Calvinism, atheism, and Hinduism


A journalist associated with NPR made some prejudiced comments about Hinduism, and she is probably going to get in trouble. By the name, her background is that of a South Asian Muslim.

One of my immediate reactions is that this sort of comment about Hinduism is very common among South Asian Muslims. Growing up people would joke about Hindus drinking piss and obsessing over cow dung all the time. This is a widespread private comment, and this woman’s mask just dropped in public.

But, there is another aspect that emerged in discussion with a Hindu reader of this blog: the Muslims making these sort of jokes were not the very pious, but the more liberal and secular sort. Extremely religious Muslims did not talk about Hinduism in jocular terms, because they feared Hinduism.

This actually goes back something foundational in the Abrahamic religions, and that is the Hebrew suspicion and fear of foreign gods. Note that in the Hebrew Bible the Israelites repeatedly turned away from Jehovah, and sacrificed to the gods of the Canaanites. These religions and cults were tempting. The original Hebrews were clearly henotheistic, not monotheistic in a deep metaphysical sense. They did not reject the existence of other gods but were devoted to a particular god, their own tribal god.

In the Greco-Roman period, Jewish and Christian thought took the next step: they demonized the gods who were not their God. When I say they demonized the gods who were not their God, I mean demonized in a literal sense. The early Christians believed that the pagans worshipped demons, who were deceiving humans as to their true nature. These religions were not false religions because people worshipped the non-existent, but because they worshipped evil or deceptive beings who were not the true God.

There are still Christians who hold to the old ways. Some evangelical Protestants believe they are in a spiritual “war” with devils who are all around us. Which brings me to Calvinism. There is a line of argumentation that John Calvin and his heirs “rationalized” Christianity to such an extent that they drained the demons and supernatural from the universe. They were atheists and materialists except for the exception of their one God and his retinue.  This was a sharp break with the older Christian tradition, whereby the gods of other religions were false gods, but real gods (after a fashion).

I don’t know what I think about this argument, though it seems plausible. But, the sort of Muslim who makes fun of Hindus has been shaped by this way of thinking. They do not fear Hinduism. They do not think that Hindus believe in anything real. Their gods are no-gods. In contrast, many devout Muslims believe Hindus worship devils.

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49 Replies to “Calvinism, atheism, and Hinduism”

  1. Razib I’m sure knows this, but the tweet is not factually incorrect re: cow piss drinking though. My roommate in college in India actually kept a bottle of packaged cow urine which he drank at regular intervals (for its “medicinal properties”). And cow dung is eaten by many many Hindus.

    https://nypost.com/2015/12/28/cow-dung-patties-selling-like-hot-cakes-online-in-india/

    https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/hindu-worshippers-drink-cow-urine-3017661

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    1. Very few modern day hindus actually drink cow piss, and no one eats cow dung at all.
      Cow dung is used in hawans, which is like a religious practice where offerings are given to different gods in a fire.
      Cow dungs are being sold because in cities its hard to find cow dungs .
      I am surprised to see how many rumours float around and the misconceptions there are regarding hinduism 😅

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  2. Razib I’m sure knows this, but the tweet is not factually incorrect re:cow piss drinking. My roommate in college kept a bottle of cow urine with him and regularly drank from it (for its “medicinal properties”). And many many Indians eat cow dung.

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    1. “Razib I’m sure knows this, but the tweet is not factually incorrect re:cow piss drinking. My roommate in college kept a bottle of cow urine with him and regularly drank from it (for its “medicinal properties”). And many many Indians eat cow dung.”

      That’s obviously not the issue and if you don’t understand that I really question your reading comprehension abilities or your sincerity or both.

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  3. I still sometimes hear Yazidis referred to as devil-worshippers/satanists even today from people who are sympathetic about their persecution at the hands of ISIS.

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    1. Yes, I’ve come across a iraqi kurdish taxi driver in the UK with a obvious sympathy to the concept of a islamic state.

      He was freely calling the Yazidis devil worshippers. I was absolutely disgusted when he was speaking about them. Complete dehumanisation of kuffar.

      The idiot probably couldn’t tell that i was kuffar so was freely talking about them. Very dangerous ideology.

