The Dalai Lama urged religious leaders Saturday to reach out to Muslims, saying Islam is a compassionate faith that has been unfairly maligned because of a few extremists.
“Nowadays to some people the Muslim tradition appears more militant,” the 70-year-old exiled monk said at a weekend conference, which aimed to bring Muslims and Buddhists together.
“I feel that’s totally wrong. Muslims, like any other traditions — same message, same practice. That is a practice of compassion,” he said.
Event organizers say the Dalai Lama interrupted his schedule to fly to San Francisco and meet Islamic scholars and leaders from other faiths to discuss reducing violence and extremism.
Security was tight at the invitation-only event, which drew about 500 religious leaders and scholars. The conference included speakers and presenters from numerous faiths and roughly 30 countries.
The Dalai Lama told the audience that many people see and hear news of suicide bombings in predominantly Muslim countries but don’t hear about how Muslims often work with the poor.
Faiths bigger than ‘a few mischievous people’
He said all human beings are prone to violence if they lose control of their emotions and not to judge an entire faith based on a few people. “A few mischievous people are always there,” he said.
The Dalai Lama, who was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, fled Tibet in 1959 following an aborted uprising against Chinese rule in the territory and now keeps an office in exile in the Himalayan town of Dharmsala, India.
The Dalai Lama also told conference attendees that religious traditions must work harder to live together in peace, citing religious violence in Northern Ireland, Pakistan and Iraq.
Hamza Yusuf, founder of the Zaytuna Institute, a Hayward-based center for Islamic study, said the conference could help build relationships between Buddhists and Muslims and promote a greater understanding of Islam. He noted that Muslims and Buddhists lived together peacefully for hundreds of years in Tibet.
Yusuf said the Dalai Lama’s participation in the event could warm Americans to Islam, since many Americans have mixed feelings about the faith but are receptive to Buddhism.
“He wanted to meet us in solidarity as a community because he felt like people were attacking Islam,” Yusuf said.
Seyed Ali Ghazvini of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno said he hoped the conference would encourage Muslims to be more visible and active in the United States.
“This is a matter of necessity,” said Ghazvini, who gave the Dalai Lama a set of Islamic prayer beads. “It’s not an option to sit alone in our own community and our own mosques.”