The Problem Is Larger Than I Thought

The Problem Is Larger Than I Thought March 23, 2016

I spend so much time within my Hindu community that it’s easy for me to forget just how little most non-Indian Americans know about Hinduism. Every once in a while something happens that really opens my eyes to just how out of touch people are.

One example is a friend on FB posted this quote from an article (the actual premise of which I am totally on board with!): ” “God is not a Christian. God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindi or Buddhist. All of those are human systems, which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition. I walk through my tradition. But I don’t think my tradition defines God.””

I wrote, “Hindi, eh?” and my friend did not even know what I was getting at. But okay, at least we’re being included and I guess I can understand that it’s just one letter difference and people have trouble with that.

More distressing to me was when I went to see a play written and directed by a friend. He did a great job and I wanted to be supportive, but I was bothered by a character where there was some confusion over whether she was Muslim or Hindu.

Her name was Fatima Shah and she was wearing a headscarf. She was also wearing sparkly bindis over her eyebrows, which seemed ridiculously formal for her otherwise casual dress. So I brought that up to him and I found out that my friend had left the actress to do her own research on it and “the actress really wanted to look into being Hindu, but somewhat reformed.” He said she brought him research about the red bindi meaning marriage and since her character was just engaged they went with the sparkly one then they added more for stage presence.

So then I was even more disturbed! How could this character be Hindu? There was no way. It was too late to change anything for the show but I asked him to consult with me next time he wanted a South Asian character. As I often say, if I don’t have the right information I can find someone who does. Better that they ask than be misinformed.

It’s hard for me to face that one of my own close friends doesn’t understand the difference between Hindu and Muslim.

And I don’t know what the solution is. Are people going to learn somehow? Will there ever be a time when basic knowledge of world religions is a given?



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  • Aizlyne

    This can be chalked up in part to the terrible religious education we get in the United States. I don’t mean, religious education as in, teaching us how to be members of one religion or another, I just mean a basic course on world religions as a way of informing people. I was 25 years old before I learned anything concrete about Hinduism. Before that it was…oh there’s this Krishna guy and that friendly looking Elephant headed one.

    People just don’t know and many people are too lazy to care. I’m surprised that your friend did such a shoddy job of researching for his play though. Even if he was going for some kind of satire, you need to know enough to break the rules.

    I still think the best solution is to lead by example and gently correct when it comes to your attention. I try not to get overly offended by people’s ignorance because if you blow up in their face it just makes you look like the crazy one. Some things just aren’t worth getting offended by. A lot of people remain willfully ignorant because they honestly prefer the illusion. It’s easier, uncomplicated and more fun that actually putting in the effort to read a book or two.

    I saw a preview for a horror movie that’s going to come out soon called “The Other Side of the Door” which is basically Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom style stereotypes of Indians all over again. I was irritated at first seeing it, but then reminded myself that it’s just a crappy horror movie and anyone using it as a footnote to Hindus or India is an idiot. 😉

    In short, it’s good to be aware of, and for those close to you, you can take the opportunity to educate, but chose you’re battled wisely or you’ll always be on the war path.

    • Loren

      I agree. Plus, when you think about it, everyone is ignorant about a lot of things; you can say, well then educate yourself–true–but it’s impossible to have time to educate oneself about everything–even on a day to day basis when experiencing things. It’s easy to say how could someone not know such and such if we ourselves have studied it for awhile; we can’t expect everyone to know everything we know same as we can’t expect to know everything others know–even if it is important as religion as there isn’t enough time to learn even only all the very important things in life.

      There are other things in the world I feel very strongly about and wonder why don’t people understand… and learn? But as Aizlyne said, just lead by example, educate politely. That’s all we can do, as their ignorance is their issue; by example and educating, we have done our part. What they do with it is up to them in their own time of growth.

      I’m amazed, considering Hinduism is such a large religion, that there isn’t that much information outside of the Internet. Even with festivals, I have to do some major digging to find out how to celebrate (even on major Hindu websites!), so I can see how the average person would find it hard to not only find information, but the correct information, or depending on the type of Hinduism/Gods one needs to study.

      So much to know! 🙂

      • Ambaa

        Definitely true that there are limitless number of things we should all be educated on!

        I’m just glad HAF is working on updating and encouraging better teaching about Hinduism in American schools.

    • Paul Julian Gould

      Very, very well-said, and thank you.

  • Liadan-Saoirse

    I honestly don’t expect people to know a ton about it, but if they’re going to try to talk about it (Hinduism or any other religion/culture) then they can at least TRY to make good use of the Google. Making yourself available to those who may have questions but aren’t sure how to ask is really the best thing to do.


    Teaching Hinduism in the school! It’s a good joke lol.

  • David Young

    Most Americans don’t know that Jews don’t believe in a heaven and that they don’t believe Jesus is the Son of god or the Messiah

    So it really is no surprise they no nothing about Hinduism, they barely know anything about their religion

    • Ambaa

      Wow. That is shocking too!

  • skyblue

    “Her name was Fatima Shah…”

    That character sounds so “off the mark” that it would distract from the play as people wonder “wait…what the heck?!” and if “Fatima’s” obviously unusual backstory will ever be explained, and if it is relevant to the plot. As Liadan-Saoirse commented, why not Google? Just a little web browsing would reveal some plausible names and clothing styles. Hopefully the author will do so next time.

    • Ambaa

      Seriously! But the other sad thing was I didn’t see anyone in the audience who was likely to notice. Of course I can’t judge on appearance alone, but it didn’t seem like there were any other Hindus there or anyone of Indian ethnicity. 🙁

      • skyblue

        You never know! Non-Indian or Hindu people may have some familiarity just due to friends/colleagues. There were quite a few Indian students at my high school (a club used to put on a big Diwali party that was popular with the general student body) so I think there was some “osmosis” learning for everyone, so to speak. 🙂

    • Vineet Menon
      • skyblue

        That’s certainly true, as well as Fatima being a common Muslim first name. In the description above, she also wears a headscarf along with her bindi and generally sounds like maybe someone with an interesting background in both Hinduism and Islam, but that wasn’t the author’s intention, sounds like they were just confused about writing a Hindu character.

  • Anam Khan