On Being Hindu in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Most readers of this weblog will already know this story. Far more than I do at least: Construction work at Hindu temple site in Islamabad halted. This part jumped out at me:

The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), an ally of Prime Minister Khan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf recently opposed the construction of the temple by claiming that it was “against the spirit of Islam.”

Let’s be frank: isn’t this correct?

Religions are what people make of them, and there are some latitudinarian Muslims who would object to the assertion that the building of a Hindu temple was “against the spirit of Islam.” But historically this action, the obstruction of the building (and repairing) of religious buildings of minority communities has been normative in many Muslim majority societies. Egyptians Copts, for example, have long had to obtain very high level dispensations to repair their churches.

The basic theory from what I recall from Islamic jurists is that minority communities under the protection of Islamic rulers were tolerated, but they need not be encouraged. Their religious liberties were provided at sufferance, and that was enough.

The issue with Hinduism is even deeper: Hinduism is rather explicit in that it is a form of shirk. Whether you conceive of your Hinduism as fundamentally monotheistic or polytheistic, from a Muslim perceived it is polytheistic, and therefore an abomination. The Pakistani polity is illiberal in its behavior, but it is operating squarely within the orthodox parameters of Islamic accommodation to some level of religious pluralism, which combines subordination with delimiting the purview of minority religious beliefs and practices.

This is not limited to Islam, as some readers will be aware that Late Antique pagan practice slowly reconfigured its outline into a shape less offensive to Christianity as the price of toleration (e.g., public animal sacrifice disappeared). In Indonesia Buddhism and Hinduism are both explicitly monotheistic religions, so as not to offend Islamic sensibilities (though in Indonesia Muslims can also convert to Christianity or Hinduism legally, unlike many Muslim nations).

What’s the solution to this illiberality? In the long term, the only answer is greater secularization. As long as orthodox Islam, looking back to the past remains central to Pakistani identity I can’t see any other reaction to the attempt by Hindus to practice and express their religion in the public domain, as opposed to private practice.

Note: There is a long tradition in Abrahamic religions which believes that the gods of polytheistic faiths are actually devils and demons. This is one reason that Christians in Korea have attacked Buddhist statues, and Muslims in Pakistan are expressing horror at the building of a temple to Krishna, who they believe to be a demon who actually exists.

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Resilience in the face of religious change

Recently my friend Josiah Neely mentioned offhand how in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Gibbon argued that one reason paganism couldn’t reverse the tide of Christianity is that once a society or individual became Christian and ceased pagan practice, there wasn’t a good roadmap on how to reembrace the old traditions. In contrast, Christianity’s ideological content meant that even if there was a period of apostasy or public cessation of practice, ideological continuity could be maintained.

To be more explicit and extend the argument, I think the key is that there was a class of religious professionals who were devoted in a deep way to the ideological content of Christianity. If, as occurred in Britain and the Balkans, Christianity collapsed, they would endeavor to reconvert the populace, as they did.

There are other cases of this. Han Yu was a Confucian scholar who denounced Buddhism in the year 800 A.D. during the Tang dynasty. This period, between 600 and 900 A.D. was the “high water” point of public state Buddhism in China. But there always remained an alternative tradition of Chinese scholars and officials who were expositors Confucianism. Eventually, these people “recaptured” China during the Song dynasty for Confucianism, and Buddhism became a religion of the popular people and not the state.

As I said elsewhere, this may explain the persistence of Hinduism. Hinduism, like Greco-Roman paganism, is diverse and variegated. But unlike Greco-Roman paganism, there seems to have been a dynamic and reciprocal tension between philosophy and folk religion, mediated by Brahmins. Greco-Roman paganism was fundamentally an expression of ethnicity and identity. Tradition and custom. Greco-Roman metaphysics was the purview of secular philosophers. Hinduism is arguably more fused, and this may have given it more robustness.

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Expanding CAA

Expanding CAA (working evolving draft)

 

Would like to propose expanding CAA to include the following groups of muslims to:

  • get everyone’s feedback on what can practically pass the Indian Lokh Sabha quickly
  • see if several major Indian leaders will publicly endorse this

The following text will be continually edited based on feedback.

