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Insider's guide: Who are the Amish?

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They set themselves apart from nearly all modern things, and they consider violence to be evil. The following is a guide to the Amish faith.

Who are the Amish? The Amish are descendants of Swiss Anabaptists who shun the trappings of modernity in favor of a simple life. They live in rural settlements in 22 U.S. states and one in Canada.

What is their history? The Amish are an offshoot of the Mennonites, who fled from Switzerland to Germany under persecution for refusing to join the military and for not believing in infant baptism. They split from the Mennonites in 1693, mostly because of the Amish practice of expelling members of the community who break religious guidelines, known as "shunning."

What do they believe in? Isolation, family, community, and a quiet and peaceful way of life. They interpret the Bible literally. They will not serve in the military, draw Social Security or accept government assistance.

Do they have a Web site? They do not create or maintain Web sites. But a number of sites have been created by people in direct contact with the Amish and Mennonites, in order to foster understanding. You're unlikely to find JavaScript or flashing pop-up ads on these sites -- they're mostly plain black text on a white background.

How do they survive? Life comes from the land -- mostly crop farming and dairy farming. In all things, piety and plainness are emphasized. Women wear long dresses of solid fabric, with aprons in white or black and cloth caps or bonnets. Men dress in dark pants, suspenders and vest, with a broad-rimmed hat. Many travel in horse-drawn carriages and sell handmade wares and food to tourists. Quilting is one of the best-known talents of Amish women. Amish quilts are made from scraps of worn clothing.

Tell me more about their hats. The width of the brim and hat band and the height and shape of the crown are said to reflect the orthodoxy of the group and individual wearer. A wide brim, low crown, and narrow hat band denotes the oldest and most traditional style. Within church groups, age and status is reflected by the dimensions of the hat. Straw hats usually warn during hot weather.

What's their language? Along with English, they speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German.

Is is true that they don't use electricity, cars, or any modern conveniences? Amish people interpret linking with electrical wires as a connection with the world. However, rules have softened over time, necessitated by commerce and need. There are Amish telephone booths, for example, that can be used in emergencies. Some dairies sporadically use generator electricity to cool milk containers so it can be sold according to market regulations. Some hire taxis to take them to town. Bottled gas is used to operate water heaters, cookers and refrigerators. Gas lanterns and lamps are used to light homes, barns and shops.

What happens when a member of the community dies? They are buried in wooden coffins; women in all white and men in all black. Bodies are embalmed, but undertakers do not apply makeup. Funerals are held in the victim's home, and the dead are delivered to the cemetery in a horse-drawn carriage. A hymn is read, but there is no singing.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.


Many Amish travel in horse-drawn carriages.

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