Saturday, April 15, 2006
The Dalai Lama, a powerful icon for peace worldwide, will gather with influential American Muslim leaders in San Francisco today to help refashion Islam's image in the United States.
Concerned that Muslims are unfairly demonized in American popular consciousness, the world-renowned Buddhist leader hopes to help show Islam in what he sees as its truest form, one of peace.
"The enemy is not out there,'' said Tenzin Dhonden, the Dalai Lama's emissary for peace. "The enemy is within you. ... How we see religion is in our mind. But religion itself is the truth: peace and harmony."
The hurdles are numerous.
Polls in Muslim countries have shown that some Muslims think of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a good thing, said Muslim scholar Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. Co-founder of the Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, Yusuf advised President Bush in the days after the attacks.
He also noted that polls have revealed that some Americans support bombing Mecca, Islam's holiest city.
"Who are the extremists?" he asked. "It's all of us. There's no 'us' versus 'them' here. We've got extremists on both sides. If we let extremist agendas chart the course for us on both sides, we're headed for a very, very frightening world."
Speakers at today's invitation-only event at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, "Gathering of Hearts Illuminating Compassion," say violent images of Islam are sensationalized by a selective news media.
They say the faith of the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide bears no relation to the beliefs of terrorists who claim religious authority.
"That's not Islam," said Jack Kornfield, a prominent Buddhist teacher and founder of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County. "Those are extremists and crazies. Quite honestly, you find that in every tradition. Right now, our media is highlighting that." Kornfield is not participating in today's event.
Even though Buddhist-Muslim relations are at the center of the gathering, organizers are emphasizing an even broader understanding of faith: that all religions are the same at their core.
This message plays well in the religiously diverse Bay Area, where believers of all faiths often adapt aspects of other traditions.
Organizers also plan to address the rise of fundamentalism in many religions, which they say can turn beliefs into political tools.
"It is hijacked religion that causes violence," said Huston Smith, an author and former professor at four major universities and a speaker at today's event.
"In warfare, you need power,'' said Smith, a Berkeley resident. "Therefore, you have to believe that God is on your side and you are an instrument of God to do his will through warfare and fighting and the laying down of lives. The flip side of that is that the enemy is the demon, the axis of evil."
The conference, limited to roughly 500 people, will consist of presentations by scholars and religious leaders.
In addition to Yusuf, they will include Imam Mehdi Khorasani, a spiritual leader born in Karbala, Iraq, who guides a 6,000-member congregation in Fairfax, and the Rev. Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, an Episcopal church.
"As long as we are quiet and not trying to explain, the danger and misunderstanding remains," said Khorasani, whose invitation to the Dalai Lama prompted today's gathering.
Khorasani comes from a line of Iraqi Shiite clerics, though he tries to avoid that sectarian label.
The Dalai Lama, whose own story is one of religion and politics intertwined, has for decades advocated nonviolence.
Forced into exile from Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese government violently suppressed an uprising there, the Dalai Lama is familiar with the idea of occupation -- the concept that rallies Muslim resistance in Israel, Iraq and the Indian state of Kashmir.
The Dalai Lama now lives in Dharamsala, India, but his call for peaceful resistance to China helped earn him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
The gathering's speakers say they hope the event, however philosophical, will plant a seed for the future. But what it will accomplish long-term may be unclear.
"His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) is marshalling us to do our best,'' said Smith, the religious scholar. "We cannot see the full consequences. We just try to set the trajectory."http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/04/15/MUSLIM.TMP