Humour and religion – Dr Manzur Ejaz


The Chinese and other Far-Eastern immigrant communities are the only ones who have been completely reticent about religious matters. Their organisations may voice concerns about civil rights or national but they rarely react if Buddhism or other religions of that area are mocked.

Finally, American-Hindus have caught up with other religious communities in being extremely protective of their symbolic and figurative presentation in the western media. While Muslims from the Indian sub-continent have led the pack, other religious communities have their own ways of reacting to their perceived image in the media.

Hindu religious groups have been protesting over a soon-to-be-released comedy film The Love Guru. They object to the presentation of Hinduism in a comical way.

The ‘love guru’ is a comic character who helps others with their love-life. Hindus have claimed that their religion has been slighted because the character is shown in traditional Indian yogi attire and is shown to have been trained in Hindu institutions.

The producers of the film deny such allegations claiming that the love guru is a humorous character, not representing any religion. However, Hindu organisations rebut with the argument that whenever an Indian has to be ridiculed in American media, the character is shown in a sari or dhoti. And so is the case with the love guru.

Hindu fundamentalist organisations have been on the rise in the US in tandem with the ascendancy of Bhartia Janta Party (BJP) and its parent outfit Rastriya Sevak Singh (RSS). Many human rights organisations, specifically representing minority religions in India, have been alleging that the US-based branches of BJP and RSS have been providing most of the funding for extremist causes resulting in Muslim massacres in Gujarat.

Human rights organisations have also been demanding that the US government investigate this matter but the Bush administration has largely ignored such pleas.

As a matter of fact, these organisations have been extremely quiet about their business. Such a strategy has allowed them to remain in the good books of the American public; the Muslims, on the other hand, have been disadvantaged because of their high profile concerns.

Incidentally, Sikhs have had their own share of extremist agendas. Besides their universal demand of wearing a turban and carrying a mini-sword, they have been fighting on other issues as well, some of them termed trivial. A few years back an issue arose in North American gurdwaras over whether langar could be served on chairs or not.

The traditionalists objected to the use of chairs as a violation of Gurus’ path while the modernists argued that old people could not sit on the floor mats because of health reasons. Several people were killed in gurdwaras in Canada and the US over this controversy. It is not clear how the issue was ultimately resolved.

Religious communities from the sub-continent are notorious for being too defensive when it comes to religion. However, the majority of religious communities from the US and Europe are not immune to this either. The only difference is that they are perhaps more subtle in these matters. Despite being much more tolerant over the mixing of humour and religion, they characterise attacks on Christianity as attacks on anti-western civilisation. The Jews too often make references to anti-Semitism.

Amazingly, the Chinese and other Far Eastern immigrant communities are the only ones who have been completely reticent about religious matters. Their organisations may voice concerns about civil rights or national but they rarely react if Buddhism or other religions of that area are mocked.

Probably, this is because religion is rarely used as a political tool in their region. One seldom hears about communal or sectarian riots in China, Japan or other Far Eastern nations notwithstanding the suppression of a few cults here and there.

One can hypothesise that the Chinese, Japanese and other countries of that region have out-grown the sub-continent and other Asian countries because of their liberal religious lifestyle.

On the other hand, the rise of religious fundamentalism in almost every religious community in the sub-continent, the West, and the Middle East has hampered socio-economic growth. The rise of religious fundamentalism in these areas is surely a symptom of some serious underlying social problem.

The writer can be reached at

June 28th, 2008

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