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  4. I would be interested to read opinions (i.e. knowledge) about the origins of cow worshiping and all previous. I have my opinion but I will wait for those who are more accross all of this. For the beginning – when this started, before or after Aryans arrival and is it related anyhow to Aryans or not? The answer on this will answer many other questions.

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  5. “One of my immediate reactions is that this sort of comment about Hinduism is very common among South Asian Muslims. Growing up people would joke about Hindus drinking piss and obsessing over cow dung all the time. This is a widespread private comment, and this woman’s mask just dropped in public.”

    My middle school and high school had a very large percentage of South Asians, and especially Pakistani (probably like 40% SA, with 20% Pak and 20% Other SA). Insults about Hindus drinking cow piss, obsessing over cow dung, and worshiping penises, were not very private comments. They were liberally used. Granted, this is more just playground-level bullshit where you hurl whatever insults at your disposal, but then again I don’t think that when we graduated on to University that these mentalities really changed much. They just know when it’s appropriate to say it is all.

    Imagine if a Hindu at NPR said this about Islam?

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  6. Imagine if a Hindu at NPR said this about Islam?

    they be fucked.

    islam is the progressive party at prayer today. bow down before your circumcized master 😉

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  7. (I know the politics was the main point of this post, so treat this as a side comment)

    Cow urine is being sold on Amazon India too (check out gomutra.) Never heard of people eating cowdung earlier (it’s ubiquitous in rural India as fuel.) Honestly, I’d never heard of people drinking gomutra when I was a kid either.

    (We had a former PM, Morarji Desai, who people made fun of for drinking “purified” human urine. But he was a crank about food and drink, just like his mentor, Gandhi, was.)

    I wonder how much of this is a modern reaction. Clearly, there’s a subset of Hindus who have consumed this stuff in the past, but I though they were weird outliers (like the cannibals Reza Aslan discovered a few years ago), just like (I guess) violent jihadists are outliers among Muslims.
    People are living longer and getting “modern” diseases (like cancer) and it’s been causing some distress in the country, at least in the middle class. Perhaps with their predisposition to glorify the Indic past combined with imperfect knowledge about modern medicine, they are turning to folk remedies. Lots of traditional Hindus think of soda as poison (mainly because it’s Western) and would love to ban it. Some of them actively try to promote cow urine as an alternative to soda.

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    1. An aside to a side comment — I’m sure you know that in rural india cow dung is used for much more than fuel (though aspersions of eating is certainly a caricature among some quarters).

      Cow dung adobe is used in construction for floors and walls in a lot of rural homes, makeshift or not. Several houses in the village I lived in the first years of my life had cow dung adobe floors (these were late 70’s/early 80’s semi-rural middle class households). Although these are almost gone now, a handful of Adivasi homes on the fringes of the village still do, and this is not even 50km outside of Mumbai.

      Cow dung also features heavily in Ayurvedic practices, with multiple uses. I once caught a horrible rash taking a dump outside next to the outhouse behind my grandparents house (I was too put off by the darkness and stink of the outhouse proper as a child). I ran back into my grandparents house, arms flailing and in a panic. My Aji saw what was happening and came out with a straw basket filled with dried cowdung, reconstituted it with some water and rubbed it all over me. Instant relief.

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      1. though aspersions of eating is certainly a caricature among some quarters

        I’m sure it’s a caricature, but it looks like there’s something to it. “Curious” posted a link further up. My conjecture, which I tried to articulate in my above comment, is that this is a modern phenomenon, driven by a newfound pride in old India and a firm conviction that the cow is as holy as it is because everything about it has nutritional or medicinal properties. (People are taking that on faith)

        I’ll need more studies and evidence (of a scientific nature) before I start to buy into remedies of the kind you described above though (I have the same problem with Ayurveda.) Cowdung and cow urine may well have medicinal properties (doesn’t all of our food grow out of shit, literally?) but I can think of various reasons why I wouldn’t want faeces of any animal rubbed on me (bacteria being one of many concerns.)

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        1. Not all bacteria are the same, and cow dung isn’t just used this way in India.

          Maggots are used to treat wounds, and viruses are used against bacterial infections.

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    2. Well, you can find items related to diaper fetishes on Amazon, but nobody would use that to assume the practice was common in America. In other words, “sold on Amazon” is not a very dispositive or specific (in the technical sense of the word) way to identify how prevalent or significant a cultural practice is.