Proposing to expand CAA to include the following “AND ONLY THE FOLLOWING” groups of muslims IF AND ONLY IF they can prove persecution inside Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan:

  •  13 classes AND ONLY 13 CLASSES of Muraqabah Sufi muslims:
    • 3 classes of Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
      • Sixer Ishmaeli Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
        • Dawoodi Bohra Sixer Ishmaeli Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
      • Twelver Jafari Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
    • 10 other classes of Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Chisti Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Qadiri Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Nund Rishi Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Shirdi Sai Nath Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Kabir Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Janardhan Swami Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Hazrat Babajan Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Syed Mohammed Baba Tajuddin Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Baba Budan Muraqabah Sufi muslims
  • Agnostic, Atheist and Ex muslims
  • LBGTQ plus muslims
  • Female femnist muslims

 

Any and all Muraqabah Sufi muslims admitted under CAA need to be certified and verified as Muraqabah Sufi muslims by a council of Muraqabah Sufi muslims chaired by Pir Diwan Sahib Syed Zainul Abedin. Pir Diwan Sahib Syed Zainul Abedin will appoint a committee of Muraqabah Sufi muslims at his own discretion to assist him in this task.

 

Any and all Agnostic, Atheist and Ex muslims, LBGTQ plus muslims and female femnist muslims admitted under CAA need to be certified and verified by a council of muslims chaired by Tarek Fatah . Tarek Fatah will appoint a committee of muslims at his own discretion to assist him in this task.

 

In addition to approval by above councils of muslims, any and all muslim CAA applicants are subject to extensive deep background security checks and can be vetoed by the Indian government for any reason.

NO OTHER MUSLIMS will be permitted to apply for CAA. No other aspect of CAA will be affected.

Please provide your suggestions about how to improve the above draft.

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Brownpundits Browncast episode 100: Creating a New Medina, Venkat Dhulipala

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up with the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Due to the costs of both recording software and storage space, I would appreciate if you could also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. It also compensates Razib for his editing.  If we get more patrons we have reached out to have someone professional edit…but really we don’t have the funds now.

If you can’t give (in these times many cannot!), I would appreciate more positive reviews!

Coming up with an idea of PakistanIn this episode we talk to eminent historian Venkat Dhulipala. Venkat is the author of “Creating a New Medina, state power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial India” and we talk about the book and the ideology of Pakistan as well as his current interests and projects. We also manage a shoutout to Keerthik Sashidhran, who everyone should read.

This remains a controversial topic and I hope people add value in the comments.

 

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A collective religion in an individualistic age

Recently on Twitter someone asked why people of subcontinental backgrounds who leave Islam don’t refamiliarize themselves with the religion of their ancestors. One response could be “well actually, my ancestors weren’t really Hindu…” I think this is a pedantic dodge. In places like Iraqi Kurdistan and Tajikstan some people from Muslim backgrounds are embracing a Zoroastrian identity.

Iraqi Kurds turn to Zoroastrianism as faith, identity entwine:

In a ceremony at an ancient, ruined temple in northern Iraq, Faiza Fuad joined a growing number of Kurds who are leaving Islam to embrace the faith of their ancestors — Zoroastrianism.

Years of violence by the Islamic State jihadist group have left many disillusioned with Islam, while a much longer history of state oppression has pushed some in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to see the millennia-old religion as a way of reasserting their identity.

“After Kurds witnessed the brutality of IS, many started to rethink their faith,” said Asrawan Qadrok, the faith’s top priest in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

But to be clear, not all the ancestors of the Kurds were Zoroastrian. Some were Christians. Others were probably Jews. The largest numbers on the eve of the Arab conquest were probably a mix of folk mountain pagan, with a patina of Zoroastrianism among the elites. Additionally, modern Mazdaist Zoroastrianism is only a single stream, and one strongly shaped by its Islamic captivity.

And yet on some level, it makes sense that Kurds convert to Zoroastrianism to reconnect with their ancestral Iranian tradition. It is part and parcel of that tradition. Similarly, people of Muslim subcontinental background turning toward Sanata Dharma is not crazy, even if their ancestors were Buddhist or pagans of some sort.

