state in India, and their primary language is Punjabi. At the division of India in 1947, many Sikhs went with what became Pakistan. Their main identity is their religion. They have a strong ethnic identity organized around their religious practices and traditions.

In 1699 Sikhism became a militant order called Khalsa Panth. A special uniform was devised and members were called Singhs (lions). A special style of turban was introduced which is still worn today by the singhs. Female inductees into the Khalsa Panth take the middle name Kaur. Not all Sikhs are singhs. There are some Sikhs, male and female, who do not become Khalsa members.

When the British became involved in India, the Sikhs became a vital part of the Indian Army. It was as soldiers that many came to Kenya to police the colonies and, later, to serve as guards in the building of the railroad. Thousands of other Sikhs also came then as professionals, and skilled workers.

When the railroad was completed a few opted to remain in Kenya where they set themselves up as entrepreneurs in their skills. They especially excelled in mechanics, which they continue today along with electrical work, construction professions and many other skills. Some went back to their farming skills, especially around Lake Victoria.

The Sikh temple at Makindu, one of the many in Kenya, has become a landmark and exemplifies their open-door policy. Anyone may eat and sleep in their rest houses.

Language: The Sikhs speak the Punjabi language, associated with Punjab state in India. This is an Indo-European language descended from Sanskrit. The Punjabi language is spoken by several people groups, including Hindu and Muslim peoples in Punjab state in India and the counterpart Punjab state in Pakistan. In those countries they also speak one or more other major languages of the country. Sikhs have emigrated to many countries around the world, initially through the British Commonwealth, and speak the language of the place where they live, in addition to Punjabi.

Religion: Guru Nanak began his ministry out of concern over the violence between Muslims and Hindus. He preached a message of unity and peace, attempting to bring both religious communities together. A middle-ground faith and new society developed out of his efforts.

The 10th guru, Govind Singh, having no successor, invested the holy writings, Granth Saheb, with the guruship, thus ending the line of human gurus. The book itself is not worshipped, only the word of God it contains.

The Sikh calendar has over 30 holidays. Most are commemorations of Sikh gurus. The most important day for Sikhs is Baisakhi, celebrating the day Guru Govind Singh chose to initiate his Khalsa army. It is held on the Spring Solstice.

Sikhs also celebrate Diwali, Dussehra and some other Hindu festivals, but with their own variations and emphases.

Sikhism recognizes the equality of men and women. Marriage is not restricted within the community or even religion, although individual families may object. A Sikh wedding is very simple compared to a Hindu wedding.

Christianity: In 1957 International Missions, Inc., came to Kenya to minister to Asians, including Sikhs. Some have studied the Bible and a few accepted Christ. Only about 0.1% of Sikhs in Kenya are Christian.

Fellowship Bible Church in Nairobi has maintained community contact ministries with Sikhs. In the early 1970's Parklands Baptist Centre (now Parklands Baptist Church) was oriented to Sikhs and other Asians, but the community and church became more African oriented in the 1980's.



Country: Kenya
Percent Christian: 82.1%
Percent Evangelical: 34%
Population (year): 30,844,000 (1995)
Major Religion: Christianity
Openness to Missionaries: Open


Orville Boyd Jenkins
February 1996
Includes some material by David Schaad
Revised 05 December 2002
Last edited 29 January 2003

Copyright 1996, 2002, 2003 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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