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  8. ‘and many Hindus drink cow dung’ is an inaccurate generalization. I live in India and I have not come across even one Hindu who does that, though I have seen at least one drink cow pee and seen videos of others doing it.
    According to a Hadees the prophet of Islam recommended drinking camel urine. This is not to suggest that many Muslims do so, but perhaps some among the Ahl e Hadees in Pakistan do.

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    1. Onlooker — I’d be very interested to know where this hadith (hadees) can be found — and would also appreciate a reference to cow-urine drinking in a Vedic or Ayurvedic text, preferably one online that I can quote.

      Also I’d like to thank Razib for starting this fascinating and instructive thread, and those who have commented here.

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      1. Can I just add…My question regarding cow worshipping (when it started, is it related to Aryans, what does it mean, etc) was not answered. I assume that the current BP readers don’t know the answer and I will try to find the answer somewhere else.

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  9. Let me deal with Cow piss –

    I never knew about this till few years back but when i came to know about it i looked for the sources & from where it came into the discussion. Then i came to know about an Ayurvedic formulation termed “Panchaghavya” which was used both as fertilizer as well as in certain religious practices in ancient times & which were appropriated by certain right wing sections & they started promoting this formulation.

    There is a similarly named preparation for Worship rituals i.e. Panchamrita.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchamrita

    It’s promotion & use should be banned because it hurts people financially as well as physically {by causing diseases like leptospirosis}. Gaumutra is famous among certain village communities but even among them only a few actually drink or use it.

    The question of worshipping is simple – People create rituals to which they are connected to & so people worship things, objects or places that do not hold any value for other individuals. Thus dung which was a necessary as fuel of Fire {Cow dung cakes} as well as cow {which were essential part of agriculture & village life} became a source of reverence in Hinduism.

    Later on cow politics started to take it’s current shape during Islamic empires as Identity divide sharpened in the subcontinent.

    If Hindus were actually drinking cow piss i guess they would have higher level of disease related to cow urine.

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  10. “The original Hebrews were clearly henotheistic, not monotheistic in a deep metaphysical sense. They did not reject the existence of other gods but were devoted to a particular god, their own tribal god.”

    This is obviously true, even down to modern times. Deep underneath the recalcitrant monotheism of all Abrahamic religion is an insecurity and fear of pagan gods.

    What I am curious to know is that is there a tradition in any Hindu caste or community that actively rejects the gods of a rival Hindu community? I have heard of some conflict between Shaivism and Vaishnavism in antiquity, but it seems to have existed mostly in the theological domain, and that too only for a brief period of time. Apart from that I really don’t know of any rejectionist tradition in any Hindu community.

    In the larger “Dharmic” religion scene, we do see a mild rejection of Hindu gods among Jains and Sikhs. However it is more like a frowning rejection than a forceful and uncompromising one.

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    1. // What I am curious to know is that is there a tradition in any Hindu caste or community that actively rejects the gods of a rival Hindu community? //

      Many Hindu communities reject each other’s beliefs but instead of debating about them ad-nauseum they learned to live with the differences but the problem with Identities is that once you bring them into pictures divide gets sharpened & beliefs more fundamentalists.

      For E.g. –
      Shaivism – Is a belief that puts Shiva above all gods
      Vaishnavites – Put Vishnu above all Gods
      Shakta or Shakti tradition – Puts Goddesses powers above all Gods
      &
      Then there are many regional belief systems which are common among certain communities, regions etc. with a reference from certain periods, Like –
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishnoi
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nath

      Regarding the intensity of rejection – It has always been dependent upon the stakes, for e.g. King’s grants.

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  11. “Growing up people would joke about Hindus drinking piss and obsessing over cow dung all the time. ”

    LOL. Reading the comments, seems like all this cow piss drinker and all have hit the NRI kids a lot. Growing up in India , i think hindus have a different experience altogether to Hindu kids born and raised outside. Perhaps due to our majority and numbers, our idiosyncrasies are sort of seen Ok-ish, back in India.

