To understand Islam one must understand religion


Over the last few months, the traffic on this website has increased. The proportion of pageviews from India is now approaching parity with the proportion from the USA. To me, this suggests that perhaps it would be useful to outline a few things anyone who has read me in the past would probably know, but new readers will not know. I am in particular aiming this post to moderately above average intelligence readers, such as “Scorpion Eater.” Someone used to being the “smartest person in the room” due to the normal mediocre company of the unread or dull. The sort of person who leaves long comments on other peoples’ posts or articles. There’s a reason they aren’t writing anything original themselves.

In addition to being moderately intelligent, I also want to target the “internet Hindu” segment of the audience. I don’t mean the term pejoratively here, but more as a bracket for a wide range of people of different stances. One of the strangest things about internet Hindus in my experience is that:

1) They, like many Muslims, believe Islam is a religion of preternatural characteristics

2) Despite not being Muslim, and often hostile to Islam, they are convinced they know all about Muslims and Islam, even better than people who might be Muslim or of Muslim origin. They can get themselves inside the minds of Muslims

An analogy might be talking to a white nationalist who is convinced of the unique prowess of black people and seems inordinately confident that they know more about black history than black people themselves.

One thing that both internet Hindus and many atheists have in common is they lack a good intuitive feel for the phenomenology of religion. An internet Hindu or a village atheist will respond to the question of “what is Islam” with “read the Koran!”

I was myself a typical village atheist, or more precisely a philosophical atheist (I had read books like Atheism: a philosophical justification and The Case Against God) in 2003 when I read Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust: An Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. Atran is a cognitive anthropologist, who treats religion as a natural phenomenon. He is part of the “naturalistic paradigm” within anthropology. A small group of scholars, these intellectuals bring a multi-disciplinary framework to analyzing human cultures, with a strong theoretical basis in cognitive science and evolutionary biology. This is in contrast to the more common “thick description” that is the norm in much of modern anthropology,  which offers few broad generalities (or a Marxist viewpoint, which offers the same generality).

In Gods We Trust is a very dense book. Religion Explained is a similar work but written a bit more accessibly for the lay audience. But you get the picture.

What is the biggest takeaway from cognitive anthropology and religion? That religious phenomenon can best be understood as a manifestation of common psychological intuitions. The reduction of religion to complex theologies is to a great extent a propagandistic narrative promoted by religious professionals, who have written the histories of religion for the past 2,500 years. Those who exhibit mastery of texts, and dispense ritual, will naturally reduce religion to texts and rituals. That’s what they control.

But the underlying psychological impulses remain. This explains why “atheistic” Communist societies so often develop personality cults of charismatic leaders. The religious impulse is simply projected upon a different target.  Strip away the books and the incense, and the human mind still has as the basic fundaments of the religious phenotype.

How does this apply to Islam? In the book Theological Incorrectness, the anthropologist D. Jason Slone reports on his fieldwork in Sri Lanka amongst Theravada Buddhists,  Hindus, and  Muslims. Using psychological experiments, which remove participants from easy to comprehend cues and scripts, he showed that all three religious groups had the same conception of god(s). This is interesting, because, in theory, Hinduism and Islam have different conceptions of gods, while Theravada Buddhism deemphasizes gods.

One reaction to these findings, which tend to be cross-cultural (that is, humans tend to have the same conceptual framework for a god despite theological distinctions), is that believers misunderstand their religion.  I think a better interpretation is that religion can be thought of as two tracks, a conscious verbal track, which is quite superficial, and a deep cognitive track, which is harder to elucidate but primal and universal.

To illustrate, most Christians believe in a Trinitarian God, three persons with one substance. But this is really just a verbal script.  Most Christians don’t even know the technical philosophy of substances and essences which serve as the basis for the Trinity.

All of this brings me back to Islam and the internet Hindu. Muslims are wont to promote a story of a miracle in the Arabian desert 1,400 years ago, and the emergence of the armies of Islam from that desert with Koran in hand. Soon they accomplished a conquest of Persia and much of the Roman Empire.  This incredibly violent and organized religion then smashed against India and raped and assaulted the Hindu civilization. Finally, the assault ended, and India recovered,  though Islam is still a specter haunting South Asia.

I have a revisionist take. I think the most probable model is one where Islam developed organically in the 7th and 8th centuries after the conquest of the Arabs. The Arabs were probably something close to what we’d recognize as heretical Christians but developed Islam to separate and elevate themselves from their subjects. More precisely, Sunni Islam cannot be understood until deep into the 9th century, after the Mu’tazilite period, and the rise of law as the dominant tradition with the Islamic sciences.

The Koran cannot explain Islam because most Muslims were and are illiterate in the Arabic of the Koran, and Islam itself did not develop in its full form until well after various elements of the Koran had already come into being. The weakness of scripture in predicting religion can be illustrated by the fact that the Hebrew Bible is more violent than the Koran,  but Jews have been relatively pacific since the 2nd century A.D. (the reality of two failed rebellions left its mark on Jewish memory).

Of course, Muslim fundamentalists will tell you this is nonsense. That their religion is all about the Koran. That it’s a special religion.   And the internet Hindu agrees.  It is special (though in their case not a “good” way).

