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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The rise of Islam after 1500 in the Indian subcontinent

For me, Richard Eaton’s The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760, is the best analysis of the peculiar spatial distribution of religion in South Asia today. This is not because Eaton’s work is without flaw, or beyond reproach. It is because few have made as concerted an effort to analyze this issue in a dispassionate manner.

The map to the right shows the proportion of Muslims within united Bengal in ~1870 by region. The outlines of Bangladesh and West Bengal are already clear. That being said, one feature that seems clear is that the more marginal areas are curiously mostly Muslim (e.g., the far southeast). Eaton’s broad argument, following upon others, is a consequence of the fact that these areas came under intensive cultivation only during the Mughal period, and therefore under the aegis of Muslim elites. Therefore, the local peasantry took up a nominal Muslim identity as a matter of course. To reinforce the mechanism, Eaton points out that there are noted cases of villages founded by Hindu zamindars in the east where Hindu shrines were built, and the peasants nominally adhered to the sect of Hinduism professed by the zamindar.

The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760 is fully available online. I encourage you to read it. One thing that is now clearer to me again after reading it is that Islam as a religious identity of the peasantry of eastern Bengal is a notable feature only after the Mughal conquest of 1576. Visitors to Bengal from other regions before this date mention Muslims only as residents of cities and towns. Additionally, these Muslims often have some foreign connection, whether it be Afghan, Turk, or Persian. As far as the rural people go, none are mentioned as Muslim. Some of them described in eastern Bengal also seem likely to have been Tibeto-Burman in origin. They are described as “beardless”, and Muslim commentators assert they are neither the religion of India nor are they Muslims.

After 1600 visitors began to observe large numbers of Muslims in places such as the lands on either side of the Meghna river. In contrast, observers of the Hooghly basin note that all the inhabitants are Hindus (e.g., a Jesuit declares they are all “idolaters”).

In another paper Eaton analyzes Punjab. While the Islamicization of Bengal was driven by small mosques and shrines in newly founded hamlets, Eaton argues that in western Punjab Islamcization was driven by the transition of pastoralist Jatts to farming, and their settlement around charismatic Sufi shrines. But, he presents data that suggests that this process of Islamization was gradual and somewhat later than the present-day Muslims assert. Siyal Jatts of Jhang in northern Punjab assert they have been Muslim since 1250. But a record of names of notables from this community suggests this is unlikely.

Islamicization began in the period between 1400 and 1500. But the shift from Punjabi names to self-conscious Muslim names did not complete in totality until 400 years had passed.

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South Asian Muslim ancestors were idolaters!

An argument that emerges now and then on this website has to do with the nature of the ancestors of Indian (South Asian) Muslims. Where they Hindus? Much hinges on semantics. The term “Hindu” after all simply meant Indian in the days of yore, so by definition, they were.

On the other hand, Hindu today denotes a set of beliefs, practices, and identities, which exists at counterpoint with the confessions of Islam, sects like Jainism and Sikhism, and the dharmic world religion of Buddhism. To say that the ancestors of Muslims were Hindus may not give the correct impression due to the fact that that implies a level of fidelity to practices and beliefs which we today recognize as Hindu. Even setting aside the fact that substantial numbers may have been adherents of counter-cultural sects such as Buddhism, many of the threads of contemporary Hinduism developed in situ in the Indian subcontinent at the same time as many regions became predominantly Muslim.

And yet I think I have come to an elegant and accurate solution to this problem: those of us of Muslim origin or belief should simply admit that we were the descendants of idolators. Whether Buddhist, caste Hindu, or animistic peasant, from a Muslim perspective all these groups are idolators.

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Welcome back Mahathir Mohamad, Hero of Asia! (a)

This is a follow up to:

Welcome back Mahathir Mohamad, Hero of Asia!

Rishabh Gulat–who I respect greatly has a different take on Datuk Mahathir Mohamad, Hero of Asia, than I do. Some argue that Datuk Mahathir has recently shifted his policy and allied with conservative Wahhabi (subset of Salafi, subset of Sunni) muslims, MBS, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan against India. Mr. Gulat implies that Datuk Mahathir is backing Brown Pundit favorite Dr. Zakir Naik against India:

Please watch Mr. Gulat and come to your own conclusions.

