Fostering Buddhist-Muslim dialogue By sharwar hafeez yoonoos

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  • My heart always told me that even though outwardly Buddhism and Islam looked diametrically opposites, both shared similarities
  • I strongly believe in a cosmopolitan environment where one needs to know the beliefs of our fellow citizens since the religion we are born by default will anyhow be inculcated and practiced


I was one of those fortunate students to have commenced my education at a leading Muslim School and then completing it at a leading Buddhist Institution in Colombo.
My initial footing at Zahira College gave me a deep insight into Islamic history, along with my religious upbringing. My final 3-4 years at Ananda College allowed me to associate with my Buddhist schoolmates and know about Buddhism and receive the initial spark.

It never occurred to me that I was mingling with 6500 plus Buddhist students. Brotherhood and compassion were
always cherished.
My heart always told me that even though outwardly Buddhism and Islam looked diametrically opposites, both shared similarities. I always felt that there were many common factors and beliefs since I was exposed to both religions equally from an early age.

Concerns and plea

Human beings can never live in isolation. They will find it difficult to understand the true meaning of humanity if they fail to appreciate the society they live in.
It is only through social interactions that we can learn about the differences and similarities of our fellowmen. The more we interact, the more it gives us opportunities to understand more about other people in terms of their faiths, beliefs, personalities, cultural habits and many other important aspects that reflect the dynamics of social relations.
The Sri Lanka 2012 Census figures show that Buddhists were 70.2% and Muslims comprised 9.71% of the population.

It is so unfortunate that Muslims do not know much about Buddhism. When they see a Buddhist paying respects to Gautama Buddha, they think they are worshiping Gautama Buddha. Buddha himself denied that he is not God, just like Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who also said that he isn’t God.
We find that no efforts are being taken on political leadership or religious leadership to come together and understand each other.  For me, Gautama Buddha and Muhammad (PBUH) are our liberators of humanity. Both espoused for equality and justice and the removal of exploitation of human beings.
Because of political situations and political conditions, there isn’t much dialogue taking place. I would say dialogue is even very far. There are no attempts at understanding each other.

Before I take you further through my facts and findings I would like to make a request to Heads of educational institutions/schools that are in the mainstream Buddhist/Christian/Hindu/Muslim, to consider my recommendation to have a broad-based subject called Religious Studies in its curriculum.
The Government education authority should introduce the teaching of the major religions practiced in Sri Lanka. Learning such an important subject from an early age will create love and understanding. And most of all, it would create a great sense of tolerance and appreciation of other faiths and beliefs, unfortunately lacking in this day and age.

With a morally educated society, this could most certainly prevent the short-term exploits made by a few radical and political groups, to create friction and dividing gullible persons along religious lines, in a country that has lived in harmony for so long.
I strongly believe in a cosmopolitan environment where one needs to know the beliefs of our fellow citizens since the religion we are born by default will anyhow be inculcated and practiced.

Two great personalities 

As we know Prince Siddhartha was born in 623 B.C. in the famous gardens of Lumbini to a Royal family. He was exceptionally intelligent and compassionate. Tall, strong, and handsome, he belonged to the Shathriya Caste. It was predicted that he would become either a great king or a spiritual leader. But when he got bored of the indulgences of royal life, the prince wandered into the world in search of understanding. After encountering an old man, an ill man, a corpse and an ascetic he was convinced that suffering lay at the end of all existence.

He renounced his princely title and became a monk, depriving himself of worldly possessions in the hope of comprehending the truth of the world around him. Siddhartha went into isolation to the forest to meditate at the age of 29 leaving his wife and son. It took 6 years for him to achieve enlightenment at the age of 35 after meditating for 59 days continuously, where he finally understood how to be free from suffering, and ultimately, to achieve salvation. Following this epiphany, Gautama was known as the Buddha, meaning the “Enlightened One.”
Muhammad (PBUH) Prophet of Islam was born in Makkah in the year 570 and from the ruling Hashim clan, of the affluent tribe of Quraysh. Muhammad (PBUH) used to meditate in a cave named “Hira” in the Mount An-Nur, close to Makkah on regular basis. He was married at the age of 25 and received his first revelation from Almighty Allah at the age of 40.

Both Gautama Buddha and Muhammad (PBUH) had comforts in their respective ways, but were saddened by the social ills and the world around them. This made them isolate themselves. Knowing the fact that nothing was permanent in this journey of life and they wanted to discover the truth.
This seems to be the first similarity we notice of the two great messengers who brought peace and tranquility to mankind.