I am skeptical of that. I agree with Samuel Huntington’s empirical observation that “Islam has bloody borders.” At least today. But I would offer caution on chalking it up to something primal. In 1900 we might be wondering about in Jesus Christ’s message made it so that Christianity was an imperial religion of world domination and hegemony. Today we would laugh at that.

Note: I’m usually pretty lax about moderation on this blog, but if you are stupid, and you probably are, I will like trash your comment.  This post exists mostly to familiarize people with books.

65 Replies to “To understand Islam one must understand religion”

  1. Major diasgreements –

    Muslims never accepted their brutal role in Indian subcontinent & that remains as the most important roadblock in reconciling Muslims in Asian history {esp. of Indic religions}.

    https://scroll.in/article/925096/did-the-secular-sanitisation-of-pre-colonial-indian-history-allow-hindu-nationalism-to-weaponise-it

    Philological –
    I have studied many ancient text to know how difficult it is to get to the actual text & the meaning of text but since Islam is much newer it has less philological problems comparatively.

    Hermeneutics –
    Again similarities can be noticed among various commentators of major believers whose texts influence the theological underpinnings of Islam & it was same in Christians till they were challenged in their beliefs by native beliefs.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy_M4pDjafo – Native religion similar to Catholic religion & voila a convert.

    The question is which religions exhibit self criticalness, how & to what extent they self reformed but instead more inter-faith research goes into same old generalized statements about ‘peace’ & ‘all religions equal’ or ‘all religions teach this…’ & so on….

    Till the oppressive ways of how religions have interacted, the normative ways they get ignored during everyday life & other nuances of religions affect each other are not brought into the inter-faith discussions they will remain mere photo ops for religious leaders.

    I don’t criticize Islam without giving Muslims first chance to explain their position because since it is their faith so they should have first chance to reflect upon what they believe, how they believe & sources for their beliefs and then only i question them {That too using concepts like – Maddhabs, Naskh {tafsir}, specific Quran verse & their commentries, 4 categorization of Hadith, Sira commentries etc.}.

    Also i use “Street Epistemology” method instead of outright rejecting or accepting their explanations but the major problem is Muslim unwillingness to engage with non-muslims in religious matters or else they say ‘need to consult Imam’ & sideline the topic.

    There never really has any discussion about Muslims, their beliefs, their ways of interpreting religious texts, their ways of religious practices & the need for reforms among Muslims and this has created the bigger chasm regarding Majorities & minorities in India & the phenomenon of ‘Internet Hindu’ you are trying to address here.

    1. Major diasgreements –

      Muslims never accepted their brutal role in Indian subcontinent & that remains as the most important roadblock in reconciling Muslims in Asian history {esp. of Indic religions}.

      WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

      i never even talked about this.

      future dumb comments will be deleted.

      1. I hope this is not a dumb comment like my earlier 2 comments.

        1st which got approved is available for everyone to see but 2nd which did not got approved & is missing {Where i explained why i thought the points i raised were necessary}.

        Since original post is trying to discuss religion by dividing it in 2 aspects religiously {conscious verbal track, which is quite superficial, and a deep cognitive track, which is harder to elucidate but primal and universal.} & using Hindu Muslim divide on internet.

        Hence i discussed Hindu Muslim divide, my perspective about it, how i tried to discuss it in my circle & the 2 ‘religious aspects’ actually work in the real world. I hope this clears up what my post is about.

    2. “Muslims never accepted their brutal role in Indian subcontinent”

      Neither have Hindus. At least the brutality of Muslims is studied as part of the standard curriculum in India. The brutality of Hindus is largely ignored.

      1. Your usual bullshit! In India plenty has been written and publicly expressed about horrible things in Hindu history religion , tradition, by people from within Hindu community. Horrible things have been written about Muslims too, but almost expclusively from Non-Muslims. No self crticism fro with Muslims.

        Have you ever read the things guys like AMbedkar wrote in the 1930s and 40s? ABout Hindu caste, religion Vedas? Incredibly critical stuff! Reading them even now sends shivers down the spine. And this guy was awarded with a huge role in Indian republic after independence. Meanwhile Muslims in India were very busy killing apostates and blasphemers in the 30s and 40s, Muslim leaders were eagerly defending the killers. Is there any example of any Ambedkar among Indian Muslims, I mean the whole subcontinent?

        This is what the differce in community resulted now. You cannot expect two comunities living side by side with one community 9 in scale of vioent religious craziness and another to be 4 or 5. Soon they will converge. You got to be crazy if you want to go on living in a crazy neighborhood.

        1. I have to agree with Shafiq…Islam (at least in its current form) does not seem to permit much if any internal critique.

          Hinduism is in the opposite situation: where the critique of it is the elite narrative.

          There’s probably a middle ground between the current states of Islam and Hinduism that is optimal.

        2. Lol what is this comment.

          Your only evidence of Hindus recognizing their atrocities is Ambedekar, somebody who was so appalled by these atrocities he left Hinduism and became a Buddhist? There are many ex/secular Muslims who have penned even more scathing criticisms about their former coreligionists. The bulk of Hindus and Muslims reject the views of these apostates.

          I think the Hindu left is certainly better at self-critique than the Muslim-left, but the majority of both populations aren’t left at all, and neither takes criticism well.

