Back to listMar 2, 2011

Culture of Peace Lecture Series Hosts Buddhist-Islamic Dialogue

Akbar Ahmed (left) and Bill AikenAkbar Ahmed (left) and Bill Aiken at the SGI-USA Washington DC Center

On March 2, former Pakistani Ambassador to the UK, Akbar Ahmed, spoke before some 200 gathered at the SGI-USA Washington DC Center as a part of the Culture of Peace Distinguished Speakers Series. The guiding question of the event was: How can compassion--a value held in common by Buddhists and Muslims--be employed to foster new possibilities of understanding among nations and cultures and ultimately end conflict?

In his opening remarks, Bill Aiken, SGI-USA director of Public Affairs, recalled meeting Ambassador Ahmed in 2001, soon after the destruction of large statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Mr. Aiken shared, "The Ambassador is someone who has always championed the importance of understanding among different traditions."

Ambassador Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington DC, distinguished chair for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the US Naval Academy and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He has advised heads of state on issues relating to Islam. Ambassador Ahmed has taught at Princeton, Harvard, and Cambridge universities, and is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and author of several books, the latest titled Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam.

In his remarks, Ambassador Ahmed observed that the traditions of Buddhism and Islam complement each other when addressing the roots of violence in society, saying that the Buddhist idea of the three poisons--greed, arrogance and  foolishness--can be confronted through employing the three pillars, or values, of Islam--compassion, knowledge and justice. 

Mr. Aiken expanded on the idea, saying that Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the three poisons emerge from fundamental darkness--ignorance of the inherent dignity of each person's life. Through Buddhist practice, he explained, we can foster the qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion to combat the negative workings of the three poisons.

Ambassador Ahmed then addressed the democracy movements unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East, noting that though very few of the 57 predominantly Muslim nations in the world are democracies, "in truth, Islam at its heart is extremely egalitarian." He continued, "I am encouraged by these revolutions, but I am also concerned," he said. "These are brave, calm, ordinary people seeking to reclaim justice, democracy and jobs. But the Arab world is on fire, so a lot of effort and compassion are required to keep dialogue going."

[Adapted from an article in the May 20, 2011, issue of the World Tribune; photo courtesy of Rob Hendry]