The Indian Malays (7% of the population, 15% of the professional workforce, 40% of all Malaysian doctors, economic engine that moves Malaysia) are rallying the opposition to Datuk Mahatir. Mr. Gulat thinks the global Indian diaspora and global Eastern philosophy diaspora (presumably inclusive of Confucians, Toaists and Chinese) should back the Indian Malays in this.

I need to do a lot more research before proposing an alternative course of action. But here is a question. Can the Indian Malays, global Indian diaspora, global Eastern Philosophy, global Muraqabah tilted Sunnis and Shia and global liberal muslims unite and offer Datuk Mahathir Mohammed an offer he can’t refuse?:

There are many great and powerful Indian and Indonesian muslims–friends of PM Modi–who can make the offer.

As an aside, many Brown Pundits readers know Dr. Zakir Naik fanboy and heart throb Veedu Vidz. Please ask him to come on the Brown Pundits Podcast!

Mr. Rishabh Gulat is a great thought leader and expert on Indonesia, Malaysia and South East Asia more generally. He says that India and Indonesia should make a civilizational, cultural, economic and geopolitical alliance. Is there an interest in the Brown Pundits Podcast interviewing Mr. Rishabh Gulat?

Please let us know in the comments.

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Being different is not bad

Having read a fair portion of Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, I can state now that it’s a book worth reading. The author, Rajiv Malhorta, expresses a distinctively Indian religio-cultural view coherently, clearly, and with a substantial foundation of scholarship.

In this way, I would suggest that Malhorta’s work is analogous to Tariq Ramadan’s exposition of a conservative Muslim world-view that is aware of, and engages with, Western values and traditions.

The main difference is that Ramadan’s work is more academic, which makes sense since he is trained as a classical European intellectual. In contrast, the main nagging issue I have with Malhotra’s work so far is that he regularly imputes elements of Western American Protestant culture and civilization to the Abrahamic traditions writ large. This makes sense since Malhotra’s biography suggests much of his adult life was in the United States. But whenever he writes “Judeo-Christian” about 75% of the time it makes more sense to write “American Protestant”, since that is really what the term is pointing to.

I assume that in the broad conclusions Malhotra and I come down on different positions. But the outlines of the methods and arguments he uses are quite familiar and intelligible, and that’s a nice change from other things that I have read.

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Sangat and Society: the Sikh remaking of the North Indian Public Sphere

[Author’s note: With the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th Anniversary and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor being in the news, this is an opportunity for discussing the importance of the Sikh message, not just from a religious perspective – for Sikhs – but for Indian history. This article places the founding of Kartarpur, and Guru Nanak’s message, in a historical context – juxtaposing it with Babur’s founding of the Mughal Empire.]

I. Turning of the Wheel: Baba Nanak and Babur

In 1519, Babur invaded India – ‘ever since coming to Kabul we had been thinking of a Hindustan campaign, but for one reason or another it had not been possible,’ he writes in the Baburnama (translated by William Thackston, see pp 270-280). For some time his armies had been campaigning on the frontiers of the Hindu Kush, but these campaigns had yielded ‘nothing of consequence to the soldiers’. So, he turned to Hindustan. In the next few months, despite dogged resistance by the Afghans, Gujjars and Jats of the upper reaches of the Jhelum and Chenab, northern Punjab was subjugated, and plundered, by Babur’s armies. Babur himself spent most of his days inebriated, contemplating the legacy of Timur and setting poems to rhythmic metres. While his next great invasion of Punjab would come few years from then, in this interregnum, Punjab burned.

Among the towns and villages devastated was the settlement of Sayyidpur.

