What are the perspectives for the dialogue between Buddhism and Islam?
I think that there are great possibilities. I’ve been involved with this dialogue for perhaps the last twelve years, since around 1997. Travelling around in parts of the Islamic world, I’ve found that people there are very hungry for information. Very often they tell me, “Please tell everybody we’re not all terrorists.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has put a great deal of emphasis on bringing about religious harmony, especially reaching out to the Muslim world. He emphasizes that what we need is education to know about each other’s beliefs, without any intention or wish to convert each other. There are certain beliefs that we definitely have different views about, but there’s no point or benefit to focus on that. We need to respect each other’s beliefs, try to understand and appreciate how each religion’s beliefs help the people who follow them, and work together to emphasize the things that we have in common. This is particularly with regard to the emphasis on basic ethics, what His Holiness calls “universal values.”
We need to work in this way toward peace and harmony, what everybody wants. This means including the Muslims in whatever we do, and never have the attitude of “we” against “you.” Having, for instance, the Buddhism and Islam section of my website translated into the Islamic languages, even though maybe not many people will read it in those languages, is nevertheless a sign of respect to the Muslims. Showing respect is extremely, extremely important and something that His Holiness the Dalai Lama encourages and supports.
In the work that I’ve done on the history of the relations between these two cultures, Buddhist and Islam, I’ve tried to present a more objective picture and not just repeat old propaganda that the Muslims just destroyed everything in India that was Buddhist. Such presentations of history depict the Muslim conquerors as just religious fanatics, but they had objectives and motives like any other conquering people: money, power, etc. Instead, we need to point out and emphasize the positive contributions that each culture has made to each other: from the Muslims we get so much of our modern science, etc. The more that we emphasize these positive contributions of the Muslim cultures and include them with respect in all that we do, then I think the prospects are very good for cooperation. I’ve found the Muslim leaders that I’ve had the honor to meet and to discuss these issues extremely open to this approach.