          1. I think Shafiq’s point was that Muslim societies wouldn’t build statues and pay obeisance to their Ambedkars.

            https://cdn.dnaindia.com/sites/default/files/styles/full/public/2016/04/14/449433-modi-tribute-to-ambedkar.jpg

            (In my opinion the Muslims are in the right here. I think the Hindus have gone a bit overboard in valorizing our haters…we are nonpareil masochists hahahaha…there’s a place for radical critics in every society, but that place is not front and center.)

          2. This is more of an attempt by Hindus to co-opt the popularity Ambedekar has among the dalits, liberals, and international audience, than it is an acceptance of his views.

            You find similar things with Muslims honoring figures from the Islamic Golden Age, as it gives their current civilization a nice sheen. Many of the blasphemous views held by these figures, are ignored, warped, and rejected.

          3. There are many ex/secular Muslims who have penned even more scathing criticisms about their former coreligionists.

            these people are pretty marginal. i think it’s disingenuous to not acknowledge that islamic elites, in particular, haven’t fostered an open culture of critique and refashioning of islam for the modern world, not simply a dichotomy btwn ‘secular/atheist muslim’ and ‘traditional’ piety *within* the muslim world.

            hinduism, like christianity, runs the gamut in terms of its engagement with the modern world and assertion of authenticity as a religious belief (as opposed to being secular). islam far less so.

            (shadi hamid would say there is something constitutive of islam that prevents this and internet hindus would agree)

          4. While I agree INDTHINGS seems defensive about absence of internal critique among Muslims in contrast to Hindus, he gets this part about Ambedkar absolutely right (with usual caveat that it applies mostly to Savarkarites/Hindutva):

            This is more of an attempt by Hindus to co-opt the popularity Ambedekar has among the dalits, liberals, and international audience, than it is an acceptance of his views.

            When Ambedkar emerged, the conservative Hindu establishment-RSS-Hindu Mahasabha certainly detested him, as they still do but cannot vocalize (one of his most famous books is based on a speech he was supposed to give at a conservative platform but was dis-invited from). Although he had ideological differences with the Congress, they made a conscious effort to accommodate him and he was made chairman of the Drafting committee, and later India’s first Law Minister by Nehru.

          5. “these people are pretty marginal. i think it’s disingenuous to not acknowledge that islamic elites, in particular, haven’t fostered an open culture of critique and refashioning of islam for the modern world”

            India got the quasi-Kemalist elite that we’re in the process of overthrowing (and who knows, the elites may win.) They pushed the refashioning of Hindu society top-down…some of their ideas were good, others not so good.

            Hinduism is now also undergoing bottom-up change as well as we slowly transition to an urbanized middle-income society.

            Additionally, actual explicit Hindu traditionalism is a tiny force. There was Ram Rajya Parishad in the 1950s…and that’s about it.

            Dar al-Islam doesn’t really have anything similar besides the actual Kemalists, who are fighting a rearguard action (to put it nicely.)

            I don’t think it’s necessarily because of Islam that this happened. I think it’s more because Islamic elites had to manage brittle governments and violent political rivals (internal and external) a lot more than the Indian elites did. Pushing top-down social reform could be the death knell for your regime under those circumstances.

          6. Razib,

            Criticism of Islam isn’t at all marginal in countries that took a secular path following independence (Turkey being the most prominent example). What would get me lynched in Pakistan would get me invited to a ball in pre-Erdogan Turkey.

            Furthermore, Ambedekar’s most biting criticisms of Hinduism are VERY marginal in India. Literally only accepted by high-brow secular Hindu elites, and Dalits who’ve managed to read his full works rather than the heavily sanitized version taught in public schools.

            Agree with the rest.

          7. SC/ST quotas and Mandal Commission are the law of the land. They’ve had ENORMOUS political ramifications and are not going to be scaled back until at least the 2100s. There’s just no political movement to do so.

            This is before I get into the larger discourse around caste…people are outwardly diffident about the matter. Nobody is really gung-ho about it, let alone advocating for varnashrama dharma. Caste traditionalism as an explicit political movement is a nonstarter, and Ambedkar is a key reason why.

            You are right that few people are going to embrace Ambedkar’s more extreme ideas (anti-Hinduism among them), but he still managed to steer Indian discourse sharply in his direction.

      2. // Neither have Hindus. At least the brutality of Muslims is studied as part of the standard curriculum in India. The brutality of Hindus is largely ignored. //

        What are you on about ? Everything wrong in India always gets linked to Hindus & Indian culture {essentially Hindus gets the blame for everything wrong & Saramanas are presented as Ideal indigenous culture of India aka ‘Magadha Culture’.}

        The role of Islam can be observed more clearly because monotheistic religions made identities the central point rather than ideas or concepts unlike previous cultures. Thus the fuzziness of culture before and hardening of Identities since is a marked change that must be explored.

    1. Rarely do I find a comment on BP as incomprehensible as yours is. What exactly was your point, and how exactly are you disagreeing with Razib? (Please be succinct)

      1. He provided a framework to see religion as – a. Exhibiting Observable differences {Conscious Verbal Track} b. Having underlying deep beliefs which are universal in nature {deep cognitive track}.

