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The inspiration of Islam

December 8, 2015


During these troubling times of fear and increasing prejudice I felt it was appropriate to share some of my experiences in particular with Islam and how they have inspired my Buddhist practice.

I remember arriving in Dubai, on a late flight with a stinking cold sometime after midnight for an easter break in 1998. As our car left the airport I remember the warmth, the dark night sky and glorious light around domes and minarets as hundreds of worshipers dressed in white walked towards Mosques, ready to perform their prayers. I was filled with respect to see such sincere faith. Kadampa teachers advise that we should recall our refuge in Buddha and the commitments this involves at least 6 times each 24 hours. Many people I know (especially myself) condense that at best into 6 times during the day and at worst maybe they remember once! But here I was in a country where seemingly the whole society put so much value in their spiritual practice that they thought nothing of breaking their sleep, finding far greater value in communing with Allah than sleeping. Seeing this open expression of faith I thought of how Geshe-la would also appreciate this sincere commitment and faith.

My next significant encounter was through a friend I made within the Buddhist community. He had a close feeling for both Buddhist practice and Islam. After finishing university he went travelling and met a Muslim teacher in Afghanistan – which is itself an extraordinary tale but is his to tell, suffice to say that through this tale I could see that his contact and practice had left a deep mark of peace and gentleness within him. Some years later my friend fully committed to Islam, and through our conversations it was very clear to me that his practice was one of great inner transformation and goodness and he has been able to show me many parallels between his views and those of Buddha (you can see examples in his blog I should add that in Buddhism we don’t believe that Buddha or Buddhism is more right than any other religious or spiritual practice, in Joyful Path of Good Fortune it says, (Buddhas) “also manifest as teachers of other religions and give instructions in accordance with the needs and inclinations of different practitioners”

Some years later I had an opportunity to once again visit Dubai, and on this occasion I also shared a hotel room with a Muslim friend. The truth it seemed was that neither of us knew much about the others religious practice, so we spent a couple of very happy days sharing our experiences and explaining some basic aspects of our practices and beliefs (as well as watch some of the one day Cricket world cup – supporting both Pakistan and England, he did rather better than me!)

Regular Daily Practice 

During our conversations and time together there were several things that I really took away and admired. First and foremost; my friend never missed one of his prayer times (and indeed in the office too this is true of many Muslims) – what I noticed was that his prayers were not long but frequent and continual. I feel this is such a good example and have tried to follow it. Buddha said our practice should not be like a sudden waterfall after a great storm (which has great immediate power but leaves little long term impact) rather it should be like a river constantly and gently flowing (which over many years creates great marks in even the hardest rock, like gorges and canyons). From my friends example I saw a real living possibility of applying oneself with such constancy, whilst never losing the ability to also function in the midst of a busy ordinary lifestyle.




Secondly, I saw that even though we were in a foreign country he had never visited, as a Muslim he was immediately welcome in the nearest mosque and he was accepted and welcomed, feeling very comfortable and familiar with the practice. This for me is one of the most beautiful external manifestations of religion in society – the extension of community and kinship to all. We see it also for example in English Churches and in particular I remember Geshe Kelsang telling me and the other managers of our Buddhist center that perhaps the most important function of the center was to give a place to anyone who wanted company, quiet, refuge whatever their faith or views. This is one reason why many Kadampa centers have a Christmas day event and lunch, so no one needs to be alone on that day if they don’t wish to be.


Equality and Love

Thirdly our conversations revealed the deep seated place of equality and humility that pervades the Islamic faith. I won’t attempt a theological explanation of tenets but if you spend any time talking with a sincere Muslim it will quickly become apparent that the religion engenders the view that welcomes everyone without discrimination and is founded on the principal of equality. Within Mahayana Buddhism equality or equanimity are considered to be the fertile ground from which the fruits of love will grow. How greatly I rejoiced to see this principal pervading the lives of over a billion people.

