Historically and theologically, the Qur’an and the Muslims have engaged primarily in discussion and dialogue with other Semitic religions. This is understandable, considering those religions’ interconnections and relationships. Muslim engagements with the Asian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism are largely the result of commercial relations, immigration, and political interactions between the worlds of Islam and Asia.
In their talk Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Raymond 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 (Berzin 2007: 225, 251).
Islam and Buddhism first came into contact in central Asia (Foltz 1999) and later in south and southeast Asia (al-Attas 1963). These early encounters were followed, in some instances, by the conversion of Buddhists to Islam, as happened in central and maritime southeast Asia. Yet there were also other regions where Buddhists and Muslims continued to exist side by side, as in India, Tibet, and parts of mainland south- east Asia.
Despite the long record of Muslim–Buddhist interaction, such contact is at the present either nonexistent or rare, largely due to the strong trend of reified interpreta- tions of religion in the contemporary world – interpretations which in turn overlook the historical exchanges that took place between these religions during the Age of the Silk Road (400 BCE–1400 CE) and the Age of Commerce (1450–1680 CE).
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