    Furhan Khan is a Kashmiri so her idea of Hindu-ism is as good as some random white dude idea of Hindu-ism only. Distinctly remember , in the pulwama bomber video , he too made this cow piss drinker thing, and my uncle (who hasn;t left India ever) was mildly surprised as to why he is saying all this about hindus, and couldn;t understand how thats even put down down for hindus. He just take the world he grew in back in India as how the world is.

    “Extremely religious Muslims did not talk about Hinduism in jocular terms, because they feared Hinduism.”

    Would fear be the right word? I mean what have Hindus(or Hindu-ism) been ever able to do to Christianity/Islam anyway? Hindu-ism track record doesn’t seem to arouse any jealousy/anxiety if i would put myself in religious Muslim shoes. Unless i am living in India, why would a religious Muslim fear hindu-ism?

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    1. “I mean what have Hindus(or Hindu-ism) been ever able to do to Christianity/Islam anyway”?

      That’s not the fundamentalists’ thought process. Their thought process is that we worship demons and djinns and do black magic.

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    2. Also the thing about diasporans is that we split on religious lines. We rarely interact with Muslims, and don’t know much about their views. It’s nothing personal, it’s just how religion operates in the diaspora.

      So for a very long time, I believed the progressive dogma that Islam was a tolerant “religion of peace,” we just didn’t talk to Muslims because we had some historical tensions with them, and that was that.

      It was really only after I found Brownpundits and Twitter, and started hearing what Muslims actually think about us, that I changed my views. My political stances have shifted accordingly.

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      1. really? I interacted with Muslim Pakistanis and Bangladeshis a whole lot growing up. Must be NJ thing. People even had specific slurs for Gujaratis, “ginders”

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      2. Not interact with muslims in America?

        Weird.

        I thought muslims and Hindus interact all the time in the US.

        Many muslims go to temples (at least Shirdi Sai Baba temples) and participate in Hindu/Yoga/New Age spiritual events.

        Hindus go to Sufi things all the time too.

        Hindus and Muslims ubiquitously co-found companies together. Invest in each others companies. VCs, Angel Investors (and Investment Banks, Asset Management, Wall Street, Consulting) are chock full of Hindus and muslims.

        Many muslims and Hindus marry each other too.. So many that I can’t keep count.

        +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

        Many of the comments on this thread are surprising.

        Ayurveda is a big thing. Small portions of cow urine and cow feces are combined with many other ingredients for large numbers of different medicinal recipes. Is there interest in Brown Pundits interviewing an Ayurvedic Doctor?

        Many Ayurvedic treatments are now reimbursed by insurance companies, medicare and medicaid.

        For that matter Acupuncture (Taoist medicine) is increasingly mainstream in medicine.

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  12. “Extremely religious Muslims did not talk about Hinduism in jocular terms, because they feared Hinduism”

    It is down to the wiring of the brain. The cognitive process that makes one believe in one true god also makes the belief in other malevolent gods possible.

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  13. “Would fear be the right word? I mean what have Hindus(or Hindu-ism) been ever able to do to Christianity/Islam anyway?”

    What Razib meant was that sincerely believing muslims subconsciously also believe in the existence of hindu gods, and their power to do harm if mocked.

    It reminds me of an interesting episode about a live TV debate between a voodoo practitioner and a bunch of atheists/rationalists in some african country (probably kenya, but i am forgetful). The rationalists were as usually berating the voodoo practitioner for believing in useless superstitions.

    The voodoo man quietly rose from his seat, picked a chair, chanted some magic words and conducted other rituals over the chair, and declared that he had put a curse on the chair. He claimed that so powerful was his curse that anyone who sits on the chair will drop dead instantly. As you can guess, he now challenged the rationalists to sit on the chair.

    Not a single rationalist could muster the courage to go anywhere near the chair. The voodoo man won the debate by default 🙂

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    1. “What Razib meant was that sincerely believing muslims subconsciously also believe in the existence of hindu gods, and their power to do harm if mocked.”

      Oh in that way…. got it.

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    2. it’s not subconscious. belief in demons and malevolent powers is normal in most religions. it’s just moderns who have secularized to such an extent they don’t want to talk about or believe this.

      i told HM the story sometimes told among muslim pak/bang about a muslim villager sitting on a rock and getting beaten up. the punchline is that THE HINDUS WORSHIPPED THE ROCK AS A GOD!

      but these were all professionals. a genuine muslim believer might suggest ‘WELL ACTUALLY THAT ROCK WAS A DJINN!!!”

