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Can You be a Buddhist-Muslim?

Can You be a Buddhist-Muslim?


Islam and Buddhism: Can you be a Buddhist-Muslim? As I’ve always understood – Buddhism is a philosophy, and did not gain religious implications until long after Buddha’s death. And that Buddha never told anyone to worship him. The ideologies of Buddhism are very similar to those of Islam. Can respect and implement aspects of buddhism in your life and remain a Muslim? Or are the two an oxymoron?

Salaam alykum,

I do not think that labels particularly matter. This belief of mine is centered upon the Islamic Conception of what a “Muslim” is. What we forget, many times when reading The Qur’an is how the word “Muslim” was understood and framed when The Qur’an was revealed to The Prophet and his followers.

Muhammad Asad articulates this point quite well. For instance, when the words islam or muslim were first uttered by The Prophet, the contemporaries would have understood these words to mean “self-surrender to God” and “one who surrenders himself to God,” respectively. So, when in 3:67, Abraham is spoken of as “kana musliman” we should translate this as “surrenders himself to God,” or in 3:52 where the disciples of Jesus say “Bear thou witness that we have surrendered ourselves unto God” the Arabic is “bi-anna muslimun.”

Today, when we read the words, especially in translations that forget this linguistic reality, we do not think of these meanings, we think of Islam as in “Islam: The Religion” and Muslim as a “Muslim: pray five times a day, zakat, etc.” The reality is that The Qur’an is constructed to make these terms far broader, which is widely agreed upon within the linguistics of the Arabic language.

I am sure that people will disagree with me, and while I actually hate saying this, I believe this disagreement is usually from those who do not understand Arabic, which I hate saying, but this is an issue of simple linguistics, so if you would like to disagree with me, please ensure you actually know the Arabic language, because that is what a debate over this issue centers upon.

That being said, there is further proof for the expansive and broad conception of these terms without having to rely upon linguistics. If we look at how The Qur’an describes the Prophets prior to The Revelation of The Qur’an, we see that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are all described as Muslims, not simply in the context of their complete surrender to God, but that that surrender defines them as Muslims, and that those who surrender themselves to God, completely, they are within the true “fold of Islam,” and therefore, we must understand Islam as a far more expansive term and to realize that when you forsake the innovations of man upon Truth, upon The Deen, you get Islam. That is what The Qur’an is: The Final Revelation of God, stripped of all human meddling and corruption.

So, what is a Buddhist-Muslim, really? What is the purpose of that construction, especially if you realize that the Buddha never declared himself divine (which he didn’t), that he simply provided a methodology of thinking and self-fulfillment, and that in matters and perceptions of The Divine he underlined that that was not the purpose of his teachings. You would, therefore be, a Muslim who appreciates teachings of the Buddha which help you, and that your label is only important to human-beings, not to God.

Thus, if you appreciate and apply some of the teachings of the Buddha to enrich and better your life, I therefore see little difference between that and reading a self-help book on improving time management, learning how to execute tasks better, etc

Do you think Almighty God, Our Creator, Our Sustainer, actually cares about whether someone labels themselves this way or that? Does God care that someone is a Ashari who follows Shafi’i Fiqh, or a Salafi, or a Shia who follows Jafari Fiqh, or a Sufi who follows Hanafi Fiqh, or a Zaydi, or a whatever? These divisions, these titles, all of them, were created by us, we created these titles. The Qur’an does not use them, and therefore, the only title that we can refer to ourselves by, should we actually believe in The One God, and His Final Messenger, is Muslim.

Therefore, I would advice you, and all Muslims, to simplify their labeling process, for you are Muslim, as I am Muslim, and to dissect ourselves through labeling is a exhaustive and human struggle.

I would caution you as to what you read about the Buddha, and as someone who has studied Buddhism, I think there is a tendency to romanticize Buddhism, and to constantly confuse the teachings of the Buddha with the beliefs of Buddhism, which I do not think conform very well with the precepts of the Buddha. For instance, the idea that the Buddha, as the reflection of the divine, would reincarnate himself, only within the confines of Tibet, does not seem as universal or broad as the teachings of the Buddha. The Dalai Lama has provided relief and guidance for many people, but what happens when he dies? The chaos that unfortunate political events have upon the office illustrates the problematic consequences of man’s religious constructions.

I could go on about how Shinto-Buddhism was used to enforce and rationalize the uneven societal structure of Japan, and various other issues, but that is not the point. The point that I underline is that learning from others is not particularly bad, but I would caution you as to what practices and conceptual frameworks you apply to your life. Here’s the important part: you say that you see ideologies in Buddhism as similar to those in Islam, that is most probably because those aspects are those which are devoid of the corrupting influence of man. So, the question I must ask you is, what values of the Buddha are you using that you do not find in Islam? If it is about meditation and approaches to your life, then I understand, however, if we are talking about matters of theology, I would warn you to stay away.

Look, The Qur’an is quite clear as to what you need to do in order to go to heaven, and thus you should be certain of your belief in God, because that governs that aspect of faith. If we look at The Qur’an, our path to Heaven is clear:

“But unto those who have attained to faith and do good works give the glad tiding that theirs shall be gardens through which running waters flow.” [2:25]

“whereas those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds – they are destined for paradise, therein to abide.” [2:82]

“But those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds We shall bring into gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide beyond the count of time;” [4:57]

“Yet those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds We shall bring into gardens through which running waters flow,” [4:122]

“whereas anyone – be it man or woman – who does [whatever he can] of good deeds and is a believer withal, shall enter paradise, and shall not be wronged by as much as [would fill] the groove of a date-stone.” [4:124]

“God has promised unto those who attain to faith and do good works [that] theirs shall be forgiveness of sins, and a mighty reward;” [5:9]

I think I have made my point, but if you are still in doubt and wish to challenge me, please refer to: 10:9, 11:11, 11:23, 18:107, 22:14, 22:23, 22:50, 31:8, 34:4, 35:7, 41:8, 42:22, 45:30, 47:2, 64:9, 95:6.