        Although i say this categorization can be applied to all beliefs & ideologies because that’s how everybody experiences the world.

        To explain how it creates misunderstandings he mentions the example of an Muslims fundamentalists call their religion special religion & Internet Hindu agrees in a bad way.

        Here he does 3 things –
        1. He is questioning whether most Muslims actually believe their religion similar to the claims of Fundamentalists ? Thus dividing Fundamentalists Vs Normal Muslims
        2. Similarly he is questioning Hindu or Non-Muslims acceptance of above narrative by Fundamentalists i.e. Islam more special than other religions which is misreading & wrong because of the experience of Muslims under Islam is different from such claims. This difference between experience vis a vis fundamentalist claims is what he is pitting against each other & using it to discard the criticisms from Non-Muslims of Islam.
        3. This problematizes the narratives as well as claims of either sides. Since all Muslims have various different conceptions of Islam & non-Muslims have never experienced Islam. Thus all the claims from Muslims, Sheikhs or otherwise regarding Islam as well as the criticisms from other side can be rejected as they both will fall short of this test of ‘Psychological analysis’.

        Neither Muslims represent Islam {because of their different conceptions of Islam & we have already discarded Fundamentalists Muslisms & their claims about Islam} nor non-Muslims have experienced Islam hence they can’t fairly criticize it but rely upon these fundamentalist claims to criticize it.

        So i disagree that one needs to experience ideology or belief to criticize it.

        I assumed that all this is a given hence did not elaborated upon it before & posted my post which presents many academic streams that problematizes such readings & to further explore it i presented Hindu-Muslim divide in subcontinent & my experience regarding these discussions.

  2. “the anthropologist D. Jason Slone reports on his fieldwork in Sri Lanka amongst Theravada Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. Using psychological experiments, which remove participants from easy to comprehend cues and scripts, he showed that all three religious groups had the same conception of god(s). This is interesting, because, in theory, Hinduism and Islam have different conceptions of gods, while Theravada Buddhism deemphasizes gods.”

    Well the Buddhism that is practiced in Sri Lanka and elsewhere is not the pure Buddhist philosophy enunciated by Buddha.

    Buddha did not tell people to worship him as a God. It seems society had a need for a God and installed Buddha in that position.

    Likewise the Muslims in SL will be mainly descended from Hindu/Buddhist converts (whether from South India/SL).

    When the pioneering Arab traders married local women, they would have disseminated their religion on to a south asian template already present. Hence, the former popularity of unorthodox sufi beliefs (I use the word unorthodox to mean it’s not the Koranic standard, in SL it probably would have been the orthodox standard before the recent Arabisation/Wahabi influence.)

    1. Well the Buddhism that is practiced in Sri Lanka and elsewhere is not the pure Buddhist philosophy enunciated by Buddha.

      THERE IS NO PURE BUDDHISM. THERE IS NO ‘DEBASED’ BUDDHISM.

      that’s the point.

      yes, the philosophers will tell you there is a pure buddhism. so what? they are philosophers. 99.99% of people are not.

      religion is a empirical phenomenon. it is not a platonic ideal.

      1. My bad. I didn’t read the article properly. You are talking about the universalism of religion in the popular mind, not the actual doctrines (which most people don’t follow to a T). It would be interesting to see if this shared conception of God in SL was also shared with western Europe for example.

    2. Likewise the Muslims in SL will be mainly descended from Hindu/Buddhist converts (whether from South India/SL).

      i made it pretty clear that the tendency is cross-cultural. arabs have their saints. even the majority of saudis are not salafi (it is not dominant in hijaz or the gulf).

  3. Since you wrote an entire post just to educate me, it is obligatory on me to read it in full, and offer incisive comments using my razor sharp 100ish IQ. 😉

    I have always known that there is a primeval, intuitive basis to religion. This is not news to me. Though you never elaborated what this “religious impulse” is, I can take a guess. This is basically a need for an emotional anchor; a reassurance that a higher power exists which will take care of them when things go wrong. If this is what you meant, then there is no argument with that.

    In fact, I myself can give plenty of examples to reinforce this argument. In the aftermath of Bolshevik revolution when they banned religion in Russia, the illiterate peasants felt spiritually adrift. So they simply took some revolutionary war Bolshevik heroes and anointed them saints, to be prayed to in difficult times!

    Sherpas climbing Everest offer prayers to various mountain gods and Buddha to watch over them in their dangerous journey, even though core Buddhism explicitly denies any supernatural powers to gods.

    S Asian Muslims are wont to pray at the dargahs of numerous Peers and Fakirs, even though core Islam forbids veneration of anyone except Allah.

    So this point is well understood. Where I differ with you is over the impact of “verbal track” of the religion. I believe you underestimate the impact of textual foundation of a religion. Different religions can have a dramatically different reaction to events owing to their scriptural foundations.

    I will give you an example from Indian history itself. During the Kashmir war of 1948, the fortress of Skardu fell into the hands of Pakistani army after a long siege. After the moping up operations, the Pakistani commander of the victorious force sent a dry report to his headquarters with following words – “Skardu liberated. All Sikhs killed. All women raped.”

