Not so long ago, I was researching interfaith movements, and wanted to see how followers of Islam and Buddhism might be finding ways to have constructive dialogues with one another to help create a more harmonious world. My searches lead to a promisingly titled book ‘Islam and Buddhism’ by a well-known Turkish Muslim scholar called Harun Yahya. When I opened the e-book and began to read its beautifully illustrated pages, I was thoroughly disappointed, however. For, rather than being a book that explores ways that Islam and Buddhism can work together in the world, it seeks to criticize and discredit both Buddhism and Buddhists. Here’s a typical extract taken from the book’s introduction:
Throughout the world, but especially in
(‘Islam and Buddhism’, by Harun Yahya)
Perhaps yoga and meditation are ‘strange practices’ to a Turkish Muslim, but who’s to say that they are to be universally considered so? Harun Yahya – or the many writers that he has working on the massive number of books that his organization has published – fills ‘Islam and Buddhism’ with such loaded and arrogant statements. In the above quote, of course, he has focused primarily on Westerners interested or practicing Buddhism, claiming that we are attracted to its superstitious elements and exotic robes! (I don’t know about you, but I have no fetish regarding Buddhist monks’ and nuns’ robes!) One might wonder if he levels similar accusations against Westerners attracted to Islam, particularly those that like to dress up in the exotic garb of the Whirling Dervishes, and spin in what might equally be deemed ‘strange practices’. Yahya goes deeper in his criticism of Buddhism, however, claiming that it is based on ‘deviant doctrines’. Deviant from what, you might ask? Well, we’ll find the answer to this in the following extract, along with another delightful attempt at describing Buddhism:
When we consider Buddhism's appearance, its scriptures, general beliefs, style of worship in the light of the Qur'an, we begin to see that its basic philosophy is founded on very deviant doctrines. Indeed, its worship contains strange practices leading its devotees to worship idols of stone and clay. As a belief, Buddhism is contrary to logic and intelligence. Countries where it has been adopted have mixed it with their own idolatrous ideas, traditions and local customs, joining it with myths and deviant ideas until it has evolved into a totally godless philosophy.
(Ibid. page 16)
Do those of you that are Buddhist, dear readers, “worship idols of stone and clay”? I can’t say that I do, and nor do the millions of Buddhists here in
Those who long to escape from a materialist society's hard, disputatious culture—along with its worries, anxieties, quarrels, pitiless rivalry, selfishness and falsehoods—resort to Buddhism as the way to achieve peace of mind, security, tolerance and a fulfilling life. But Buddhism is not, as it is generally thought to be, a belief that brings contentment. On the contrary, those who are taken into Buddhism are often drawn into a deep pessimism. Even people with a considerable level of education and modern worldview will become individuals who see nothing wrong with begging with their bowls in hand, who believe that in their next lives, human beings may be reborn as mice or cattle, and who expect help from idols carved from stone or cast in bronze. For these people, Buddhism's deviant beliefs inflict serious psychological damage. In countries where Buddhism is widespread, or in regions inhabited by many Buddhist priests, pessimism and gloominess are clearly prominent.
One basic reason for this is the laziness and indolence that Buddhism inculcates in its adherents. Because it lacks any faith in an eternal afterlife, Buddhism does not urge its devotees to be better or develop themselves, to beautify their environment, or to advance culturally.
(Ibid. page 18)
Tell me, reader, have you been drawn into Buddhism’s “deep pessimism”? Have you been psychologically damaged by “Buddhism’s deviant beliefs”? As to countries where Buddhism is widespread being predominately pessimistic and gloomy, I can only write of
In the above quotation, Yahya displays real contempt for the Thai people, and any other nation that traditionally practices Buddhism. It is claimed that Buddhist devotees are not urged to better themselves. Is this true? What are the moral precepts for if not to better ourselves? Buddhists are encouraged to be kind, generous, charitable, friendly, and non-violent. We are discouraged from killing any living being, stealing, committing sexual misconduct, lying, or taking alcohol and drugs. Buddhists are taught how to meditate to develop more peaceful and contented minds. Are these not ways to better and develop ourselves? And, as to a beautiful environment,
The word Buddha means "the awakened, or enlightened one," signifying the spiritual heights that Siddhartha Gautama is supposed to have attained. Those Buddhist teachings and texts that have come down to us do not date from the period in which he lived, but were written down between 300 and 400 years after his death. In the following pages of this book, we will examine these texts in detail and we will see that they contain false beliefs, practices that go beyond all logic and present Buddha perversely as an idol to be worshipped.
(Ibid. page 28)
Here, the book gives a reasonable translation of the word Buddha, but then inserts one word, “supposed”, that seems intended to cast doubt on the realization of the Buddha. Again, it is true that the teachings ascribed to him were not written down for several hundred years after his death, but then as those very texts encourage Buddhists to examine them with intelligence rather than blind faith, they are not to be believed without examination, anyhow. This is in stark contrast to the Koran, which Yahya promotes as the infallible (and therefore unquestionable) word of God, never to be contradicted. And despite promising a detailed examination of Buddhist texts in subsequent pages, the remaining thirty-five pages of the chapter from which the above extract comes, do nothing of the sort, instead mixing luxurious illustrations with numerous quotations from the Koran, which contain absolute statements that extol that religion above all others.
Today's Buddhist priests regard these texts as holy; they worship and organize their lives according to them. They portray Buddha as an actual god (God is surely beyond that!), and for this reason, modern Buddhists bow before his statues, place before them offerings of food and flowers, and expect help from them.
(Ibid. page 69)
Do you expect help from statues of the Buddha when you bow before them? And, do you consider the Buddha to be a god, as Yahya suggests we Buddhists do? No doubt, some Buddhists do appeal to certain beings and powers for assistance, much like a Roman catholic might ask one of the saints for help. Religions evolve over time. But, surely ‘Islam and Buddhism’ is dead wrong when it claims that Buddhist scriptures make the claim that the Buddha is a god? Certainly in Theravada Buddhist countries like
So, what do you make of Harun Yahya’s take on Buddhism, dear readers? Is it a mere fad amongst us Westerners, due to a fascination with bald heads and robes? Is Buddhism inherently weird or strange, and by what criteria would one make such a judgment? Do you worship images of the Buddha in the hope of gaining assistance from him? Are its teachings on impermanence, suffering, and not self “deviant doctrines” in your opinion? Are you overly pessimistic or psychologically damaged by practicing Buddhism as yahya suggests you are? Do you consider Buddhist texts holy, as Yahya considers the Koran, no doubt, and do you think of the Buddha as a god? If ‘Islam and Buddhism’ is a Muslim attempt at understanding Buddhism, then there’s a long way to go for the two religions to find common ground! If, on the other hand, it is as it appears, an attack on Buddhists and their way of life, what should the Buddhist response be?
If you wish to read 'Islam and Buddhism' for yourself, please click this link: Islam and Buddhism (PDF)