Interfaith Dialogue between Islam and Buddhism  Absolute Necessity

HomeCover Story

Interfaith Dialogue between Islam and Buddhism Absolute Necessity

UN makes March 15 International Day to Combat Islamophobia
ABU DHABI:The recent inauguration of the BAPS temple in Abu Dhabi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlights an interesting irony. This grand temple stands in the Muslim-majority UAE, where secularization is on the rise. This event comes shortly after the inauguration of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir in India. While Modi’s government in India blurs the lines between the state and Hindu faith and undermines minority rights, the UAE moves in the opposite direction. The UAE’s secularization, influencing Saudi Arabia as well, is a significant development in the Islamic world. This shift challenges India’s secular values. The UAE has attracted people of various religions and backgrounds to live and work there. Despite Islam being the official religion, the government allows diverse religious practices. Non-Muslims, forming a quarter of the population, have space to worship freely, with many churches, a synagogue, and a gurdwara present. Hindu gatherings and celebrations are also welcomed. The UAE’s tolerance extends beyond religion. Alcohol and pork are available, and Ramadan fasting rules are relaxed. Women have freedom in dress, and discrimination based on religion is rare. These progressive attitudes influence neighboring Saudi Arabia, where Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is spearheading modernization efforts by reducing Islamic influence and cutting support for radical groups worldwide. This trend towards secularization in the UAE and potentially Saudi Arabia marks a significant shift in the Islamic world. For India, reduced Saudi funding for conservative mosques could lead to a return to moderate religious guidance for Indian Muslims. The UAE’s example challenges the Hindu nationalist dream of a Hindu majoritarian state, often compared to Saudi Arabia’s treatment of non-Muslims. Modi, at the temple inauguration, praised the UAE’s diversity, contrasting India’s fading secularism. As Hindu residents in UAE face this contrast, it prompts reflection on India’s trajectory. The writer, a private equity investor, emphasizes the importance of embracing diversity and secular values in both countries.

A stimulating lecture on the subject of, ‘The Interfaith Dialogue Between Islam and Buddhism’ was delivered by Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf in Washington, DC, organized by Dr. Zulfiqar Kazmi. Dr. Kazmi is an internationally known scholar, International Affairs Analyst, Dialogue expert, and the founder and Executive Director of The CommonGrounds USA.

Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf is currently a non-resident Research Fellow at the Center for Contemporary Islamic World (CICW), Shenandoah University, Leesburg, USA. Formerly, he was an Associate Professor and the Coordinator for the Islamization of Knowledge Program and the Islam and Buddhism Program at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC-IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Dr. Yusuf specializes in the study of Religion with a focus on Muslim-Buddhist relations and dialogue, Islam in Thailand, and Southeast Asia.

Dr. Zulfiqar Kazmi, the host, thanked Dr. Yusuf for providing us an opportunity to disseminate the message of love from the quarterdeck of The CommonGrounds USA. He added, “I truly appreciate the service and leadership of respected Br. Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf Saheb for Peace perspectives. It’s a way to seek interreligious cooperation and help from other religions. A dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims is a unique subject and we must be thankful to Dr. Imtiyaz for his credible service.”

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Chairman of, the World Forum for Peace and Justice said that interfaith dialogue is essential to create an understanding between the followers of the different religions. In Islam, interfaith dialogue has never been about conversion but about conversation, communication, and exchange of ideas. The teachings of the al-Quran urge us to dialogue, even to argue with the people of the book but with two important caveats: one, with wisdom, and second in the best possible manner. It is only through dialogue, Dr. Fai stressed that our fellow countrymen could appreciate the message of peace that is Islam. Do our fellow countrymen know that when Muhammad was on the battlefield at Badr, Madinah, one of his golden rules was, ‘Do not destroy the temples and churches’, Fai asked?

Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf began his speech by emphasizing that the religions of Islam and Buddhism are different from each other in terms of their doctrinal and metaphysical understanding of the cosmos. Yet both have existed in a social relationship with each other for centuries. This co-existence has led to adopting an attitude of “live and let live” towards each other. There also have been instances of violence between the two religions as seen presently in southern Thailand.

Upon inquiry one finds that in most cases interreligious violence is often caused by non‐religious factors such as ethnicity and economics rather than religious or doctrinal differences. Since violent instances involve the use and exploitation of the concepts of religious differences by parties involved in the conflict, it requires us to pay attention to the need for dialogue to retrieve a deteriorating situation. This can be done by drawing attention to the history of relations, and the availability of tools for dialogue between the Buddhist and Muslim.

Dr. Yusuf emphasized that monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have coexisted with Buddhism in many parts of Asia for centuries. This led in the past to dialogue as well as misunderstanding between the two at the doctrinal and social levels. We need to initiate dialogue between Islam and Buddhism through the Islamic concept of ummatanwasaṭan (Middle Nation) and the Buddhist concept of majjhima-patipada (Middle Way) as a means to build understanding and harmony in Asian societies. The Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) as religious teachers explained to humanity what the true state is of being and how the illusions that drag humanity through darkness and injustice can be overcome. In this age of globalization when physical barriers between various societies in terms of material culture are virtually being eliminated there is an urgent need for dialogue between Islam and Buddhism.

Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf examined Islam’s view of Buddhism as a non‐theistic tradition, the history of relations between these two traditions, themes and issues in Muslim–Buddhist dialogue, and the implications of such dialogue for the contemporary religious scene. While Muslims and Buddhists have coexisted in different parts of the world, their exchange has been largely political, military, and economic, instead of doctrinal, and only a few scholars have studied the relations between the two traditions in any detail. The contemporary dialogue between Buddhism and Islam takes many forms. Some converts to Buddhism attempt to overcome the ethnic divides between Buddhists and Muslims and attempt to engage in a purely spiritual dialogue, leaving aside the historical and political relations between the two traditions.

Lastly, Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf concluded by saying that there are. two types of interreligious ignorance – One is when the followers of one religion do not know the other religion and the second is when one does not want to learn the religion of others. It’s up to us to make a choice.

Dr. William Selig, the director of communications for the Universal Peace Federation, a United Nations NGO, and a chaplain at the Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, VA, appreciated the scholarly work of Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf. He said we urgently need to work and explore a way of coexistence with the Buddhist community as we see it as the oldest religion and inspiration for faith-based communities. He mentioned the peace initiatives of The Common grounds and thankfully acknowledged the services of Dr. Kazmi to promote interreligious cooperation and dialogue globally. Dr. Selig said we’re grateful to Dr. Yusuf for his credible work and we may collaborate to promote it.

Mr. Yuji Yokohama and his wife expressed thanks for the invitation. He said that Dr. Yusuf seems to be a great person to relate to other religions and I am originally from Buddhist culture. I enjoyed listening to this enlightened scholar.