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    3. Carlo Fonseka Sri Lankan atheist and Rationalist (passed away a few days ago)

      To demonstrate that there is nothing religious, Carlo and his team deliberately downed arrack (the local brew) and pork (which devotees abstain from to acquire spiritual power to do the magical walk) before successfully fire walking in front of British TV cameras with British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark watching: https://metavideos.com/video/1391344/fire-walk-by-prof-carlo-fonseka Carlo came out with the rules of how it is done – walking fast without allowing the soles to heat enough to reach ignition point to burn the flesh, and making the rectangular fire bed wide to make it seem big while the length one walks across is narrow, thereby giving the impression of walking across a large bed of embers, etc. He showed that the thick soles of the fire walkers who never use footwear also helped.

      Note author Ratnajeevan Hoole is a strong Christian
      http://www.ft.lk/columns/Essays-of-a-Lifetime-by-Prof-Carlo-Fonseka/4-685148

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  14. Razib says
    These religions were not false religions because people worshipped the non-existent, but because they worshipped evil or deceptive beings who were not the true God.

    There are still Christians who hold to the old ways. Some evangelical Protestants believe they are in a spiritual “war” with devils who are all around us

    Completely agree, re other gods are real demons/devils according to Evangelical Christians.

    Modern Catholics and Anglicans (Church of England) seem to co exist with Hindu gods now. They did not in the past. At least Catholics and Anglicans dont scream about devils from their pulpits NOW.

    Anyway am I the only Christian/Evangelical background commentor on this blog.

    Just to be clear I am not too impressed with the concept of Gods and Devils or religions associated with those concepts, Christianity, Buddhism, Hindu or Islam.

    Buddhist Philosophy is a big OK by me.

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      1. Thanks VijayVan

        Not forgotten about Abraham Kovoor, just pushed in the back recesses of the brain.

        ” for his campaign to expose as frauds various Indian and Sri Lankan “god-men” and so-called paranormal phenomena. His direct, trenchant criticism of spiritual frauds and organized religions was enthusiastically received by audiences, initiating a new dynamism in the Rationalist movement, especially in Sri Lanka and India”

        “In 1963, Kovoor announced an award of Rs. 100,000 for anyone who could demonstrate supernatural or miraculous powers under foolproof and fraud-proof conditions. The challenge listed 23 miracles or feats that godmen”

        LKR 100K in 1963 would have bought you a fancy house in the the heart of Colombo that would worth USD 1 million now.

        The Sri Lankan Rationalist Association, led by Professor Carlo Fonseka, renewed the challenge in 2012 and increased the reward to one million dollars. (Similar challenges have been posed by Basava Premanand and James Randi.)

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._T._Kovoor

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  15. Monday, Aug. 18, 1952
    For Hindus Only

    At a jungle shrine in Ceylon last week, a group of local sadhus celebrated a rite of Hindu holy men: walking barefoot over a bed of glowing coals.

    To the Rev. Eric Robinson, a British Methodist missionary, it was the opportunity he had long been waiting for. Pulling off his shoes and socks, he stepped on the coals, walked the length of the burning pit himself. The doctor’s verdict: severe burns on the feet, which confined Missionary Robinson to his bed for a week.

    http://www.wilpattuhouse.com/MiscStuff/time_before66/19520818_ForHindusOnly.html

    Plenty of other pre 1964 articles at
    http://www.wilpattuhouse.com/MiscStuff/time_before66/index.html

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  16. Quite the dilemma I have in front of me.

    I can mock Hindus for worshipping Penises, but then I have to acknowledge aspects of Hinduism date back to the IVC culture of phallic worship.

    I will report back when I’ve decided what to do.

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    1. “I can mock Hindus for worshipping Penises..”

      If mocking hindus is what you want to do, I can offer some topics myself. Some hindus even worship a motorcycle as a god! I have seen it personally during one of my trips to rural Rajasthan.

      https://www.odditycentral.com/travel/the-old-motorcycle-worshiped-as-a-deity-in-india.html

      All religions are lunacy. The point is, while others religions are harmless lunacy, Islam is a murderous lunacy. I would rather ride a motorcycle with a motorcycle worshiping hindu than take a airplane trip with a god fearing muslim. That my friend, is the critical difference.