    Now, sexual violence is common in the history of warfare across time and space. So no surprises over Pakistani army’s conduct. However it can make one wonder why on earth a military commander will put on record what is obviously a violation of rules of war. This is when you go to the texts of Islam and find out how in painstaking details the prophet of Islam prescribed rape of enemy’s women. This is the reason why sexual violence has always been a conspicuous feature of Islamic conquests.

    During the battle of Al-Harrah, the women of Madina were so thoroughly raped that in the subsequent years no Madinan father marrying off his daughter would guarantee the virginity of his daughter! (This incidentally was a muslim-on-muslim violence).

    Now contrast that with Nazis treatment of Jews. Even though they inflicted astonishing brutality on Jews, the instances of rapes of Jewish women were surprisingly sparse. Reasons? Official Nazi philosophy forbade sexual relations between “Aryan” and “non-Aryan” races. Nazism was of course not a religion, but again, down to the text of ideology.

    Now, take the proselytizing and dogmatic nature (arising out of theirs scriptures of course), of Semitic religions. This trait made it nearly impossible for religious minorities to live safely and in a carefree manner in these cultures in medieval times. (And here, medieval Christianity is as guilty as Islam). OTOH, pluralistic nature of eastern traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism etc) made coexistence of differing religious traditions a routine; something which doesn’t even require gloating or grandstanding.

    So, don’t ignore the power of the word!

    PS
    The weakness of scripture in predicting religion can be illustrated by the fact that the Hebrew Bible is more violent than the Koran, but Jews have been relatively pacific since the 2nd century A.D.

    This is probably owing to the small and geographically dispersed numbers of Jews. We will never know how a medieval Jewish state ruling over a sufficiently large geographical area would have behaved towards its neighbors and its minorities.

    1. We will never know how a medieval Jewish state ruling over a sufficiently large geographical area would have behaved towards its neighbors and its minorities.

      you’re a fucking. dumbass. google khazars. you don’t k now cuz you don’t know jack shit obviously.

      you’re also a fucking dumbass to not know about things like the Hasmonean forced conversions of edomites.

      i understand you find yourself insightful. perhaps others too. you are all dumbasses. don’t leave comments on my posts anymore.

    2. This trait made it nearly impossible for religious minorities to live safely and in a carefree manner in (Semitic) cultures in medieval times….OTOH, pluralistic nature of eastern traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism etc) made coexistence of differing religious traditions a routine….

      The certitude-claims and vulnerabilities of different religions exist(ed) along different axes. For semitic ones, it is exclusivity of divine knowledge. For Hinduism, as much as it is a religion, it has been along organization of society. None of them can claim high ground on anything, every one had fair share of depravities.

      I really cannot decide if marauding hordes destroying temples and idols are better or worse than temple priests insisting outcastes stay out of eyesight and wear brooms to sweep away the pollution of their existence. Maybe we find the medieval practice of religion wanting because of the medievalism?

      1. “I really cannot decide if marauding hordes destroying temples and idols are better or worse than temple priests insisting outcastes stay out of eyesight and wear brooms to sweep away the pollution of their existence.”

        Worth noting that the marauding hordes, after destroying temples and idols, would kill or enslave the men (including outcaste men) and use the women (including outcaste women) as sex slaves.

    3. @Scorpion Eater:

      and offer incisive comments using my razor sharp 100ish IQ. 😉

      Hilarious thrust in the direction of “agree and amplify”. Nicely done.

    4. “All Sikhs killed, all women raped”

      I haven’t found a single source for this online aside from an Indian chatroom, please cite this quote. Also, we have reports during partition of Hindus carving Hindu symbols/slogans into Muslim women after they raped them, as a symbol to boast about how they’d been used.

      “Muhammad and the early Muslims raped women”

      Sure, just as the Aryans raped the native Indians.

      There is no Islamic doctrine in the Quran or Hadith instructing Muslims to rape, but the general permitting of subjugating and enslaving their enemy’s women during war certainly doesn’t argue against it. But then, similar calls to subjugate the native Indians are found in the early Vedic texts during the Aryan invasions.

      1. INDTHINGS:

        Sure, just as the Aryans raped the native Indians.

        Just for a change, as an expert on unrecorded and unremembered prehistoric rapes, can you share your thoughts on the rape of the Hattic people by the Hittites?

        But then, similar calls to subjugate the native Indians are found in the early Vedic texts during the Aryan invasions.

        Are you saying you can read Sanskrit? And RigVedic Sanskrit, which even people fluent in Sanskrit find arcane and often incomprehensible? If not, how do you know the above? Stop bullshitting, and point out the verses where the Vedas refer to “native Indians”, “Aryan invasions”, and “subjugations”.

      2. “Sure, just as the Aryans raped the native Indians.

        There is no Islamic doctrine in the Quran or Hadith instructing Muslims to rape, but the general permitting of subjugating and enslaving their enemy’s women during war certainly doesn’t argue against it. But then, similar calls to subjugate the native Indians are found in the early Vedic texts during the Aryan invasions.”

        I feel like you have double standards for what you accept as fact.

        A Muslim ruler’s biography written when he was alive can state that he destroyed temples in an effort to eliminate the infidels’ practices and spread Islam.