It was not long after Babur’s march of death through Punjab that Guru Nanak returned home from his western voyages – to Mecca, through Baghdad, Masshad, Khurasan, to Kabul, Peshawar, and, finally, to Sayyidpur. To the house of a humble carpenter, Bhai Lalo (Janam Sakhi Parampara by Kirpal Singh, pp 138-140). Continue reading “Sangat and Society: the Sikh remaking of the North Indian Public Sphere”

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American Caste (b)

America has a national crisis in math capacity, competence and merit. American students sharply underperform students in many countries all over the world. Including Vietnam, which is a poorer country than India per capita. We will heavily refer to the 2018 OECD PISA report in below paragraphs, but the below chart graphic is from the 2015 OECD PISA scores report because math scores are reported for more countries in the 2015 report. Perhaps the 2018 report will be revised to add more countries in the future:

In my view  a level 5 PISA score is the minimum requirement for a person to be considered a high school graduate who is literate in math, able to function in the modern global economy, or be qualified to attend college. The PISA report defines a level 5 PISA score or better as a fifteen year old that “can model complex situations mathematically, and can select, compare and evaluate appropriate problem-solving strategies for dealing with them.” How does America perform in the 2018 PISA report?:

  • United States: 8% of students scored at Level 5 or higher in mathematics
  • OECD average: 11%
  • Six Asian countries and economies had the largest shares of students who did so:
    • Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China): 44%
    • Singapore: 37%
    • Hong Kong (China): 29%
    • Macao (China): 28%
    • Chinese Taipei: 23%
    • Korea: 21%

Note that these six countries were among the poorest countries in the world in the 1950s, far poorer than poor Americans or poor Europeans or poor Chileans can even imagine. In 1979 China was unbelievably poor. Much of the population of China–perhaps as many as 100 million–had starved to death because of extreme poverty in the 1970s. Poor children around the world are outperforming American children in mathematics despite extremely low education spending per student and very low socio-economic level of their legal guardians, where socio-economic level is defined as:

  • income
  • wealth
  • formal education of parents

Do any American high school student subgroups perform well in Mathematics? Yes, “people of color” or “minority” Americans perform well in Mathematics. America’s “people of color” or “minority” students are orders of magnitude more likely to get an 800 on the mathematics SAT than European Americans. If we assume this is an extreme tail end distribution issue related to European Americans having a lower standard deviation and non standard distribution in mathematics performance relative to “people of color” or “minority” Americans, we can explore the breakdown of Americans who score between 750 and 800 on the Mathematics SAT. Here European Americans perform far better relative to “people of color” or “minority” Americans.  In 2015 16,000 European Americans scored 750 or higher. 33,000 “people of color” and “minority” Americans scored 750 or higher. We further know that 51% of SAT test takers were European Americans and 49% were “people of color” or “minority” Americans.  “People of color” or “minority” Americans are [33,000/16,000]*[51%/49%] or 2.15 times as likely to score 750 or higher on the mathematics SAT compared to European Americans.  If we examine the 107,900 test takers who got SAT math scores of 700 or higher; 59,900 are “people of color” or “minority” Americans, versus 48,000 European Americans. “People of color” or “minority” Americans are [59,900/48,000]*[51%/49%] or 1.30 times as likely to score 700 or higher on the mathematics SAT compared to European Americans. For data junkie geeks like me there is a lot more data on SAT math score distributions here and here. The Greta Anderson article’s comment section in particular has some very intelligent commentators who have studied the American SAT score distribution. This is likely to be the subject of many future blog posts and Brown Pundits Podcasts.

What about this is worrying?:

  1. European Americans in particular are sharply under-performing both very poor children around the world and “people of color” and “minority” Americans in mathematics.
  2. American mathematics SAT scores have fallen between 1972 and 2016. 1972 is the earliest year for which I could find comparable SAT mathematics scores. In 2017, 2018 and 2019 the SAT mathematics exam was completely restructured to make scores no longer comparable to SAT mathematics scores between 1972 and 2016.
  3. 90% or more of current jobs and businesses are likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI), brain electro-therapy (meditation . . . practiced by civilizations around the world for over 5,000 years), brain sound therapy (naad or mantra yoga and their equivalents in Native American, Egyptian, Sumerian, Taoist and other civilizations around the world for over 5,000 years), bio-engineering tissue, genetic editing, and fused AI-brain interface synthesis intelligence. Almost all of these future disciplines are complementary to mathematics.

