Islam in the eyes of Dalai Lama

by Balbir K Punj, The Pioneer, April 22, 2006

New Delhi, India -- What can be more astonishing between a saint confusing people and a rogue speaking the truth? Two such unexpected observations became media bytes recently.

 <<  The Dalai Lama speaks on the need for tolerance and understanding of Islam in San Francisco

The Dalai Lama, on a month-long trip to the US and South America, said at San Francisco and Chicago that Islam is a religion of compassion which is being unfairly marginalised by few extremists. Ye Xiaowen, the Director of State Administration for Religious Affairs, recently said that Buddhism can reduce social divisions in China better than Islam and Christianity, adding Buddhism can help believers cope with fast-changing society plagued by wealth gap and social unrest.

In the past, the Dalai Lama has criticised both Christianity and Islam for their evangelisation and conversion programmes. Communist China has persecuted all religions including Buddhism. But now, faced with Christian evangelisation and Islamic resurgence, China wants to promote Buddhism, which is also in sync with the ageless Chinese ethos. Intriguingly, Buddhism can help cope with psychological problems amongst people of China, the country with highest execution and suicide rate.

I hold the Dalai Lama in the highest esteem. However, his certification of Islam left me bewildered. It might be true that only a minuscule section of Muslims is indulging in suicide bombing. But why is this section not inspired to work among the sick, poor, illiterate and lepers like Christians? The answer would seem to lie in the analysis of the lives of Jesus Christ and Mohammed, which adherents of the respective religions follow. Why is there a difference between Yasser Arafat and the Dalai Lama when both Palestine and Tibet are "occupied territories"?

I was going through the schedule of the Dalai Lama's forthcoming tours on his website. After visiting the US, he is going to Latin America, then Belgium before returning to India. He then goes to France and the US. Early this year, he visited Israel where he addressed an audience at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. But does he visit Islamic countries like Syria, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan? Will he be heard in these countries the way he is in Europe and America? Israelis visit Dharamsala in droves. But do Arabs visit him? It is the same story with Hindu monks as well, who fly from India to England, France and the US (leaving the stretch between Pakistan and Morocco).

There can be no bitter irony than a Buddhist monk defending Islam as religion of compassion. Except for mountainous pockets like Ladakh, Tibet and the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Buddhism disappeared from India under the sword of Islam. BR Ambedkar, who later embraced Buddhism along with his followers, writes in the essay, 'The Decline and Fall of Buddhism', "There can be no doubt that the fall of Buddhism in India was due to the invasions of the Musalmans. Islam came out as the enemy of the 'but'. The word 'but', as everybody knows, is an Arabic word and means an idol. Not many people, however, know what the derivation of the world 'but' is. 'But' is the Arabic corruption of Buddha. Thus the origin of the word indicates that in Moslem mind idol worship had come to be identified with the Religion of Buddha. To the Muslims, they were one and the same thing. The mission to break the idols thus became the mission to destroy Buddhism. Islam destroyed Buddhism not only in India but wherever it went. Before Islam came into being, Buddhism was the religion of Bactria, Parthia, Afghanistan, Gandhar and Chinese Turkestan, as it was of the whole of Asia. In all these countries Islam destroyed Buddhism... (Writings and Speeches, Vol 3, p 230)

He continues: "The Musalman invaders sacked the Buddhist Universities of Nalanda, Vikramsila, Jagaddala, Odantipur to name a few. They razed to the ground Buddhist monasteries with which the country was studded. The monks fled away in thousands to Nepal, Tibet and other places outside India. Muslim commanders killed a very large number outright. How the Buddhist priesthood perished by the sword of the Muslim invaders has been recorded by the Muslim historians themselves...".

Seen in this light the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha by the Taliban in February 2001 does not seem out of place. Smashing the head of Brahma in Thao Maha Brahma or Phra Phrom Erawan Shrine in Bangkok on March 21, the "mentally disturbed" Muslim youth who did it, proved there is a method in this madness. It reflects the atavistic iconoclastic behaviour of Islam. The tragedy of Chakmas (Buddhists) in CHT is also on predictable lines. It will be interesting to know whether the Buddhists of Ladakh and CHT too feel Islam as a religion of compassion.

Peace Campaign Group (PCG) is a New Delhi-based organisation run by Chakmas, who are Buddhist monks as well, but who fled Bangladesh due to Islamic persecution in the early 1990s. They later obtained Indian citizenships and now actively focus on human rights violation in CHT. PCG recently demanded a Darfur-like UN intervention in CHT, which has been a victim of Islamic demographic aggression, systematically carried out by Bangladesh. Bhante Bhikkhu Prajnalankar, general secretary of PCG, travels around the world on a shoestring budget, to highlight the plight of his people in Bangladesh. A monk, he has no inclination to teach the world Zen and Nirvana. Pursuing Nirvana, he says, will not help when the ground beneath your feet is taken away.

Buddhist Thailand is more aware. It has a no-nonsense approach towards the Islamic secessioism in the south - Narathiwat, Pattani, Songhkla and Yala. Buddhists civilians are frequent targets of Muslim attacks in Narathiwat province of Thailand. But the Thai Government's approach is as decisive as it could be in a democracy. On October 26, 2004, Thailand police entered a historic mosque in Pattani where recalcitrant elements had made a stronghold, and flushed them out. Seventy-eight detained Muslims perished, many of them crushed and suffocated, after hundreds of detainees were loaded in two trucks. Thailand rejected any UN probe into the massacre of Islamist militants in southern Thailand.

Buddhism is a compassionate religion; with its stress on non-violence, it was ill-prepared to meet Islam militarily. The Dalai Lama's comments reminds me of Gandhi, whose message of compassion found no takers amongst Muslims. Speaking about Gandhi's tour of England during Second Round Table Conference, Subhas Chandra Bose said, "During his stay in England, he had to play two roles in one person, the role of a political leader and that of a world-teacher. Sometimes he conducted himself not as a political leader who had come to negotiate with the enemy, but as a master who had come to preach a new faith - that of non-violence and world-peace." (The Indian Struggle 1920-1942, p 252). The Dalai Lama is playing world teacher, more than Tibetan supreme leader, and this time he has gone overboard.