But there’s a problem with “converting” to Hinduism: modern Hinduism is organized around jatis, and being Hindu means being part of the community, and membership in that community is a matter of birth, not choice. Someone who was raised a Muslim and converts to Hinduism can’t just join one of the many local jatis. Of course, there are devotional sects such as ISKON, but these are exceptions, not the rule.

Obviously the same problem occurs in Islam and Christianity. I have read of converts to Islam who were single talk about the difficulty of finding a spouse since they have no “connections” within the community, and being single as a Muslim convert can be very isolating. But, Islam has within it more of an acceptance, like Christianity, that conversion of individuals is possible and even meritorious. Hindus are more ambiguous and ambivalent.

In the premodern world, Hindu communitarianism was a good fit. But in a more individualistic world, it puts Hinduism at some disadvantage.

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Sikh Society: forged in the frontier

Before Samuel Huntington banalised the study of international relations with his Clash of Civilisations thesis, there was Halford Mackinder who attempted (unwittingly of course) to do the same with history – with his Geographical Pivot of History thesis. (I am perhaps being unfair to Mackinder with the comparison – more on this later.)

However, just like Huntington’s thesis despite being a flattening of history (similar to another forgotten intellectual’s attempts at flattening globalisation in its simplification of diversity of experiences – cultural for one, economic for the other) – in Mackinder’s Geographic Pivot there were glimmers of theoretical reasoning. The thesis was imperialist and reductionist but it has value if only in a literary sense. (This would appal Mackinder, since her built his ‘theory’ as a counter to literary historians of ideas.)

Mackinder’s foundational logic was – that geography provides a stage to men, or Man (as he would prefer) which determines the scope of their movements, entries and exits, in the various Acts (eras) in the long drama of History – was the core thesis that civilisations were either broken (and destroyed) by invasion or they were rejuvenated through resistance.

The European civilisational core, Mackinder said, a backwater in the western edge of the Eurasian peninsula after the fall of Rome, was rejuvenated by successive waves of resistance to Saracens (Arabs) and Turks, as raiders from the land, and Vikings, as raiders of the sea. The raiders of the land were especially important for this reading of history, as they came from the Heartland – the grand central steppe lands of Eurasia, riding grounds of the horselords of the World Island – who in successive waves of the turning of the wheel of time fell upon the marginal, or peninsular lands, of the Eurasian megacontinent.

The civilisations of Greece and Rome were shattered by them. China was forever changed, and only the turning of Kublai Khan to a symbiosis of Tengri-ism, Dharma and Sinicisation might have preserved a semblance of the past into posterity. India, too, was shattered by wave after wave of invasions out from the Heartland. India, too, survived. But to what extent? I will not even attempt to answer this!

I will restrict myself to a reading of history I proposed in a previous essay (Sangat and Society: the Sikh Remaking of the North Indian Public Sphere). I discussed how Guru Nanak’s founding of Kartarpur as a model Sikh-Sangatarian society was a response from below to the anarchy from above unleashed by Babur’s invasion of India. Guru Nanak had been eyewitness to the destruction caused by the internecine warfare of Turco-Mongolic Princes in Khurasan, or the wider edges of the Heartland where it transitioned into the Marginal lands (because on the peninsular margins of Eurasia.

Sangatarianism was a civilisational response of North Indian society to waves of invasions from the Heartland. This is, of course, the plainest reading of the Sikh idea of the Sangat. The Sikh Sangat was both a support structure for the unprotected and gradually a bulwark against invasion from ‘outside’ and rejuvenation from within.

These days Sikhs are gaining (well deserved) respect for the community’s response (especially through langar seva) as a civil society support structure in this time of crisis. This should not be surprising for those who know Sikh society was forged in crisis, and one could argue, as a response to it.

Sikhs know how to organise and respond in times such as these. Much of this is due to a spirit of ascendant existentialism (chad-di kala) rather than giving way to nihilism. Sikhs have been through many eras of persecution, but the spirit of ascendant existentialism has prevented the community from falling into chagrin. There is a proverb I will translate loosely, speaking of the persecutions of a Mughal provincial governor who had sanctioned Sikhs and proclaimed a reward of coins on Sikh heads. The persecuted Sikhs of the era, far from being cowed down made a song of this –

Manu is our scythe, we are his crop of wild weed,

The more he chops our heads, the more we grow indeed.

