Interfaith dialogue between Islam and Buddhism absolute necessity: Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf

Washington, October 8, 2023 (tarkeen e watan) 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, a Dialogue expert and the founder and Executive Director of The Commongrounds USA.

Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf is currently 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 also the Islam and Buddhism Program at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (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 very unique subject and we must be thankful to Dr. Imtiyaz for his credible service.”

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Chairman, 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 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 in the battlefield at Badr, Madinah, one of his golden rules was, ‘Do not destroy the temples and churches’, Fai asked?

Dr. Fai added that he knows Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf for the last 44 years as a scholar, researcher, educator but above all as a decent human being and dependable friend.

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 been existed in a social relationship to 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 the interreligious violence is often caused by non‐religious factors such as ethnicity and economics rather than religious or doctrinal differences. Since the violent instances involve use and exploitation of the concepts of religious differences by parties involved 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 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 ummatan wasaṭan (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 Muḥammad (peace be on him) as religious teachers explained to humanity as to what the true state is of being and how the illusions which 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 Budhasim.

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 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’s the oldest religion and inspiration for the faith-based communities. He mentioned peace initiatives of The Commongrounds and thankfully acknowledged 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.

Ms. Shazia Shah, Maryland narrated her unique experiences while being on Umarah in the cities of Makkah and Madinah.

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

Dr. Akbar Khawaja, a well know community leader said that it was an inspirational speech by Dr. Yusuf, highlining similarities while recognizing differences between religions.

Sardar Zarif Khan, Advisor to President of Azad Kashmir said, “I had absolutely no idea that Buddhism also seeks harmonious relations with Islam.

Sardar Zulfiqar Khan cherished listing to Dr. Yusuf’s passionate speech about interfaith dialogue.

Earlier, Dr. Imtiaz Yusuf also spoke at: AMATA Meditation Center, Maryland. The host of the event was Dr. Dhammadipa Sak, leading Buddhist scholar, who is also member of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World Religions.

Others who attended included among others: Javed Kousar, a well-known journalist, Habib Nadibdar, Shoaib Irshad, Mohammad Zulqarnain, Mohamad Arshad, Ms. Tayaba Samina, Ms. Naila Alam, Ajaz Siddiqui, Khalid Hamid, Amir Stardom, and others.

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