Buddhists and Muslims of Serendib 

Buddhists and Muslims have lived in harmony for the past 1300 years.
The first mention of Arabs appears to be in the “Mahavansa” account during the reign of King Pandukabhaya, who offered land to the Yonas (Muslims) in Anuradhapura.
Before the end of the 7th Century, Muslim merchants had established themselves in the country. Captivated by the scenic splendor and beauty and the traditions associated with Adams Peak, Muslim merchants arrived in large numbers, some of whom who decided to settle in the island encouraged by the cordial treatment they received by the local rulers and the mainly Buddhist community. Those eligible men married local women, and it is my firm belief that the majority of us are descendants of those Muslim pioneers.

Also, when we read history, we discover that the Portuguese, Dutch and British were colonialists ruled the country for their political and economic advantage. On the contrary, the Arabs were only focused on trading activities and making peace with the respective nations with whom they touched based.
Masjid Al Abrar situated in Beruwala is the first Muslim Mosque of Sri Lanka built in 920 AD, apparently by Arab traders who frequented Sri Lanka by sea.

A simple visible similarity 

The photos carried with this article show the attire with right shoulder exposed and those wearing them with shaven heads.
Muslim men are expected to don the cloth (as shown) and shave their heads at the time of rituals during their pilgrimage to perform Hajj.
Have we given a thought to how these similarities came to effect?

Number 25

It is coincidental that according to the Buddha there were several minor Buddha’s but only 25 Buddha’s preached, and the Al-Quran also names 25 prophets who preached, while tradition highlights several prophets who did not preach the religion.

Middle path-Middle nation 

The Buddha’s philosophy of “Middle Path of Life” by avoiding the extremes of sensual pleasure and self-mortification finds perfect harmony in the Al-Quran, which refers to the Muslims as the “Middle Nation” and advises the believer not to seek either extreme of life.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) encouraged Muslims to take a middle course. Similarly, the Buddhist view is to follow the middle path and both are examples of perfect human beings who could be emulated and imitated in our lives.
Gautama Buddha’s assertion that one should not believe anything on the basis because a wise man said it, or because it is generally believed, or it is written, or it is said to be divine, or because someone else believes it, but believe it only oneself judges it to be true, finds similarity to prophet Mohamed’s advocate to the effect “Seek thy judgement in thy heart irrespective of what others say.”


In Sri Lanka we live in a multicultural society. It is therefore important to engage and interact with one another. We should find ways and means to educate the general public about our religious and cultural diversity and encourage discussions on different levels.
What is required is a comprehensive framework that promotes interactions that would make harmonious co-existence long-lasting and permanent in this country.

Islam emphasizes the importance of coexistence with other communities, and enjoins them for healthy communication and social integration, but does not impose compulsion on religion as declared in Al-Qur’an. Religion is one’s personal belief. This is what the Quran says: “And I will not worship that which ye have been wanting to worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your way and to me mine.”
Buddhism and Islam advocate for a great degree of respect and sympathy, tolerance and dialogue, and appreciation and cooperation with the adherents of other religions. One should not incorrectly think that his or her religion is superior to other religions, as the ultimate goal of religions is moral guidance for mankind.
Both The Buddha and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) conveyed the same message to mankind – to lead a life with peace and harmony, with compassion in one’s heart followed with generosity and charitable acts.
Finally, we should remind ourselves and also pass on the message to our younger generation as to how our forefathers lived – displaying wonderful human characteristics of understanding, co-existence, acceptance, tolerance, compassion, etc of Buddhism and Islam, explained to us by our great teachers – The Gautama Buddha and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

I can die happily. I have not kept a single teaching hidden in a closed hand. Everything useful for you, I have already given. Be your guiding light.”
– The Buddha, while leaving his body at the age of eighty

After he had praised and glorified God, he said, “O people, listen to my words. I do not know whether I shall ever meet you again in this place after this year. He (PBUH) said that whatever we, humans, make for ourselves in this world – property, honour, respect et cetera – it is all of the value till we appear before Allah. He (PBUH) added that all this would not matter when we return to Allah.
Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) his last words to his people (Mount Arafa).

The photos carried ‘down’ and ‘above’ show the attire with the right shoulders exposed and those wearing them with shaven heads

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Disclaimer: Fostering Buddhist-Muslim dialogue By sharwar hafeez yoonoos - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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