Ascendant Existentialism implies the acceptance of death, cultivating an attitude of readiness for death, but not allowing this to suppress the vital joy of life. This is crucial to the ethos of a frontier society.

Today, in a sense, the entire global community has become a frontier society – living precariously. For some people such as doctors and healthcare workers, even day to day. Maybe cultivating a spirit of ascendant existentialism can do us all some good.

Finally, to end this with my promise to ‘be fair’ to Mackinder. His view that external threat can sometimes revitalise civilisations is a solid proposition. To survive times of crisis, we need to draw on the best of ourselves. And if we do come out on the other side, it is, then, the best of us that survives. Now of course I’m not making some foolish survival of the fittest argument. The fittest is not necessarily the best, and vice versa. What, then, is our, as humanity, ‘best’ – at this stage in our civilisational history? We will find out on the other side, perhaps. Perhaps we already have.

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The gods of place

Two books recently have made me wonder about the insights into the development of religion and culture in the Indian subcontinent. The Final Pagan Generation: Rome’s Unexpected Path to Christianity explicitly makes an analogy to local Hindu gods and shrines to allow us to conceptualize what pre-Christian Roman religion was like. The whole city was the purview of the gods, and their presence pervaded the world. The Final Pagan Generation notes that even though the attack on grand public temples such as the Serapion at the end of the 4th century are salient and notable, even 100 years later Christian mobs were able to collect thousands of items of religious significance through Alexandria.

Recently I have been reading The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao. The author notes that though the great traditions of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, warrant public notice, the reality is that pre-modern Chinese religion was dominated by local gods, with numerous temples to the gods of a particular city, or a particular profession. Reviled as “superstition” in the early 20th century, these local gods and their shrines were torn down and destroyed first by the Nationalists, and later the Communists. 21st century China has only slowly been allow for the reemergence of this religious substrate.

One could argue that Abrahamic religions lack these organically developed local twists. But this is actually not true, as for Catholic Catholics saints and relics are a critical intermediary layer in their religious institution, and within many forms of Islam, the shrines of saints are critical. Rather, particular forms of Protestant Christianity and Salafist Islam are peculiar in their abstraction and rational decoupling from place.

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Cultural evolution at work!


‘God Will Protect Us’: Coronavirus Spreads Through an Already Struggling Pakistan:

And the extremist clerics who often heckle or march against the civilian government, with the tacit approval of the military, are refusing to help. They largely ignored Mr. Khan’s call to limit Friday prayer gatherings. And even after the military deployed to try to enforce a lockdown, several clerics made videos that went viral in recent days, urging Pakistanis to come back to the mosques to worship.

To avoid mosques on Fridays would only invite God’s wrath at a time when people need his mercy, the clerics warned.

“We cannot skip Friday prayers because of fears of coronavirus,” said Shabbir Chand, a trader who attended a packed service in Karachi, the country’s biggest city. “Instead, we should gather in even larger numbers in mosques to pray to God to protect us from this fatal disease.”

One of the major aspects of Islam that some Hindu nationalists are obviously jealous of is its seeming unitary cohesion. A hadith attributed to Muhammad is that “the Ummah shall not agree upon error.” And Muslims famously come together weekly to pray together.

But in a time of coronavirus, the fractured and somewhat antisocial aspect of Hindu religion may have some benefits.

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Pogrom in Kabul

Islamic State Attacks Sikh Temple in Kabul, Killing 25:

An Islamic State militant stormed a Sikh temple in the heart of Kabul, killing 25 worshipers and taking dozens of people hostage in a prolonged siege that once again exposed the ability of insurgents to carry out attacks in the Afghan capital.

Dozens of Sikh worshipers were gathering for morning prayers on Wednesday when a gunman stormed the temple, according to the Interior Ministry. Men, women and children scrambled out of the compound as the attacker moved through the temple. An Afghan security official initially said there were two gunmen, but the investigation later concluded there was only one.

Even in the time of pandemic they still stick to their old script…

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