Gathering Places

Saleem Ahmed

Friday, March 23, 2001

Lamentations of a Muslim

THE unfortunate destruction of Lord Buddha's statues by Afghanistan's Taliban government is a loss for humanity and a setback for Muslims. These irreplaceable statues were treasures of Afghanistan's glorious past. They did not "belong" to the Taliban; they belonged to the whole world -- especially Buddhists.

By claiming they followed the example of prophet Muhammad who destroyed idols inside the Ka'aba (Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca, Saudi Arabia), the Taliban have distorted history. Muhammad did not destroy those idols but had them removed because they were "illegal occupants" in that House of Worship for One God. Those idols had been placed there by pagan Arabs.

In contrast, the Bamiyan statues were carved out in the wilderness. Muhammad did not destroy idols willy nilly -- as one might conclude from the Taliban explanation.

The Taliban action has reinforced among non-Muslims the image of Islam as a bigoted and intolerant religion. In actuality, Islam is a broad-minded religion. The Muslim holy book, the Koran, declares unequivocally that God sent messengers to all parts of the world. The Koran also requires Muslims to respect all messengers equally.

While the Koran identifies 23 messengers of God belonging to the Abrahamic lineage (including Abraham, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad), shouldn't Muslims consider Lord Buddha to have been one? He expounded the Noble Eightfold Path -- right views, intentions, speech, action, livelihood, efforts, mindfulness, and concentration -- as the means of attaining Nirvana. Aren't those righteous actions that Muslims are to follow?

Muslims should include among God's messengers others who preached about one Supreme Being, were bestowed with a Book by God, and implored their followers to lead a righteous life. Confucius, Lao Zi, Vardhamana Mahivara, and Zoroaster, founded Confucianism, Daoism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism, respectively.

AN UNNAMED Hindu sage described, around 1500 B.C., the Supreme Creator:

"He is the Omniscient Lord. He is not born; He does not die. Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest, He dwells within the hearts of all...In the midst of the fleeting, he abides forever. He is all-pervading and supreme."

This appears similar to the description of Allah in the Koran. Thus, as a Muslim, shouldn't I honor and respect all these prophets -- and others among the Africans, American Indians, Australians, ancient Europeans, and Pacific Islanders? While their messages may have, at times, been changed by zealots, that should not belittle their prophethood.

Tolerance of other faiths is not an optional "luxury" in Islam to be left to whimsical moods; peaceful coexistence within the framework of religious pluralism is essential. The Koran teaches: "Let there be no compulsion in religion."

This has been shattered by the Taliban action.

Saleem Ahmed lives in Honolulu and serves on
the advisory board of the American Muslim Council.
These are his personal opinions.

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