        Yet people of your type will scour the Earth to find any potential alternative interpretation of this event. The temples were important politically and economically, so that’s the main reason. The biography is part of a literary tradition rich with embellishments. (Without even considering… what kind of literary tradition encourages the exaggeration of iconoclasm?) That the Hindus set the tradition and the Indianized Muslim rulers are just following the Hindus. Etc.

        But at the same time, you will take early archaic Rig Vedic Sanskrit — the understanding, interpretation, and dating of which is heavily contested — and run with it. Not a second thought is given to (i) how uncertain our understanding is and (ii) how there are competing speculations.

        1. Hoju,

          Your problem (and the problem with the Hindu-right in general) is you approach these issues from a very personal and partisan point of view (searching for facts to help support a conclusion you are already determined to believe). So when you encounter different conclusions, you assume they were reached through similar means.

          Academia doesn’t “scour the Earth trying to find alternative explanations” for Muslim atrocities. It is intellectually curious for its own sake, so begins to ask questions.

          For example, if Muslims say they desecrated temples as a means of spreading of Islam, why then, did they leave 99% of temples they came across untouched? Why then, do these same records show Muslim emperors lauding the earlier Hindu conquests (including Temple desecration) as examples they want to emulate? Academia doesn’t dismiss religious fundamentalism as a motivator for Muslim atrocity, but acknowledges that based on all the data we have, its not THE motivator for atrocity.

          So they go back through the records to try and find something that connects instances of temple desecration, and it turns out the best explanatory variable by far isn’t religion, but political conflict.

          I agree with you by the way that despite the Aryans calling Indians dark-skinned, snub-nosed barbarians, destroying their religious structures, and invading/raping their people, limiting them to these Vedic-accounts is wrong-headed. My point was that if Hindus want to play this gutter-game against Muslims, it can be played against Hindus just as well (if not better).

          1. My point was that if Hindus want to play this gutter-game against Muslims, it can be played against Hindus just as well (if not better).

            but i perceive that you tend to engage in shell games here. on the one hand you agree with ppl who assert ‘hindu’ is a late construct dating to the british. otoh, the aryan hindus were responsible for genocide?

            obv the internet hindus are often dumb. but i don’t think all of the responses to them play fair either.

          2. Razib,

            The modern identity Hindus have of themselves today is largely an artificial British construct. But Hinduism or Hindu culture (whatever it is) dates back in some form to Vedic times.

            I don’t think the Aryans committed genocide, or were really that bad in relative terms. I just think that if Hindus are going to use one-dimensional readings of historical texts to paint a villainous picture of early Muslims, they should expect the same to be done to early Hindus.

          3. “The modern identity Hindus have of themselves today is largely an artificial British construct.”

            Before we go any farther, you need to elucidate what you mean by “modern identity,” and what your evidence is for it being “artificial.”

          4. “I agree with you by the way that despite the Aryans calling Indians dark-skinned, snub-nosed barbarians, destroying their religious structures, and invading/raping their people, limiting them to these Vedic-accounts is wrong-headed. My point was that if Hindus want to play this gutter-game against Muslims, it can be played against Hindus just as well (if not better).”

            Even this level of specificity is far from agreed upon. Yet you think that scattered and ambiguous references in early Rig Vedic texts in archaic Sanskrit is sufficient to draw these conclusions, while opposing such conclusions in respect of Muslim rulers despite far more literary backing.

            It’s a double standard. You make arguments against the Hindu narrative of Muslim barbarity by introducing reasons for doubting the veracity of the accounts set forth in the biographies of Muslim rulers. That’s fine. But you display no such charity to the Aryans and sloppily assume the interpretation that helps you the most (to draw equivalency between Muslims and Aryans). This is despite how weak the literary strength is in the early Rig Vedic texts when compared to more modern and better-recorded Muslim biographies.

    5. I’d say the 100 IQ remark is pretty accurate, but the rest of the comment isn’t as smart.

      Google himyarite. Also Joseph dhu nawas and Christians.

  4. Very interesting, but how do you think about the non-trivial differences in physical effects of religions?

    E.g. if the Muslims colonised a new continent or planet and some aliens chanced upon the artefacts that such a civilization had produced, would they conclude differently of their culture than of Christians had done the colonisation.

    For example, won’t scriptural beliefs lead to different and distinctive architectural patterns. Enough for the alien archaeologists to draw some non-trivial conclusions about their religions even without any priors about human cultures whatsoever?

  5. For example, won’t scriptural beliefs lead to different and distinctive architectural patterns. Enough for the alien archaeologists to draw some non-trivial conclusions about their religions even without any priors about human cultures whatsoever?

    h.
    how? until recently chinese masjids looked like buddhist temples. they didn’t change due to reading the koran or hadith. it’s saudi funding and emulation of arabs.

    there’s no evidence scripture is as importance as a cause as religionists or observers think. most people don’t/can’t read scriptures, and even when they can psychological studies suggest weak inferential properties (done with evangelical protestants for whom bible study is important).

    1. // how? until recently chinese masjids looked like buddhist temples //

      Maybe I didn’t make myself clear enough. I do agree Chinese, heck even Kashmiri, mosques look like Buddhist pagodas. However, one does see an emphasis on geometric forms in mosques, as opposed to figures of humans, animals or mythical beings etc, which are a common feature of many Christian and certainly Hindu styles.