Future articles and podcasts are planned all six of these future disciplines. If you are curious about fused AI-brain interface synthesis intelligence, please watch my main man Elon Musk:

Some say that the tension and relationship challenges between America’s four big castes–European Americans, European “Latino” Americans, Black Americans and Asian American–are driving low math scores for European Americans “AND” other Americans. One example is where thought leader Mark J Perry explores the possibility that tension between the European American caste and the Asian American caste are lowering American  mathematics performance. Excerpts of his article are reproduced below:

Continue reading “American Caste (b)”

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Why Indian Muslims are in India not of India

Reading Seshat History of the Axial Age chapters on India was a bit unsatisfying due to a lack of detail. But if you are looking for high-level historiography, it’s not a bad volume. It’s most definitely a good “sourcebook” on the literature.

Because of its general and cross-cultural focus, I began considering why Indian Muslims seem so immiscible. This is, in contrast to various other groups that moved into India. One might bring up “Scythians”, but more appropriate I think might be the Ahom of Assam. They were originally Buddhists of a sort, but eventually, they became Hindu, though they retain some Buddhist rituals.

So what’s the difference? Clearly one simple difference is that Buddhism and Hinduism are both Dharmic, so the barriers between the two traditions are lower and the boundary more fluid than between Islam and Dharmic traditions. This obvious in Sri Lanka, and also in Myanmar, where the remaining Indians of Hindu origin have mostly switched their religious affiliation to Buddhism, and in Thailand, where there are native Brahmins who perform rituals at the royal court.

But I think there’s a bigger difference: India was a land of opportunity for Muslims from West and Central Asia. The constant stream of officials, soldiers, and religious eminences mean that attempts to synthesize and assimilate Indian Muslims in the same way possible with earlier peoples were going to run into the counter-force of immigrants and transplants who would constantly demanding that Indian Muslims conform to world normative Islamic practices and beliefs. One illustration of this is the role of the Naqshbandi order in demanding that Muslim rulers not stray and that Hindus and Muslims should not mix excessively.

The only work that addresses the possibility of assimilation and synthesis in detail that I know of is Dominique-Sila Khan’s Crossing the Threshold: Understanding Religious Identities in South Asia. In the wake of the mass migration of Muslim Turks and Afghans under the Delhi Sultanate, a large number of Indians became Muslim, of various sorts. But with the decay of the Delhi Sultanate, and the decentralization of power and rule, Dominique-Sila Khan outlines her thesis that many Muslim and Hindu groups experimented with beliefs and practices which were synthetic, creating liminal identities. With the rise of the Mughal Empire and its integrative tendency, as well its excellent connections to the “Islamic international,” the liminal groups were forced into more standard and distinct confessional identities.

One unsurprising aspect of this is that demands for orthodoxy from the Sunni Muslims hit various Shia groups, in particular, ghulat sects among the Ismailis, particularly hard. Though forced conversions of Hindus no doubt occurred, we know for a fact that there was a systematic campaign to convert whole groups of Ismailis in regions such as Gujarat to Sunni Islam. These campaigns were on the whole successful.

Can we test my hypothesis that exogenous interaction and contact explain the relative lack of assimilation of Muslims into the Indian-Hindu identity? Yes. But not with India. Rather, there were multiple instances in China where small Muslim groups lost contact with the “outside world” (that is, Muslims in Central Asia). These groups at the elite levels became strongly influenced by Confucianism, and at the popular level took elements resembling Pure Land Buddhism. Though some Muslims were absorbed into Chinese folk religious milieu, the heterodox sects never became a new religion on the Chinese scene. Why? Because periodically contact would be reestablished with Muslims from Central Asia (again, the Naqshbandi order played a big role here), and deviations would be purged.

There is a final example that illustrates what happens to distinctive religions when they are totally isolated. In the early 17th-century, Japan banned Christianity and isolated itself from the rest of the world. But small groups of Catholic Christians maintained their identity in secret. These “Hidden Christians” were rediscovered in the 19th-century. The majority became conventional Catholics…but a minority remained “Hidden Christians”, and had taken on many elements of Japanese folk religion, as well as Pure Land Buddhism.

Can Islam than ever be indigenized in South Asia? Ask the Persians how easy it is to take Arabicity out of Islam…

Update: I suggest in the comments below that the foreign dominance among South Asia’s Muslim elites served to prevent the conversion of native elites.

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