Hinduism and Islam

Peter Gottschalk

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Hinduism and Islam

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For some observers, two religions could not be more distinct than Hinduism and Islam. As Westerners have reported for centuries—and as some Hindus and Muslims themselves still explain—one tradition venerates images while the other eschews them, one reveres cows while the other sacrifices them, one embraces multiple deities while the other accepts only one. Such oversimplifications, of course, rely upon reified notions of “Hinduism” and “Islam,” presuming each to be a self-sufficient, mutually exclusive “religion” (a term some have argued does not apply to Hindu traditions) that declares to, demands of, and determines for its members as though an actor itself. More recent scholarship has attempted to focus instead on those who identify as Hindus and Muslims, many of whom draw on the same religious register in regard to local superhuman agents (e.g., ascetics, ghosts, demons), regional devotional sites (e.g., Sufi tombs), and general religious language (e.g., khuda, bhagwan, shakti, takat). Although some Hindus and Muslims—especially those recognized by their communities as religious authorities—argue for a strict orthodoxy and/or orthopraxy, their conclusions cannot be taken as universal. In this regard, ethnographic research has been particularly enlightening, since it has demonstrated both the impossibility of rigidly defining each tradition and the imprudence of presuming either tradition to be essentially uniform. Moreover, the religiously bifurcated view of South Asia promoted by Britons throughout their two centuries of direct and indirect rule needs to be placed within a politico-historical context, taking into account the influence of both British secular and Christian commitments. This includes the overall reliance of Britons and other Westerners on Hindu and Islamic authorities to establish essential, definitive qualities for each tradition and an associated literary canon, despite ample evidence accumulated by officials and civilians of religious intermixing and overlap. Such complexities challenged clear lines of identity and demarcation. Naturally, the catastrophic communalist violence that culminated in the partition of the subcontinent as Pakistan and India appeared to reaffirm the British perspectives that contributed to its precipitation, even as it evidenced the various other social, political, and economic dynamics long at play in South Asia. Nevertheless, the political, social, and religious engagements of Pakistanis, Indians, and (later) Bangladeshis continue to undermine the supposedly self-evident conclusions regarding Hinduism and Islam’s purportedly inherent antipathies, even as similar and divergent dynamics emerge in the global South Asian diaspora.

Article.  13622 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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