      Also, people don’t need to know something first-hand to be affected by it. Even secondary, tertiary etc re-tellings of some codified information can carry non-trivial abstractions from the original. In fact, good explanations are defined by how entropy averse they are.

  6. again i’m serious about deleting long incoherent/inscrutable comments.

    be concise. i don’t find most of your thoughts interesting.

  7. Excellent post. Completely agree with the central thesis that scripture’s centrality to a believer’s life is overrated and overstated. Although everyone knows this intuitively, it sits uncomfortably on both the believer and the critic and is therefore rarely made (and can only be made by a certain kind of observer).

    Found the frequent IQ mentions a little grating but if good argumentation can ever excuse insensitivity, this piece here does.

    It pulls out the floor beneath “internet Hindu” arguments (unfortunate term) and all the sophomoric crutches IH use to feel superior to Muslims, such big part of their self-identity.

  8. thank you for this, this is perfect:
    “…religion can be thought of as two tracks, a conscious verbal track, which is quite superficial, and a deep cognitive track, which is harder to elucidate but primal and universal.”

  9. Dar al-Islam doesn’t really have anything similar besides the actual Kemalists, who are fighting a rearguard action (to put it nicely.)

    kemalism was too focused imitating the european model in a self-conscious way. that being said, if you look at the period around 1900 there were lots of innovative thinkers….

    but someone like afghani i think illustrates the main problem: instead of developing an organic islamic engagement with modernity, they attempted to create social/political structures to counter the west.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jam%C4%81l_al-D%C4%ABn_al-Afgh%C4%81n%C4%AB

    once stuff like arab nationalism, third world socialism, or pro-western modernization (iran), ran out of steam, there wasn’t an religious liberal culture to fallback on. so reconstituted reactionary islam came back (though stuff like salafism and iranian islamism are very reactive to western modernity; they’re not really traditional. they just reject the sort of modernist critique that german textual analytic schools introduced into the west in the 19th century)

  10. Criticism of Islam isn’t at all marginal in countries that took a secular path following independence (Turkey being the most prominent example).

    yeah. but it was mostly communist or communist-adjacent. turkey and the pahlavis were a separate case as they wanted to emulate france. the baathists mostly seem to have ignored islam.

    the point i’m getting at is this: muslim elites haven’t subjected islam to the sort of discursive critique which allowed for the emergence of modernist islamic movements. the critique i’m talking about isn’t just atheistic or secular. it’s a critique that reimagines what the religion could be, what the koran is, the role of shariah, etc. a few ppl here and there did attempt it, but it never got major traction.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syed_Ahmad_Khan

    it’s like anti-clericalism in france, italy and spain. they were critiques of catholicism, but they left catholicism intact. in spain catholicism seems to be collapsing like it did in france now.

    in contrast, protestant countries have a range of denominations with different views.

    perhaps in islam the best example of what i’m imagining is among ismailis. some are very ‘conservative’ and trad. but others, like nizaris are quite liberal and modernist. both are authentically ismaili

    i think kemalism and the shah failed cuz they took the laicist gamble, and lost. it’s zero-sum.

  11. This is before I get into the larger discourse around caste…people are outwardly diffident about the matter. Nobody is really gung-ho about it, let alone advocating for varnashrama dharma. Caste traditionalism as an explicit political movement is a nonstarter, and Ambedkar is a key reason why.

    it seems caste is weird cuz it’s ‘central’ to hinduism for many and ppl care a lot, but the public line now is that it’s bad. some diehards reject this, but most ppl don’t.

    1. When you say caste are you referring explicitly to Jati rather than to Varna?

      Kushal would say that India has a Jati Vad challenge.

      Varna is very different from Jati. India has tens of thousands of Jatis. Some might be thought of as their own religions.

      “varnashrama dharma”
      Which major parampara, sampradaya, panth does not celebrate Sathwa Guna? Or the concept of 24 hour meditation?

    2. it seems caste is weird cuz it’s ‘central’ to hinduism for many and ppl care a lot, but the public line now is that it’s bad.

      It may be a bit more complicated than this. Indians are a very conservative people, and very attached to older (some archaic) customs and attitudes that most modern people have rejected.

      Example: arranged marriage. It still appeals to most Indian youngsters psychologically, and because the “arrangers” use family backgrounds and particular customs (practiced only by subcastes) as filters for matches, the result is a perpetuation of the caste system.
      Does this mean youngsters buy into the precepts of caste? Maybe, maybe not. I personally think that the caste system would collapse in a generation if young people stop thinking of married as a filial obligation, and instead place more value on their personal desires and instincts.

      TLDR: Filial and marital attitudes can be misconstrued as casteist because the result is identical. Which is also why people claim (honestly or semi-honestly) that they don’t care about caste even when they marry along caste lines.

      1. Well when people complain about caste, they’re complaining about things like purity norms, untouchability, stigmatization, wealth gaps, land tenure, etc. Nobody (except radicals) really cares about endogamy per se, nor should they.

        FWIW my marriage is being arranged now, Brahmins are less than 20% of the candidates I’m talking to.

          1. Well in America, people simultaneously hold these views:

            1) I view Blacks as our moral equals and will treat them with dignity and respect.