Now, I realize that the next argument will be, well don’t all those verses simply mean you must believe in the faith of The Qur’an? Perhaps, but all those verses I have listed refer to the central governing aspect of what governs “those who attain to faith,” and how God, in The Qur’an, expands this phrase to the point of universality:

“Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” [2:62]

This is echoed as well later, such as here: “for, verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Sabians, and the Christians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” [5:69]

Now, it becomes quite clear, that what determines someone’s destiny is listed, quite clearly and succinctly: what a person must do in order to attain salvation is made conditional upon three elements only: belief in God, belief in the Day of Judgment, and righteous action in life. That is not to say that Islam, as in, Islam expressed by The Qur’an itself and the Shahada does not count for anything (because belief in The Qur’an is listed clearly), but we understand this expansive umbrella for salvation as something ordained by God and to temper our individual desire to judge the fate of individuals, when God and God alone determines this, and sets this basis for all of humanity.

It becomes clear that Islam is The Religion of Truth, and that it is different from any other theological framework, precisely because of this core aspect of its cosmological construction, which is unique in that it is within the source material of the faith, not found in the apologetics or reforms as is the truth in other faiths.

Therefore, as Muslims we should realize that what defines a Muslim, what defines the Grace of God, is not our human “in-group/out-group” bifurcation that we use in our constructions to define. The Qur’an is abundantly clear as to what the parameters for salvation are, and thus, as far as your theological beliefs go, I simply urge you to confirm and establish your belief in The Oneness of God, and to illustrate that faith through action, not because of my advice, but because that is the command of Almighty God.

As far as whether the Buddha was given inspiration by God, I do not know, and I do not pretend to know. There are arguments that the figure of “Dhul-Kifl” is a reference to the Buddha, but that is a minority opinion, with most scholars saying that Dhul-Kifl is a reference to Ezekiel. Whatever the case may be, there is guidance on how we should approach this issue:

“Now every community has had an apostle; and only after their apostle has appeared [and delivered his message] is judgment passed on them, in all equity; and never are they wronged.” [10:47]

“Verily, We have sent thee with the truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner: for there never was any community but a warner has [lived and] passed away in its midst.” [35:24] This verse signifies that that while The Prophet has The Truth, all societies have had their warners, all of whom were mortals and who died.

“And never have We sent forth any apostle otherwise than [with a message] in his own people’s tongue, so that he might make [the truth] clear unto them;” 14:4

Most significantly, though, are two verses, one which underlines the scope of who we know to be inspired by God, while the other underlines that God only holds those accountable who are aware of His Warnings. They are found, respectively:

“(164) and as [We inspired other] apostles whom We have mentioned to thee ere this, as well as apostles whom We have not mentioned to thee; and as God spoke His words unto Moses: (165) [We sent all these] apostles as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, so that men might have no excuse before God after [the coming of] these apostles: and God is indeed almighty, wise.” [4:164-165]

It becomes abundantly clear that we are not aware of all who are sent by God, and therefore, we are directed towards belief to focus on God, and God alone, and to do righteous deeds, and as Muslims, to believe that The Final Prophet is Muhammad. We must also not just know, but believe that God alone has judgment over the faith in one’s heart, because only God has that power, and that the only things we may react to are the actions of a person. God affirms His Dominion over this by:

“(131) And so it is that thy Sustainer would never destroy a community for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong]: (132) for all shall be judged according to their [conscious] deeds – and thy Sustainer is not unaware of what they do.” [6:131-132]

Therefore, God alone judges, and while we should encourage and welcome those to Islam, we should be careful not to judge, for that is God’s power alone. We must also be aware that The Qur’an, not me, not a scholar, but The Qur’an underlines that we are limited, that we are mere humans, and that we should give people justice, no matter what.

I would caution you, and anyone, including myself, as to what they incorporate into their beliefs and in their actions. How you choose to define yourself, is your choice, but I feel that the only label we should apply to ourselves is “Muslim.” I went into detail on this topic to underline how universal Islam is, and how it may be possible that there is truth in other religions, but to realize that the only religion that is truly pure and devoid of all human corruption is Islam as described by The Holy Qur’an.

I am unsure as to what you would incorporate, but I hope that you have understood that we are not to discriminate against others, and that we should focus upon establishing our Faith as a means towards ensuring that we act righteously. This is what will determine our fate, and this alone, as it is outlined exhaustively in The Qur’an. I opt for the more cautious approach, theologically, because that is my nature, but, I cannot deny the aspects of The Qur’an that I have mentioned herein. I think that whatever you find to be agreeable with Islam, is simply a reflection of Islam within what you read, and that there is no way to really “combine” Buddhism and Islam, because Islam is all that is True, while being devoid of all that is false.

Where that line (of Truth) is within Buddhism, I can only judge from my point of reference, and there is a sincere possibility that I am wrong. That is why I mentioned that we must surrender ourselves to God, and to act righteously, since those are the defining factors in our destiny, and that attempting to reconcile these two forces or attempting to create some sort of unique labeling process for yourself, seems, to me at least, a rather superfluous task.

I say that because Islam accounts for all other religions and people, while no other religion does, and thus, by establishing what is True, you are inherently acting as a Muslim and practicing Islam. Indeed, anyone who does this, regardless of their label, is a Muslim, and they are my brother or sister in Islam.

Insha Allah, I hope this answered your question, and I hope that if you, or anyone else, has a question on this, or any other subject, please do not hesitate to ask me.

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