Which brings me to my last point – I realised during the course of my time in Dubai that over 22% or a billion plus of the worlds population is Muslim and the probability is that the majority of those won’t differ very greatly form my friend whose views and faith gave me such joy and inspiration.

This is only a short article and i’ve deliberately avoided specific details of what I learned about Islam because I would much prefer anyone with an interest sought authentic sources. I have been recommended “Vision of Islam” by Sachiko Murata as one possible starting point. I also follow which I find very beautiful and reminds me of how distorted the view we are given in the media often are.

Once again I would sincerely like to dedicate any benefit from this article to the attainment of inner peace for all sentient beings irrespective of faith or nationality and that the fertile ground of equanimity will flourish with the fruits and flowers of love and understanding.



From → Current Events

  1. Thomas Jones permalink

    Having lived in a Muslim country for a few years, I can relate to a lot of this. I’d like to share a couple of my own stories to further illustrate.

    I’d often sit with friends in the evenings, enjoying the relative cool, drinking coffee and chatting. Sooner or later, they got to asking about my religion. I told them that I’m Buddhist. Their first question was, “How many times a day do you pray?” so I told them 6, which they thought was fantastic. “More than us! That is very good.” When I went on to explain that this can be condensed into 2 sessions, they conceded that, also in Islam, the prayers can be condensed under certain conditions, so they took this as another sign of kinship, rather than a negative thing. They were really just looking for similarities, so they could feel that kinship.

    One of the staff in our college library was an especially religious man, the kind with a long beard. He also asked me about my religion, probably hoping that I didn’t have much religious conviction and be ripe for conversion. However, on discovering that I was a Buddhist, he replied, “Oh, that’s very good. We Muslims really respect Buddhists, they have such good discipline.”

    I’d often see my gym buddy praying, either at my house, or through the window of a mosque we stopped at, if we happened to be on the road at prayer time. I was always struck by the humility and reverence of it. They call it God, but it really looks like a reverence for the whole universe to me.

    I was lucky to go on a couple of long road trips with another mullah type, during which I heard much of his life’s story. He told me that he’d been a boy racer in his youth, only escaping the police because his father had “wasta” (influence) but that when he got married, he really struggled to provide for his family. A local man who had plenty was well known for regularly leaving parcels of food and other essentials on the doorsteps of those families who were struggling – not just at festivals, but throughout the year. Zakat (charity) is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, and for my colleague, it’s what attracted him to the religion, and became the main focus of his practice. He was a pleasure to work with, and so dependable, and I knew that, if I ever needed help of any kind, he’d give it without a second thought. It really made me think about the perfection of giving, the state of mind that is constantly ready to give whatever others need. He had that kind of mind.

    • Thanks for the comment Thomas – you’ve said so many more things that I would have liked to but didn’t have the words, I especially agree with this:

      ” I was always struck by the humility and reverence of it. They call it God, but it really looks like a reverence for the whole universe to me.”

      I absolutely agree. And the charitable activities and the sincerity of the observance of fasting – so much to admire and reflect back into our own practice.

  2. deepinretrospect permalink

    I so admire the fact that you can learn from different faiths in ways that can strengthen the way that you practice your own. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

    One thing you mentioned in particular is such a dear and important value to me, one which I try to constantly improve on to this day. And that is when you said “Buddha said our practice should not be like a sudden waterfall after a great storm…rather it should be like a river constantly and gently flowing.” That resonated so much! Your words must come from a very wise mind, it seems like you’ve had a lot of life experience, and it was so remarkable to read about your journeys.

    This is one of the best blogs that I have ever read, and although I am Muslim, I don’t mean to be biased. Whether it was Judaism, Christianity, or Hinduism that you learned about, I just really respect the idea of learning from other cultures and religions instead of judging them. Instead of focusing on negative things or things that you disagree with, you focus on positivity and what you can retain from your experiences to benefit you in your own life.

    Well done, and well written! :]

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