            2) I categorically refuse to date or marry Blacks, live near Blacks, send my kids to schools with too many Blacks, or even socialize with them more than is necessary.

            We might wish people wouldn’t do the latter, but they do, and we as a society don’t really want to do anything substantive to change it.

            It seems to me that when people more stridently attack caste, they demand things of India that even advanced industrial societies have not achieved and don’t want to achieve.

        1. It seems to me that when people more stridently attack caste, they demand things of India that even advanced industrial societies have not achieved and don’t want to achieve.

          You are doing your usual i.e. RSS-BJP= Republicans/ conservatism, Indian casteism= Implicit racism.

          Uh, no. I follow both politics closely and fall on the “liberal” side in both places, but there is a huge difference.

          In India, when people complain about casteism, it is not (only) the soft, implicit kind as in US- it is things like Dalit murders and lynchings, denial of housing & food and group killings, nude parades, rapes and on-camera whippings:

          https://theprint.in/report/its-2018-atrocities-against-dalits-still-reality/26260/

          1. Do you even read what I write? I am well aware of, and mentioned above the abhorrent excesses of the caste system.

            But Zach (and others) seems to want to go farther and want caste to totally disappear altogether. Which isn’t happening, nor is it a reasonable goal.

  12. The modern identity Hindus have of themselves today is largely an artificial British construct. But Hinduism or Hindu culture (whatever it is) dates back in some form to Vedic times.

    ah, so by this logic now your ancestors WERE hindus “in some form” before they were not hindus?


    I don’t think the Aryans committed genocide, or were really that bad in relative terms. I just think that if Hindus are going to use one-dimensional readings of historical texts to paint a villainous picture of early Muslims, they should expect the same to be done to early Hindus.

    it was bad. you don’t make a star-shape phylogeny with persuasion. the muslim impact was marginal, mostly because muslims were there to extract resources.

    basically the further into the past you go, at least during the holocene, the worse the ‘genocide’ is. elite institutions of extraction were not as well defined so inter-group competition was more brutal.

    1. “You’re ancestors were Hindus in some form”.

      Unlikely as most Punjabis were never Hindus (Aryavarta stopped at the Ghaggar river). Though I think the faith they practiced was a mix of local traditions, Buddhism, and Shaivism (in northern-Punjab at least).

      “The Aryans were bad”

      Oh they were worse than the Muslims, I just mean they weren’t that bad relative to their time (Bronze-Ageish), where entire populations were purportedly erased.

        1. I basically see it as King Arthur or The Iliad…probably some elements of truth to it, but the rest is all embellishment, dudes talking a big game.

      1. What is bad? Defending Kith kin kine is Good. Kindness to mortal enemies that leads to extinction of one’s own priceless, valuable Lineages is hi~level sin. Any shred of goodness still existing within Chindia today is entirely owning to caste system. Varna is actually tamilian word. Colours refer to innate tendencies within different peoples (the three point division of Prakriti /Nature into Truth, Temporal Rulership, Dramavaji aka known as satgun, rajgun, tamasgun and point clues to ethnic cultural differences.Strong tribes fulfilled all tasks of the four stages of life and four divisions of labour amongst themselves and thus greater racial purity was maintained. And quality of their economic output was superior because epigenetics etc. Eg sect of bonesetters their medical knowledge was of great Renown and repute. Ditto for all other professions and arts such as Sangeet music astrology, the calendar precision timekeeping etc

    2. it was bad. you don’t make a star-shape phylogeny with persuasion.

      Wait, doesn’t the star date back to far before you claim steppe people entered India? Or has some other star been found in the period between 1500 BC and 1000 BC?

      (You may argue that I don’t know shit, and you would be right. But this is a genuine question.)

      1. Wait, doesn’t the star date back to far before you claim steppe people entered India? Or has some other star been found in the period between 1500 BC and 1000 BC?

        the star is older than india. but it continued in india, and in eastern europe (two branches).

  13. @Indthings

    Your constant attempts to send Hindus on a guilt trip over the supposed crimes of Aryans is ridiculous. Most Hindus, especially the village folks and semi literate ones aren’t even aware that they are supposed to be Aryans. It is a term they learn in their school history books and quickly forget because Aryan is not a term used frequently in public discourse. Most Hindus identify themselves as just Hindus, or by their castes. It is futile to think that they will own up the mythical crimes of Aryans.

    OTOH, even a completely illiterate Muslim is fully aware that he/she is a Muslim. There is never any doubt about that.

    So, go easy on Aryans did this or Aryans did that rhetoric. Most Hindus, even us dumb Internet Hindus will just gloss over it with total disinterest.

    1. I brought up the Aryans here in response to a reader bringing up the actions of Muhammad and 7th century Arabs. If the latter’s actions subconsciously pollute Muslims today (as OP argued), then the same is true for Aryans visa-vis Hindus.

      Also, the fact that some Hindus are unfamiliar with the term “Aryans” is irrelevant. The point is they identify as the inheritors/descendants of these “first-Hindus”, who promulgated Sanskrit and the Vedic texts.

      As for Hindu disinterest, I think one needs only read the explosion of comments (and vitriol) on this forum whenever I reference the Aryan misdeeds, to see there’s anything but disinterest from Hindus on this topic.

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