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  17. motorcycle worshiping hindu than take a airplane trip with a god fearing muslim.

    i take your point. but a subtle aspect is the scariest people for us are those with

    1) very strong muslim identities
    2) but muddled religious beliefs and histories

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  18. Also isn;t the worship/significance of the start of first menstrual cycle a sort of “coochy-worship” . I think some places in S-India do mark that event as well

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    1. Celebration of a girl’s first period is a rite of passage – similar to a bar mitzvah. It is not worship of anything.

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    2. Saurav,

      In SL too first menses of a girl is celebrated, almost to the level of a wedding by some. Called “Kotahalu” or “Magula (which a word used for weddings and festivals” .

      In the past it was the advertisement that the girly was ready to married off.

      Much like sweet 16 or Debutante Ball.
      Sweet 16 seems to be becoming more common in urban sri lanka

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  19. I will give my millennial take. S Asian Muslims in my town fell into roughly three camps.

    1. Uber religious types that would sport long beards and hijabs. I never heard them speak ill of anything or anyone for the most part. They mostly kept to themselves or just discussed school stuff for group projects.

    2. Middle of the road types- weekly mosque attendance and fasting for most of Ramadan.

    3. “Whitewashed” types. They tended to do everything in their power to blend into the “popular” crowd and part of that is rejecting parts of their identity that would make them seem “weird.”

    Groups 2 and 3 would make the “cow piss drinking,” “street shitting,” and “ugly dark short skinny cowardly hindu” comments. Indian would routinely make comments about “you are the same shit just + terrorism and getting more raped by Islamic invaders” etc. back. It was always a silly and pointless back and forth that just came down to nothing better than ad hominem.

    What I find more interesting are the motivations for behaving or not behaving a certain way among these groups. Group 1 may privately hold negative views but was restricted to a certain level of decorum, as dictated by their observance of a certain strict religiosity.

    Groups 2 and 3 would dis Indians for different reasons, namely to distance themselves away from uncool image of Indians, a group of people from a land seen as poor as Subsaharan Africa, yet somehow nerdy, smelly, and unfashionable while simultaneously lacking “coolness” and athleticism. This reason was used more by group number 3, in order to maintain pecking order position to maximize odds of remaining in the high social status crowds.

    Group 2 tended to come from homes that were strict but not so strict that religious zeal was necessarily ultra apparent on the surface. They were more likely to have racialist rather than religiously influenced views. For Group 1, race was an after thought and religion was the big difference. For Group 2, religion was a surrogate marker of creed, something that had clear hierarchy in their minds. These people had been brought up with an ideology that Hindus are an inferior race that only oppresses superior race Muslims via dirty tactics and numbers. The “street shitting” black hindu pseudo-australian aboriginals are a filthy mongrelized creed compared to the Aryan Central Asian Turkic Persian Hybrids that are Muslims. Group 2 tended to manifest these views in part with these types of comments. Group 3 as well but more so for the social status reason mentioned previously.

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  20. Is it really fear or just a deep understanding of how it feels to have their own sacred scriptures and prophets insulted?

    And then they merely follow the golden rule.

    From what I have seen religious Hindus broadly consider Allah and Ishvara to be the same thing.
    And they generally respect Muslim saints.

    Also they generally do not speak ill about any religious figures.

    Hindutva types are a differnet story ofc.

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    1. Sumit, can you give any examples of Hindutva people who do not speak highly of muslim saints?

      Isn’t the main charge against them that they support and ally with Shia and Sufis against conservative Sunnis?

      Many muslim saints and scholars have made an Islamic case for freedom of art and thought.

      The Islamists and soft Islamists who oppose freedom of art and thought might represent a smaller minority of muslims than we think and fear.

      “And then they merely follow the golden rule.”

      The Golden Rule is seriously flawed. The order should be as follows:
      —1)Do what benefits others
      —2)Do as others want done unto them
      —3)Do as we would have others do unto us

      Most people don’t want to be treated as we wish to be treated. Many genocides and wars have been caused by people following the golden rule.

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